THE EXISTENCE GAME
Steps Toward a Scientific/Spiritual
and a Wisdom-Based Culture
by Copthorne Macdonald
Copyright © 1988 by Copthorne
Macdonald, All Rights Reserved
Registered U.S. Copyright Office 24 May 1988, Registration Number TXu
1988 copyrighted manuscript was never published "as is"
in print form. Large portions of it, however, found their way into
Copthorne Macdonald's 1993 book Toward Wisdom and his 2004
book Matters of Consequence.
Existence is medium plus message. The unchanging physical medium is
formless energy. The ever-changing message is the informational overlay
which energy acquires in becoming matter or a specific form of energy.
Evolution is an "informationizing" process. It is the process through
which energy—the physical medium of existence—acquires its modulating
overlay of ever more complex informational patterns.
It is a programmatic universe, and each "law of nature" simply describes
what a particular subroutine of the cosmic program does. Evolution moves
in certain directions and exhibits certain preferences. This directionality
is an output of the overall program—an effect of all the subroutines
working together. Energy/Awareness plays the Existence Game for its own
pleasure and amusement. The object is to actualize evolution’s values
to the greatest extent possible, despite hazards and risks. Play happens
through countless ongoing subadventures. And, as in computer games, the
only thing that ever really changes is information.
Historically, the term God has been associated both with aspects of
reality, and with nonsense. Part of the task of growing wiser is to sort
out the first from the second. Then, because the term itself has become
so confusing, let’s drop it—and use, instead, language that describes
the underlying reality. By not using the word God we avoid its outdated
meanings, and are forced to say what we really mean.
Mind is medium plus message. The unchanging medium is content-free
awareness. The ever-changing content is brain-generated information.
Perception is a person’s information interface with the world. Perceptual
knowing is a game of parallels and analogs in which current perceptions
are compared with remembered perceptions and pre-programmed archetypes.
Matching is knowing.
Intellectual knowing, like perceptual knowing, is also a game of parallels
and analogs, but here perceptions are compared with brain-created concepts
and mental models. Again, matching is knowing.
Reactive emotions such as anger, fear, jealousy, and greed are generated
by hardwired survival-oriented programs associated with the reptilian
and limbic sections of our brains. Most mental discomfort originates here.
To some extent mental and physical reactivity is a habit, capable of being
triggered and sustained by environmental circumstances and by the activities
of the neocortex. Reactive emotion and behavior is minimized when the
neocortex functions in ways that do not trigger reactivity or sustain
it. This is most likely to happen if basic needs have been met, and if
the neocortex adopts a monitoring and controlling role.
Intuition is a holistic, wisdom-based mental process. It will work
with the intellect to guide us optimally if the ego (or "self" process)
The quiet mind is, at one level, awareness free of content. At another
level it is peace and equanimity even in the presence of "upsetting" content.
Prolonged exposure to the first level takes you to the second.
Human beings everywhere suffer from delusions of mistaken identity—and
forms of this delusion now threaten to destroy the species. The most common
form of this delusion is that we are individual, independent, vulnerable
persons—and persons only. Identification with body and mind contents
is a deeply-programmed human condition. Nevertheless, identification is
inherently arbitrary. Many other identifications are possible—identification
with nation or ethnic group being common, and often troublesome. Our most
fundamental or "true" identity resides in the permanent media of existence,
not in any of the temporary informational modulations which overlay those
We humans are the new high-powered, high-speed agents of evolution.
We’re currently good at technique, but terrible at holistic seeing. We’re
capable, but not wise. We need to become wise agents of evolution—and
Becoming wise is what matters, and freedom means being able to respond
to intuition’s wise and quiet call. Freedom is being able to respond on
behalf of the whole, rather than the small-s self. Freedom is being able
to pursue the high values of Being in our actions rather than having those
actions dictated by ancient-brain or culture-induced programming. Our
actions at this moment are determined by the way existing brain programs
process currently arriving and remembered data. To become freer than we
presently are, those programs must change.
Many personal and collective human problems would vanish if enough
people saw through the delusion of self and separateness. Identification
with the whole cosmic process and the ground of that process is the optimum,
all-win identification for both person and process.
Attention training exercises weaken identification with the body and
with egoic (or "self"-promoting) mental processes.
In addition to disidentification practices, there are practices which
help to develop a new holistic identification.
Becoming wise is a three stage process involving an intellectual
stage of need-meeting and rational mind activity, an intuitive
stage during which the subconscious becomes accessible, and an experiential
stage during which one internalizes and lives the insights of the intuitive
stage. For most people, starting the intuitive stage of a wisdom-oriented
practice—actually doing it—is difficult. But for those who do start,
and continue for a prolonged period, radical changes occur. These people
eventually become wise and free.
Individuals today who want to develop wisdom and a quiet mind receive
little encouragement and support from mainstream cultures. They must do
it themselves, either by finding supportive subcultures or by creating
their own personal-practice "micro-cultures." The world desperately needs
wisdom. But for wisdom to become widespread, world cultures must adopt
it as a central value, and actively support its development.
We human beings are prone
not only to physical ills and psychological ills, but also to existential
or spiritual ills.
To be spiritually well, each
of us needs satisfying, reality-based answers to three fundamental questions:
1. What is going on?
2. What's it all about? and,
3. What am I to do about it?
The first question expresses our desire for facts; the second, for an
understanding of what those facts mean; and the third, for some sort of
ethical framework or priority-setting guidelines for living our individual
Today, these questions are
not being adequately answered by mainstream cultural institutions. Science
does a fairly good job of answering question 1, but often with a narrow,
analytical, single-discipline focus. Science has traditionally avoided
the other two questions. Religion and philosophy have, at times, tried
to answer all three, but they lost credibility as sources of truth when
their answers to question 1 ran counter to science's answers. Then too,
their answers to 2 and 3 were often far from convincing. There might have
been some truth behind what was being said, but the verbal expression
of that truth was often too murky and ambiguous to be of much value.
If we don't find satisfying
answers to those questions we will, at times in our lives, experience
feelings of angst, meaninglessness, and profound loneliness. Some people,
at such times, grasp the nearest comforting delusion and cling to its
promises. They find comfort, at least for awhile, but at the high price
of denying reality and closing the mind.
What can be done about this?
Is there no explanatory paradigm—one compatible with scientific truth—that
gives satisfying answers to all three of those basic questions?
I believe that there is. We
are already able to articulate major parts of it, and are closer than
ever before to being able to flesh out its still-sketchy aspects.
Psychologist Abraham Maslow
contended that when selfactualizing people looked at the world they saw
more than just facts, they saw what he called "fact-values." In seeing
clearly what was going on, these people also saw the values at work in,
and behind, what was happening. Maslow's self-actualizers were perceptive
people—broadly and deeply interested people—who looked not only for answers
to scientific questions in the data of reality, but also for answers to
philosophical questions. They looked, and they saw.
A paradigm is a comprehensive
way of ordering information in which many bits and pieces of theory and
fact are tied together into a cohesive, understandable whole. A scientific
paradigm is an encompassing master theory that makes more "scientific"
sense of available data than previous theories did. Scientific paradigms
are fact based paradigms.
The sort of paradigm I'm talking
about is somewhat different. I'm calling it a scientific/spiritual paradigm,
and defining it as a paradigm based not only on facts, but also on the
values implicit in those facts. Such a paradigm is a schema of truth that
encompasses both the questions that scientists have chosen to address,
and those that philosophers and spiritual teachers have wrestled with
over the centuries. It embraces the facts, just as scientific paradigms
do, and deals with the scientific implications of those facts. But it
also deals with their meaning, and ethical ramifications. A scientific/spiritual
paradigm is a multi-faceted paradigm that helps us make sense of it all:
a fact based, meaning based, ethics based, and thus fact-value
Maslow, in his research, took
a bold non-standard approach. To him it was just common sense that an
approximate understanding of something meaningful is much more significant
than a precise understanding of something trivial. Maslow abandoned the
study of rats, and decided to study the best people Western society had
produced—even though he couldn't do that with scientific rigor. He read
about historical Greats, and talked to the few living ones he could find.
He saw generalities behind the specifics, and arrived at a comprehensive
theory that matched his observations. It wasn't pristine science. It wasn't
science at all, by some standards. But it was meaningful—a fact recognized
later by his peers when they made him president of the American Psychological
Association. Today, his theory of motivation and psychological growth
is taught in universities, corporate seminars, and schools of nursing.
Why? Because it has the ring of truth. It fits the data of life. It explains.
Just as Maslow's self-actualizing
people couldn't be subjected to detailed study in the lab, so it is that
the universe as a whole, the evolutionary process, and subjective mental
activity can't scrutinized under tightly controlled conditions. Observations
of these aspects of reality have to be made across various barriers of
inaccessibility. Yet, these are among the most significant happenings
of all! When the issues are as crucial to our well-being as these are,
there is much to be gained by doing what Maslow did: Gather the best data
available, even if you have to resort to unconventional methods. Look
for the general pattern that underlies the specifics. And make the best-informed
speculations you can make.
Limited knowledge about something
important is much more significant than much knowledge about something
trivial. And there is nothing more humanly significant than getting a
good grasp of what is going on, what it's all about, and what we should
do about it. Answers to these questions are the key to more than avoiding
existential angst. They are the key to total fulfillment as a person,
and ultimately, to the much needed transformation of our society. A search
for answers to these questions has become, for some, the greatest adventure
of their lives. Perhaps you're one of these, or would like to be.
In this book I invite you
to look with me at the game of Existence which we all play; look at it
in much the same way that Maslow looked at his self-actualizers. The bad
news is that no words can more than map—partially and imprecisely—any
complex information-based reality. Worse yet, words can only point
at non-informational realities. Therefore, the best any of us can
do with words is to beat about the bush of truth.
But there is good news, too.
It's obvious that if we are to understand more deeply than those who have
gone before us, if we are to see more clearly than they, than we must
do something differently. That "something" includes ways of using our
minds that have not, until recently, been common in the West. It also
includes using our newly expanded vocabulary of concepts.
In order for people to communicate
they must have a vocabulary—not only of words—but also of concepts, metaphors,
mental models, and life experiences: the underlying material which the
word-symbols represent and draw into consciousness. Unfortunately, the
vocabularies traditionally used to communicate the present material have
not been up to the task—at least for most people. The attempts to answer
questions 2 and 3 have used the rather limited and archaic vocabularies
of traditional Christianity, Eastern religion and philosophy, and Western
philosophy. Here, although not abandoning those older vocabularies altogether,
I will put my stress on a more contemporary vocabulary of words, metaphors,
concepts, and experiences. As adults living in the late twentieth century,
you and I have acquired many concepts that didn't exist even 50 years
ago. In the chapters to come, I use some of these concepts as raw material
for up-to-date metaphors. My feeling is that by judiciously using this
new material, more of us really can get closer to the elusive truth than
was possible in the past.
To be as sure as I can that
these raw-material concepts do exist in your mind, I explain several of
the less familiar ones as we go along, and I touch on many others in the
Glossary. Other sources of background material are referred to
in the footnotes and in the References and Resources section at
the end of the book.
The material that follows
fits the raw data of existence as I have experienced it, and as it has
been described by various scientists and other reliable reporters. I devote
a chapter to each major tenet, or facet, or hypothesis of the emerging
paradigm, and have arranged these in three sections: Physical Reality,
Mental Reality, and Ramifications. In each chapter I pull
together pieces of description that illuminate, for me, these key aspects
of Truth. And, in moving from chapter to chapter, the flow of ideas gradually
creates that sought-for cohesive whole. It's a whole that does offer answers—albeit
approximate and partial answers—to questions 1, 2, and 3.
to Table of Contents
Existence is medium plus
The unchanging physical medium is formless energy.
The ever-changing message is the informational overlay which energy acquires
in becoming matter or a specific form of energy.
Scientists in their work don't
talk about Being; they talk about phenomena. It is philosophers and spiritual
teachers who have talked about Being. The ancients spoke of Being and
Existence, Essence and Form, the Unconditioned and the Conditioned, Spirit
and Manifestation. Later, Kant spoke of Noumenon and Phenomenon in a similar
way. The general sense of those who used these terms was that Being/Essence/the
Unconditioned/Spirit/Noumenon was ungraspable but eternal, primary yet
unknowable. It was the Real. In contrast, Existence/Form/the Conditioned/
Manifestation/Phenomena was knowable yet transient, ephemeral—even illusory.
It was the Unreal.
When I first encountered this
sort of thinking, years ago, I brushed it aside as irrelevant metaphysical
hogwash. What could be more real than phenomena? Later, when I began to
find science's answers less than complete, I asked myself why these two
groups of serious, sincere people were talking past each other. Sages
and philosophers, after all, are reality-seekers. Scientists are reality-seekers
too. Both groups are interested in what is, and both groups comment
on it—yet the two groups have historically described the same reality
differently. Why is that?
One reason is that science
and philosophy approach reality with different aims, and with different
types of questions in mind. The two groups do deal with the same reality,
but they don't get the same answers, at least in part, because they don't
ask the same questions.
Our modern-day concepts of
medium and message helped to clarify the situation for me.
Science has declared its chief interest to be the study of physical phenomena,
and these phenomena involve both medium and message. For most scientific
purposes nothing would be gained by splitting a phenomenon into a medium
component and a message component. It wouldn't help answer scientific
questions. It would have no explanatory value within that context.
The philosopher and the spiritual
seer occupy the same world of phenomena in which the scientist lives,
but they do find value in making a distinction between phenomena's temporary
and its permanent aspects. Seeing that phenomena have both an eternal
"medium" aspect and a transient "message" aspect does have explanatory
value within a philosophical/spiritual context. This perspective gives
better answers to questions that involve meaning, and it illuminates the
eternal. It gives us a view which extends beyond the usual scientific
view without in any way negating it. We can look at scientific truth and
philosophical (or spiritual) truth as valid subsets of the whole
We could say that existence
is a mental/physical happening in which a permanent medium is modulated
by a temporary and ever-changing message. The medium—Energy/Awareness
or Being—is modulated by patterns of significant difference, by information.
The physical aspect of Being
is energy or proto-energy—pure energy, prior to its modulation by, or
adoption of, any specific form. It is the E of Einstein's equation E=mc2.
It is that energy which "cannot be created or destroyed, but only changed
in form." It is energy independent of the form it takes: the underlying
foundation of all matter as well as all action.
The mental aspect of Being
is awareness—pure awareness, pure subjectivity, prior to its modulation
by information, by "mind content." We'll go into the mental side of things
later, and deal in this first section of the book mostly with the physical.
In his book The First Three
Minutesnote1 physicist and Nobel Laureate
Steven Weinberg expressed regret that he couldn't account for what went
on during the first 1/100 of a second after the Big Bang—the start of
our universe at t=0, some 15 billion years ago. Since his book was written
there have been advances in particle physics, and the real mystery period
now appears to be the first 10-43 seconds: a period of "cosmological
singularity" preceding the first appearance of form.note2
The exact number isn't important here. What is important is that there
was an instant at the beginning of our present universe when there was
no form. The temperature approached infinity. Spatial dimensions approached
zero. Matter and energy had none of its usual structure. What was
during that first 10-43 second was pure Being on the threshold
of becoming: pure potential. What was was Janus-faced primal capability:
energy/awareness. We might call energy and awareness the active and receptive
aspects of oneness; the primal thrust toward activity, and the primal
thrust toward perception and knowing; pure unmanifested yang, and pure
unfilled yin. Modern cosmologists tell us that space and time were also
born in that instant. This space-time matrix is the stage upon which becoming
takes place, a prerequisite for that informational happening we call Existence.
Existence involves the interpenetration
and interaction of three separate strata, or realms, or types of reality:
energy, awareness, and information. Energy and awareness are media. (Or
more probably, as I will indicate later, two aspects of one medium.) Information
is message. Energy and awareness are the grounds from which existence
springs (the paint and canvas). Information is the content (the brush
strokes, the emerging pattern). Energy is the eternal ground of all physical
existence. Awareness is the ground of all mental existence. Information
is the evanescent, space-based, time-based, always-changing overlay which—as
form and content for the other two—creates the mental/physical drama of
existence, the dance of Shiva, Samsara.
Pure, formless energy is the
cosmic modeling clay—the medium which is overlaid with informational patterns,
with form, to become the objective universe.
Pure, contentless awareness
is the medium of subjective experience. It interfaces with informational
patterns of energy difference which wave or modulate awareness, creating
mind content and the phenomenon we call mind.
difference—is that third element. Information is the abstract organizing
matrix which lies at the root of any expression, in any medium. It is
the organizing principle embodied in the blueprint of a building and in
the building itself. It is the sameness to be found in a book written
in English and its French translation.
In information theory this
abstract organizing matrix is seen to be a matrix of differences. Gregory
Bateson defined the elementary unit of information as "any difference
which makes a difference. . ." Information is the array of significant
differences which defines form. Differences in position. Differences in
time. Differences in color, intensity, pressure, texture. Differences
of any type at all signify information.
Information is knowledge in
the abstract, disembodied knowledge. It is there in the concept, and the
physical structure that embodies the concept. It is there in the motion
and in the equations that describe that motion. The same core information
exists in the imagination of the composer, the musical score, the performance,
the wavy groove of the vinyl record, the electrical signal going to the
loudspeaker, the sound in the room, the vibrations of the eardrum, the
pattern of neuronal firings in the brain, and the subjective perception
of the sound.
In summary, unpatterned Being
is the reservoir of potential for all action and all knowing. It is the
pregnant Void—void of form or information—but the source of all capability
and wisdom. Being activates dead informational patterns, and we have life
and mind. And through these lives and minds Being comes to know itself.
In the next few chapters we will look at the processes through which this
The universe is a display,
a composition, a work wrought in the primary media of expression. It is
an ongoing "media event": an ever-changing in-form-ation and re-form-ation
of energy—exhibiting and enjoying a vast variety of phenomena, effects
From the standpoint of energy,
the universe is a giant physical process—a system of systems, a megasystem
or suprasystem. From the standpoint of awareness, it is a mosaic of thought
processes—a megathought or suprathought. From either standpoint it is
an informational construct—a molding, a forming, a dynamic patterning
of the two-faceted ground of Being: Energy/Awareness.
Existence is like a symphony,
arising from silent Being into a flow of sometimes harmonious, sometimes
discordant ephemeral activity, to die away in the end back into silent
We can also look at Existence
as a game: an exercise in creating, observing, and destroying information;
a realm of play, adventure, and diversion for Energy/Awareness—the One.
to Table of Contents
Evolution is an "informationizing"
It's the process through which energy—the physical medium of existence—acquires
its modulating overlay of ever more complex informational patterns.
It would be foolish to deny
the reality of our physical existence, or call it an illusion. But there
is a difference between the reality of form and specific function, and
the reality of the underlying interpenetrating ground of Being which makes
form and function possible. I might give you a lump of modeling clay having
some shape and ask: "Which is real, the clay or its shape?" The reality
of the shape exists until you squish the thing in your hands and make
another shape. But the reality of the clay itself remains unchanged.
Cosmic modeling clay is more
sophisticated, of course, than the stuff kids play with. It is energized,
and can mold itself. In that respect it is more like yeasty bread dough
than passive clay. The yeast within a lump of dough is active. In creating
bubbles of gas it gives microscopic texture and macroscopic form to the
loaf. The dough, in rising and baking, develops an intricate informational
structure. The original dough is still there, but no longer as a homogeneous
lump. The dough's active principle—the yeast—has been at work creating
an informational labyrinth. The only physical reality is still
the dough, but an informational reality has also come into existence:
the bread's texture and overall shape. The universe behaves similarly.
Guided in accord with the physical laws of nature, the universe—like a
giant lump of rising dough—acquires form.
In the world of nature, ordered
complexity has emerged level by level as a hierarchy of natural systems.
System-theory mathematics says that complexity usually emerges this way—as
step-by-step hierarchies—rather than as one homogeneous super-complexity.
Subatomic particles get together to form atoms. Atoms interrelate to form
molecules. Molecules of a single type sometimes join each other to form
crystals. And molecules of many different types sometimes join to form
the living systems we call cells. Cells interconnect to form plants, the
simplest animals, and the organs of complex animals. Organs operate in
concert with each other in the higher forms of animal life to create those
extremely complex systems called fish, and birds, and human beings. Living
things of many types interact with each other to form ecosystems. Ecosystems
communicate with each other and together form the biosphere. Human beings
start communicating with each other and give birth to those systems we
call cultures, societies, and nations.
The story of the evolving
physical universe is the story of an evolving hierarchy of natural systems.
Let's begin at the beginning and see what has happened step-by-step in
the development of the cosmic informational labyrinth.
There is general agreement
among cosmologists that our present universe was born in a fireball of
energy roughly 15 billion years ago. They're not yet sure whether all
this energy came into existence then, or was inherited from a former universe
which had collapsed. They do agree that there was an instant during which
all physical reality was crowded together in one place. During that instant
there was no structure or form, just this fireball of unimaginable temperature.
And, as I mentioned, they agree that time and space—information's basic
framework—was also born in that instant.
According to Steven Weinberg's
account—the cosmologist's "standard model"—it took three minutes for the
temperature of the rapidly expanding newborn universe to drop to a billion
degrees. During that three minutes much of the initial fund of raw energy
took material form as electrons, protons, and neutrons—ordinary matter's
structural building blocks. The temperature was still too high for stable
atoms to form, but even at this stage the neutrons were pairing up with
protons to form stable helium nuclei—each nucleus consisting of two protons
and two neutrons. Within minutes Energy had already adopted its first
stable overlays of form and systemic pattern.
During the next 700,000 years
not much new happened. The cosmic fireball grew in size and cooled, becoming
a cloud of hot gas. By then the temperature had dropped to 3000 degrees,
and the second stage of systemic patterning began: atom building. Electrons
began to associate with protons and helium nuclei. During the preceding
700,000 years electrons and protons had been passing near each other,
but they were always too energized to stick together for long. Now, at
this lower temperature, whenever an electron and a proton got close to
each other the electron would start orbiting the proton: A hydrogen atom
would come into existence. The motion of the particles was random, but
their joining whenever chance brought them together was a necessary and
appropriate unfolding of the rules of the Game.
During the next billion years
the cloud of hydrogen and helium gas cooled and expanded—but the expansion
wasn't quite even. Gravitational attraction between gas atoms accentuated
the unevenness, and the one huge cloud gradually broke up into more than
a billion smaller clouds. Huge is the key word here because each of these
"smaller" clouds would eventually become a galaxy containing, on average,
more than a billion stars. (Boggle, Oh mind!)
One of these clouds eventually
became our Milky Way galaxy. As this cloud contracted, eddies in the movement
of the gas started it rotating. Eventually spiral arms formed. In these
arms there were places where enough gas had been pulled by its own gravity
into a small enough space so that intense heating occurred. The temperature
in some of these condensations rose to the point where continuous nuclear
fusion reactions started. These isolated fireballs were the first-generation
Besides their familiar role
as planet warmers, stars are the alchemist's fiery cauldrons in which
the heavier chemical elements are created. Almost all of the atoms that
make up your body either date back to the period soon after the Big Bang,
or were forged later in some star. Hydrogen and helium atoms are stable
arrangements, or systems, of electrons, protons and neutrons. There are
close to 300 other stable arrangements as well. Forming the nuclei of
these other arrangements requires extremely high temperature and pressure.
The interior of a star provides exactly this sort of environment.
Stars differ in size and temperature.
A star with an internal temperature of 10 million degrees is able to convert
hydrogen to helium. At 100 million degrees helium is converted to carbon
and oxygen. At about a billion degrees these atoms are broken down in
complex reactions to form magnesium, sodium, calcium and sulphur. At 3
billion degrees chromium, iron, nickel, and small quantities of many other
elements form. Hotter yet are the stellar furnaces called supernovas.
They are thought to be the source of the heaviest, most complex elements
such as gold and uranium.
These happenings inside stars
give us a glimpse of the role of random processes in evolution. Chaos
does not create order, but it can often help a latent potential for order
to reveal itself. The potential for order, for forming the ordered arrangements
we call atoms, inheres in the subatomic particles and the rules of the
game—the program behind the process. The chaotic random nature of these
stellar processes is an enabling mechanism which allows that potential
for order, for structure, to be realized.
Inside a star, elementary
particles are forced at random into all sorts of configurations. The interplay
of atomic forces is such that only a few of these configurations are able
to endure. Of all the millions of conceivable ways of arranging these
particles, fewer than three hundred of them meet all the requirements—all
the behavioral rules of the particles themselves—for stable structures.
Random forces bring the bits and pieces together, but whether or not a
particular arrangement can be frozen into permanent existence is determined
by the intrinsic rules of particle behavior, by the cosmic program.
From the standpoint of information,
the situation-as-a-whole embodies all the information needed to define
what happens. Each particle brings part of the information with it. The
rest is supplied by the milieu in which the particle finds itself. The
total information brought together from all sources, in conjunction with
the laws-of-nature programming, determines which of the potential modes
of existence will be actualized.
The first-generation stars
in our galaxy condensed from part of the original gas cloud. They turned
on, converting hydrogen to heavier elements and radiating energy into
the universe. These stars eventually grew old, went through many changes,
and before turning off spewed their newly formed elements out into space
to form new clouds of gas and dust. Second generation stars condensed
from these new clouds. Our sun is a second or third generation star that
condensed more than 4.6 billion years ago. This time the clouds contained
not only gases like hydrogen and helium, but also particles consisting
of the heavier elements. Earth also formed at about the same time as the
sun, and the process of formation was similar. Dust particles joined each
other by gravitational attraction until an earth-sized mass had formed
and there was no more material around to attract.
The heat generated by radioactive
elements allowed the earth to get hot inside—hot enough to melt the heavy
elements—but nowhere near hot enough to start a nuclear fire. Earth did
not become a furnace for forging atoms. It became instead the scene of
even more complex and interesting happenings. Earth was an especially
favorable place for the next stage of system-building which we could call
chemical evolution: the emergence of those tiny systems of matter called
I've mentioned that the systems
we find in nature tend to emerge in hierarchies. A complex system is created
through the ordered coming together of less complex (sub) systems. So
it is with atoms and molecules. The reactive environment in the stars
apparently allowed every possible stable configuration of elementary particles
to be realized: The natural elements and their isotopes exhausted the
potential for stable systems made directly from electrons, protons and
neutrons. Starting a whole new level of system building was the only route
to increased complexity. Atoms became the building blocks—the subsystems—in
the arrangements of atoms we call molecules. Whatever atoms could do,
they did do, in the environment which existed.
Once again it was a matter
of actualizing inherent potentials. Each atom had the potential for certain
kinds of combining under certain environmental conditions. Sodium will
bond with chlorine to form that molecular system we call salt. Hydrogen
will bond with nitrogen to form ammonia—but only if enough energy enters
the process. The laws of chemistry are a human description of the potential
of atoms to form configurations with other atoms.
The earth's temperature was
just right for chemistry; not an inferno, but not the icy cold of space
either. That nearby star, the sun, kept the earth's temperature in the
right range for many chemical reactions. Some molecule building had already
been taking place in space, but earth was much more hospitable. Not only
was the temperature more suitable, but gravity held things together—allowing
solids and liquids and gases to interface with each other.
There is some disagreement
about the details, but the situation on early earth has often been described
in something like the following way: The earth had an atmosphere, but
not one that you or I would like. It contained little or no oxygen. According
to some theorists it contained lots of ammonia, methane, and hydrogen
sulfide—as well as hydrogen and water vapor. Others speculate that it
contained primarily carbon dioxide and water vapor. There were erupting
volcanos ejecting hot gases and lava. And there were oceans. When the
sun shone, intense ultra-violet radiation poured on the earth. And sometimes
violent lightning storms raged.
Lots was happening in the
oceans of that early earth. Molecules which had formed in the atmosphere
with the aid of ultra-violet radiation and lightning flashes were washed
by the rain into the sea along with minerals from the land. There is also
growing evidence that quite complex carbon-based compounds form in outer
space, and some of these may have reached the earth's oceans via meteorite
or comet impacts.
Almost all writers refer to
these early oceans—or at least the small pools at their edge—as attaining
the characteristic of a broth or soup, thick with a wide variety of organic
molecules. The sun was providing just the right amount of energy. Intricate
molecules were able to form: amino acids, nitrogen compounds, various
types of sugar molecules, and perhaps even organic molecules as complex
as enzymes. The ingredients of this soup existed in varying degrees of
segregation from other molecules, and in varying concentrations. The sun
shone and the sky darkened. Temperatures rose and fell. Winds blew and
other things happened to stir the soup—all in a chancy, random way. The
atoms and molecules did whatever the informational constraints of the
situation directed them to do under the ever-changing conditions in the
Then somewhere in the soup
one day—perhaps in the mud of an estuary—conditions were exactly right
for a new kind of complex molecule to form. It was probably some type
of nucleic acid. It exhibited a peculiar characteristic. Its presence
in the broth provided enough guidance to other molecules and atoms near
it so that they arranged themselves in the same pattern as the original
molecule. A rare self-copying molecule had come into existence and had
done its unique thing.
If this strikes you as impossible
you might want to repeat a simple experiment that made the possibility
seem real to me. I dumped a cup of sugar and half a cup of water in a
saucepan and brought it to a boil. I then poured this sugar syrup in a
jar and arranged a weighted string to hang down into the solution. Within
a few hours crystals started growing out from the string and the weight.
These crystals had flat surfaces and sharp consistent angles—the cross
section of some looking like perfect squares. From the chaotic random
motion of molecules in the solution, order was emerging—the organized
structured complexity of the crystal.
How had this come to be? First,
the fine hairs on the string provided points onto which the first sugar
molecules fastened. Then other molecules began to attach to the first
ones in orderly fashion. The crystal grew in its regular geometric way
because the crystal structure directed the behavior of the molecules floating
nearby. The electrical field radiating out from that crystal lattice guided
passing molecules into just the right positions where they locked into
the structure of the extending lattice. Their charge patterns then contributed
to the overall guiding field—directing still more molecules to attach
themselves to the growing crystal.
Crystals grow as they do because
their structure has a dual function. The structure not only determines
the shape of the crystal, but is also the source of information for building
more crystal. Self-replicating molecules are a similar—though much more
complex—sort of beast. The structure of the molecule is a set of instructions
for making more. These instructions are in such a form that following
them is an effortless, mindless, automatic happening—a natural result
of the interplay of affinities and forces.
The emergence of a self-replicating
molecule was a very special event. Molecules only came into existence
when chance forces brought the right bits and pieces together in the right
environment. With simple molecules this happened frequently enough, and
there were many simple molecules in the soup. But as complexity went up,
the odds went down. Occasionally, complex molecules would be created—but
never enough of them to use as building blocks for something still more
complex. The rare chance emergence of a molecule capable of replicating
was something else, though. Such a molecule froze chance on an upswing,
and from then on additional molecules of the same kind emerged with no
more difficulty than simple molecules. As long as the right bits and pieces
were there in the soup, the replicating molecules would keep directing
the bits and pieces to hook up in a way that made more self-replicating
This early replication was
probably not exact. The copies weren't just like the original. What apparently
happened next is that some one of these "odd" copies, by chance, had a
structure that was also able to direct the construction of a protein molecule—a
crude enzyme. This enzyme was able to assist the nucleic acid molecule
in making an accurate copy of itself. This point in evolution—when nucleic
acid molecules started getting help, when systems started to develop around
them to help them replicate—marks the emergence of life in the thinking
of some biologists. After that came the cell and the evolution of increasingly
complex living things—the evolution most of us are familiar with.
When something is too improbable,
when the odds against it happening seem just too great—and yet it happens
anyway—then we call it a miracle. For a long time life seemed miraculous
in just that sense. Life's many forms seemed to require the existence
of a master planner: a God who guided all the details of creation; a designer
of oak trees and robins and human beings. It appeared just too improbable
that all this order emerged in any other way. We know now that living
systems are inherent potentials of energy itself, and that "intelligent
designing" is only one possible way of realizing those potentials. It
turns out that you don't need an intelligent designer if you have a sufficiently
Both information and chance
played important roles in what happened. Although trial and error alone
is not usually an effective way to bring complex levels of order out of
chaos, combining trial and error with the best available information often
is. If there is enough information to get close to some informational
goal, then using trial and error to go the final distance becomes reasonable.
We frequently use this combination in our daily lives. I don't know about
you, but the erasers on my pencils always wear down before the lead does,
and my wastebasket fills with discarded drafts. I know fairly clearly
what I want to say. I have the information to take me most of the way.
But there is trial and error involved in crystallizing my thoughts and
in optimizing the way I express them.
Another example involves my
lack of athletic prowess. Now and then I want to put a radio antenna wire
over a particular branch high up in a tree. My usual procedure is to fasten
a fishing line to a rubber ball, and then attempt to throw the ball over
that one special branch. The throw of a professional baseball player would
be high in information and low in chance. He might get the ball over the
branch in one or two tries. My throws have much less information content
and much more randomness. It might take me as many as twenty throws before
one goes exactly right. The interesting thing, though, is that the result
is exactly the same. The fishing line is over the desired branch in either
case—that specific potential has been actualized in both instances. It
just takes longer when there is less information initially—when I must
wait for the rest of the information to be supplied by trial and error.
In the evolution of living
things the process works somewhat differently. Evolution does not aim
at a specific branch, does not have a specific design goal in mind. There
was no advance plan to create robins, for example. What happens in nature
is that a large base of solid pre-tested information on how to build various
living things is passed along from generation to generation. And via genetic
mutation and recombination there is also enough randomness introduced
into the process to allow the occasional ball to go over a new branch.
One reason that trial and
error works in the process of writing and putting up an antenna is that
there is a memory mechanism which catches the best swings of chance. That
extra clear phrase is captured on paper. The fishing line remains over
the branch long after the ball has fallen back to earth. DNA provides
this information memory in living things. It carries the master plan for
creating a being of the same species.
Genetic randomness has several
sources. External factors like radiation or chemicals can produce random
changes in the DNA molecule: mutations. Randomness also comes from the
famous gene pool. In sexual reproduction, the offspring's DNA coding is
determined in part by the DNA of one parent and in part by the DNA of
the other. Except for identical twins, everyone's DNA coding differs slightly
from everyone else's. The randomness involved in two people finding each
other and mating is one element of gene-pool chance; the random selection
of which coding elements (genes) come from which parent is another.
Since life first emerged the
earth has gone through a succession of geologic ages, its continents have
drifted, and its atmosphere has changed drastically. Ice ages and tropical
climates have come and gone. Life has made it through all these changes,
and has greatly diversified in the process. It has done so because the
potential for life forms that could survive was there, and because this
OLD INFORMATION + RANDOM
CHANGES = NEW INFORMATION
really is a satisfactory way
to actualize such potentials—if you have the time to wait.
There has been much time for
trial and error—about 3 billion years here on earth. Survival has been
the prize for those involved in the winning trials, and for their descendants.
Death has claimed the errors and the former winning species who could
no longer adapt to changing conditions. This, simply, is the key to natural
selection: Survival and reproduction are dual filters which eliminate
some information and allow other information to continue to exist. The
information which makes it through this filtering or editing process is
a fairly reliable plan for building an organism. It doesn't guarantee
the survival of that organism, but it brings decent odds with it.
What of the Game's end? A
lot depends on the geometry of space. Einstein not only pointed out that
matter is really energy, he also pointed out that Euclidean geometry—where
a straight line is a straight line—holds over great distances only if
the universe contains a certain critical amount of energy/matter. If it
contains more than this so-called critical mass, space-time curves
in on itself, resulting in a universe that is self-contained in space
and time. Such a universe—even though initially expanding—would never
attain more than some finite size. Its duration would be limited too.
Once it reached maximum size this "closed" universe would begin to contract,
and would presumably end its existence by collapsing into a point-universe
fireball similar to the one in which it was born. If there is less than
this critical amount of mass, space-time curves outward in some four-dimensional
hyperbolic way that I find impossible to visualize. A universe containing
either the critical amount or less is "open"—infinite in space and time.
Even though it had a definite beginning, such a universe would keep expanding
What is, is—and the
human mind's preferences in the matter make no difference. At the moment,
astronomers and cosmologists do not have an accurate idea of how much
mass our universe contains. They don't know which of these possible situations
is our situation. The betting seems to switch back and forth every few
years between open and closed. As I write this, not enough mass has yet
been discovered to prove that our universe is closed. Nevertheless, the
"missing mass" may exist in some still undetected form. Astronomical calculations
of the rate of expansion of the universe are not precise enough to resolve
the issue, but they do indicate that our universe lies close to that critical
line between open and closed.
In the open universe scenario,
Being would play its Existence Game for many billions of years. Presumably
the process would continue to uplift and uplevel itself in a variety of
ways. There would be increasingly sophisticated perceptual systems and
minds. The higher values of the process (which will be discussed in the
next chapter) would be actualized to an increasing extent. There might
be, for example, a gradual resolution of conflicts, and a more widespread
understanding of the mysteries of Being. As order increased locally—in
biological beings, silicon brains, and other of Illya Prigogine's dissipative
structuresnote3—entropy would increase
elsewhere. Eventually there would be no more free energy to power the
perceiving and information processing systems. Not only would the doing
end, but so presumably would the more sophisticated kinds of watching.
There would no longer be the energy needed to power complex systems and
create intricate mental "shows" such as those that appear in human consciousness.
Being would simply be its peaceful Self forever more.
In the closed universe scenario,
too, Being would play its Existence Game for many billions of years—but
the Game would end differently. Instead of local activity gradually stopping
as the universe continued to expand forever, it would end in a different
set of events as the universe collapsed in on itself. At the end of the
collapse the temperature would be comparable with that of the Big Bang,
and most (if not all) information from our present universe would be erased.
It's also possible that the fireball would rebound from contraction to
expansion. In the thinking of some theorists, such an event would be a
truly fresh start; even the laws of nature might be different in a follow-on
universe. (Gribbin, 1981, p317)
to Table of Contents
It is a programmatic universe,
and each "law of nature" simply describes what a particular subroutine
of the cosmic program does.
Evolution moves in certain directions and exhibits certain preferences.
This directionality is an output of the overall program—an effect
of all the subroutines working together.
Energy/Awareness plays the Existence Game for its own pleasure and amusement.
The object is to actualize evolution's values to the greatest extent possible,
despite hazards and risks. Play happens through countless ongoing subadventures.
And, as in computer games, the only thing that ever really changes is
As we saw in the last chapter,
evolution is an "informationizing" process, occurring within the framework
of space-time, in which Being is overlaid with, or modulated by, various
informational patterns. While chance and randomness play an important
part in this process, it is nevertheless a programmatic process.
There are deterministic "laws
of nature" which dictate what must happen under certain circumstances.
They dictate physical necessity in Jaques Monod's sense of that
word. But what is a law of nature—really? How does this necessity come
about? What lies behind our description of it—behind the words and the
equations? Nobody really knows. What is happening behind the scenes is
hidden from us. What we can say is that somehow, through means that are
presently beyond our understanding, physical reality is programmed
to work in certain ways. Laws of nature are our verbal and mathematical
descriptions of the algorithms behind the programs, subprograms, and subroutines
that define what will happen under various conditions.
It is through the interplay
of chance and programmatic determinism that evolution proceeds. And although
evolution is program guided and program directed, this does
not mean it is totally deterministic in the "clockwork universe" sense.
Computer programs often call up random numbers to introduce chance and
serendipity into otherwise lock-step processing. Similarly, true randomness
appears to be built into the programmatic operation of the universe at
the subatomic level.note4 Also, the vastness
of the universe and the large number of things going on insures additional
serendipity through the intersection of countless largely independent
chains of cause and effect. Chance sets up certain informational situations—information
inputs in computer terms. The cosmic computer continuously monitors
those situations, and through its laws-of-nature programming creates new
informational situations—new information outputs.
As an example of this, let's
recall that sugar solution, and imagine the situation at the growing edge
of the crystal. The crystal is there with the electrical field of its
lattice extending out beyond the crystal. The molecules floating by represent
a changing informational input to the programmatic process existing at
the crystal edge. The "program" in this case is manifested in the electrical
charge patterns surrounding both crystal and molecules. At some point
a molecule comes along with just the right orientation and distance. The
field extending from the crystal and the field extending from the molecule
interact. At the instant when just the right informational input exists:
snap. The molecule locks onto the extending lattice. A new informational
reality now exists—an output of the programmatic process.
Scientific laws describe necessities
at the level of specific, limited, defined happenings—and many different
kinds of events can and do occur. Much is allowed to happen in
our universe. We look around and see physical growth alongside physical
destruction. We see ecstasy followed a moment later by excruciating agony.
We see war and death and disease. We experience suffering and exploitation.
But there is also beauty and joy, the wonder of human creativity, and
the power of human love. From the perspective of daily living these wildly
differing events dominate our view.
Twenty years ago I agreed
with the Existentialists: any universe in which all these things can occur
is absurd. Yet today I realize that the impression of absurdity arises
because our usual view of things is immediate and local. The trees prevent
us from seeing the forest. We don't have a holistic perspective on the
situation. When I step back, however, and view the evolutionary process
as a whole, over its long history, I see something else. Behind the day
to day jumble of particulars I see general trends and pervasive tendencies.
I see that although many things are permitted by the laws of nature, the
process as a whole does exhibit long-term preferences. It is heading in
certain discernable directions, not others. It exhibits certain values.
It follows certain vectors.
What we can see, if we look,
are some positive trends and process characteristics. But, at the same
time, these occur within a context of limited time and energy. We see
the upward evolutionary thrust, a movement toward information richness.
But that movement appears against a backdrop of increasing entropy, decreasing
free energy, and limited duration.
Several of these trends are
connected with the hierarchical system-building that the universe has
been engaged in for the past 15 billion years. There has been a trend
toward systemic complexity, for example: the movement from atoms
to molecules to ever more complex life forms, etc. There has also been
a trend toward diversity and novelty: 3 types of elementary
particles were used to create 300 stable atomic structures which were
used as building blocks to make millions of different molecules which
permitted the creation of countless life forms and artificial structures,
etc. And almost everywhere we see systemic integration: harmony
between levels of system. The component system enables the larger system
to function, and is—in many cases—protected, or aided in its own functioning,
by that larger system.
In the evolution of life forms
we have seen a trend toward increased adaptability and autonomy.
In part, this is the result of rising intelligence and general
mental capability. There has also been a trend toward high level perceptual
capabilities, and increasing richness of subjective experience.
When we look at recent evolution
(the period involving human beings and our immediate predecessors) there
is a shorter stretch of data to look at. Because of this, the observer
of this period stands on somewhat shakier ground in postulating trends
and values. But if we assume that the best human specimens embody the
higher values of the process, if we assume that their characteristics
indicate the general direction the process is taking, then things appear
exciting indeed. Here we see the process going beyond intelligence to
holistic understanding or wisdom. Mental flexibility
and autonomy emerge. Beings go beyond strictly utilitarian concerns
to aesthetic understanding and appreciation. Individual nodes of
process, individual beings, develop concern and compassion for
the whole and its parts. There is the expression of subjective love
which takes the form of interest and acceptance. And there is the expression
of objective love or noumenal creativity through which the
high values of Being become manifested in the informational structures
of the phenomenal world.
If the individual laws of
nature are primarily instrumental—allowing us to destroy as easily as
build—then what is the source of these upward trends and values? Where
does this upleveling guidance come from?
There are various ways of
conceptualizing the situation. We could say, for example, that there is
a matrix of universal laws, values, rules, tendencies, boundaries, and
possibly habits which ensure that—despite evolution's random aspect—the
process as a whole is moving in certain directions, along certain vectors.
Monod's necessity would be part of this guidance. So, possibly,
would the morphogenetic fields hypothesized by biologist Rupert
Sheldrake, and the implicate order hypothesized by physicist David
Bohm. To me, however, we get the clearest and cleanest explanation by
drawing an analogy between the upleveling guidance, and a complex computer
program having many subprograms and subroutines.
Let's start this comparison
by acknowledging that all program-guided processes are also value-guided
processes. Here I use the term values in the sense that system
theorist Ervin Laszlo used it when he wrote: "Values are goals which behavior
strives to realize. Any activity which is oriented toward the accomplishment
of some end is a value-oriented activity." That definition is a broad
one. It applies to human values, to the values which are part of the cosmic
process, and to the values that reside in data-processing programs.
Understanding any one of these
value-based processes can help us understand the others. Computer programs
are sets of instructions that define a computer's task and direct the
computer to pursue some goal. Therefore, computer programs are the source
and residence of the machine's values while that program is running. Turning
to nature, we can think of the entire matrix of Natural Law as one master
program which guides the evolutionary process. The individual laws of
nature are subroutines and subprograms of this much larger program. The
subroutines and subprograms, by themselves (or a few working together)
can, and sometimes do, create short-term local chaos. The upward trends
occur, despite this, because the values of the evolutionary process,
its directivity and its goals, reside in the overall program.
The values inhere in the working-together of all the laws, not in the
individual laws taken in isolation.
Let me explain what I mean
in a bit more detail. A computer program is more than a bundle of independent
subprograms. The subprograms and subroutines of a computer program interrelate
with each other in specific ways, and the definition of those ways is
the overall program. Similarly, the individual laws of nature do not function
alone. There is a pattern in the way these laws work together. The laws
of physiology and the behavioral sciences, for instance, are the programmatic
working-together of an array of simpler, more basic laws. And it is the
patterned working-together of all natural law that guides the evolutionary
process. Just as a computer program is the total patterned functioning
of all its subroutines, what we might call the program behind evolution
is the total patterned functioning of all physical laws. And just as a
computer program embodies goals and values, so does the matrix of natural
law which guides the functioning of the universe.
It might be helpful here to
compare the universe with a computer or "video" game. Let's assume that
you're playing some video game for the first time and have been given
no instructions. You start fiddling around with the joystick, and certain
things happen. By watching the screen you fairly quickly come to understand
the "laws" that govern joystick manipulation. On the other hand, joystick
manipulation involves only a small part of the game's overall program.
It will probably take much additional playing and observing before the
overall nature and aims of the game became clear. This is a perfectly
legitimate way of figuring out what the objective of the game is, and
what the program behind the game is doing. It is, in fact, science's way.
If you play long enough, and observe carefully enough, you can eventually
deduce the algorithm which underlies the program.
If someone took apart a complex
computer program and handed you a mixed up basketful of separate subroutines
you'd be able to find out much about the subroutines, but less than you
might like about the overall program from which they were taken. Human
knowledge is in a similar bind. The realities of experimental science
almost force scientists to deal with limited situations and a few natural
laws at a time. Thus, when Western Science looked at nature it abstracted
from it a basketful of separate laws. These are very useful for explaining
and predicting specific events, but science, as a whole, has not yet gotten
serious about piecing together the overall program.
Philosophers, spiritual seers
and a few generalist scientists have taken more holistic looks. Their
reports on the overall program are nowhere near as detailed or as accurate
as the reports on the subroutines, but they are at least as important.
These sensitive, aware, intelligent, quiet-minded people have, in their
intuitive apprehension of existence, sensed certain forces and values
at work in the universe. They have come up with labels like God, Tao,
Atman, life force, elan vital, and love to identify and tag them. They
were not deluded—though what they sensed is perhaps more clearly explained
in terms of algorithms, programs, media, and messages—rather than gods,
forms and essences.
Those upward trends are exciting,
but doesn't that context of limited time and energy put a serious damper
on things? We know that the universe will end. If the universe is open,
and expands forever, it will end in a state of lifeless structure when
all free energy has been used up. Or, if the universe is closed and contracts
back in on itself, it will end in a fireball. It's clear, therefore, that
those upward trends are not heading toward some perfect telos, some ideal,
permanent state of affairs. Thus, it cannot be what lies at the end of
the process that ultimately matters. So what is the point of it all?
The point is the process
itself, and the adventure of trying to enrich and uplevel that process
despite hazards and risks. The reality of the situation draws us almost
forcibly to the game metaphor. Existence in this universe is very game-like.
We looked at some of the parallels between the Existence Game and a computer
game, but there are others. In a computer game the microprocessor contains
and establishes the most basic operating rules—analogous to the most basic
laws of the universe. The computer program contains the more specific
rules-of-the-game. All these laws and rules—in combination with the data
inherent in the present situation (like joystick positions) dictate what
will happen next.
Noumenal energy provides the
means to conduct both types of game. And in both, information (as laws,
rules, programs, and immediate data) provides the control. Information
also appears in the display. A TV screen displays the information in the
computer game. In the Existence Game the information is displayed first
as physical form and function, and ultimately as mind contents.
In both cases the medium which
permits, allows, and enables the game to be played is totally unaffected
by the content of the game. In a video game whether there are wins or
losses—and no matter how many million space ships are zapped out of existence—the
computer is still able to support continued play. In the Existence Game
pure formless energy is the medium, and 100 percent of it will continue
to exist no matter how many stars explode or how many planets are devastated
by nuclear wars. The only thing that ever really changes is information.
In a computer game, as well
as the Existence Game, the objective medium (energy) activates the game
and enables play. And in both games the subjective medium (awareness)
watches the informational ebb and flow with interest as the game progresses.
Yes, computer games parallel
the cosmic game—but so, in some sense, do most of the games we humans
play. To some extent all our human activities are limited metaphors of
the overall game. I suspect that play is a fundamental part of a human's
life—and a dog's life and an otter's—because play itself is fundamental.
This serious/not-serious pursuit of objectives—despite hazards and risks—seems
to be a fundamental activity of the whole universal process.
to Table of Contents
Historically, the term
God has been associated both with aspects of reality, and with nonsense.
Part of the task of growing wiser is to sort out the first from the second.
Then, because the term itself has become so confusing, let's drop it—and
use, instead, language that describes the underlying reality. By not using
the word God we avoid its outdated meanings, and are forced to say what
we really mean.
What is meant today, in the
framework of this paradigm, by the word God? Is there any value in using
that term? Any reality behind it?
I've come to the conclusion
that there is no need to use the term, and considerable danger
of being misunderstood if we do use it. The word "God" may be a useful
enough symbol when used within a limited group where everyone agrees on
the definition. But it is too imprecise to be of much use in the world
at large where there is no consensus about what it means.
The word carries much historical
baggage with it. For one thing, humans have always tended to fashion their
gods in their own likeness. Modern theologians and others have gone beyond
this, but for most people the anthropomorphic image still clings to the
Fortunately, when you drop
the term you automatically drop the nonsense connected with it. And you
can express any realities that it symbolized by choosing other words.
Let's go exploring among the various historical meanings of the word God,
and see what we find of value. Let's see what's there that still rings
Some of the old concepts just
don't make sense any longer. They are clearly part of the nonsense. The
first of these we have already discarded: the concept of a master-designer
God. There is ample evidence that the evolutionary process itself
has been doing a dandy design job.
The concept of an anthropomorphic
God is more deeply rooted. For many of us, our first introduction
as children to the idea of God involved picturing God as a person—either
a young Jesus-God, or an old man with a white beard, a Father-God. Today,
such a God makes no sense to me. Despite this, that original image still
comes to mind whenever I hear the word. The word God remains contaminated
with that childhood image, making it difficult to depersonalize the concept.
I will argue later that the concept of person—even in the strictly human
sense—is a mischief maker. The idea that God is a super-person somewhere
out there is a mischief maker too.
Women who have switched from
God to Goddess are changing the image by changing the word
to its feminine form, but the anthropomorphism remains. As I see it, any
meanings of the word God that make sense today are meanings which transcend
both personhood and gender. So why hobble our conceptualization with
a person and gender image by using either God or Goddess?
I also have problems with
the idea of a personally intervening God. The traditional Christian
concept of a loving, caring, all-powerful personal God—a God capable of
intervening directly in human affairs—might be attractive, but is it credible?
It has never rung true to me. As I see it, the concept just doesn't fit
the data. We are part of a programmatic, lawful universe. Lives unfold
according to the rules of chance and necessity. The better we understand
those rules, the smoother things are apt to go. But I see no evidence
of a God who changes or breaks the rules in response to external pleas
or internal decisions. Furthermore, if an all powerful, all merciful God
did exist—one capable of changing things arbitrarily—why would that God
allow human folly and human suffering to continue? It doesn't make sense.
There are, in my view, at
least three concepts historically connected with the term God that do
have some connection with reality. The first of these is first cause.
While some may agree that we don't need a master-designer God any more,
they still feel that we need a God to explain where the whole process
came from. They feel that there must be a God of first cause who started
it all. To me, Energy meets that need. These people and I agree
that there must be something that is uncreated, something that just is.
They call that something God. I call that something Energy. All experimental
evidence indicates that energy cannot be created or destroyed. Energy
just is. The ground of the present universe is self-existent; as
far as we can tell, energy always was, and always will be. If I need a
God to create the ground of being, then why don't I need another God to
create that one, and so forth, onward to infinity? The buck of creation
has to start somewhere, and the evidence all points to energy as the eternal,
uncaused starting place.
The second of these historical
concepts is intrinsic, or process intelligence. Some would say
that the program which guides the process expresses and embodies both
the will and the wisdom of God. Here I have no problem, except that I
see no need to use the word God. Just as energy simply is, that
primal programming simply is. The more deeply I explore what is
known about the nature of our universe and the processes at work in it,
the more awed and wonderstruck I become. What is happening in our universe
is marvelous beyond belief. I can't help being deeply reverent toward
it. But I'm content—and prefer—to call it process intelligence, or intrinsic
intelligence, or noumenal guidance rather than call it God.
Part of the process wisdom
is the wisdom built into each human being: that subtle, wise guidance
which can be sensed if and when the ego gets out of the way. I'll discuss
this phenomenon in Chapter 10. In ages past it was called the voice of
God. I call it direction by intuitive wisdom.
God as the high values
of the process is another historical concept that has roots in reality.
From ancient times people have glimpsed and revered the Good, the True
and the Beautiful. We know that "God-like" qualities—love, peace, understanding,
and harmonious cooperation—can come into existence in our universe when
conditions are just right. Based on evolution's record to date, we can
expect the unfolding of a universe that increasingly expresses these qualities.
Abstract God-potentials gradually become God-realities in our everyday
world—but not quickly or easily.
In a practical, operational
sense, our values are our gods. And if I take some High Value of the universal
process, and adopt it as a personal value to guide my life, I have made
it my God. When I attempt to define God in this way, four terms came to
My God is ENSEMBLE.
It is harmonious synergistic coordination. It is beauty in all its forms.
It is all instances of something worthwhile emerging from something lesser.
It is system in the finest sense of that word: the whole which has emerged
from the functioning of its parts—and yet is something new, wonderful,
and qualitatively beyond those parts.
My God is WONDER. It
is a state of exciting amazed admiration. It is being alive and aware
during my short personal adventure. It is high-level conscious experience.
It is paying attention to the incredible diversity of form and function
around me. It is appreciating what is. It is mind and perception carried
to the farthest point. It is expanding my view to the ends of the universe,
and contracting it to the sub-microscopic.
My God is WISDOM—wherever
it appears. It is the Logos embodied in the universal process—that necessity,
those laws of nature which control what happens in evolution's early stages.
It is the knowing that leads to higher, better happenings. It is the still
small voice of my intuitive process—the voice of my higher, better, more
knowing self. It is the Inner Light. It is Truth embodied in any medium.
My God is LOVE. It
is a recognition of the intrinsic unity of all. It is an active caring
for and about all aspects of the process. It is a compassion which sees,
understands, and can accept the process just as it is at this moment—without
denying the possibility of positive future change.
Once again, however, I choose
words other than God to express myself. To me, ensemble,
wonder, wisdom, and love say more. In summary, I'm
not suggesting that we abandon all aspects of the God concept; some aspects
reflect reality. Rather, I'm suggesting that we abandon the word
God, and use more precise language when we discuss the legitimacies.
I'd like to end this chapter
with a few thoughts about evil as seen from the evolutionary perspective.
In the Christian perspective, as I understand it, evil is seen to be a
permanent feature of the human landscape. Damned because of original sin,
human hope resides in being saved, or redeemed, through the grace of God.
Yes, people are encouraged to become less sinful, but always within this
damned/saved framework with its built-in assumption of intrinsic sinfulness.
In the evolutionary perspective
we begin with a formless, functionless universe that progressively acquires
form and evolves functions. As systemic entities emerge from the background
of process, conflicts develop. Entities interfere with each other. System-building
over here conflicts with system-building over there. And intrinsic limitations
like death make their appearance. These conflicts aren't caused by some
evil force loose in the universe—some Devil, or serpent in the Garden
of Eden. It's just that the process itself is not optimally informed,
optimally guided. It's not a perfectly skillful process. The gradual movement
toward expressing the high values of Being in the phenomenal world is
faltering, imperfect, and chance-ridden. I will have more to say about
this, but I'm leaving it until Chapter 14—until after our look at mind
and mental processes.
As I see it, the long term
aim of Being is to create the most aware, loving, and wise universe possible.
And to thoroughly enjoy the adventure of attempting it. What we're talking
about here is really Self-actualization on a cosmic scale. We could say
that the aim of the universe, like the aim of the growth-oriented person,
is to become all it is capable of becoming. For both the universe and
the person, however, that takes time.
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Mind is medium plus message.
The unchanging medium is content-free awareness.
The ever-changing content is brain-generated information.
The subjective "aware" aspect
of the universe is just as fundamental, as important, and possibly as
widespread as the objective physical aspect. But science hasn't acted
as though it is. The problem seems to be that the only subjectivity with
which a scientist has direct contact is that associated with his or her
own brain. Direct personal observations are possible—and potentially quite
useful—but they don't meet current standards of scientific rigor. They
are not directly confirmable or subject to measurement. And scientists
have no direct way of verifying the presence of subjectivity anywhere
In our overview of the physical
situation we looked at energy as the physical aspect of the ground of
being. Energy obviously plays this role, but what about awareness as the
mental aspect of the ground of being? Isn't awareness something that the
brain cooks up? One theory does hold that awareness in humans is a byproduct
or "epiphenomenon" of brain function, but there is no evidence that brain
function actually creates awareness. Awareness accompanies energy
in that energized physical system called the human brain, but accompanying
is not the same as created by.
Physical systems often do
create by-products, but all the byproducts I can think of are physical
byproducts: Plants produce oxygen. A human body gives off heat. A radio
puts out sound. A computer produces coded electrical signals. Awareness,
although a tangible reality, is nonphysical. We can each attest
to its reality, yet its presence is not detectable or verifiable by scientific
instruments or the direct observation of others. Is it likely that in
all the universe there is only one system byproduct that is non-physical?
It doesn't seem likely to me.
What then is awareness? As
I have come to see it, subjective awareness is not a byproduct of anything,
but is one of the fundamental givens. My present working hypothesis is
that awareness is noumenal. I am suggesting that the potential for subjectivity
in all its forms inheres in the primal mediumlike ground of being, just
as the potential for physical structures and physical actions in all their
forms resides there.
I see evidence all around
me that tends to support this view. We can, for example, describe the
informational modulations of awareness—but awareness itself is indescribable.
There is nothing like it. There are no analogs of it or metaphors for
it in language or experience. Subjective awareness thus appears to be
not only real, and unique, but totally non-informational. Although
it has medium-like qualities, it has no message-like qualities. In itself
it is informationless—not specific or unique, but similar in all its appearances.
It is a universal—qualitatively the same everywhere. Yet awareness can
be modulated by specifics, by information, to become what we call mind.
Then too, wise people have seen awareness as Noumenal—Vedantists, Zen
Buddhists, Taoists. This is not proof of anything, but perhaps, in view
of science's lack of evidence on the subject, it should be given some
Also, in the spirit of Occam's
Razor, science usually favors the simplest explanation. And this is the
simplest explanation for awareness: Awareness, like energy, just is.
It appears as energy's subjective face—a fundamental feature of the universe.
It is not caused by anything. It is the subjective given, the ground of
the mental realm just as energy is the objective given, the ground of
the physical realm.
There is also a satisfying
symmetry in this view. Science has found that nature is often symmetrical:
positive particles have their matching negative particles, matter has
its anti-matter. The symmetry here is the symmetry which the Taoists intuited.
Energy is the active or Yang side of that symmetry. Awareness is the receptive
or Yin side.
Awareness is clearly unique:
there is nothing else like it. And it is clearly medium-like. These facts,
and those other indicators, make it seem likely that awareness is not
phenomenal, but noumenal—an aspect of Being itself, an aspect of the cosmic
If energy and awareness are
inseparable—two facets of the same reality—then we might expect that wherever
energy is present in some form or other, awareness is also present. This
is the way system theorist Ervin Laszlo sees it. His hypothesis is that
all natural systems have both an objective and a subjective nature, and
that the view of the system from these two perspectives is quite different.
When you look at a system from the outside you see a physical process.
But each system also has an inherent subjective nature (however limited)
and "sees," in some sense, to some degree, its own functioning from the
inside. In this view even systems as simple as atoms would experience
to some extent their own major events—such as an electron jumping from
one orbit to another. Just as an atom embodies a tiny bit of energy it
also embodies a tiny bit of awareness. It is an elemental mind as well
as being an elemental physical building block. The level of mind—its sophistication
and the scope of its awareness—correlates with the complexity of the physical
system it's associated with. Just as it takes a multi-billion neuron system
to create the content required for a human-level mind, so it may also
require a multi-billion neuron system to organize countless micro-awarenesses
into the macro-awareness which watches that content.
There is no evidence that
subjectivity is a human monopoly. We humans may be the only earthly systems
able to report to others about our subjective experience, but there's
no reason to equate the ability to report with the ability to experience.
The task of science is to draw the most reasonable conclusions possible
from the available evidence. Here, we don't have much evidence, but we
do have some. Each of us is able to report from personal observation that
subjective experience exists in our universe. I'm sure that I have it,
and I'm going to take your word for it when you say that you do too. Moreover,
it seems likely that the dog down the street has it. And as I consider
simpler life forms like insects and protozoa—and natural systems that
are simpler still—I have no reason to assume that, all of a sudden, at
some level, subjectivity totally stops. No one has come up with any evidence
that it does. Laszlo contends that we are more justified in assuming that
subjectivity appears in all natural systems than we are in assuming that
it appears only in humans and the higher animals. This makes sense to
Brain/mind research is now
the hottest area of scientific research. Theories abound, and there will
be more. The "macro" or overall model that currently makes most sense
to me is similar to Laszlo's: There is one process. How that process is
experienced and described depends on the vantage point from which it is
observed. A brain researcher who opened your skull and probed your cortex
with various sensing devices might describe the process as a matrix of
neurons and synapses teeming with electro-chemical impulses. That would
be a sensible description from his or her vantage point. But the cortical
process also experiences its own functioning. And this self-experience
of the same process is an entirely different sort of experience. What
appears externally as physical functioning appears internally—to the process
itself—as a constellation of mind events. It appears as the show in consciousness.
The brain, in other words,
has a dual function. It processes information. And it transfers—to awareness—the
information inherent in patterned energy impulses generated by the brain.
Just as the human brain is a highly organized object—an energy-based system—so
too is it a highly organized subject—an awareness-based system. In object
terms, the brain is a physical system, an information gatherer and processor.
In subject terms it is an awareness/information interface and information
controller—a system which allows some of the processed information to
reach and modulate awareness. This informational modulation of awareness
is mind content. Awareness plus modulation is mind.
Awareness may or may not,
in the long run, prove to be noumenal. But awareness—without any doubt—is
intimately associated with energy. Either it shares energy's status as
a primal medium (energy and awareness being perhaps yang and yin aspects
of one medium) or it is a by-product of energy's functioning in those
complex physical systems called brains. Either way, it seems reasonable
to call awareness "energy's subjective face."
The human brain is not one
brain. Inside our skulls are three separate (but interconnected) brains,
one nested inside another. The one which deals with analogs and language
and visualization is the most recent brain to evolve. It is the outer
brain or "roof" brain—often called the neocortex. Nested within this outer
brain are the other two brains: the innermost reptilian brain,
and the limbic system which surrounds it.
The reptilian brain is the
oldest, most primitive brain. It originated with the reptiles and is the
only brain which a reptile has. As evolution progressed this reptilian
brain wasn't abandoned or drastically modified. It remained, performing
the same sort of functions for birds, small mammals and humans that it
performed for snakes, lizards, and alligators. When mammals emerged, evolution
simply capped the reptilian brain with another one.
This cap, this old mammalian
brain, is called the limbic system. It surrounds the reptilian brain—and
in higher mammals is in turn surrounded by the newest brain, the neocortex.
Paul D. MacLean, who originated
this Triune Brain theory, looked at each of the three sub-brains
as a biological computer, each with its own special form of subjectivity
and intelligence—as expressed in its particular functions. His research
indicated that the reptilian brain is the home of primal animalistic behaviors
such as selecting homesites, establishing territory, displaying to enemies
and potential mates, hunting, mating, breeding, imprinting, forming social
hierarchies and selecting leaders. MacLean felt that even in human beings
these functions have their roots in the hard-wired ancestral memories
of the reptilian brain.
The limbic system appears
to be the source of the strong reactive emotions connected with the survival
of both the individual and the species. Oral and sexual pleasure (and
behavior) arise when certain parts of the limbic system are electrically
stimulated. Fear, anger, and hostile behavior arise when other parts are
The neocortex consists of
two hemispheric sub-brains connected by a band of nerve fibers called
the corpus callosum. A lot has been written about what activities go on
in these two cortical hemispheres—much of it oversimplified, and some
of it conflicting. Most commentators have associated the left hemisphere
with analytical, verbal, linear, and intellectual thought processes. And
they have associated the right with holistic, spatial, non-linear, and
intuitive processes. Later research indicates that the left does seem
more involved with detail and sequence, the right more with pattern and
simultaneity, but that the hemispheres are less specialized than was first
thought. Also, in normal people (those of us with an intact corpus callosum)
the two hemispheres almost always work together. In fact, there has been
a general movement away from trying to localize mental functions in specific
brain areas. There is an increasing appreciation of the importance of
brain circuits: the coordinated interplay of several interconnected
brain areas in creating specific mind states and behaviors.
I'd like to ignore the unconscious
process control type of data processing which the brain does for
body systems, and deal in coming chapters with the five types of process
which are accessible to awareness—those processes whose combined output
creates the show in consciousness. They are: perception, rational thought,
emotion, intuition, and identification.
As we consider these processes
we will begin to see more clearly what is going on in the brain and mind.
And when we do, we'll find plenty of bad news. Within some of us, the
ancestral animal rages. Within the rest of us, it lies just below the
surface, a constant threat to our peace of mind, and the peace and security
of others. But we'll find good news too. There are some little-recognized
possibilities for control, some little appreciated points of leverage
which can make all the difference. But first let's explore this idea of
brain-as-computer a little more deeply.
In the early '60s some people
involved with brain, mind, and behavior began using the computer as a
metaphor or model to help explain brain processes. Some other people didn't
like this view because it seemed mechanical and dehumanizing—but it slowly
gained acceptance anyway. Now, much of the new work in cognitive psychology
involves information processing models. And more and more non-scientists
think of brain/mind processes in computer terms.note5
There's a good reason for this: the analogy fits the reality.
Since all mind content is
information of one sort or another, the brain is clearly some kind of
information processor. I don't mean that it's a silicon-chip computer
or a biological clone of one. We're just beginning to get details about
how the brain processes data, but it's already clear that the physical
and logical organization of brains and today's computers are different.
Yet there are also important similarities. Brains don't parallel the usual
silicon-chip computers in micro-structure or micro-function, but they
do in overall function. Both have information inputs, information outputs,
and complex, program-guided manipulation of the inputs to produce the
I know that the computer analogy
still bothers some people, and if it's bothering you I hope you can suspend
judgment for a bit, and just follow along for now. I'm using this analogy
with no apologies because I sincerely think it is one of the most powerful
models we have to help us understand the mind.
One reason this model seems
foreign is because it's so new. Computers didn't exist fifty or a hundred
years ago, so the great psychologists of the first half of the twentieth
century couldn't have created computer-based models of mind. We're
accustomed to thinking of mind in their terms. But today we have their
models and more. Part of the reason why human understanding continues
to advance in so many fields is that occasionally, when some new entity
arrives—the computer or the hologram for example—it serves a secondary
purpose. People see that the new thing is analogous to a poorly-understood
something else. The similarity between the new thing and the old then
helps us to make better sense of the old. In these situations familiarity
breeds acceptance. My impression is that the more familiar a person is
with the details of how computers work, the more clearly that person sees
a parallel between computer functioning and mind functioning.note6
In the brain, inputs for processing
activities come from several sources: immediate perception, memory, and
the output of other brain process. The outputs do various things: Some
produce subjective experiences. Some cause the body to act externally,
or change its internal functioning. And some outputs serve as input data
for other processes—or even change the programs which guide other processes.
Each output is determined by the various inputs to that process, and by
how those inputs are manipulated by the program which guides the process.
In comparing brain function
to computer function some parallels are obvious. Memory is memory for
example. And in both brains and computers some memory is unchangeable,
hard-wired, forever-fixed, read-only (ROM) memory. In each, some is changeable,
add-to, random-access (RAM) memory. We don't have much trouble acknowledging
a parallel between input sources either: A computer keyboard inputs language
as effectively as eyes and ears do. An optical scanner is an even closer
analog of eyes. What, however, is the brain analog of a computer program?
If we have programs running our brains and bodies, what are their characteristics
in human terms?
Let's return again to Ervin
Laszlo's definition of values: "Values are goals which behavior
strives to realize. Any activity which is oriented toward the accomplishment
of some end is a value-oriented activity."
Digital computers are general-purpose
machines. They are turned into special-purpose machines by whatever program
is running at the moment. We human beings are also general purpose machines,
guided by our programs. We are programmed to try to reach certain goals,
to behave in certain ways, and to attain certain states of mind. The goals
of our programs—the things they make us do, or try to do—are our values.
Human values are at the heart of those programs—embodied in them—and are
expressed in the behavior which those programs mandate.
I'm not talking here about
the wishful-thinking, or good-intention sort of values—which are really
intellectual ideals, not values at all in Laszlo's sense. I mean the hard-core
values that make us do what we do, that control how we act in the world.
We can talk all we want about values, but—as the Existentialists have
correctly pointed out—it is our actions that correctly reflect and reveal
our true "nature," our true values, or at least our values-of-this-moment.
The values we really hold show up in how we act, what we do, how
Basic physiological brain
functioning is determined by genetics, by conditions during pregnancy,
and by mechanical/chemical conditions during and after birth. As I've
mentioned, the deep structures of the mind—archetypal mental functioning
and knee-jerk emotional reactions—are thought to originate in the reptilian
and limbic parts of the brain, which I will sometimes lump together and
call the ancient brain. Ancient-brain functioning is analogous
to a computer's hardware and "firmware": the silicon-chip central processing
unit (CPU) and its permanent (ROM) memory.
Every CPU of a given type
functions like every other CPU of that type. It's much the same with human
brains. Brains don't appear to be as standardized as CPUs. There are more
damaged ones around, and a few with exceptional potentials that aren't
shared by the rest—like musical genius. But when we think about human
potentials and basic mental functioning, there's much similarity from
brain to brain—especially those two inner brains.
Like a CPU, the way a brain
functions is pretty much fixed. The way a given CPU processes data is
determined by the design of the silicon chip and can't be changed. The
human brain is an electro-chemical information processor designed by the
evolutionary process. Its functioning can be modified to some degree by
adding chemicals to the bloodstream, and through surgery, but aside from
those interventions its deepest structures and functions appear fixed.note7
The more shallow structures—the
neo-cortex and the cortex of the old mammalian brain—are akin to random
access memory (RAM) containing changeable computer programs: software.
Many of these programs are acquired culturally. Others are person-specific
programs created by an individual's unique experience. Unlike the deep-structure
programs, the cortex-contained programs can in theory be modified—though
that modification may require much time and effort.
Lastly, there is the data
that is processed—data acquired through our perceptions: some immediate,
some stored in memory. And pre-processed data: the immediate or remembered
output of rational or intuitive mind processes. The processing churns,
and the body acts in response. It acts to further the values incorporated
in the programs which run its biocomputer/brain. Meanwhile, awareness
monitors the informational outputs of this systemic activity. It monitors
brain-processed perceptions, reactive emotions originating in the limbic
system, and cortical activities like thinking and visualization.
The values hardwired into
the programs of the reptilian and limbic brains are survival-oriented
values, for the most part. They are the values which allowed the human
race (and ancestral species) to survive and reproduce under marginal conditions
in the wild. The values embodied in these programs include lust, rage,
gluttony, territoriality (which one ethologist has seen as translating
into human concern over property), and peck orders (which the same ethologist
has seen as translating into our concern over status).
We're lucky that these ancient
brains do not function alone. When activated, they do their intense, reactive,
hardwired thing. But they are also part of more complex brain circuits
involving interconnections with each other and with "programmable" areas
of the limbic cortex and the neocortex. Through these interconnections
it seems that the trainable parts of the brain are capable of both stirring
these limbic and reptilian brain programs into activity, and inhibiting
Take sexual arousal for instance.
Reading erotic material, viewing it, remembering a past sexual experience,
or imagining one that never happened, are all neocortical activities.
But, through those interconnections, the limbic system is made aware that
sexually related mental activity is going on. I picture something like
this happening: Somewhere a match is made, and the limbic system concludes
that a sexual opportunity exists. Next, in line with its programmed value
to have frequent sex, it takes steps to see that the opportunity is not
missed. It generates the emotion we call lust, and gets the body physically
ready for sexual activity.
On the other hand, it's possible
for the neocortex to be programmed so that the arousal never occurs in
more than a transient, short-impulse kind of way. The neocortex may direct
attention away from the erotic material before arousal occurs, for example.
Or, if impulses of lust are experienced, the neocortex may decide at that
point not to feed energy and attention into deepening and continuing them.
It's important—both to our
survival as a species and to attaining peace of mind as individuals—that
we understanding our points of leverage. Therefore, we'll go into this
more deeply in later chapters. Here it's enough to note that we humans
are burdened with a legacy of outdated jungle-suited values. They can,
potentially, be kept on the back burner and overridden by "higher" values.
But they can never be totally eradicated.
Our intellectual programs—the
programs of the thinking or rational mind—may embody higher values. But
they are often value-free (in the ethical sense), largely facilitative
programs. Language is a facilitative activity, for example, and so are
the puzzle-solving programs so characteristic of the rational mind. These
latter programs appear to work like this: A person becomes aware of some
incomplete intellectual structure—called the problem. A motivating
tension then arises which leads the person to search for a matching structure—a
second structure called the solution which fits the first. If it
is found, the tension disappears.
The role of these facilitative
intellectual programs seems to be to assist more primary programs in reaching
their goals—facilitating them, allowing the values of these other programs
to control. A survival-oriented program might say, "EAT!," for example.
This message then triggers a cortical problem-solving program into action.
That program assesses the options: "Go out to dinner? Make a pizza? What's
in the refrigerator?" The primary value is EAT! The secondary value is
solving the problem of how, where, and when. In that example involving
sexual arousal, something similar might eventually have happened. Once
the ancient brains had gotten the body and mind into an aroused state,
the neocortex might then have taken on the problem of finding a suitable
These facilitative programs
are often value-free in the ethical sense. They are typically amoral programs,
concerned simply with making things happen—and unconcerned with the right
or wrong of the activity. The key value embodied in these programs is
that of solving the problem at hand—any problem that some more primary
program decides is worth solving. My own problem-solving intellect happily
designed weapons of war at one point in my past. Doing this was the intellect's
way of helping my esteem need programming meet its goals. And, when I
eventually stopped doing this sort of work, it was not the problem-solving
brain activity which said NO, but some other.
What brain activity does say
NO? Where do the NOs and YESes come from? Where is the repository of ethical
values? I don't think anyone is sure. My guess is that gut-felt YESes
and NOs are intuitive-process outputs which reflect values inherent in
the programs which guide that process.
At least some ethical values
are learned. As we live and grow, our life experiences give us a clearer,
more accurate view of reality—an evolving perspective on what is.
From this we draw conclusions about what makes ethical sense, about how
we should act. But other ethical values seem hardwired and fairly universal—like
the taboo against incest. It seems likely that we're dealing here with
an information circuit involving several areas of the brain—including,
perhaps, both ancient brains, and more than one area of the neocortex.
There are indications that intuition may be the most extensive, most holistic
of all brain activities—but that's not certain either. What is certain
is that intuition—though often undervalued—plays a crucial role in the
fullest, most creative, and wisest sort of living.
One of the positive things
about the model of brain and mind that we've just looked at is that it
transcends the phony "genes or culture," "nature or nurture" controversy.
It's not a matter of genes or culture, it is clearly genes and
culture. Some of our programming is hardwired, some is modifiable. That
is the reality, and we need to learn much more about each type individually,
and about the interactions—about the ability of the culturally acquired
programs of mind to control, function-instead-of, and avoid triggering,
the genetically hardwired programs.
This chapter has sketched
the human mental reality; the next six chapters fill in more detail. Each
deals with a specific aspect of brain/mind functioning:
- Discursive, rational thought
- Reactive emotion and behavior
- The intuitive process
- The Quiet Mind and subtle
- The identification phenomenon.
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Perception is a person's
information interface with the world.
Perceptual knowing is a game of parallels and analogs in which current
perceptions are compared with remembered perceptions and pre-programmed
Matching is knowing.
Just as the concept of system
helped me grasp many aspects of the physical world, so analogy
helped me get a handle on the mental world and how we come to understand
things. I found in the writings of the General Semanticists and Julian
Jaynes a helpful way of looking at the relationship between our mental
and physical worlds. It is not the whole story. It deals only with our
ordinary sense-based, information-based knowing. It doesn't deal with
non-descriptive, intuitive kinds of knowing—knowing through identity.
Still, it is valid as far as it goes, and helpful.
It goes something like this.
Each part of the cosmic process has its intrinsic nature, its reality
of form and function. We can, however, know that nature only by communications
between the reality and our senses. And these messages do not convey to
us anything like the total reality. Each message is a report on one—or
at most a few—limited aspects of that reality. A direct perception is
an analog of objective reality—an analog in the same sense that
a map is an analog of a territory, or a photograph is an analog of a scene.
A map may be made of paper
and show roads as red lines. The territory it describes is not made of
paper and the roads are not red, but the map is still useful. An analog
is not usually constructed of the same material or "medium" as the reality
from which it is derived. But it is organized or arranged in a way which
shows a consistent similarity to the way the original is organized. I
eventually came to see that the essence of the parallelism is common information.
My head turns and my eyes
focus. But what awareness sees is not the outer world at all. What it
"sees" is part of this amazing informational show being created by the
brain—the perception-connected part. Yes, this aspect of the show bears
some relationship to what is going on outside the body, but the show itself—that
world of color and form and smell and touch and taste and sound—is 100
percent brain-generated mind event.
I find it easy to forget that
color doesn't exist "out there." Just light of different wavelengths.
Sound doesn't exist out there. Just air waves of varying pressure and
frequency. Odors don't exist out there. Just molecules drifting in the
air. The whole of my subjective life really is just my brain's
experience of its own functioning. My usual assumption—that I'm in direct
contact with what's going on in the outer world—is an illusion. I'm in
contact all right, but it's a pretty distant, tenuous and incomplete contact.note8
Let's imagine a little boy's
first encounter with an orange. The orange sits there on the table, bathed
in sunlight. Its surface reflects some of that light, particularly light
that has a wavelength of 0.6 microns. The child faces the orange, and
some of the reflected light enters his eyes and—on each retina—forms an
image of that orange. A stream of electro-chemical impulses then travels
from excited photoreceptors to the little boy's brain. There, somehow,
that brain takes into account the differences in color sensitivity between
the different types of photoreceptors, and also notes which ones have
been stimulated. The brain then generates a set of output impulses which
somehow interface with awareness, and modulate it—thereby creating a visual
experience. When the little boy gets older he'll be able to hang verbal
tags on his experiences. The labels he might use for this one are: visual,
round, orange colored, textured surface.
The brain can also generate
other electro-chemical patterns, patterns which represent other aspects
of the reality we call an orange. In our little boy's first encounter
with an orange he not only creates a visual analog of it, but also an
odor analog, a taste analog, and a touch analog. With all four of these
very different analogs being generated by the same object, he perceives
the reality of an orange just about as completely as one can with the
unaided senses. He knows the fragrance given off by the peel when it's
cut. He knows the sweet/sour taste of the inside of the orange. And he
knows the sensation produced by the juice dribbling down his hands.
The awareness that observes
these brain-generated analogs is organized spatially. It's really an x-y
field of awareness affected by x-y fields of data, with a crude z dimension—probably
simulated by data-combining techniques. The visual content of this field
appears to me roughly one unit high by three or four wide. Odor content,
when present, fills much of this same field; it is most intense in the
center, less so at the edges. Taste occupies a more sharply defined zone:
a horizontally-oriented oval located below the center of visual data.
Touch sensations and sounds also appear in this field, extending at times
beyond the edges of the visual data. The location of most body feelings
and sensations is sharply defined, while the direction of most sounds
is just roughly indicated.
All these spatially-organized
layers of data are, like multiple transparent overlays, simultaneously
projected onto awareness. This data modulates or "waves" awareness, impressing
transient informational patterns upon it. Experience—mind content—consists
of these awareness waves or modulations.
These different types of data
can appear superimposed on each other to one awareness because the data
is brain output data, not perceptual input data. The different external
stimuli received by eyes, ears, taste buds, etc. all give rise to similar
nervous system impulses and electro-chemical brain happenings. Awareness
is the pure subjectivity cognizant of these physical brain events—not
of the external happenings themselves. Since all inputs are converted
to just one type of physical event, it's understandable that one awareness
is able to watch all of them—separately or simultaneously—in one spatial
format. What goes on in the brain appears analogous to what goes on in
a TV studio's video switching and mixing board. There, the output of several
cameras (and other video sources) can be combined in a controlled way
into a single video output—the one the home viewer watches.note9
In summary, what we call the
mind consists of a clear, empty field of subjective awareness populated
by mental "objects," mind contents. These contents are a patterned disturbance
or modulation of awareness—created, it seems clear, by the patterned firing
of countless neurons. Different kinds of information—bodily sensations,
thoughts, images, sounds, and emotional moods and reactions—are presented
to the subjective field via these neuronal energy transfers. We might
say that the human and animal variety of mind exists where the primal
awareness has neuronal processes as its object. This mind is the fundamental
reality accessible to a sentient being. Everything else we "know to be
a fact" (such as the nature of the objective world out there) is really
speculation based on inferences from the experienced patterns.
What do we really mean when
we say that we know something? There is a growing consensus that
perceptual and intellectual knowing is primarily pattern recognition.
Knowing an informational reality means having some sort of mental construct
stored away in memory which fits the perceptual data.
In the case of ordinary direct
perception the implicit question seems to be, "Is the current perception
familiar, or isn't it?" We feel informed if it we can match the current
perception with past ones; we feel uninformed if we can't—and possibly
fearful or curious. An unfamiliar word stops the flow of our reading.
An infant of nine months often responds to her mother's face with a smile,
and strange faces with fear. In a supermarket we often pass up the unfamiliar.
While most memories, such
as the words we know, are acquired during our lifetime, not all memories
are. The widespread fear of snakes and spiders appears rooted, not in
prior personal problems with snakes and spiders, but in some sort of hardwired
archetypal memory. This deep-level memory probably arose by chance, but
was passed on because it had survival value. It seems likely that those
children who were naturally inclined to run at the sight of a snake survived
at a greater rate than those whose perceptual match did not create fear.
Thus, through genetic inheritance, the phenomenon appears today even among
people having had little or no contact with snakes.
Genes, Mind, and Culture The Coevolutionary Process
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Intellectual knowing, like
perceptual knowing, is also a game of parallels and analogs, but here
perceptions are compared with brain-created concepts and mental models.
Again, matching is knowing.
Many species of animals have,
in addition to their genetic programming, some ability to remember information
acquired from experience, and to learn new behaviors. Primitive mammals,
such as rodents, have a small cortex which allows some situation-based
learning. This learning augments ancient-brain programming and helps the
animal to survive under a wider range of conditions than would otherwise
be possible. A rat may learn, for example, that men are dangerous, and
that some kinds of food make you sick. The massive neocortex in human
beings is capable of doing much more than just augment survival. It is
an ultra-sophisticated general-purpose biocomputer which allows us to
behave as cooperative social beings via acquired cultural programming.
It is also capable of allowing us to understand a great deal about our
It's possible to perceive
in a direct, simple, uncomplicated way. It's possible to see, or hear,
or smell, or taste without thinking about the perception, or naming it,
or judging it. It's possible to perceive in a way that involves only the
immediate subjective experience—without embellishment or adornment by
any other mental process. But we don't do this very often in our culture.
For most of us, most of the
time, perceptions don't stand alone. They are just the first step in a
chain of mental events leading to deeper, more complex kinds of knowing.
Typically, our brains use the material gathered from direct experience
to build those more complex mental structures we call concepts, theories,
and mental models. Coming to know an information-based external reality
often begins with direct perception, but doesn't usually end there.
During childhood we gradually
acquire the ability to build concepts: ideas about how aspects of the
world relate to each other, and abstract ideas like truth and justice.
As we do this we become less involved with simply perceiving, and more
involved with the secondary conceptual world. Direct perception continues
to modulate awareness, but now the outputs of our thinking processes do
too—and we have the subjective experience of planning, problem solving,
fantasizing, imagining, reminiscing, reading, etc.
Because awareness and direct
perception are arranged spatially, it shouldn't be surprising that much
of our abstract thinking involves spatial arrangements of data too. I
picture the passage of time, for instance, as a panorama of events with
the past on the left and the future on the right—or, sometimes with the
future ahead of me and the past behind. This spatial analog of time is
my way of conceiving of this aspect of reality.
To grasp mathematical concepts
we often spatialize them. We picture piles of money, and bar graphs, and
x-y coordinates, and curves. We spatialize the authority/responsibility
situation in a corporation when we visualize it as an organization chart
showing lines of communication and chains of command, as
well as positions of relative power and status. Abraham Maslow
arranged human needs in a hierarchy which is often visualized as a triangle
with the lower physical and psychological needs at the base and
the higher self-actualization needs at its peak. We use network
diagrams to picture the flow of communication, and we again spatialize
time when we generate those patterns of events called critical path scheduling
There are also many concepts
which do not involve spatial organization but which, like spatial concepts,
become powerful tools for making sense of our experience. Several of these
non-spatial concepts come to mind: Goal-seeking or cybernetic systems.
Feedback, both positive and negative. The computer program
and its role in guiding information processing activities. And information
itself. Countless others exist in fields like economics, political science,
and psychology which could help us better understand what is going on.
But it takes time and mental effort to make these concepts our own.
If concepts and complex mental
models are to be of any value to us, they must be analogs of real-world
entities. They need not parallel physical things, necessarily, but may
parallel instead the invisible and less tangible aspects of some complexity:
the pattern of relationships among things, for example.
Language has a special role
in all this. Just as our perceptions and mental models are analogs of
objective reality, so our verbal statements are analogs of our subjective
reality. Language is an analog created word by word and phrase by phrase
from aspects of our conscious experience. And like other analogs, language
is reversible. It can be used to guide us in generating conscious experience.
Language allows me, in some degree, to share the subjective experience
of another person. The person speaking to me creates a verbal analog of
their experience. And in turn their words, their verbal analog, helps
to create similar content within my mind—a more or less accurate replication,
or at least understanding, of their state of mind.
We need to keep in mind that
it's also possible to create verbal analogs of mind contents—subjective
realities—which have no real-world analog. One thrill of my childhood
was listening each Saturday morning to a radio program called "Let's Pretend."
Each week I would listen to the dramatization of a different fairy tale.
The words from my radio created castles and witches and giants and princesses
in my mind. Each program ended with an invitation to write for tickets
to see a broadcast if you were ever in New York. My chance eventually
came. We sent for tickets, and I remember the excitement of walking into
that theater. It turned out to be one of the great disappointments and
disillusionments of my life. There, on stage, were no castles, nor witches,
nor giants—just ordinary people, wearing ordinary clothes, standing still,
speaking into microphones.
This experience has been a
reminder to me that language is strictly a link between one consciousness
and another. It's a means by which one person can try to share his or
her subjective reality with another person. "Let's Pretend" allowed
me to experience the subjective reality of Hans Christian Anderson and
the Brothers Grimm, that was all. Words emanate from someone's subjective
experience, not from "what is going on" in the world.
Words can indirectly link
us with objective reality, but only if three conditions are met: First,
the speaker or writer's conscious experience must be an accurate analog
of the objective reality. Second, the word-analog of that conscious experience
must parallel the experience itself. And third, the person receiving the
communication must have an appropriate vocabulary or mental library—not
only of words, but also of concepts, prior experiences, and mind states
capable of being triggered by those words. (If I'd never seen pictures
of castles and witches and giants the words would have meant nothing to
We can begin to see how tenuous
and iffy the process of understanding reality through words really is.
"The map is not the territory," said Korzybski, the father of General
Semantics. True. And understanding someone's verbal description is akin
to making a map of a map of a map of the territory. (Objective reality
is the territory. My conscious experience of it is map #1. My words about
my experience of it are map #2. Your conscious experience constructed
from my words is map #3.) The process obviously works well enough, accurately
enough, for many purposes. We are involved with words much of the time.
But the danger is clear. Something of the essence of the previous stage
is lost each time we make a map of that stage and from that point on rely
only on the map. As the General Semanticists point out, each analog is
an abstract—a partial rendering—of its source. An analog preserves and
transmits only some aspects of the original. Something is always left
Intellectual knowing, like
perceptual knowing, involves pattern recognition and pattern matching.
We might think of intellectual knowing as model-ordered perception.
Here the raw perceptual data is compared with the brain's file of abstract
cognitive structures—theories, concepts and other mental models. If what
we perceive fits one of those abstract mental schemes, we get the feeling
that we understand. If it doesn't fit any of them, we feel disquieted.
Sometimes we repress the disquiet.
At other times we acknowledge it, and let it go—realizing that there are
some things we just can't know. But, much of the time, we try to find
or create a mental structure that does fit. We usually call this process
"looking for an explanation," or "solving the problem." Sometimes we look
outside ourselves in an attempt to find models and metaphors that already
exist. At other times we try to create a structure ourselves, some new
structure that fits.
There are countless examples
of model-oriented perception. A psychiatrist, in perceiving the words
and behavior of a patient, sometimes sees and hears those words in the
context of a therapeutic theory. An electronic technician sees a faulty
TV picture in the context of schematic diagrams and malfunctioning circuitry.
I, the writer, lose you, the reader, every time I attempt to explain something
using a model or metaphor with which you are not familiar.
A third instance of this matching-is-knowing
phenomenon involves aesthetic perceptions. Here the immediate perception
is compared with the individual's file of tastes or aesthetic preferences.
"I know it's Mozart, but I'm not familiar with this particular piece."
"I never acquired a taste for cubist paintings." "The wine is obviously
German; a Moselle?"
Within all three of these
perceptual frames—simple direct perceptions, intellectual perceptions,
and aesthetic perceptions—a match will produce the satisfying feeling
of knowing, or understanding, or apprehending. Failure to achieve a match
produces an uneasy I don't understand this feeling.
The feeling that we understand
is usually emotionally satisfying and calming to us. Sometimes, though,
we forget that the subjective feeling of understanding is not necessarily
the same as truly understanding. Countless millions of people, for example,
have used the story of creation in Genesis as their mental model of the
origin of life and human beings. They took it to be a literal description
of the way it happened, and derived from it the warm reassuring feeling
that they understood. It now appears that the story—literally taken—is
not an accurate account of the way it happened. Although people felt that
they understood, they did not.
Isaac Newton came up with
some beautifully simple equations to describe the motion of physical bodies.
These equations, these models, gave Newton and his contemporaries this
feeling of understanding to a high degree. It was not until Einstein arrived
at a new set of equations which included relativistic effects that it
became clear that Newton's model was not perfectly accurate. Einstein's
model paralleled what was really going on in the universe more closely
The feeling that we understand
is not enough. All sorts of bad models can give us that feeling. Analogs
are rarely, if ever, perfect. Something is almost always lost in the translation
from one medium to another. A model is always an abstract.
We can never come to understand
or know the form-and-function aspects of reality in an absolute, complete,
or perfect sense. What we do know we know second-hand through our analogs,
through our models. We're stuck with models. But some models are less
defective than others. We don't have to be stuck with bad ones. It is
by finding, creating, and using models which prove to be adequate, close-fitting
analogs of reality that we come to understand what is going on in an objective
sense—and not just think that we understand it.
Breadth of experience is another
thing that helps us to understand. For one thing, first-hand experience
allows us to make first-hand maps—not this map of a map of a map stuff.
If we're careful observers, these first-hand maps are likely to be more
accurate. Also, we need first-hand experience if we want other people's
words to make sense to us. Broad first-hand experience enriches that library
of experiences and mind states stored away in memory. It enriches the
pool of material waiting to be pulled into awareness by the words of others.
(Words that trigger nothing do not—cannot—further our understanding.)
A related problem arises when
we meet one-of-a-kind realities—realities which have no consciousness
analogs. Such things exist. They are aspects of the process that have
no parallel in human experience; thus we have no raw material, no appropriate
snatches of mind content to pull from memory and use in building a mental
model. It's unfortunate, but among these "strange" realities are some
of the most basic, most fundamental aspects of our existence. Take the
four-dimensional space-time of Minkowski and Einstein, for example. My
brain can create three-dimensional analogs, but not four dimensional ones.
Or take light, which behaves like waves in some situations, and like particles
in others. My brain can generate wave-like analogs, and it can generate
particle-like analogs. But it boggles when it tries to combine the two
into one. Or take something completely informationless like pure awareness,
the ground of mind. Is it any wonder that the ancient seers were reduced
to using terms like the Void, nirvana, and Tao in discussing root realities?
When dealing with these things we can only point at them with words.
We can only refer to their existence. They are indescribable.
We can solve some problems
by using multiple models. There is no single model that fully captures
or parallels the nature of light. But we can get along satisfactorily
by using two partial and incomplete models. Back in my design engineering
days, whenever I worked with lenses and diffraction gratings I used the
wave model of light. When I worked with low-light-level photocells I used
the particle model. Using two models was my pragmatic solution. Psychologists
use multiple models all the time. There are dozens of models of mind processes,
and a pragmatic therapist will use the one which best fits the patient's
situation. When you think about it, because any model covers only certain
aspects of a given reality you'd expect multiple models to be more common
than they are.
There is a type of multiple
model which will be important in later discussions. I've come to call
it the gestalt flip. We've all seen drawings of objects that can
be seen in more ways than one. I recall a drawing that I saw some years
ago. At first glance I abstracted from it reality number one: an attractive
young woman seated at a dressing table, looking at herself in the mirror.
Then my perception did a flip, and I saw the same pattern of black marks
on the paper as the image of a skull: subjective reality number two. Which
subjective reality truly represented the objective reality? They both
did, but each was an incomplete representation. The drawing itself, the
objective reality, contained both a skull aspect and a seated woman aspect.
Both of the conscious experiences were valid, accurate, but incomplete
analogs of the objective reality, the drawing itself. Most introductory
psychology texts have examples of this: a vase that can also be seen as
two faces, a stairway that can be seen as a ceiling cornice, a young woman
that flips to an old woman. Each is a drawing which can be viewed in two
completely different and mutually exclusive ways.
Many of the profound insights
that we have from time to time involve a gestalt flip of perception and
conception. The old way of seeing the reality is still an option—and valid
for certain purposes. But there is also a second way. It was there all
the time. Others had seen it, and might have told us about it—but we hadn't
seen it for ourselves. Then one day, FLIP. We see the cornice rather than
the stairs, the two faces rather than the vase. We experience another
valid—and often more significant—way of looking at what is.
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Reactive emotions such
as anger, fear, jealousy, and greed are generated by hardwired survival-oriented
programs associated with the reptilian and limbic sections of our brains.
Most mental discomfort originates here.
To some extent mental and physical reactivity is a habit, capable of being
triggered and sustained by environmental circumstances and by the activities
of the neocortex.
Reactive emotion and behavior is minimized when the neocortex functions
in ways that do not trigger reactivity or sustain it. This is most likely
to happen if basic needs have been met, and if the neocortex adopts a
monitoring and controlling role.
With that sophisticated data-processing
brain working for the body/mind, why aren't our inner lives a piece of
cake? Why don't we experience continuous joy?
The broad-brush answer is:
inappropriate programming. We could say that our emotional lives are not
more blissful because key parts of our brains were designed and programmed
by evolution to prod us toward survival and reproduction. These are the
operating values embodied in the hard-wired programs of the ancient brains.
Strong emotion, we are told, arrived with the evolution of the limbic
brain, and from then on fixed-pattern stereotyped behaviors were colored
with emotion. These new forms of pleasure and pain were potent mechanisms
which helped to keep human beings and other mammals on the survival and
Much research has been done
to establish the physical basis of the emotions, and emotion-backed behaviors
such as rage, aggression, flight, eating, and sex. Paul MacLean and many
other researchers have contributed to this effort, and an appreciable
body of knowledge has accumulated. As a result, the nature of the problem
we humans face in reaching inner and outer peace is becoming increasingly
Let's look at outer peace
first, and those overt behaviors which are anything but peaceful. What
is it that prompts the heavy, reactive behaviors, and what (if anything)
can be done to avoid them?
Both nature and nurture, genes
and environment, play their part. The animal experiments have helped us
to understand the genetically-determined side of the problem. One technique
used extensively by experimenters was to probe and electrically stimulate
the reptilian and limbic brains of several types of mammals. By moving
the probe, electrically stimulating a new area, and watching the behavior
of the animal, they were able to map these structures. A second technique
involved surgery. In some cases lesions were made in various parts of
the old brains; and in others, parts of those brains were surgically removed.
One important finding was
that the structures, functions, and maps were similar in all the mammals
tested—and in humans too, though much of the data on humans was arrived
at less intrusively. That part of the limbic system called the hypothalamus
plays a major role in these basic behaviors. Cats, rats, and monkeys all
had an area of the hypothalamus which, if stimulated, triggered aggressive
behavior. And stimulating nearby areas triggered sexual, flight, and eating
behaviors in all these animals.
Our human experience indicates
that oral and sexual gratification often go together, and that sex and
aggression do too. The mapping technique revealed that the close connection
between oral and sexual gratification has its roots in physical brain
structure. The stimulation of certain areas of the limbic system will
trigger simultaneous oral and sexual behavior. The researchers found a
similar situation with sex and aggression. Some monkeys get erections
as part of their dominance behavior toward other males, and in humans
the two are found together in rape and sadistic sexual activity.
The reptilian and limbic brains
come pre-programmed to generate the animalistic behaviors and mind states
which promoted survival and reproduction in our evolutionary past. The
complication in human beings is our extensive and sophisticated neocortex,
and its network of interconnections with the two ancient brains. Because
of these connections, the human intellect has the potential to both make
things worse, and make things better. Human thought and imagination is
responsible for triggering much of our reactivity. The neocortex can and
does trigger reactive emotion and behavior—and for a host of reasons that
don't apply to cats and rats. On the other hand, the neocortex can also
operate in ways that dampen and lessen aggression and reactivity. There
are many animals among us, but there are saints and sages too. Some people
have learned ways of using the neocortex to keep their reptilian and limbic
I've noted that connections
exist between the left and right hemispheres of the neocortex, and between
this new brain and the two ancient ones. The connections are particularly
good between the limbic system and the frontal lobe of the neocortex—a
part of the new brain involved in decision-making and planning. I've also
noted that cortical programs are acquired during our lifetime through
learning, that they are stored in a "soft" semi-permanent way, and that
they can be modified and added to through more learning. Our leverage
in behavioral control is this: An appropriately programmed neocortex can
(via these interconnections) ride herd on the two animal brains, monitor
their outputs, and "cut them off at the pass." Putting this in genes/environment
or nature/nurture terms: We humans come with parts of our brains genetically
pre-programmed to unleash aggressive behavior on others if those programs
are activated. Nevertheless, other parts of our brains—parts susceptible
to programming by environmental influences—are capable of preventing such
triggering, at least in all but the most stressful circumstances.
This brings us to Abraham
Maslow's hierarchy-of-needs theory that I touched on in Chapter 1. Maslow
observed that people are motivated by the unmet needs which they feel
at a particular time. He also noted that these needs arise in a particular
pattern. They are ordered in levels, and we only experience the next higher
level of needs when those on more basic, more fundamental levels have
been pretty much satisfied.
The most basic level in Maslow's
hierarchy is the physiological. The needs for food, water, sleep, warmth,
and perhaps sex are "prepotent"; if they are not satisfied to some appreciable
degree, the person remains preoccupied with trying to satisfy them.
Once the immediate needs for
food and shelter have been met we become concerned about our comfort tomorrow
and the day after. A new level of need emerges: the need for security,
for freedom from want and danger.
If our basic physical needs
have been met, and if we feel fairly secure, then needs for love, affection,
and close relationships emerge.
Most of us do find affinity
groups and intimate partners, and when that happens the esteem needs take
center stage. At this level we feel a strong need to be respected by others
and think well of ourselves.
Maslow noted a parallel between
the needs at these first four levels and vital nutrients. Just as a nutritional
deficiency exists if calcium or vitamin C is missing from the diet, so
a psychological deficiency exists if the physical, security, social, and
esteem needs are not largely met. When they are met, then we begin to
feel a whole new level of being-oriented, totally healthy needs. He called
these self-actualization needs: the need for creative self-expression,
the need to become all we are capable of becoming. In his later writings
he even talked about a stage beyond self-actualization: a self-transcending,
Putting Maslow's theory in
computer and programming terms, we could say that some of our most fundamental
and value-loaded brain programs are hierarchically arranged. And there
seems to be a master or executive program that decides which of these
programs will currently run. Survival of self and species seems to be
the key value of the most fundamental of these programs. Security is the
goal of programs at the second level. Belongingness is the goal at the
third. Esteem is the goal at the fourth. Beyond this level the programming
is less rigid, and involves the development of wisdom, the utilization
and development of talents, and the abandonment or transcendence (at least
to some degree) of lower-level programming.
As psychologists and sociologists
have been telling us for a long time, you can't expect angelic behavior
from people whose basic needs are not being met. The neocortex doesn't
ride herd very well under those circumstances. In fact, it does exactly
the opposite. I ran across a vivid example of this close to home. Some
years ago I moved to Prince Edward Island, Canada. My Macdonald ancestors
came from the highlands of Scotland. Coincidentally, so did the ancestors
of a great many Prince Edward Islanders. The names Macdonald and MacDonald
take up more space in my phone book than any other name. And there are
whole columns of Campbells, Stewarts, MacLeans and other Highland names.
My neighbors and I live peacefully together, and treat each other at least
as nicely as average North Americans do. (Prince Edward Island has the
lowest murder rate among Canadian provinces, and the second lowest rate
for all violent crime.)
Like most North Americans,
we Islanders tend to be interested in our roots, and to glorify our ancestors
a bit. We take pride in being of Scottish descent, and like to picture
our forebears as fine, noble human beings. At one point I read a bit of
Scottish history involving my MacDonald ancestors. A story is told about
how the Clan MacDonald of Glencoe invited the Clan Campbell to a feast
in 1692. The Campbells turned on their hosts and slaughtered many MacDonalds.
To get the gory details I read historian John Prebble's book Glencoe:
The Story of the Massacre. I got more gore than I bargained for.
It turns out that the massacre
was not an isolated incident. Life was hell for most Highlanders in the
1600s. Their rude dwellings were likened by people of the day to "cow-byres,"
"dung-hills," and "the earths of wild animals." During the winter their
houses sheltered not only Highland humans, but Highland cattle as well.
They were heated by open peat fires which filled them with smoke, reddening
the eyes of people and cattle, and blackening the walls. Some smoke escaped
through a hole in the roof. Some escaped through those holes in the wall
they called windows.
Prebble gave an all too vivid
picture of the pervasive brutality. Violence was part of life. Standard
armament for a Highland man was two pistols, a dirk, a musket, a sword,
and a bull-hide shield. And young boys spent part of each summer learning
to use these weapons. Summers were the good times, but each winter brought
the specter of starvation. Life centered on making it through the current
winter and preparing for the next. Summer activities included murderous
raids on other clans, stealing cattle and anything else of value—insurance
against the perils of the coming winter.
The barbarity of the Highlanders,
it seems, was exceeded only by that of the English "justice" doled out
by the King's man, the Earl of Argyll. Standard practice before hanging
a man was to tear one of his arms from its socket and impale it on a pike.
And one of the Earl's lesser punishments was to bore a hole through a
man's tongue with a hot iron.
During this same period Thomas
Hobbes called the life of man in the natural state "poor, nasty, brutish,
and short." It was that in the Highlands. Today on Prince Edward Island
I, like my Highland ancestors, pass long winters and short summers. But
no one is starving here. And murder and cattle stealing are not standard
pastimes. We blood descendants of those same violent clansmen live in
relative peace with each other. Geneticists would tell us that the genes
haven't changed appreciably in 300 years. (300 years is no time at all
on the scale of evolutionary time.) Yet there is this great difference
between the behavior of the Highlanders of the 1600s and the Islanders
of today. Why?
The answer, in Maslow's schema,
is that the basic physical and psychological needs of today's Islanders
are much better met. In the context of brain function, the conclusion
I draw is that when our survival is continually threatened, the limbic
brain goes relatively unbridled. Its raw reactive impulses are allowed
to trigger brutal actions. And the imaginative neocortex does a lot of
triggering too. In the presence of high levels of threat, the neocortex
not only doesn't ride herd, it actually becomes the cunning ally of the
primal brains—helping them to do their savage thing. The power of thought
and planning is put at the service of the primitive brains. At such times
the values wired into the limbic and reptilian brains become the controlling
values for the entire human system.
Meeting people's basic needs
is the first step in getting out from under the domination of the ancient
brains. When those needs have been met, the neocortex normally takes on
its moderating/civilizing role. It keeps the limbic drives in check—at
least the worst of them.
When you look carefully and
persistently at what is going on in the mind, you see many things. One
of them is the process by which reactive mind states arise. It all starts
with a reactive impulse—a kind of mental knee-jerk—arising within a brain
circuit that includes the limbic brain. It might be a pang of jealousy
or loneliness or fear. Or it might be a flash of anger or hate or envy.
Sometimes it ends right there. In such situations awareness picks up the
impulse, and the thinking mind responds with something like: "That's silly."
or "That's inappropriate." or "I don't want to get into that." When this
happens the whole thing gets dropped. The impulse occurs—triggered by
whatever—but nothing happens to make a big deal of it. It's a bit like
what happens in the following computer program:
- 1 PRINT "PANG OF JEALOUSY"
- 2 END
If you ran the above BASIC
program, the words PANG OF JEALOUSY would appear on the screen once—and
nothing more would happen. Frequently, however, what occurs is more like
this next program:
- 1 PRINT "PANG OF JEALOUSY"
- 2 PRINT "Thoughts about
why I should be jealous."
- 3 GOTO 1
- 4 END
In this example, the PANG
OF JEALOUSY is followed by a little story—by a few thoughts about why
I should be jealous. The story itself, the imagining, then becomes the
cause for another pang of jealousy—handled in the little program above
by the command in line 3 to go back to line 1. If you ran this second
program, the screen would fill with the two statements, then scroll indefinitely
as the two statements repeat over and over again. This scrolling would
continue until you turned the computer off or reset it. The program never
reaches line 4.
In computer programming it's
called an infinite loop. In electronics and servo-mechanism theory its
called positive feedback. In everyday life its called a state of
jealousy. The isolated pang of jealousy leads to a story about it which
leads to another pang which leads to more story, etc. The resulting state
doesn't END until something interrupts the looping. The energy to keep
it going might fail, attention might be drawn to something else, or new
information might be received which convinced the mind that it should
stop its painful foolishness.
One route to a non-reactive
mental life, a life free of painful emotional states, lies in catching
the impulse when it first arises. Catching it before we create a story
around it and escalate that first impulse into a full-blown emotional
Experiencing only isolated
moments of inner peace—and depending on external circumstances for those—is
a hell of a way to live. Literally. My understanding of what is going
on, and what can be done about it, owes much to the mental potentials
theory of Ruth Benedict, the mind factor observations of the Buddha Gautama,
and thousands of hours spent watching my own mind. Let me share the view
as it emerged for me.
As I understand it, the Buddha
saw mind as a sequence of extremely short mind moments, each filled
with one or more types of content usually called mind factors.
Like a movie, these frames whiz by at a great rate and give the illusion
of continuous experience. The quality of experience at any moment is defined
by the mind factor (or factors) present at that moment. Unlike most Western
psychologists, the Buddha wasn't interested in what caused the various
mind factors to arise. He attributed each arising to an untraceable chain
of prior conditions. He was extremely interested, however, in their effects,
both immediate and long term.note10
One text puts the number of
different mind factors at 52. I've already mentioned some of those appearing
on the unwholesome list: Craving. Greed. Fear. Hate. Jealousy.
Envy. The immediate effect of their presence is suffering for the individual.
Each represents some form of wanting what you don't have, or wanting to
be rid of what you do have. These are two of the Buddha's three roots
of suffering. The third is ignorance. (What you don't know can
The lasting karmic
effects of unwholesome mind factors are mental, and sometimes physical.
Whatever fills the mind at this moment helps to condition the mind's content
in future moments. Mental habits develop. The more often hate has filled
my mind in the recent past the more often it is apt to do so in the near
future. Then too, unwholesome mind factors are frequently the stimulus
behind unskillful, inappropriate action. It's no news that we sometimes
do harmful down-leveling kinds of things when the mind is filled with
hate or greed.
There are wholesome, beneficial
mind factors too. The English labels for these include: energy, enthusiasm,
tranquility, concentration, equanimity, compassion, lovingkindness, joy,
insight, effort, joy at the good fortune of others, and mindfulness.
Anthropologist Ruth Benedict's
theory of mind is similar in many respects. Her theory, however, didn't
come from watching her mind. It came from her study of North American
Indian societies. As I piece it together from Maslow's account in The
Further Reaches of Human Nature and her book Patterns of Culture,
Ruth Benedict noted great differences between the kind of people she found
in one society and those she found in another. Some societies consisted
of good, secure, likable, non-aggressive people. Others consisted of surly,
nasty, aggressive people. The personality characteristics didn't correlate
with any of the usual anthropological factors—geography, race, climate,
wealth, etc.—and she struggled to find an answer. She found it in the
type of reinforcement that particular cultures gave to ways of behaving,
to attitudes, and to states of mind. She came to see human nature as a
vast array of potential mind states and behaviors, with each individual's
nature being largely dependent on the pattern of cultural reinforcements
which that individual has experienced.
Tying her theory to our other
models, we could say that some cultures reinforce the least desirable
human potentials—those connected with our ancient brains: greed, hate,
envy, etc. Our present North American cultures (and industrial cultures
in general) tend to reinforce greed, and they reinforce violence to some
extent, but their main focus is on intellectual capability—on developing
the rational mind, on developing capable players for culture-defined "worthwhile"
activities. Like it or not, as primarily intellectual, socialized beings
we are to some extent clones of our cultures. Culture-originated brain
programming determines much of what we do and how we think. This may be
an improvement on having the ancient brains in full time control, but
it's not the best of all possible situations. There is a hierarchy of
control just as there is a hierarchy of needs. There are three levels
in this hierarchy, three levels of control: The ancient reptilian and
limbic brains. The intellect. And the intuitive process.
The intellect either assists
and facilitates other brain processes in reaching their programmed-in
goals, or it functions to facilitate the goals and values programmed into
it by culture and life circumstances. It can help the ancient brains carry
out their programs. It can help the prevailing culture carry out its schemes
and projects. Or, as we will see, it can help intuitive wisdom carry out
its programs and reach its goals.
There is a problem, however.
Because present mainstream cultures embrace the materialistic values suited
to building and maintaining an industrial society, they do not (and in
a sense cannot) promote the development of the highest human potential:
wisdom. Our cultures sometimes give intellectual praise to wisdom, but
they do not value it in an operational sense. They do not trust the intuitive
process—let alone honor it or revere it. And they have not yet created
the sort of institutions needed if large numbers of people are ever to
go beyond intellectual knowledge to wisdom.
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Intuition is a holistic,
wisdom-based mental process. It will work with the intellect to guide
us optimally if the ego (or "self" process) relinquishes control.
Intuition is a largely unconscious,
but holistic information processing activity carried on by the brain.
The information inputs to this process appear to include:
1. Direct perceptions, and
a vast amount of remembered sensory experience.
2. Concepts and mental models
acquired in the past.
3. Considerable genetically-inherited,
archetypal material—the content of Jung's "collective unconscious": The
structure of classic myths, for example. Archetypal life situations and
strategies such as the 64 classic themes outlined in the I Ching.
And certain ethical guidelines such as the incest taboo and the golden
Help from the intuitive process
takes several forms. One is help in creativity—in coming up with a new
something that never existed before. Typically, we have a problem that
requires an out of the ordinary, creative solution. We gather the data
that we hope will be helpful, and we wrestle with the task intellectually.
The solution doesn't come. So we put the problem aside, get a good night's
sleep, and then, when we least expect it, Aha! The answer arrives,
seemingly from nowhere.
In this creative mode, solving
the problem appears to be the key program value, and although the the
data processing tends to be slow, it is amazingly thorough. Through some
unknown activity (perhaps just trial and error) the intuitive process
churns subconsciously until it finds (or creates) a satisfying "answer"
to the creative challenge. In situations taken to be important, the process
appears to consider every scrap of available data in its search for a
construct that satisfies the present need. The informational output varies.
"Answers" range from just a hunch about what to do next, to the appearance
in the mind of a relatively complete intellectual construct: the "benzene
ring" snake that the chemist Kekule saw in a dream, or the water-level/volume
relationship that Archimedes conceptualized in his bath just before shouting
When not working on a specific
problem, intuition appears to address the task of helping the person grow,
develop, and deal effectively with life situations. The values operating
through the program at these times seem to be wisdom, and developing a
wise person. The informational outputs in this mode are often insights,
hunches, premonitions, warnings, and commands to act.
Today's insights become raw
material for tomorrow's intuitive processing; wisdom begets more wisdom.
Among the most valuable of the wisdom-fostering insights are existential
insights—those gestalt flips to a more holistic way of seeing things.
When the mind becomes quiet we start to move from our usual preoccupation
with objects, to a perception of the subtle, often invisible relationships
between objects. Attention shifts from bits and pieces to patterns, from
nouns and verbs to context and meaning, from components to systems and
processes, from parts to wholes. At such times we may see a situation
from an entirely different perspective; we see aspects of the situation
which were there all along, but which we never noticed before.
Intuition's decision making
help is also valuable. Here, as in its other roles, intuition takes subtle
and peripheral data into account. It even seems to rank or weigh different
factors according to their importance. The rational mind has trouble doing
this. Have you ever tried to rationally weigh the pros and cons of two
possible jobs, or moves, or relationships? Not only are there many factors
to consider, but they all differ in relative importance. The intuitive
process, however, somehow weighs everything and comes up with the needed
decision. Its output at such times is often deceptively simple: just a
yes or no feeling. GO or NOGO.
To summarize, I have little
doubt that intuition is the most extensive and inclusive human mental
process. It seems to be a reality-seeking process by nature, taking all
available information into account. It's not always fast, and sometimes
intuitive answers lack detail. But even when the process does not come
up with the entire answer, it often points in the right direction—it gives
hints about what to do next.
I suspect that the intuitive
process of most people is in good shape. I also suspect that the reason
people do not behave more intuitively than they do is that other mental
activities get in the way. In our culture we're addicted to reactive emotion,
and to intellectual activities: planning, fantasizing, and the continual
use of language. These activities interfere with the intuitive process
in various ways, causing subtle intuitive feelings to be missed or misinterpreted.
First, the competing mental
activity may simply be too intense: too painful or too interesting. Attention
tends to be captured by the loudest, flashiest mental activity currently
going on—and with this kind of competition the quiet voice of intuition
may never reach awareness. It may be drowned out by the more insistent
mind content. Reactive emotions, and rational mind activities like problem-solving,
are among the stronger kinds of competition.note11
Another interfering factor
is our habitual way of looking at the world. Each culture lays on its
members an approved world-view, a sort of consensus reality, an
accepted way of interpreting the data that life presents to us. We tend
to ignore what doesn't fit the accepted scheme. As a result, intuition's
messages are often brushed aside with thoughts like, "That's silly," or
"That can't be right." This culturally-induced closed-mindedness sometimes
keeps us from listening to intuition's voice and taking it seriously.
Related to this is the effect
which language—the very structure of language—has on the way we see things.
Language chops the continuum of experience into bits and pieces. Things
(subjects) are described as doing things (verbs) to other things (objects).
This is a useful way of sorting out our experience for many purposes.
But it habituates us to seeing everything this way. Sometimes intuition
presents the same data in a different, more helpful, conceptual framework.
If we're too deeply into the verbal rut, we resist seeing what is
from intuition's point of view.
Finally, there is the resistance
intuition encounters from the mental process we call ego, or self. The
self or "I" resists outside advice, and from its perspective intuition
is outside, "other." It is very much as though two separate mental beings
occupy one body. There is the usual "I," which is identified with the
rational mind, verbal communication, and reactive emotion. And then there
is this other "being": the intuition.
I recall an experience I had
at a meditation retreat some years ago. Shortly before going on this retreat
I had read Freedom in Meditation, an interesting book on meditation
by Princeton psychologist Patricia Carrington. In it she told the story
of a writer who had integrated meditation into the writing process. She
said that he treated his "unconscious" mind like a "loyal servant." Before
going to bed he would respectfully ask his unconscious to have the next
material ready in the morning. Upon waking he would meditate for an hour,
and then begin writing. The requested material would always be there.
When I read this I had no
trouble believing that it worked, but I smiled at the loyal servant part.
It seemed needlessly "personal." At one point during the retreat, however,
I recalled the story and thought to myself: Why not try it out?
I had a problem at the time.
I'd been struggling with a writing project, trying to find a good way
of organizing the material, but with little success. I'd considered a
great many approaches, but none seemed exactly right. So, I decided to
respectfully ask my subconscious self to come up with an organization
plan. Two hours later it did. The plan that popped into awareness was
fresh, novel, and creative beyond my highest hopes. There was no way that
"I"—the egoistic rational-mind me—could have done it.
Having that problem solved
was wonderful, but having had the experience itself was even more important.
From that point on I had no doubt that the rational, verbal "I" shared
this body with another intelligent presence. The feeling was uncanny,
weird. This other presence, however, did not seem like a servant. It was
at least an equal—or more likely, a superior. It behaved as though it
had infinite patience, and was wiser than "I." But in another sense it
was helpless. I realized that by itself it was totally isolated. On its
own it couldn't talk and it couldn't act. It was as though it had always
been there, just patiently waiting for the rational mind to quiet down
and cooperate. It needed "me" as much as I needed it. And I needed it!
I started to think about arranging my life so that the mental noise level
would stay down. My rational mind was by then convinced that the two of
us needed to work together.
It strikes me that what today
we call intuition, was, in earlier times, called the voice of God. The
experience I just related is one reason I believe this. Another is that
the procedures recommended by religion for hearing God's voice are procedures
that also work well for hearing intuition's voice. Religion's key advice
was to get the "self" out of the way. In old-fashioned prayer you humbled
yourself in the attitude of "not my will but thine be done," and the rational
mind listened attentively for guidance from outside itself. Honoring and
respecting the intuitive process—as that screen writer did, or as I did
at that retreat—accomplishes the same thing. When we adopt this attitude
we are saying, in effect, "I , the rational mind me, doesn't know it all."
"I need help." At such times the I, the ME, the ego, the small-s self,
stops trying to dominate and run everything. The mind is open and receptive
for a change, actively listening.
Our ancient brains create
for us the outdated, reactive mind—a mind based on values of the distant
past. Our left brain hemisphere creates for us the rational, linguistic
mind—a mind suited to the values of our fading industrial era. The intuitive
process stands ready to create for us the holistic, creative, and wise
mind—a mind suited to a wisdom-centered future. It stands ready to take
over as our fundamental mental process. We simply need to cut the competition
from these other two minds—those dated, sometimes useful, but informationally
noisy mental processes that tend to take over and run things.
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The quiet mind is, at one
level, awareness free of content.
At another level it is peace and equanimity even in the presence of "upsetting"
Prolonged exposure to the first level takes you to the second.
Just as energy and awareness
are the fundamental, primal aspects of Being, so too within each human
being there is a fundamental, primal, psychological state of being. It
is a non-identified state, or if identification is present, it is identification
with Being. It is a state of causeless happiness, a state of equanimity
and energized but peaceful attentiveness. It is a state of desirelessness,
contentment, and basic trust in the universal process. It is a state of
egolessness. It is a state where the wanting and condemning psychological
activities—reactive emotion and the intellectual tale-spinning that goes
with it—have been surrendered. It is a state of psychological peace, coupled
with a readiness to act out the promptings of Wisdom and Love.
Underneath every noisy, reactive
mind—supporting it, and enabling it to exist—is a quiet, peaceful, loving
mind. Happiness is available to everyone, and right here. It seems almost
too simple: Inner peace, contentment, and happiness are what is
when there is no thinking or reactive emotion present.
Think for a moment about what
happiness is—your personal experience of it, and the circumstances under
which you experience it. We speak of "moments of happiness," and our experience
of happiness usually is momentary. When do the happy moments arrive in
Mine often come just after
some longing has stopped. Typically, I have been in a wanting state
of mind. The wanting might have been intense or subdued, but I wanted
something: To get a phone call from someone. To eat. To get a special
piece of mail. Then that want suddenly ended: When the phone rang and
it was the person I wanted to hear from. When I sat down to eat. When
I opened my post office box and it contained the mail I'd been waiting
We normally think that happiness
results from pleasure. In looking carefully, however, I've seen that happiness
is connected not so much with pleasure as with the absence of desire,
the absence of wanting. I'm happy whenever I don't want things to be any
different from the way they are. My moments of happiness usually arrive
right after the wanting stops, and this is often before the anticipated
pleasure starts: before I have the telephone conversation, before I consume
the food, before I read the letter. Happiness exists in that brief moment
when the pain of wanting has stopped and the next pleasure has not yet
begun. In that brief moment of freedom from reactive emotion my awareness
settles on the primal background state: happiness, Being itself.
When we uncover this basic
state of Being we find that it has several aspects—mental, emotional and
physical—and that a certain quality is attached to each of these:
- The subjective state is
characterized by alertness, attentiveness, awareness—a listening-like
quality. Sensory perceptions are clear and distinct.
- The intellect is inactive.
The occasional thought may arise and disappear, but there is no discursive
thinking going on.
- Emotionally, there exists
a quiet state free of reactive emotions like anger, fear, hate, wanting
or craving, greed, envy, jealousy, etc.—except, perhaps, for an occasional
isolated impulse. Often, one or more of the subtle emotions of Being
are present: equanimity, lovingkindness, joy, wonder, peace or tranquility,
- Physically, there is a
state of stillness and peaceful readiness—free of agitation and the
compulsion to do, but ready to act when Wisdom dictates.
Awareness, love, peace. It's
what everyone is looking for, and it's right here at the core of each
of us. Being feels like the fundamental basic me. When I allow myself
to relax into that state I recognize it. I've been there many times in
the past without realizing it: When lying on a hillside watching the clouds
go by. When doing something special for someone. When responding to the
need of the moment without thinking—just organically doing what needs
to be done. When watching a tiny baby settled into its place of being:
aware, watching, peaceful, happy just to be.
Our culture doesn't tell us
that this mental space is always available, let alone how to find it.
It tells us to go for pleasure and to settle for brief moments of happiness.
It tells us to want a lot, and then satisfy those wants. It's a well-kept
secret that happiness inheres in Being, and is always available. It's
not a secret in some circles, of course, but it is in the mainstream culture.
Happiness and inner peace
are primal, not acquired. We don't find them through seeking and action.
Instead, we discover them through inward recognition, and letting go of
emotional reactivity toward whatever disturbs our mental peace. Stillness
is a choice that we make. It's always there. We could drop our wanting/hating
attachment to mind content at any time. But we don't. We could detach,
step out—and watch from that quiet, motionless center which we are. But
Instead, we inevitably seek.
We try to transform ourselves. It doesn't work, but our efforts at transformation
eventually take us to the place where we see that seeking is a dead end.
We seek until we realize that seeking itself is the problem. At that point
a real transformation—a deep and effortless transformation—begins.
Happiness and pleasure really
are two different things. It is possible to be happy even though experiencing
physical or psychological discomfort. This happens after we have spent
enough time in the quiet mind state. It happens when we start seeing things
from a state of centered equilibrium, emotionally detached from the show.
It happens when we start seeing ourselves as awareness, and the informational
show as just a show. It happens when we start to disidentify with that
show. From this vantage point the show is seen to be informational modulation,
nothing more. It is seen as simply a dance of differences. We become able
to accept whatever information is present without feeling compelled to
change it or escape from it.
This vantage point is always
here, always now, always available. Making a flip to this perspective
in a lasting way comes when we arrive at the gut-felt conviction that
it truly is the best possible vantage point: the sensible, positive, appropriate
mental hangout. This normally happens only after a great many hours spent
practicing mental quiet, and numerous episodes in which we abandon the
quiet for the seductions of the show.
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Human beings everywhere
suffer from delusions of mistaken identity—and forms of this delusion
now threaten to destroy the species.
The most common form of this delusion is that we are individual, independent,
vulnerable persons—and persons only.
Identification with body and mind contents is a deeply-programmed human
condition. Nevertheless, identification is inherently arbitrary. Many
other identifications are possible—identification with nation or ethnic
group being common, and often troublesome.
Our most fundamental or "true" identity resides in the permanent media
of existence, not in any of the temporary informational modulations which
overlay those media.
In the six chapters just completed
we have looked at various aspects of human psychology: the brain/mind
connection, perception, rational thought, reactive emotion, intuition,
and the quiet mind. In this chapter we look at one more element of our
psychological reality: the identification phenomenon.
Humanity experiences a mass
delusion, a delusion of separateness and mistaken identity. There is a
primal sense of identity, a sense of existing, an I AM sense. This quite
legitimate sense of identity, however, often acquires illegitimate associations.
Typically, human beings associate this sense with the body and with the
intellect and emotions, and separate it from everything else. As a result,
people feel isolated, alone, and vulnerable.
This delusion was useful tens
of thousands of years ago when conditions of life were more marginal than
they are here, today. It had survival value for the individual in those
times, and thus for the species too. When you feel that you are the local
body/mind, and only the body/mind, you tend to devote large amounts
of energy and attention to enhancing and preserving the personal self.
As a result, the chances of survival for that particular body/mind are
improved—and thus the chances of its genes being passed on.
It seems clear that even if
there were originally two groups—one group deluded and the other not—natural
selection would have favored the survival of the deluded group if resources
were scarce. That group would have fought fiercely for personal survival.
The other group wouldn't have seen any need to. Times have changed, however.
Today, those who suffer from this delusion and who also have great technological
muscle—those in control of nuclear weapons, for example—pose a threat
to themselves and everyone else.
The delusion has its roots
in the limitations of the human perceptual system. One problem is that
all perception is local. Perception happens right here at the body. Even
the odor molecules from the garbage dump a mile away and the photons from
a star many light years away must enter the body before they are perceived.
Another problem is that there are many realities we don't perceive with
the senses at all. If my direct perceptions don't tell me that oneness,
not separateness, is the root reality, I'm not likely to believe it. And
they don't tell us that. Unaided human sight and touch tell us just the
opposite: they tell us that we're separate, independent entities.
It is not so much our identification
as persons that is the problem, it is our identification as persons exclusively—our
identification as persons only. It is not an error of commission
that we make, but an error of omission. It is not that seeing ourselves
as persons is wrong, it is that we fail to see ourselves as everything
We humans appear to be separate
entities, but we are not. We are open systems. This is the scientist's
way of saying that we are not separate, but are dependent parts of a larger
system. My physical body is not a process unto itself, it is an intrinsic
part of a larger physical process. It's a subsystem in a process which
includes the biosphere, the sun, and in fact, the whole universe. We tend
to ignore our links with the rest of the universe because they don't generate
loud sensory messages. We find it natural to view human beings as isolated
independent entities. But when we stand back and consider our human situation
in context, consider it from the perspective of the universe-as-a-whole,
we see a very different picture. We see atoms from the primordial explosion,
and additional atoms constructed inside the stars of universe, making
their way to Earth. We then see a lengthy evolutionary process. During
that process the means develop to direct roughly 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
(1028) of these primordial and star-forged atoms at a time
into temporary, mobile, intelligent, human-shaped pieces of universe.
We might call this the structural connection.
These intelligent chunks of
universe are also tied to the process in other ways. The energy
connection provides them with the continuous supplies of energy
they need to think and to do. Solar energy is intercepted by green growing
things which convert it into chemical energy. These plants, directly or
indirectly, supply each human subsystem with stored solar energy. They
also supply other chemicals needed for building and repairs.
Because some materials taken
in are not used, and because internal processes generate unwanted chemicals,
each subsystem also has its waste connection with
the larger process.
These universe subsystems
need continuous supplies of oxygen, and they generate quantities of CO2.
The atmosphere of earth provides this gas connection almost
The wider universe is also
linked to its human localizations with an information connection.
The senses provide one-way information flow into the subsystem from the
larger system (including its other subsystems). The action connection
involves a flow in the opposite direction, from subsystem to system-at-large.
This reverse flow includes not only coded communications, but all other
forms of doing as well.
No, people aren't the independent
entities they think they are. Each of us has six real, absolutely necessary
links connecting us with the rest of the universe—structural, energy,
waste, gas, information, and action connections. Fortunately for personal
mobility, these subsystem links have been provided without the need for
physical cables and hoses. Because of that, they are like the other more
subtle, more silent realities around us: they are all too easy to ignore.
But these connections with the larger universe are just as real as if
they had been made with six foot long pieces of wire and tubing. We humans
are, in a concrete and non-mystical sense, intelligent nodes of the larger
Einstein recognized both the
intrinsic oneness and the mass delusion when he wrote:
A human being is
a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and
space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something
separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.
This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal
desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.note12
Seeing ourselves as the whole
process would be a more realistic stance for humanity to take, but even
that is not the core truth. Our true identity resides in the permanent
media of existence, not in the transient informational modulations
that overlay them. Those informational overlays have no substance, they
are just an indenting or modulating or waving of the media. They are just
a temporary surface pattern of space-time differences. Because the substance,
the long-term reality, lies in the media, the only long-term identity
lies there too. The informational patterns exist, and we needn't disregard
them. But we can see them as ever-changing surficial features of the one
The cosmic media—energy and
awareness—interpenetrate all physical and mental structures and are their
foundation. Only the informational overlay changes: the shape, the form,
the patterned modulation. The media themselves just are, unaffected
by time or space. All the energy that existed in the beginning of our
present universe will be there in some form or other at the end. The form
constantly changes. The media themselves never do. And we are the media.
Each of us experiences a primal
sense of existing, a basic sense of self. In Chapter 15 I will try to
show that when someone undertakes a search for the true home of that primal
sense, they eventually discover that it is associated with the medium,
not the message. It's possible to experience—directly and personally—that
the true home of the "sense of self" is awareness itself.
Part of the problem is that
identification is arbitrary and fickle. Subjective awareness—the true
subject, the primal subjective Self—is drawn to whatever show is going
on in consciousness, and tends to become identified with aspects of that
show. The brain makes erroneous assumptions about what the primal sense
of identity should be associated with.
Perhaps the clearest example
of this is the experience which I have—and I assume you have too—when
I go to the movies. I sit down. The theater darkens and the feature begins.
I soon forget that I'm in a theater watching a movie. The plot thickens.
The characters on the screen get into dangerous situations, and my
pulse rate goes up, my adrenalin starts to flow. It is me
that feels threatened.
"I" have gotten lost in the
show. The Cop Macdonald brain has linked that-which-watches (awareness,
the primal subject) with the informational contents of consciousness.
Those contents signal danger, and the body responds. But there is no objective
threat present in that theater. Those mind contents arise from moving
patterns of colored light on a white screen. There is no doubt about it,
in these circumstances I am living a delusion; my fast pulse and breathing
are physical proof of it.
That same sort of delusion
is also present in everyday life. We go to the movies because we want
to spend a couple of deluded hours, lost in someone else's show. (It would
be possible—but no fun at all—to dispel the delusion by continuously reminding
ourselves that we are simply watching moving patterns of light on a screen.)
Self-delusion is fine for occasional recreation, but not so fine when
we watch that other show called real life. In everyday circumstances,
just as when we watch a movie, the brain links the primal sense of I-ness
and existing with the contents of consciousness, and the brain continues
to make erroneous assumptions about who "I" am. The subjective "I" becomes
identified with whatever mind content it finds itself bombarded by, and
we find ourselves living the identification delusion.
Normally, awareness—the true
home of the primal "I"—becomes identified with the body and with the mental
show of everyday life. But not always. In our movie theater example the
adrenalin flows and the heart rate accelerates as the "I sense" identifies
with a character on the screen—a mere pattern of light.
In the recruit who enlists,
goes through military training, and then to war, the subjective "I" may
become identified more strongly with the nation (or the nation's ideology)
than with body and mind contents. Identification with the body may even
be abandoned completely, causing this soldier to willingly "Give his life
for his country." In some cultures, an intense ethnic identity is similarly
encouraged and developed.
Another example is the woman
who has immersed herself in women's issues, and whose subjectivity becomes
identified with gender. Ask such a woman, "Who are you?" and the answer
is likely to be: "A woman, and a feminist."
In short, subjective awareness
watches whatever show is going, and identification tends to develop with
aspects of that show.
As I mentioned at the beginning
of this chapter, the mechanism of arbitrary identification now threatens
the whole species. Arthur Koestler, Eric Fromm, and other researchers
into the causes of war, have fingered the identification phenomenon as
a fundamental troublemaker.note13 Identification
with nation or race results in a we/they in-group/out-group division,
often having deadly ramifications. Some level of respect for one's nation
and ethnic ancestry is fine, but national governments frequently go to
great lengths to make these identifications intense and binding. The means
employed include reinforcements such as pledges of allegiance, rituals
involving flags and royalty, reverence for national heroes, an overly
positive portrayal of the nation in the news media, and blatant lies about
the out-group. There is also likely to be punishment—even torture and
death in some countries—for those deviants and dissidents who fail to
identify with the nation and its aspirations.
Every strong identification
other than identification with ALL has the potential to cause trouble,
to downlevel the process. Here I include identification with person, gender,
race, nation, community, and organization. All these lesser identifications
create an ingroup and an outgroup, a we and a they, an us and a them,
a me and a you. Inherent in these lesser identifications are seeds of
divisiveness and local advantage. Inherent in identification with Being,
with ALL, are seeds of general well-being and overall upleveling.
The identity delusion not
only causes external problems, it also damages us psychologically; it
causes needless suffering. As an infant we underwent a painful, frightening
experience of individuation. According to the psychologists who study
these things, we start life with no sense of separateness, and during
our first two years gradually arrive at the consensus view of identity,
which then remains with us.
We're not totally happy with
this new view, however, and throughout our lives there are times when
we unconsciously try to go back, when we do things in an attempt to regain
that feeling of connectedness that we lost. We use various names for the
place that we seek: Happiness. Home. Belonging. Relationship. Community.
But they are all substitutes and aliases. What we seek at the deepest
level is our lost sense of oneness, our lost sense of identity with everything.
The finding lies in abandoning
all the external searches, and recognizing that the psychological experience
of individuation that we underwent as infants—while a necessity for conducting
everyday life—led us into a delusion. The finding lies not in regression,
in some attempt to create a substitute womb, but in transcendence: in
recognizing the delusion for what it is—and in going beyond it to see
clearly for the first time the identity which has always existed. The
finding lies in making a gestalt flip to that other perspective on our
situation, to that other way of seeing and interpreting the data of life
and existence. Our most fundamental or "true" identity resides in the
permanent media of existence, not in any of the temporary informational
modulations which overlay those media. We are awareness and energy, the
eternal grounds of subjective and objective being.
The Garden of Eden story can
be interpreted in light of the delusion. When, as small children, we began
to acquire knowledge, we lost our prior sense of oneness. During our first
two years of life we encountered the tree of knowledge. We became immersed
in, and eventually adopted, the whole informational world of distinction
and difference. The apple is the mythical symbol for that informational
world, and the normal childnote14 ends
up grasping it, ends up making a not totally happy choice for separate
We "normal" adults can't undo
the lives we've lived to date—and that isn't the answer, even if we could.
Much of the knowledge we acquire about the informational world while under
the delusion's spell is appropriate and useful. And there are indications
that a strong ego-identification may be needed to get through Maslow's
first four stages. We may need to build an ego before we can destroy it.note15
But we can look back at what has happened. We can see that the individuation
process (that metaphorical eating of the fruit) did delude us into abandoning
our prior sense of oneness. And we can entertain the possibility that
the sense of oneness still lies within us, just waiting to be recognized.
Each of us knows what it's
like to feel happy, to feel at home, to feel a sense of belongingness.
We just need to claim those feelings as legitimately ours, here and now.
In the past we have looked at happiness, feeling at home, and belongingness
as goals to be attained via externals—via a search for pleasure, possessions,
the perfect home, the perfect relationship. As long as we continue to
connect those mental states with external searching and finding, we'll
never more than briefly glimpse them. If, however, we recognize them as
aspects of subjective oneness, then we can drop the external chase and
reclaim our intrinsic connectedness right here, right now. We just need
to recognize that those feelings are all aspects of the subjective side
In reality, the delusion did
not destroy the pre-existing oneness. The primal unity was never broken.
It's just that an illusion of separateness arose. Therefore, there
is no need to mount a search for the primal oneness. We simply need to
recognize it, to re-cognize it. In coming chapters, we'll look
at what's involved in doing this.
to Table of Contents
We humans are the new high-powered,
high-speed agents of evolution.
We're currently good at technique, but terrible at holistic seeing. We're
capable, but not wise.
We need to become wise agents of evolution—and soon.
We human beings have always
put effort into changing the world around us, and almost always with the
intention making things better. It started with stone tools and hanging
a skin over the opening of the cave, and it continues. Although most of
earth's five billion people must struggle just to survive, that is not
true of all. Some decades ago the industrial nations achieved material
sufficiency—enough material goods and support services to meet the legitimate
needs of all their members. The distribution of these goods was non-uniform,
and in some countries there were still people who went without. The production
was there, however—enough to satisfy the basic physical needs of everyone
in the society. This was an amazing accomplishment, the envy of any prior
age. Whole societies reached the first level in Maslow's hierarchy.
Strangely, however, when that
point was reached, no one eased up on the throttle. No one said, "You
did it, Western society. Wonderful! Now relax a bit, take a rest." Society
didn't automatically move on to the next stage, either. The system not
only continued to produce, but it kept increasing production. A strong
emphasis on the production of material goods remained—though it was no
longer necessary or appropriate to the same degree as before. The factories
and goods distribution systems had been put in place, and for numerous
reasons kept running. And a multi-billion dollar advertising industry
was created to (among other things) keep consumption up.
One way of looking at this
is that industrial society, as a whole, couldn't move beyond the physical
needs level. Producing to meet material needs was what it had been created
to do, and it did that well. That, however, was just about all it was
really expert at. Mechanisms for frequent review and change had not been
built into the system.
A human system is different.
Once its needs at one level are met, its programming moves it on to the
next level. Human systems may not be wise, but they are at least smart,
and capable of fairly rapid change. Societal systems are dumb, and full
of inertia. In industrialized countries around the world, the whole '60s
generation was turned off by the stupidity of these systems. Millions
of young people could see the stupidity, but the systems themselves couldn't.
Now, two decades later—despite
all the advertising hype aimed at maintaining consumption, involving skillful
manipulation of our least wholesome drives—the system is starting to change.
Old factories are being closed, and not always replaced with new ones.
Businesses are going bankrupt and are being forced to merge. Unemployment
is higher than in the old days. Eventually the larger system does reflect
the changes in its component systems, but there is a considerable time
This lag has dangerous consequences
at the next level in Maslow's hierarchy: the security needs level. Two
paranoid megasocieties, guided by two rigid and incompatible ideologies,
put themselves and their human subsystems at great risk. It was all done
to promote security for themselves, but it backfired. Once again, the
young people (and many others) have seen the stupidity of it, and the
incredible danger of it. Yet the megasystems have hung for years on the
edge of mutual destruction, unable, until recently, to make even modest
changes in the situation. Since their human components strongly want the
situation to change, it will change—given enough time. But there's the
The Existence Game will continue
to be played on this planet for a long time, perhaps even until the sun
expands and the oceans start to boil some five billion years from now.
But the Game could also suffer a major setback tomorrow. It has taken
4.6 billion years of evolutionary process here on earth to come up with
beings as advanced as humans. Within a few hours the planet could suffer
a one, two, or three billion year setback. No, the game wouldn't end.
But the major players next year might be cockroaches and soil bacteria,
not human beings.
I could make a case for not
doing anything about it. In one sense, it wouldn't matter all that much.
Earth is small potatoes—one of nine planets circling a star called the
sun. That star is one of two hundred billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy.
And the Milky Way is just one of more than a billion galaxies in the universe.
Regardless of what happens here on earth, the movement forward and upward
is continuing elsewhere on a grand scale. It's reasonable to assume that
the problem of moving from primitive mental activities to wisdom is a
universal problem, and that earth is just one of many places where an
attempt is being made to transcend the threat of self-destruction. Some
of these experiments will no doubt succeed, even if our experiment doesn't.
Then, too, it's "only information"
that would be lost. If, tomorrow, the nuclear devastation comes—and if
this body/mind is given at least a moment for reflection—it is likely
to think about the informational nature of the loss. "Well, good try human
race, but you blew it. What a pity—a real setback for the game. Guess
it's time to watch what's happening at a less complex level."
Well, this body/mind doesn't
want that to happen. And judging from the direction evolution has taken,
the process as a whole doesn't want it to happen either. As Kazantzakis
pointed out so movingly in The Saviors of God, evolutionary progress
to date has been paid for with an incredible amount of suffering. Now
we humans stand almost ready to go beyond suffering. A few have already
done it. And if we had an optimal culture—a societal system that was truly
supportive of growth toward wisdom—possibly all could do it. This body/mind
is not ready to give up that hope without a struggle.
Yes, it is just information.
But along with a deepening sense of connectedness comes a deepening sense
of wonder about, and reverence for, the cosmic task and its informational
creations. The everyday experience that seems closest to this is aesthetic
appreciation, and the sense of value that arises as the result of aesthetic
appreciation. Human beings have paid millions for paintings by great artists.
What then is the value of those infinitely more intricate cosmic works
of art that we call flowers and human beings?
The Existence Game is an information
creating, information destroying game. And it's a time-limited not-forever
game. But it's the only game in space-time, and a damned interesting one.
It is our game, and our universe. We are the energy and awareness behind
it. And as we've noted, Being, through evolution, has created human minds
capable of seeing what Being is up to—and those minds can choose to help
Being accomplish its goals. It is through the Game and its players that
Being—the real you and me—comes to understand itself and enjoy itself.
No, I'm not going to sit back and say that it doesn't matter. But where
does this body/mind go from here? What's a helpful way to look at the
Our present era is a time
of transition between phases in the evolutionary process. Phase 1 was
marked by the chance/necessity sort of evolution described in Chapter
3: extremely slow, but effective if you have the time. Phase 1 techniques
enabled sophisticated brains to evolve. They also enabled the human body
to evolve—with its mobility and its marvelous hands capable of manipulating
materials. These advanced capabilities have now become the new agents
of evolution. Evolution in Phase 2 is mind-directed evolution. With its
great power and speed it totally overrides the creeping-along Phase 1
process. Phase 1 Evolution still continues, but becomes largely insignificant
as a factor for change in those parts of the universe—such as Earth—where
Phase 2 capabilities exist.
Some years ago we humans started
to practice this new style of evolution. We've already seen how rapidly
change can be brought about compared with the old way, and we've begun
to see the dangers too. To date, Phase 2 projects have been directed by
Phase 1 minds. The harnessing of nuclear energy is a classic example of
the danger involved in this. And today we are going full speed ahead in
the field of genetic engineering. I see nothing intrinsically wrong with
either activity if pursued by wise people, acting with utmost caution,
in accord with the highest aims and values of the process. But that
is presently far from the case. And unless that changes, unless the minds
doing the directing are themselves guided by the high values of Being,
Phase 2 on this planet is sure to be short-lived—and a disastrous failure.
Sophisticated brains, mobility,
and the ability to manipulate materials were necessary before Phase 2
could begin, but they weren't all that was needed. Phase 2 requires one
more thing: material sufficiency—a standard of living which gives large
numbers of people the time, energy, and support systems needed for creativity.
(Hungry people—grubbing for survival—are not likely to design silicon
chips, conduct experiments in genetic engineering, or create great art.)
We humans are equipped with a wide array of mental potentials. The potentials
actualized in Phase 1 (greed, hate, anger, etc.) helped the species survive
under conditions of material scarcity. They prodded human beings to move
toward material sufficiency. Now, with a basic level of material support
in place in many parts of the world, the Phase 1 values and mind states
hinder rather than help. Having served a useful purpose in Phase 1, they
have become counterproductive in Phase 2. Unfortunately, noisy, reactive,
pain-filled Phase 1 minds are still the human norm. Despite this, whole
societies of humans are attempting to get on with Phase 2 activities.
It won't work.
To help us see this, I'd like
to relate our data to another metaphor: the universe as a work of art—a
work created by the universal process and its subsystems, and appreciated
in the minds of those subsystems.
Twenty years ago the opinion
of the day was that there were two types of people: logical, rational,
practical people; and sensitive, creative, but impractical people. The
tacit assumption was that logic and rationality were in conflict with
openness, sensitivity and creativity. You faced a trade off: if you developed
one set of qualities you would necessarily lose the other.
Then along came the left-brain/right-brain
theory which associated each of these sets of qualities with one of the
two hemispheres of the brain's neocortex—and the assumptions changed.
If rational thought and logic originated in the left hemisphere, and creativity
and artistic sensitivity originated in the right, then there was no conflict—and
no need for a trade-off.
What a freeing idea! Just
because we had, in the past, developed one side of ourselves—one set of
qualities, one brain hemisphere—didn't mean that we could not now develop
the other. In fact, when you looked back at history and thought about
people like Leonardo da Vinci, it was obvious that there had always been
at least a few people who had developed both—and who deserved to be called
complete, fully-developed people.
With that prologue in mind,
let's now move on to the metaphor itself. The purpose of art, as I understand
it, is to bring about—through the generation of physical works—a
qualitative change in the perceiver's conscious experience. My impression
is that all good art uplevels our experience in some way. Either it produces
uplifting feelings, or it helps us to know something or see something
more clearly. Enhanced subjective experience is the goal of the art process.
The work which triggers the
intellectual/emotional experience is an expression in some physical medium.
It might be a medium with a memory like paint and canvas, or pen and ink,
or film. Or it might be an ephemeral medium like a stage and moving players,
or waves of air pressure coming from musical instruments.
An enhanced inner experience
is the desired result. The work is the physical means by which that state
is brought about. And of course it is the artist who creates the work.
To create the work the artist employs two general aptitudes or skills:
holistic seeing (right hemisphere stuff, according to many people),
and technical ability (which they associate with the left). In
The Transformative Vision Jose Arguelles called them psychic impulse,
Each artist possesses these
aptitudes to differing degrees. Some artists have little technical skill.
They rely a lot on trial and error, randomness. An extreme case I once
heard about was the prize-winning painting done by a chimpanzee. I assume
that the chimp had little control over his doing, and very little ability
to see holistically. But I also assume that the chimp did a great many
paintings. And I assume that someone who could see sorted through
them and picked out the one which had a prize-winning arrangement of brush
strokes. There are artists who have a good eye, and succeed because they
throw a lot of stuff away.
There are also artists with
considerable technical ability, but no well-developed ability to see holistically.
They often create pleasing works, but they don't create profound works.
We admire their skill, but their works don't move us.
The great artists have two
highly developed cerebral hemispheres.
Keeping this limited overview
of art in mind, let's consider the cosmic situation in which we find ourselves.
The metaphoric parallels seem to be there. Minds capable of appreciating
do exist: your mind, and mine, and minds at all levels in the hierarchy
of earthly life. A work exists: the universe, and of particular interest
to you and me, this local portion of it—the earth. And a process capable
of producing, developing and refining that work exists: the evolutionary
process including its latest local agents—"artists" like you and me. Let's
see where the metaphor takes us.
Although the universe's reason
for existing may not be the creation of uplifted states of mind, that
notion doesn't seem totally far-fetched. Much has been going on in this
area. An observable trend of evolution is the development of increasingly
sophisticated minds, minds capable of increasingly rich mental experience.
Then, too, when I think about what we humans have been doing in our bumbling,
inept, quasi-random way throughout history I say to myself, "Hey, all
along we've been trying to enhance subjective experience!"
You and I spend a lot of time
doing things. We modify the physical world around us in countless ways.
And although we may not think about it, doesn't most (if not all) of that
doing have the same aim as art: to affect our state of mind? Don't we
grow food, smoke cigarettes, build bridges, commit crimes, paint pictures,
and save whales all in the service of someone's subjective experience—usually
our own? True, most of us now and then sacrifice our own personal enjoyment
for periods of time. But when we make such a sacrifice isn't it in the
hope of enhancing our own enjoyment later, or the hope of enhancing the
enjoyment of some other being? It seems that everything I've done today,
from going to the toilet when I first got up this morning to writing this
sentence was dedicated to enhancing someone's subjective experience. In
this sense we do treat the world around us as an artist treats a work
of art. That is, we do things in it and to it in hopes that the changed
physical situation will enhance mental experience.
Was there a "psychic impulse"
or holistic vision behind the universe? I see the evolutionary trends
toward higher/better as evidence of a loose, unfocused vision built right
into the cosmic process, into the program that guides it. It strikes me
as a gradually refining vision, one which takes specific form as time
goes on, and entities evolve. In the beginning it was just a general upward
thrust toward complexity, toward system. Since technique, too, was primitive
in the beginning, the early process comes across as a rather unskilled
artist. With its fuzzy artistic vision and limited technical ability it
rated low on both scales.
Fortunately, the process hasn't
been static. Its capabilities got a large potential boost when it sprouted
artist-agents in human form. For a long time, most human energy was used
up just surviving. But about 3000 years ago, groups of people in both
the West and the East got involved in self-development. Those in the western
world set about developing their rational side. They developed techniques,
and analytical, rational thought processes. They concentrated on developing
the ability to do. At the same time, those in the East set about developing
their intuitive side. They worked out procedures for seeing and understanding
in more holistic, intuitive ways. They concentrated on developing the
ability to see.
We know what happened in the
West. We know the tale of our industrialization and overindustrialization.
Our development and overdevelopment. Our utilization of resources and
overutilization of resources. With the best intention of improving our
work of art, the results have been—charitably speaking—mixed. A chemical
plant may enhance the subjective experience of the stockholders at dividend
time, and perhaps my subjective experience if those chemicals make soles
for my shoes. But it may also do great harm to the subjective experience
of the thousands of people who live near it.
What went wrong? Our metaphor
is telling us that we've been messing around with a promising and already
beautiful work of art—an emerging masterpiece—without bothering to become
authentic artists first. We got good at technique, but we're still not
worth a damn at holistic seeing. We've done many things well, but too
often the wrong things.
Our metaphor points to the
obvious: To avoid messing up our global work of art any further we need
to become competent artists. We're only half artists now. To become whole
we need to develop that other side of ourselves, and for most of us in
Western society that is the intuitive, holistic-seeing side. We can start
by looking to the experts and borrowing their techniques. From the East
we can learn meditation and other spiritual practices. And from our own
Western artists we can learn how they go about seeing. We can learn the
value of solitude—a staple technique of artists—and try to incorporate
it into our lives. And we can make a conscious attempt to free ourselves
from those psychological hangups and cultural biases which distort our
perceptions. Most of us are already fairly knowledgeable. Our next task
is to become wise.
Each of us has three key types
of brain process: ancient-brain, intellect, and intuition. Each is capable
of directing the human system and determining what a person does. Ancient-brain
programming was appropriate for controlling behavior in pre-civilized
marginal circumstances, but it's not appropriate for more civilized sorts
of living. When we (as children and societies) became "civilized," cultural
values took control. In our industrial cultures rationality became the
primary mode of mental functioning—rationality in the service of the culture's
dominant values: material production and consumption, the acquisition
of factual knowledge, participation in culture's projects and institutions,
and pursuing the fruits of narcissistic individualism such as wealth,
power, status, fame, etc. Now, once again, it's time for a transition.
Intuitive wisdom-based programming is the appropriate guidance for the
coming post-industrial era, for the mind-directed phase of the evolutionary
process. The possibility exists for each one of us to become an artist-in-life,
a wise person, a complete human being. Once we have done that we can take
full advantage of our short opportunity to add something to the universal
work of art—enhance it for ourselves, for the other sensitive nodes of
process who currently share the planet with us, and for those who come
It really is possible to go
through all three of these stages in a lifetime. When we were two years
old our ancient brains were in control much of the time. Parents and school
pushed us (often unwillingly) through our first transition into the more
civilized, more rational world of adulthood. The second transition, from
cultural control to wisdom control, can't be pushed. It is strictly voluntary,
and usually quite arduous. I've become interested in the characteristics
of those special people who have managed to become wise and free as well
as knowledgeable: The change agents, the fully-prepared, highly-effective
Phase 2 evolutionaries. This is how I view their mind-sets and modes of
functioning, their approach to problem solving and social transformation:
They have a wide, value-centered
view of the problem. So often, readily available solutions to problems
are not discovered because the problem itself has been defined too narrowly.
The people I'm talking about, the wise ones, start with the widest possible
goal: they want to see the process upleveled. There is some specific situation
calling for action, but they see that situation in context—in the broadest
possible context. They see the problematique—the larger problem matrix
of which the present problem is just a part. They intentionally look from
many angles and many perspectives. They are intensely interested in how
the situation came to be and what maintains it. They gather as much data
as possible but hold that data tentatively—remaining open to new data
and fresh views.
They have an extraordinary
openness to possible solutions. The heart of the matter may not be
negotiable—the value-centered part—but everything else is. And there are
no unnecessary side issues complicating things. No committed-to ideology
to maintain. No prior analysis that is sacrosanct. No fixed mindset or
point of view. No divisions where there needn't be any. And no opponent.
Ignorance and bad programming are the only opponents. There is no us against
them, just a situation which must be upleveled. This means there is no
need for retribution, and no difficulty allowing those who have entrenched
positions to save face, if that is possible.
They have an intense desire
to find a solution. People like this do not commit themselves lightly
to a cause. They realize the preciousness of the body/mind's brief moment
as a player in the Game. They are playing in earnest, and want their moment
to count for as much as possible.
They have little personal
vulnerability. Because, in their view, what the brain puts out is
just stuff—to be ignored or acted upon as the wisdom dictates—it is difficult
to push their buttons. Since even the death of the body is not viewed
as an ultimate calamity, they are not easily controlled. They have learned
how to maintain equilibrium and detachment, even in the midst of turmoil
They rely on the intuitive
process for solutions.
In wise and liberated people
it is the intuitive process which controls behavior. Intuition is able
to do so because:
- 1. The reactive and intellectual
processes no longer dominate awareness and call the shots. (The minds
of these people are relatively quiet and uncluttered.)
- 2. They have spent years
actively and open-mindedly searching for understanding. In the process,
they have loaded their subconscious minds with much information about
what is. Their intuitive processes, therefore, have a lot of
valid data to draw on and integrate.
Having mastered the art of
maintaining a quiet mind, they listen for communications from the Wisdom.
And since their intellectual models of reality are lightly held and subject
to change, these people are open to intuitions which overturn present
assumptions. They don't rush things. They are confident that if they cooperate
with the process by keeping the mind quiet, and by feeding it with all
available data, an optimum answer will come.
They continuously love
and forgive. These people live compassionately. They see those they
deal with as suffering beings—victims of inappropriate conditioning or
programming by genes, culture, and life circumstances. When they look
at someone, they see Being and its high values clothed in informational
garments that don't fit, garments that obscure and distort the innate
potential. What others call evil they see as unskillfulness and misdirection—the
product of informational errors.
Many of today's issues aren't
simple. To try to simplify them, to pull them out of their complex context
and consider them in isolation, is not going to result in adequate solutions.
There is hope that someday computer modeling will come of age and be a
significant help in problem analysis and problem solving. But the best
problem-solving system around today is a person who is intelligent and
wise, informed, open, and attentive. One who has looked widely, has seen,
and has fed the intuitive process with all that it needs in order to weigh,
balance, sift, sort, and come up with a tentative answer. The sort of
person just described.
As I consider the characteristics
of these people, and the cosmic and human situation, an ethical imperative
jumps out at me: Become wise. Become wise despite the lack of support
from our present culture. Become wise despite all the impediments and
seductions that inevitably get in the way. For doesn't everything that's
worthwhile follow naturally and organically from wisdom? If we are wise,
then ethical dilemmas vanish: we simply do what clearly needs to be done.
If we are wise, then we're ready for Phase 2.
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Becoming wise is what matters,
and freedom means being able to respond to intuition's wise and quiet
Freedom is being able to respond on behalf of the whole, rather than the
Freedom is being able to pursue the high values of Being in our actions
rather than having those actions dictated by ancient-brain or culture-induced
Our actions at this moment are determined by the way existing brain programs
process currently arriving and remembered data. To become freer than we
presently are, those programs must change.
Moving upward in the hierarchy
of brain programs toward wisdom can occur slowly as the result of normal
living, or it can occur more rapidly if growth itself is adopted as a
value—if one's brain becomes programmed to seek growth. But how does a
program like that get established? Just by choosing to change? The issue
is a fundamental one involving freedom, choice, and will.
Existentialist Hazel Barnes
said: "Freedom is possibility." I agree. Yet there are different kinds
and levels of possibility, and as a result, different kinds and levels
There is what we could call
intrinsic freedom, or ultimate freedom. I'm thinking here of wide-range
possibility, possibility limited only by physical laws and available physical
resources. I'm thinking of the things that could be done if enough human
effort was focused on the task. World peace is an intrinsic possibility.
So is freedom from hunger for all the world's people. And so is a quiet,
alert mind. There is also what we could call psychologically-limited freedom.
Here the range of possibility is much more limited—usually a tiny subset
of the intrinsic possibilities.
I picture human freedom as
a huge pasture. The pasture represents the full range of intrinsic possibility,
the potential range of human freedom. The high fences that surround it
are the fundamental, uncrossable limits of possibility. But individuals
and societies don't have the run of the entire pasture. All live within
much smaller corrals inside the big pasture. The corral fences are not
prohibitively high. They can be climbed by individuals, and moved around
by the concerted efforts of groups of people. But, while in place, they
do limit individuals and social groups to much less than the run of the
ranch. Many of these corral fences are mental fences, psychological fences.
The limits they represent are the mental limits to freedom set by present
brain programming, and by the information accessible at a given moment
via perception and memory.
Freedom is possibility. And
in a similar vein Arthur Koestler said: "'Free will' is the awareness
of alternate choices." I agree with this statement too—as far as it goes.
Koestler's definition deals with data, with immediate or remembered information,
and recognizes that we are unfree to the extent that we lack awareness
of what our options are. We lack free will to the extent that we lack
information about intrinsic possibilities.
But data is not the only thing
that determines our actions. Our actions are also determined by the brain
programs which process that data, and therefore by the values embodied
in those programs. Many smokers are aware that not smoking is a possibility—a
potential choice in some abstract, theoretical sense. Yet these people
are not able to make that choice. Their present programming says: "Smoke!"
And they do. The "free will" of these people is not free enough to allow
them to say no to smoking. They see the range of options, but—at this
moment—are not able to choose the non-smoking option.
Going back to our pasture
metaphor, we could say that the mental corral fences come in two types.
The first type is insufficient information. Ignorance. Not seeing the
options. The second type is the fence of values and goals, the fence that
exists because brain programming is selective. It is the nature of brain
programming to try to reach some goals and not others, to actualize some
values and not others. Thus, these program-created fences rule out some
choices. Program structure rules out these choices even if, at another
level, the brain is aware of them as abstract possibilities.
The subjective experience
of choice is that "I" choose this. "I" make this choice. It seems subjectively
as though "I" am a center of choice and will capable of making arbitrarily
free choices—choices not determined by external or internal influences.
But though it seems that way, it's not that way. Whatever scenario we
imagine, it's brain programming that is deciding what course of action
the body takes. This is true even if the decision is to leave it to chance,
or to take someone else's advice. Our intellect is able to consider various
possibilities, to toy with this or that alternative, but at some point
a decision is made. One possibility is chosen. And it is the programmed
brain that makes the choice.note16
We experience will—conscious
will—as something arising out of nowhere which then becomes a cause for
action of some sort. "My will" does make things happen. But that will-to-act
does not arise from nowhere. Choice is a two stage process. The later
part of the process is conscious, but the earlier part is unconscious.
By definition, we are aware only of the conscious part. And it is because
we only experience part of the process that we are deluded into believing
that will is "free" in the sense of arising from nowhere, in the sense
of being totally uncaused.
During prolonged periods of
meditation, when the mind gets very quiet, the barrier between the conscious
and subconscious minds gets thinner. Things reach awareness that otherwise
wouldn't. During one long meditation retreat I began to see that there
was more to this business of choice and will than I had formerly thought.
Picture yourself in this situation: You are in a room, walking slowly,
paying attention to the physical sensations that accompany walking. Your
mind is alert and quiet. You're aware of far subtler things than you're
normally aware of. As you approach the wall in front of you, at some point
you become aware of an intention to turn—and the body immediately turns.
If you're alert enough to see the intention, your conscious mind processes
can get into the act at that point, cancel the order, and prevent
turning. Otherwise it all just happens.
I recently read about a series
of experiments carried out by Benjamin Libet of the University of California,
San Francisco which confirms this two-level process with "objective" evidence.
He monitored the brain waves of his subjects and found that the conscious
intention to move is preceded by a distinctive type of unconscious brain
activity. He also confirmed that there is a brief period during which
the intention can be vetoed by conscious brain processes.note17
The psychological state we
call will can cause things to happen, but its role as a cause is
secondary. More fundamentally, will (or intention) is an effect. Will
is often a prelude to action, but will is itself an effect of prior brain
activity. Will or intention is an output of biocomputer functioning—one
type of biocomputer decision.
Our actions at this moment
are determined by the instructions our brain gives to the body at this
moment. And those instructions are an output of the brain's information
processing activities which rely on remembered information, perceptions
in the immediate past, and the programs in place and running. There is,
therefore, an instantaneous determinism, a determinism of things
as they are in this instant. But you and I know that things will not be
the same in the next instant. We might perceive something we do not now
perceive. We might get new information. Our brains might process the information
we already have in some new way, and arrive at a new conclusion. Or some
chance happening might intervene. We might have new insights into what
is going on, and these insights could alter the brain programs themselves.
We might even be lucky enough
to acquire among our brain programs a particularly key program—one
that points the body/mind in the direction of inner growth. With that
program in place, something very special happens. We set off on a search
to find out what it's all about. We explore and assimilate data. And one
day we find that our choices become more intelligently determined. Why?
Because the inner growth program is a master program that changes other
programs. With that program in place the corral fences which limit our
freedom start moving back, and we begin to browse in that larger pasture.
Our actions are determined, as always, but they are no longer determined
as much by delusion and by drives such as greed and fear. They are determined
instead by what is, by the situation, by reality. At that point,
guided by what is real and necessary, our actions come increasingly into
harmony with the larger process. We become free to choose the sane way,
the wise way, and the loving way, more of the time.
Those fortunate individuals
who acquire this programming, and somehow manage to find support for growth,
discover that in the far reaches of the growth process the uncomfortable,
reactive, need-to-be-free dissolves comfortably in commitment.
They find a commitment of effort that harmonizes their nature-as-a-person
with the needs of superordinate systems. The self-actualizing, self-transcending
person has gone beyond the need for that narcissistic I'll-do-what-I-want-when-I-want-to
sort of freedom. That has vanished with no regrets in the act of commitment.
These people have discovered something more important: The only meaningful
freedom in the universe—and the only meaningful creativity—is connected
with bringing the high values of Being into actuality in the phenomenal
world. Goethe put it this way: "Freedom is nothing more than the opportunity
to do what is reasonable in all circumstances." (Quote from page 141 of
Goethe's World View, Ed. by Frederick Unger. Tr. by Heinz Norden. Frederick
Unger Publishing Co., New York, 1963.)
Because our cortical programming
is both established and changed by what we perceive, much depends on the
control of attention. There are attention training regimes that I will
get into in later chapters—particularly mindfulness meditation and the
Open Focus exercises. These are techniques for training the brain to allow
more varied and more continuous flows of perceptual information to reach
awareness. One objective of these techniques is increased continuity
of perception—here, now, and in the ongoing present. Another is to disable
the mechanisms which normally keep our focus of attention narrow—which
allow only a tiny fraction of the arriving data to reach awareness. This
second aim is (in Aldous Huxley's terms) to bypass the brain's usual "reducing
valve," and "cleanse the doors of perception" by relaxing the strictures
on attention, by opening up.
Improved mindfulness leads
to gut-felt, intuitive insights about the way things are. As a result,
we acquire new values, new programs—and our actions slowly begin to change.
Our actions begin to harmonize with the goals and high values of Being.
We gradually develop compassion and understanding. Mindfulness helps to
put our local subsystem of universe under the control of cosmic values
rather than rudimentary desires and aversions; cosmic values rather than
the dictates of a culture with other, less praiseworthy agendas. The way
is there for us to see—if only we will look with a quiet mind. And it
is this more intelligent way which is our liberation. It leads to the
freest freedom we can find.
Being open to what is
in a choiceless, nonjudgmental way is what effortlessly transforms us
from the conditioned robots of yesterday to the relatively liberated universe
subsystems of tomorrow. I can't force myself to change, or perhaps even
"choose" to change. But just maybe, through some influence or other, I
can open myself mindfully to what is. Then it's possible for the
deeper intelligence to start running things.
Our hope—both as individuals
and as a species—lies in the synergistic feedback of intelligent mind
upon itself and its milieu. Intelligence tells us to perceive more clearly,
understand more deeply, and upgrade our biocomputer programming. If and
when we do this we become wiser. Our lives and the universe around us
get more harmonious. When we don't do it—and the present programming of
many people doesn't allow it—then the situation within us and near us
stays relatively chaotic.
What about responsibility
in this view? Given the highly determined nature of our mental lives,
who is responsible for what?
There are two definitions
of responsibility that interest us—and they sometimes get confused. There
is responsibility in the sense of being able to choose right rather than
wrong. Moral responsibility. And there is responsibility in the sense
of being accountable. Let's first address the responsibility-for-choice
Each person, at each moment,
is doing what his or her brain decides is best at that moment. Each person
acts in response to a complex data-manipulating process involving internalized
values, remembered information, programmed desires and aversions, and
current sensory input. We act as our programming decides that we should
act. Because of this, responsibility in the moral sense does not strike
me as a helpful concept.
If we were able to see holistically,
and to choose freely, we would be morally responsible for our actions.
But our seeing is limited, and a bunch of less than ideal evolution-produced,
family-produced, society-produced, circumstance-produced programs make
our decisions for us. Thus, everyone is morally innocent, and an attitude
of forgiveness and compassion is the only rational attitude to have about
human actions. In a sense there is no evil—just unskillful and inappropriate
action. The same ground of being that floods your mind with awareness
floods mine—and that of the murderer and rapist as well. In the murderer
and rapist the show is distorted, the programming is bad, the information
processing is faulty. We can attribute all the evil in the world to bad
CPUs (genetically faulty, damaged, or chemically altered brains), inappropriate
programming, or ignorance (erroneous and missing information.)
Obviously, people who are
programmed to destroy cannot be allowed to run amok—but that is a different
matter. People are still responsible in the sense that they are accountable.
But we can stop being moralistic about it. It's not a matter of punishment
or retribution—just the question of what is best to do in a given set
of circumstances. What course of action will maximize future harmony and
The problem is not one of
getting people to act more responsibly, it is one of helping them to see
more deeply. For when they see, they will act "responsibly." To accomplish
this we need a culture which encourages people to become inwardly free,
and which supports people in that struggle—a culture which helps them
uplevel their own programming.
What of Existentialism's insistence
that we are inherently free and responsible? It's obvious, isn't it, that
part of our existential reality is our psychological reality—the reality
of the human brain and its less than perfect programming? We can't ignore
that reality. That said, the Existentialists' words still make sense—if
we agree on the definition of those words. As I see it, we are ultimately
free: With optimized brain programming we humans can reach the more distant
limits of possibility. And we are karmically responsible, that
is, we are accountable: Our actions do have consequences, for others and
for ourselves. We can't avoid those consequences—whether imposed by society,
by the intrinsic laws of human relationship, or by the physical laws of
nature. But I'm also saying that choice is a more complicated process—and
a more determined one—than some Existentialists saw it to be.
Residing in each brain are
many programs, each embodying certain values. Many of these programs cooperate
with each other, but not all of them. If the values which underlie one
program conflict with the values which underlie another, the two programs
will work against each other. If we see this, and accept it as part of
our human reality, we can take steps to improve the situation. It is possible
to develop and reinforce the more helpful brain programs—those that cause
us to act in positive ways. But rewriting a brain program is not just
a matter of punching keys on a keyboard. And it's not just a matter of
requesting willpower to do it.
When two programs that embody
incompatible values conflict with each other, guilt often arises. We tend
to feel guilty, for example, if we can't make the choices that we know
in our heart of hearts are the right choices. Guilt occasionally prods
us into action, but it often works the other way and immobilizes us.
What is helpful, and usually
possible, is to expose ourselves to those influences which build and strengthen
the desired programming. If today I cannot make the non-smoking choice,
maybe I can at least choose to seek out the groups and techniques which
have helped others to quit. If I can't choose to eat less, maybe I can
choose to join an effective dieting program. If I can't choose to meditate
an hour a day, maybe I can choose to attend a retreat, or meditate with
a friend, or read books that advocate meditation. Maybe I can do things
that will motivate and reinforce. Maybe I can take baby steps today that
will help develop within my brain the programming needed to take bigger
Seeing that we are not as
free as we thought we were needn't depress us. Paradoxically, there is
even something freeing about seeing that our choices are determined. For
one thing, we can stop feeling guilty about not having enough willpower
to realize our fantasies. We can replace the missing willpower with realistic,
positive steps. We can put into place those kinds of reinforcing and motivating
structures that will keep us moving toward our goals. The problem stops
being an intangible will-o'-the-wisp thing. We no longer have to keep
reaching for bootstraps of willpower that aren't there. All we have to
do is arrange our lives so that we have enough exposure to positive influences—influences
that promote and reinforce the kind of changes we are trying to make.
Simple. And infinitely easier. There is no "I" who has to struggle. No
impossible levels of self-discipline that must be maintained. The influences
just do their work, and the earnest effort comes naturally.
Another plus is that compassion
becomes simply rational. We see that everyone is doing the best they
Also, the way to uplevel the
world process becomes clear: help create supportive environments and appropriate
influences. Concentrate on basic needs, information, and motivation. People
whose basic needs are met, and who are exposed to the right influences
at the right times in their lives, will be motivated to become "good"
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Many personal and collective
human problems would vanish if enough people saw through the delusion
of self and separateness. Identification with the whole cosmic process
and the ground of that process is the optimum, all-win identification
for both person and process.
It is possible to switch identification
from the personal body/mind to the ALL, but doing so is not normally a
trivial matter. Strangely, neither is it a matter of seeking anything
that doesn't already exist. The path is one of surrender, acceptance,
and abandonment rather than seeking and ultimately finding. Even the needed
changes in brain programming are primarily a matter of letting troublesome
old programming atrophy and die out.
In attempting to make the
gestalt flip of reidentification we are asking the primal I-sense, or
intuition of existing, to associate itself with the informationless medium
that underlies existence. Why bother? Would anything really be gained
by making such a flip? Let's imagine, for a moment, that in every human
brain the primal sense of identity did become identified with the ground
of being. What would be different?
First, no one would fear death.
Yes, human bodies would still die, but human minds would accept this with
equanimity because their perspective would be different. They would be
looking from the perspective of Being. The view from there might be described
like this: As universal awareness, you and I, the true US, watch countless
shows—and more come on every minute. We watch all these shows through
billions and billions of sensory portholes. It's just that the right hand
doesn't know what the left is doing. The connection between these appearances
of awareness is not detectable by the senses, so each seems separate.
But they are all you and they are all me. We are the awareness at each
one of them.
If we identified with the
ground of being we'd be content with our billions of eyes. We'd be content
to look out at the universe through those billions of windows. Some windows
would go; new ones would come—it would be no big deal. But when we identify
with one particular window it is a very big deal: We associate the loss
of that one window with total annihilation.
Dropping this identification
with a particular body/mind would transform our whole outlook. In letting
go of the particular we would become free to see that we are everywhere,
in every being. We would see that shedding existing bodies and picking
up new ones can be a painless process—as painless as the human system
shedding 8000 stomach cells per second and growing 8000 new ones. By becoming
unattached to any one window we would come to know—intuitively, deeply—that
we look through them all.
The second big change accompanying
reidentification is that war and the ecological rape of the planet would
become absurd non-possibilities. The perspective after reidentification
is long term and holistic, so the whole idea of localized short-term gain
loses its former meaning. Would centers of activity and awareness who
look at the entire earth (and universe) as their body intentionally damage
Identification as a person
was appropriate in the era of chance-enabled evolution. But, in this new
era of mind-enabled evolution, it no longer is. Today, identification
as universe and its ground is appropriate. Pragmatically, widespread
identification with Being would solve the most serious problems of person
Seeing the big picture conceptually,
intellectually coming to understand what the universal process is up to—as
you and I have been trying to do here—can be both clarifying and motivating.
But it's not the total answer. The object is to move from a perspective
of separateness to a perspective of oneness—not just intellectually, but
as a direct, personal, holistic experience. There are three progressively
deeper levels or degrees of reidentification: intellectual, intuitive,
and experiential. To live in a totally reidentified way we need to move
from the first, through the second, to the third. Intellectually seeing
what is can motivate us to take the steps necessary to intuitively
and experientially see it—see it at those deeper levels where it controls
all our actions.
It does take more than intellectual
activity to make this change. It takes more than reading about what is
going on, more than thinking about it and understanding it rationally.
In the end, it takes what I've called the gestalt flip of reidentification.
Others have called it Self-realization. Still others Enlightenment. Whatever
the name, we need to perceive the world—directly, intuitively, experientially—from
this other vantage point, this holistic vantage point. Unfortunately,
the presence of the normal ego keeps this gestalt-flip from occurring.
Gut-level identification with Being means gut-level disidentification
with the small-s self. Unwilling to let go, to give up, to "die," the
intellect tenaciously clings to the old self delusion.
My own tight grip on the delusion
loosened during a retreat in my apartment in the winter of 1980. During
periods of sitting meditation, I settled into, and got familiar with,
the basic sense of self—that fundamental sense of existence or basic identity
which some call the I AM feeling. It was a comfortable mental space,
and the mind got quiet just as it had whenever I watched the breath for
a prolonged period. By two weeks into the retreat my mind had become very
still and quiet, and I became aware of subtle changes in the quality of
feeling connected with this experience. I noticed that each time I settled
into the I AM mental space it felt a little different. I then noticed
that the difference had something to do with where, and how sharply my
attention was focused. If my attention happened to settle on the chest/heart
region, I had loving feelings. If it settled on a muscled area like an
arm or shoulder, then the sense of being, or self, had a warm quality.
If attention came to rest on the stomach, it felt slightly heavy, in that
"heavy meal" sense.
One morning I started to play
with this, moving the focus of attention around, and noting the changes
in the sense-of-self experience. One time I gradually moved the focus
upward, stopping to feel each sensation along the way—chest, neck, lips,
nose. I continued to move awareness upward, little by little, until it
was directed at the inside of my head. When I reached a certain point
in this transition, the body-sensation components of the sense of self
disappeared. The basic sense that "I exist" became almost completely free
of content, free of sensory modulation. It was close to no experience
at all, close to a pure void, almost nothing—except I knew that I was
still intensely aware.
I saw two things at that moment.
First, there really was a pure awareness free of content. Second, since
I had moved my sense of self slowly, gradually to this place where all
sensation vanished, what was left—pure awareness—was obviously the true
home of that sense. This maneuver had caused the last thing which was
not "me" to fall away. There was nothing left but pure awareness staring
into a void containing only that low-level visual sensation which always
exists as a sort of irreducible background noise. Direct experience had
confirmed for me what Hindu Vedantist teachers have been saying for centuries:
The true "me" is awareness itself.
One of these teachers had
If I ask you what
is the taste of your mouth, all you can do is to say: it is neither sweet
nor bitter, nor sour nor astringent; it is what remains when all these
tastes are not. Similarly, when all distinctions and reactions are no
more, what remains is reality, simple and solid.
Give your heart and
mind to brooding over the "I am," what is it, how is it, what is its source,
its life, its meaning. It is very much like digging a well. You reject
all that is not water till you reach the life-giving spring.note18
Those physical sensations
I experienced when awareness focused on the body provided subtle content
for the "I am" experience. But the nature of that content changed as attention
moved from one body part to another. Only one thing was always constant,
always present: awareness itself. When awareness shifted to a relatively
sensation-free place it became obvious that my basic identity was the
one constant factor: pure awareness—that which remained when the physical
sensations were not. The life-giving spring.
My earlier concept of unity
was a unity of process. All the specifics in the universe were part of
one big specific—the overall process. It was a horizontal kind of unity.
Now I intuitively saw another kind of unity, a vertical unity in which
the myriad specifics are all one with the underlying general. It is the
unity of interpenetration. The eternal medium of Being interpenetrates,
supports, and allows the everchanging message of form and function to
exist. And my true identity was the medium itself.
I wrote: "The perceived world
looks the same as it always did. It's just that there is now this cognitive
sense that Being underlies everything I perceive. It's a sense of the
depth of things, a sense of the attributes of things, of Being, of capital-S
Self permeating the old view. Life, awareness, organic wisdom, and love
are seen in a new way. They are no longer seen as isolated events, but
as the all-pervasive reality poking through the illusion here, there,
and everywhere. I sense the reality of the medium and its values in a
way I never did before."
I reflected on the fact that
my basic sense of being or selfhood had always felt the same whether I
was 4 or 44. My subjective self had always felt ageless. I now saw why.
The real me was ageless. I was the same timeless universal awareness
that had watched the cosmic show since t=0. For the previous 44 years
it had been taking in the view through the Cop Macdonald porthole. The
same awareness—identical in quality, universal in nature—also watched
the show in countless other places. For the first time in my life I felt
really close to animals. That was my true Self watching the show in the
cat's head and everywhere else.
I also realized that I was
more than awareness. I realized that I was also the life that animates
the body/mind, the energy that makes life possible, and even the mass
involved in every body's structure. I was these and other intrinsic qualities
of the universal medium of existence. I was the eternal ground of being
in all its aspects. Existence, the universe—the whole cosmic show including
the Cop Macdonald body/mind—was an ephemeral media event, a modulation
of Being. I, Being, was the source of the cosmic show and its audience.
I interpenetrated this ever-changing display and was its changeless foundation.
I was the permanent medium; the universe was my temporary message.
We're all deluded gods, lost
in the drama, taking the game too seriously—sucked in like fans watching
a movie or a football game. Identification with the body/mind is the prison.
Detachment. Mindfulness. Awareness. Those are keys to the prison door.
Once we step through the door we can see that our true identity is the
one ground of Being that has given rise to the game. At that point we
can choose just to Be, and watch—or choose to get involved in the game
again with a new detachment, allowing more daring and effective play than
As that retreat ended, the
metaphor which came to mind was one of ascent. All my life I had been
climbing a hill, and as I climbed, my field of view had gradually enlarged.
I had spent time reading and traveling and having a great variety of experiences—and
as a result my view of what is had gradually become broader and
more detailed. Since I never wanted to miss anything, I'd always kept
my eyes on the ever-growing view of the valley below. Then, during that
retreat, I turned around away from the valley and toward the hill itself—or
was, perhaps, turned around. But instead of finding myself just facing
the hill, I discovered that I was now able to peer over the top of the
hill and see what was on the other side. I saw that there was another
valley on that side: the realm of Being. I experienced a sudden step-function
increase in my appreciation of what there was to see and explore. I was
not yet living in that valley. I didn't know it in intimate detail. But
I now knew beyond any doubt that it was there.
In one way it was like taking
in a whole new view. But it was also like suddenly discovering an incredible
unseen richness in the old view. In the old view—the science-based view—Being
was unacknowledged, buried within phenomena. This older view was still
there, but I could now see Being as a separate added dimension. I was
beginning to see, as Lawrence Durrell put it, "Between the lines, between
An intuition-based flip to
another way of seeing things—such as that just described—is typical of
the sort of insights that mark this intermediate stage in the process
of reidentification. When something like this happens, you start to take
the unitive perspective very seriously! But there is still another stage
of deepening ahead: the movement to an experiential disengagement
of awareness from mind content. When this last stage reaches fruition,
awareness is experienced as "I", and identification with body and mind
content is completely broken.
The view from this final,
experiential vantage point was described in the following way by that
Hindu saint Nisargadatta some forty years after his first gestalt flip:
I see as you see,
hear as you hear, taste as you taste, eat as you eat. I also feel thirst
and hunger and expect my food to be served on time. When starved or sick,
my mind and body go weak. All this I perceive quite clearly, but somehow
I am not in it, I feel myself as if floating over it, aloof and detached.
Even not aloof and detached. There is aloofness and detachment as there
is thirst and hunger; there is also the awareness of it all and a sense
of immense distance, as if the body and the mind and all that happens
to them were somewhere far out on the horizon. I am like a cinema screen—clear
and empty—the pictures pass over it and disappear, leaving it as clear
and empty as before. In no way is the screen affected by the pictures,
nor are the pictures affected by the screen. The screen intercepts and
reflects the pictures, it does not shape them. It has nothing to do with
the rolls of films. They are as they are, lumps of destiny, but not my
destiny; the destinies of the people on the screen.note19
Before such a state arises
permanently, or can be attained at will, it happens in discrete episodes.
Several of these are described in William Bucke's turn of the century
book Cosmic Consciousness. The following are more recent accounts.
The first was set down during an hour long episode, the second just after
a three hour episode.
The feeling of I
and me is the same as it always was, but that feeling no longer seems
trapped within the body. There is space, detachment. The I or me watches
the body go through its motions, washing the dishes one by one. The body
is perceived as a detached machine, a sophisticated robot performing duties
in accordance with prior programming—being viewed from somewhere apart
by me. I am aware of its mental workings too—its like having a
readout attached to the robot's biocomputer. The robot itself doesn't
need the readout. It gets its instructions straight from the computer:
"Grasp the dish. Lift the dish. Place the dish. Et cetera." It's just
that I get to peek at the robot's mental life like a voyeur—I get to see
some functions of its biocomputer. I saw the intention to do the dishes,
for instance, and before that, the desire to eat lunch.
And concerning the second:
I moved into an unfamiliar
mental state. It was as though a cloak of concentration and mental stillness
had descended on me. It was not at all like my usual distraction-prone
state in which part of me would want to go off fantasizing about the future,
part would want to linger in the past, and part would search for that
elusive knife-edged ridge called the present. It was as though that narrow
ridge had opened up wide and provided me with a stable place in the present
moment on which to stand. The world looked the same, but it was here,
now. All those moving, searching parts of me had come back together. I
was in the timeless present moment. Psychological time stood still. And
everything I perceived was perfectly acceptable. The present moment was
perfectly OK just as it was. There was nothing worth grasping, nothing
that needed pushing away, and nothing too subtle to be interesting. It
was a totally satisfying place to be. I also had a strong sense of oneness,
a sense that everything around me—trees, sky, ground—was also me. I thought:
"I am surrounded by my universal body. It's all just part of the Big Me."
With forty years of practice,
and not many demands put on the problem-solving rational mind, it should
be possible to stay in the reidentified mental space continuously—just
as that Hindu saint apparently did. For active Western people, however,
the optimum is probably to return automatically to the reidentified space
after each excursion into intellectual activity. Then, reidentification
rather than fantasy or memory becomes the natural resting place for attention—our
new mental "neutral."
We humans appear to be the
first creatures on earth with any hope of understanding our existential
situation. We're on the ragged edge. We have sophisticated scientific
instruments with which to explore the cosmic message, but we may not be
much better off than the dolphins and whales when it comes to realizing
our true Self as cosmic Medium. Like the minds of other animals, our minds
are still rooted in reactive emotion. And we still identify the primal
sense that "I exist" with the body/mind. It's possible for a human being
to make the gestalt flip of reidentification, but it's not easy.
Identifying with Being involves
seeing through or seeing past the space-time frame of reference—that frame
of relativity and difference which is information's home. It involves
finding a new frame of reference, an absolute frame: is-ness, identity,
oneness. Picture the broad Atlantic ocean and two waves, one near the
coast of England, the other near the coast of Nova Scotia. With our usual
space-time frame of reference we visualize two separate things or events.
Off the coast of England is one wave of a certain size and shape, occurring
at certain coordinates of latitude and longitude, at a certain instant
of time. 2500 miles away, at another instant of time, and other coordinates,
is a wave of a different size and shape. We can picture each wave mentally,
and if we had all the numbers we could describe the two separate things
or events in great detail—using terms of time and space.
Waves are ocean seen from
the space-time frame of reference. But there is another frame of reference
or point of view: that of the ocean itself. From ocean's perspective there
is only ocean—the oneness of ocean. Waves are not separate things, they
are ocean. Their shape and location and timing are all unimportant within
this second frame of reference. Their identity as ocean is the important
From the space-time point
of view, Being can be intuited as the medium which is waved or formed
or patterned by information. But from its own point of view, Being—like
ocean—is timeless and placeless. It just IS, a ubiquitous oneness. We
are that Being. And by learning to let go of the space-time frame of reference—that
sometimes pernicious point of view which obscures oneness with the illusion
of thingness—it is possible to discover our own deeper identity and experience
the world from the perspective of oneness. Like the ocean, we are everywhere.
We are the awareness which watches the show in every mind, the energy
which enables every action, and the love which envelopes it all.
to Table of Contents
Attention training exercises
weaken identification with the body and with egoic (or "self"-promoting)
If you're familiar with those
ambiguous, reversible figure-ground pictures in the psychology books (or
Salvador Dali's or M. C. Escher's work based on that principle) you know
that you can't always flip with equal ease between the two visual possibilities.
This is often the case when you first encounter a new figure, and even
more so if you're not told in advance that there are two ways of perceiving
it. The stairway-cornice figure may look stubbornly like a stairway for
example. Or you may see only the old woman in the old-woman/young-woman
picture if no one tells you about the young woman possibility. As you
soon learn, however, once you've "seen" the less obvious possibility,
it's easier to see it the next time. And if you practice switching back
and forth from one perceptual gestalt to the other, switching usually
becomes easy—even though you had trouble doing it in the beginning.
We face a very unbalanced
situation when we attempt a gestalt flip from our ordinary object-oriented
view to the unitive or "Self-realized" view of things. Many factors work
together to keep us solidly locked into the ordinary way of mentally ordering
the world around us. But we can learn to let go of the person-centered
view and the space-time reference if we're earnest enough. Our best hope
of doing it—of making the flip and reidentifying—is to do things that
weaken identification with body and with mind contents. And do other things
that strengthen identification with Being and the Whole.
The ancients spoke of Spirit.
I'm pretty sure that the reality behind their term Spirit is the same
reality that lies behind my term Energy/Awareness. Spirit, or Energy/Awareness,
is the root, heart, foundation and source of all physical and mental vitality.
It is the ground of life, function, and perception. And just as I have
come to see Spirit in contemporary terms, I also see spiritual practices
in contemporary terms. Legitimate spiritual practices are really psychological
practices, practices whose aim is to allow human beings to understand
the game of existence more clearly. The aim of these practices is to help
people reach the point—psychologically—where they see holistically and
adopt the holistic role: the role of agents of evolution, the role of
artists-in-life. This holistic role—in which human actions facilitate
the movement of the cosmic process toward its goals—is, I would argue,
the highest human destiny. This chapter, and the next two, deal with the
techniques—the psychological or "spiritual" practices—that help us move
into that more holistic space, that allow us to see and evaluate all this
A couple of thoughts before
we move on. First, when I speak of spiritual practices as psychological
I want to make it clear that I'm not devaluing or dismissing those elements
of historical spirituality that might be called reverence, awe, and wonder.
I'm simply trying to avoid getting means and ends confused. To me, spiritual
practices are means. They are psychological tools that lead us to the
mental space where it's finally possible for true gut-felt reverence,
awe, and wonder to arise. Also, there is a lot of phony spirituality in
vogue—emphasized holiness, self-righteousness, and other miscellaneous
weirdness—that only gets in the way of the difficult task at hand. I understand
where it's coming from, but don't have much tolerance for it. Seeing reality,
and letting our actions flow from that new point of view, is what spirituality
and spiritual paths are—or should be—all about. That other stuff just
gets in the way.note20
Some of the things which help
to start (or deepen) the disidentification process are serendipitous.
One of these is misfortune. Being out of control helps to break down the
assumption of infallibility, the assumption that "I" am controlling what
happens. The alcoholic who admits that he can't control his drinking has
taken the first step toward sobriety. Humiliation, in a similar way, can
also be helpful. The failure of some ego-sponsored venture, or shame at
some moral lapse, helps destroy the assumption that "I" am always right.
These things weaken the ego and our adherence to the ego-centered view.
The approach of death can
help too. Seeing the "dark at the end of the tunnel," as Gail Sheehy put
it in Passages, is bound to make "me" question existing assumptions
of control and continuity. But we don't have to wait for adversity or
the onset of middle age. There are intentional practices that will help
to end the dynamic which keeps us seeing things in the same old ways.
The first writer on Eastern
spiritual practices that I encountered, many years ago, was J. Krishnamurti.
Krishnamurti focused on the human situation and avoided cosmological speculation.
Neither God nor an all-inclusive Self were a necessary part of his worldview.
His central concern was the mess which the human mind makes of things,
and I later came to see him as a spiritual psychologist of the first order.
Seeing what the mind is up to was his goal, and mindful attention to its
workings was his method.
At first I found his writing
difficult going. I had the feeling that he was saying something important—and
probably true—but I was having trouble grasping just what it was. I stuck
with it, though, and marked passages, and re-read parts. The core message
seemed to be that we should observe everything that is going on in our
minds in a non-judgmental way. We should always be attentive. We should
even be attentive when the mind wanders off in inattention—however you
did that. But there were other messages too. He seemed to feel that thinking
was at the root of our human problems, and that to solve our problems
we needed to stop thinking. He was saying—in some way I didn't really
grasp—that thinking was at the root of fear and desire. If we could stop
our thinking, fear and desire would stop too. He felt that the starting
point for upgrading our inner lives was seeing with clarity what's going
on in our minds. We needed to pay close attention to mental events as
they happened. Only if we could see them could we do anything about them.
Krishnamurti spoke of a pathless
path which starts and ends here. The sort of advice he gave us was this:
Watch what's going on in your mind. See the mischief which thought creates.
See the danger of it as you would the danger of a poisonous snake in your
path. Then simply stop thought unless it is necessary for some purpose.
I tried this kind of continuous,
intense attention that Krishnamurti advocated, and found it impossible
to keep up for long. Usually it was only a matter of seconds before my
attention would wander—and then it might be minutes before I remembered
what I was supposed to be doing. The problem is that most of us ordinary
people have not developed the skill at attending which Krishnamurti developed
over the years. Although his prescription is correct, his directions call
for a bigger first dose than most people can tolerate. The giant step
Krishnamurti asked us to take is beyond us.
If we look elsewhere we find
that there are baby-step practices which—if followed earnestly for a long
enough period of time—will develop the clarity, quickness, detachment,
and persistence of noticing necessary to see what needs to be seen. There
is, in other words, a practical route to Krishnamurti's goal.
It is a difficult goal to
reach. Seeing clearly what the mind is up to is not what the ego or small-s
self wants us to do. Again and again we delude ourselves into thinking
that we've cleaned up our mental act, only to discover that one more time
we've been pushing some not-too-pleasant truth about ourselves under the
rug of consciousness—denying it, or repressing it. The classic defense
mechanisms of Western psychology—denial, repression, projection, rationalization,
displacement, and intellectualization—are all ways in which we lie to
ourselves about mind contents and processes. Defense mechanisms crop up
daily in each one of us, shielding awareness from some aspect of the truth
about what is going on.
Would-be reality-seekers become
effective, practicing reality-seekers when they discover for themselves
the extent to which they have been blocking their own view—and when they
take steps to cut through that smoke screen of defense mechanisms. The
classic Western way of doing this is to undergo psychoanalysis, or some
other form of psychotherapy. There is no doubt that these techniques,
used by a competent therapist, can help the earnest seeker. But there
is another way. An effective way. A technique variously called Vipassana
or Insight or Mindfulness meditation. (Vipassana is the Pali term for
Mindfulness practice does
an end run around the defense mechanisms. When you earnestly practice
watching mind contents in an honest, non-judgmental, reality-seeking way
you start to see through the smoke screen. You say, "Ouch!" when you do,
because what you see differs from what you'd like to see. But at a deeper
level you're glad, because you know that seeing what is opens the
door for transformation to take place. As Krishnamurti never tired of
pointed out, human minds are a mess. And it is only when the individual
sees that mess clearly that the mind can (and will) undergo the radical
cleanup—the radical transformation which he advocated, and which you and
The first (and primary) objects
of attention in Vipassana are the subtle sensations that accompany breathing.
You choose to watch either the sensation which the air creates as it enters
and leaves the nostrils, or you pay attention to the rising and falling
of the abdomen. When strong sensations arise in other parts of the body
you're encouraged to note them, but not to do anything about them, not
react to them.
In the beginning, the meditator
will be doing well just to keep the attention at the chosen location for
a few breaths, let alone pick up subtle nuances. The first lesson in the
mechanical nature of mind comes quickly—when you realize that attention
has drifted away from its object and off into thought. That lesson is
taught and retaught countless times as attention drifts off and is brought
back to its intended object. The tendency is to get discouraged and angry
because what sounds so simple turns out not to be. Learning to be gentle
and forgiving toward that poor old body/mind takes some time. And it takes
time to realize that this drifting off will happen again and again and
again. (The Buddha once told a man that if only he would be continuously
mindful for seven days that he'd become fully enlightened. I wonder if
the statement has ever been tested?!) The task is to be patient and understanding
with that poorly-programmed brain. As one Asian teacher pointed out, this
practice requires infinite patience. (I would also say that it helps develop
In general, the more time
spent doing the sitting practice the better. Sitting sessions of 45 minutes
to an hour in length are typical of most established practices and retreat
situations (though in the retreat situation the practice is to pay attention
to some physical sensation or other from the moment you arise until the
moment you fall asleep). It might take awhile to work up to sitting for
an hour—particularly if the individual is bothered by physical restlessness,
or has a strong negative reaction to the discomfort that's often present.
For most of us, this is the first time in our lives that we've tried to
sit perfectly still for more than a minute or two. The body does eventually
adjust and settle down—but like the mind, it also needs to be trained.
A typical recommendation is to start with whatever length of time you're
able to sit, and gradually extend the time until you can sit still for
I'm not a Vipassana teacher
(or even a Buddhist) but I'm convinced of the power for change inherent
in the practice. I refer in the References and Resources section
to information about Vipassana retreats, and to three excellent books
by three Vipassana teachers. These books are the best sources of information
about the practice I know of. I do, however, want to give you my own "student's
perspective" on the practice based on my experience with it, and on conversations
My first encounter with Vipassana
was a 12-day intensive retreat. When it was over I felt that it had been
the most difficult experience of my life, and the most rewarding. Watching
body and mind, from morning to night, day after day, is hard work. Sitting
for long periods is uncomfortable. But in the retreat environment things
do happen much more quickly than in an "hour-a-day" practice at home.
Everything has been set up to accelerate movement toward that gestalt
flip. In the usual retreat environment many of the activities which reinforce
the "ordinary" view have been removed: There is little (if any) talking.
You don't read. You're temporarily freed from problem solving and other
intellectual challenges. In fact, you don't have to do much at
all. What is reinforced is mental quiet, and paying attention to subtle
stimuli. I don't think it's necessary to start Vipassana practice
with a retreat, but because our normal industrial-culture lives are so
busy and buzzy, occasional retreats do seem to be a necessary part of
serious practice. Retreats are also where the teachers are, and while
we don't need a teacher forever, it is very helpful and reassuring to
have some guidance in the beginning, and from time to time along the way.
This practice—especially in
a retreat environment—undercuts mainstream culture's domination of our
minds. So much of the magic wrought by meditation (and just plain solitude)
comes from the dying-away of reality-masking influences such as language
(structure and vocabulary) and a host of other cultural influences. Withdrawal
from those influences, coupled with heightened awareness or "paying attention,"
combine to give the individual a fresh look at the old world. The world
is seen more directly, and we see that some of the culture-generated categorizing
and interpreting has been hiding important aspects of reality.
The first thing that typically
occurs in Vipassana practice is that the mind starts to quiet down. (Again,
this is especially evident in an intensive retreat.) If we try to tell
ourselves to stop thinking it won't work. But if we direct attention to
some object other than thought—to the sensation of the breath at the nostrils,
for example—thinking eventually subsides all by itself.
The first "events" worth noting
result from this quieting of the rational, verbal mind. They are what
often occurs with any type of meditation—including mantra meditation.
I refer to the bubbling up into consciousness of previously subconscious
stuff. Facts and impressions which we have suppressed or repressed often
arise when the mind gets quiet. We start to have psychological insights—insights
connected with the way we are currently living our lives. Sometimes, too,
there are insights about the past, and sometimes remorse about the unskillful,
unhelpful ways we've acted in the past. It's a bit like psychotherapy—except
that it's the quiet mind that brings significant material up into consciousness,
not the questions of a therapist. Such insights have therapeutic value,
of course, regardless of what triggered them. Like insights in the therapy
situation, they too can lead to changes in our behavior.
Other early insights are what
I might call existential or cosmological insights—insights into what is
going on. Some people have them, some don't. Like the psychological insights,
they arise because the mind is at long last quiet, rather than because
mindfulness has improved significantly. In my experience, it's as though
a channel from my intuition to my intellect opens up. I start getting
intuitive messages loud and clear. I feel connected with a wiser Self,
and start getting answers to a variety of questions on my "important questions"
When the mind gets quiet,
intuition and intellect start working together in harmony. Our deepest,
most satisfying knowing occurs when intuitive and intellectual knowings
agree: When there is a concept or mental model to fit the feelings, and
a feeling of intuitive rightness to accompany the concept. The models
and metaphors of our rational intellect give form and detail to the intuitions
of the guts. Also, flashes of intuitive insight help us internalize—truly
see and accept—those intellectual models which fit, and flesh out, our
intuitions. Understanding in the deepest and fullest sense is not a matter
of intellect or intuition—it's a product of the harmonious congruent
meshing of intellectual models and intuitive insights. I noted
earlier that the intellect often helps the limbic brain accomplish its
reactive ends. Well, the intellect is also able to help the intuitive
process accomplish its ends.
As you continue to practice
Vipassana meditation, mindfulness gradually develops. Mindfulness is careful
noticing. It is being able to see what is happening in the mind. It is
being aware of what you do as you do it. It is noticing what the body/mind
does as it interacts with its milieu.
As the mind starts to adopt
mindfulness as a habit, it begins to have the type of insights that Insight
Meditation is really all about—insights into the nature of the mind/body
process. We start to see for ourselves the things that Krishnamurti and
many others have told us are there to see.
And what a difference seeing
for ourselves makes. It makes ALL the difference! Intellectual knowledge
is like a tentative hypothesis. We believe it, to a point, but only to
a point. Eventually, we begin to see for ourselves: "Yes! This really
is the way it works!" Then the intellectual knowledge moves from the
head to the guts. It becomes our personal wisdom. It is totally convincing,
and we comfortably base life decisions on it.
If the practice is continued,
mindfulness eventually develops to the point where reactive impulses are
regularly seen in the impulse stage—before those impulses become full-blown
states of mind. The brain's decision-making processes then have a tremendous
amount of leverage in dealing with them. There does not seem to be any
way to reprogram or retrain the brain to totally prevent the impulses
from arising. But if the individual has internalized the value not to
turn reactive impulses into reactive mind states, then the brain can take
steps not to start the "story" that converts the first into the second.
This is the stage when Krishnamurti's kind of looking at last becomes
possible. You look, and when you have seen the damaging chain of events
for yourself—possibly for the 200th time—you begin to "see the danger."
It starts to seem positively nuts to continue to crave, or get angry or
jealous. It becomes apparent that all this pain is being created needlessly.
Fortunately, the neocortex
can decide to stop it, to change what it does with those impulses from
the two ancient brains. This outer brain is already wired to reprogram
itself. We've called it learning. And mindfully noticing the results of
present bad programming (unskillful, unhelpful, unpositive ways of thinking,
emoting, and behaving) is all that's necessary to start the reprogramming
process. Nothing else needs to be done. By simply hanging out in the watching
mode we gradually become free of painful mind states, and of compulsions
to act, without giving up our ability to act when that is called for.
There are three options when
something comes up in the mind: Act on it. Repress it. Or watch it arise
and let it go. Some Western psychologists have set up a false dichotomy,
saying that we must either act out or repress. They haven't discovered
that powerful transformative third option yet.
Prolonged mindfulness meditation
also fosters disidentification with the show in consciousness. This type
of meditation helps break down identification in a variety of ways. Not
reacting is part of it. The meditator practices accepting the contents
of the present moment, whatever they are. And because this is the opposite
of I-type behavior, this acceptance of what is slowly, gradually,
undermines the "I." We can look at this as the dying away of a bad habit.
Identification with body and mind contents is to some extent a mental
habit like other mental habits. It is a well entrenched habit, but one
which can at least be weakened by not exercising it. When we non-judgmentally
watch mind contents, the "I" lies dormant. Thus, when we just look and
accept, identification weakens. And as identification weakens, the mind
moves closer to the point where a gestalt flip of disidentification/reidentification
Becoming still, both physically
and mentally, changes the balance of mental influences. It moves us toward
the point where the flip to that other gestalt can occur. With continued
practice, awareness eventually sees that the body does all its moving
automatically—in response to directions from the brain. It finally sinks
in: there is no "I" running things. The doer, the chooser, the actor is
just impersonal mechanical process—a protoplasmic, biocomputer-controlled
robot. Still subjectivity becomes figure, a reality separate from the
show. We realize that all motion, all change, is part of the informational
show, and is no more than a superficial modulation of awareness. And we
realize that we are the stillness.note21
We find ourselves turned around, identifying as Being, as awareness, as
energy, as All. The world is the same, but we perceive it with a different
perspective, from a different vantage point.
Yes, mindful awareness is
a powerful tool for weakening the strangle hold of identification with
the body and with mind content. When the process is far along, even fear
can be seen as simply more mind content—as just the current experience.
It's the same with hate or any of the other reactive emotions. This might
not have been ideal for survival 20,000 years ago, but it seems most appropriate
Getting there is, however,
a slow and sometimes bumpy procedure. The conditioned, mechanical, biocomputer
mind process is programmed to see a self, and to struggle to the end for
the survival of that self. It's not surprising then that adopting a world
view which annihilates the ego is apt to be opposed by a large arsenal
of survival mechanisms—every psychological defense the brain can muster.
Fear is one of its strongest cards. The disidentification process has
gone a long way when the witnessing awareness can sit back and watch fear
as just more mindstuff.
Accepting our feelings of
loneliness and aloneness is another difficult battle. When we finally
accept those feelings—instead of turning to others to make them go away—we
have taken a big step toward inner freedom. We find that alone is an OK
place to be. And we eventually discover that alone is really everything,
Careful noticing allows one
to avoid much pain. Disidentification allows the pain which remains—the
unavoidable pain—to stop being a big deal. Once the identification with
mind contents is broken, those contents lose their power to manipulate
and coerce and limit the actions of the body/mind. That power comes directly
from identification—from the belief that they are me. Once the body/mind
no longer believes that, their power is gone. At this point we see just
a churning biocomputer spitting out an incredible mixture of helpful and
unhelpful information—as it always has. We see that even the big bugaboos
like fear and jealousy are just harmless information-coated energy. We
become free to settle back into our true cosmic identity, watch the informational
show, and BE intuitive wisdom.
appears in the mind when the clutter is removed. It is letting go, discarding
the excess baggage, which allows peaceful acceptance in every moment.
Discarding is really too active a word. It's more a matter of letting
those unhelpful ways of being slip away, ignoring them, no longer considering
them to be legitimate vehicles for going through the world. They don't
have to be discarded like taking out the trash. They simple wither from
disuse. They just fade away—habits no longer maintained because no longer
The answer does not lie in
seeking anything. Perfect peace is at hand. We don't have to go somewhere
else to find it. There is no path to it. We simply stop trying to run
away from our moment-to-moment experience. We stop trying to change it
or modify it. Really, there is only one happiness: that which exists automatically
when a present moment is fully accepted. Acceptance of what is,
here and now, is happiness.
I say simply, but of course
it's not simple. Those deep brain programs must be abandoned or disabled
or disconnected. The brain must somehow decide to give up its old ways.
There is no "I" who can disconnect them. The body/mind must encounter—or
arrange—external conditions which will eventually produce the needed reprogramming
or disconnection. Vipassana meditation is one set of conditions that helps
make this happen.
to Table of Contents
In addition to disidentification
practices, there are practices which help to develop a new holistic identification.
Vipassana meditation is the
beginning practice in all the major Buddhist traditions: Theravadin, Zen,
and Tibetan Buddhism. It is the major practice in Theravadin Buddhism—also
known as Hinayana Buddhism. This Buddhist tradition emphasizes disidentification.
In the Theravadin view, disidentification is all that is needed for liberation
from suffering. The show, the melodrama of existence, is seen as unsatisfactory
process. We humans identify with aspects of the show—particularly with
mind contents and with the body—and this identification, or "wrong view,"
is a primary contributor to our suffering. The teaching is that coming
to see that there is nothing tangible we can call a self, seeing that
there is just this impersonal process going on, is sufficient for liberation.
The Theravadin spiritual goal in ancient times was to become an Arahant,
a person who had disidentified completely and was able to leave the show
behind: a person capable of entering an informationless Nirvana at will,
just hanging around on this plane of existence until the body stopped
functioning. I see this sort of liberation is characteristically cool,
detached, and minimally involved with ordinary life.
In Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Christian
mysticism, and the Advaita Vedanta tradition of Hinduism, however, the
aim is not only disidentification with the body, but reidentification
with the ONE, with Mind-essence, with the Tao, with God's Being, with
Atman/Brahman—with the ground of being, whatever the label. Aldous
Huxley called this way of looking at the world the perennial philosophy.
It is perennial because it has been discovered many times—sometimes quite
independently—in different eras and in different parts of the world. Huxley
didn't originate the term, but his book by that name popularized it. The
essence of the perennial philosophy, in his words, is this:
The ground in which
the multifarious and time-bound psyche is rooted is a simple, timeless
awareness. By making ourselves pure in heart and poor in spirit we can
discover and be identified with this awareness. In the Spirit we not only
have, but are, the unitive knowledge of the divine Ground.
The ideal in the perennial
philosophy traditions is not escape from the world, it is to see that
one's true Self is the ground of this world—intuitively, experientially,
deeply. And seeing that, to live the life of a person in this world, but
from this inwardly liberating vantage point. Here Nirvana (the cosmic
medium) and Samsara (Existence) are seen in their proper relationship
as aspects of the cosmic ONE. The individual liberated through reidentification
is not dominated by, lost in, or controlled by the show of everyday life—and
feels no need to escape from it. Instead, that person is eager to make
a contribution to it, to serve the higher purposes of the process. I see
this sort of liberation as characteristically warm, connected, and involved
with ordinary life.
Just as there are activities
that facilitate disidentification with the body/mind, there are also activities
that strengthen identification with Being, and with the process as a whole.
Some of these are called spiritual practices, but I'd like to start with
one series of exercises that doesn't have that label. It originated in
the camp of Western secular psychology, and is called Open Focus.
Several years ago I read a
book that prepared me to be interested in Open Focus. It was the reissue
of a book first published in 1936 by English psychologist Marion Milner.
It was written under the pen name of Joanna Field, and was titled A
Life of One's Own. It is the story of Marion Milner's inner journey.
The part I found most interesting was her discovery of a wide-focus mode
of paying attention. She had always perceived life around her in our ordinary
narrow-focus way where attention is automatically shifted hither and yon
by personal interests and desires. Then she discovered that if she could
watch with no purpose to fulfill, or desire to meet, that she could not
only pay attention to everything happening at the moment, but she became
completely happy. When she was in this open, accepting, wide-focus mode—watching
her experience with detachment—she felt happy, connected, no longer alone.
And in the stillness which accompanied this mode she was able to get clear
intuitive messages about what to do, how to live. Her book spoke to me.
A year or two later I ran
across Open Focus, and recognized it as a structured technique for attaining
the mode of attention that Marion Milner described. Open Focus was developed
by a Princeton, New Jersey group involved with biofeedback therapy. I
sent first for their book: The Open Focus Handbook, and then for
their series of cassette tapes. The tapes are designed to talk the listener
into the Open Focus mind state: "a state of effortless awareness in which
no one element of simultaneous experience is focused upon or weighted
more heavily than any other part." This description was remarkably similar
to Marion Milner's description of "wide-focus attention." But there was
one important difference: Marion Milner just accidentally ran across this
state, and for a long time she experienced difficulty in finding and entering
it at will. The people who developed the Open Focus exercises had worked
out a practical method of leading a person to it. Open Focus is a useful
practice for developing the habit of perceiving more holistically.
Another useful exercise is
one that I've mentioned before: paying silent attention to the basic sense
that we exist. This has been proposed as a primary practice by Vedantists
such as Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, and by the anonymous 14th century Christian
who wrote The Book of Privy Counseling, and The Cloud of Unknowing.
Nisargadatta called it meditation on the I AM sense, meditation on the
basic sense of being. The Christian author described it as paying attention
not to how or what we are, but to the subtle feeling that we are.
In this practice I make the object of attention the subtle intuition that
I exist—not the form which that existence takes, but the primal fact,
or sense, or reality of existing.
In my experience, this practice
helps to create psychological distance between mind contents and the primal
sense of identity—the I AM feeling. The practice has helped me
see what is going on in the mind more dispassionately. It has helped to
break the usual identification with mind contents. After prolonged meditation
on the I AM sense, mind contents appear more separate from "me,"
and "me" feels more like the awareness which watches those mental events.
Another practice involving
elements of both disidentification and reidentification is the set of
exercises called "dis-identification exercises" by Roberto Assaglioli,
and described in his book Psychosynthesis. The basic idea is to
repeat to yourself short clear statements about the existential situation—statements
that make sense to you intellectually, but which you have not yet fully
internalized. The practice consists of mentally repeating these statements,
perhaps at the beginning and end of each session of sitting meditation,
and whenever else during the day it occurs to you to do so.
Using Assaglioli's basic approach,
I came up with some statements of my own—using the terms and concepts
that speak most clearly to me. I mentally detach from the show and repeat
to myself statements like:
I am awareness watching
the show in consciousness.
This local body is
not me, but is part of my universal, informational body.
These mind contents
are not me, but are an informational show created by the functioning of
the local brain.
Throughout the universe
I am the energy which enables, supports, and activates. And I am the awareness
All physical structure
and all mental experience is but information, a transient modulation of
my eternal being.
I should make it clear that
I'm not trying to absorb someone else's ideas when I do this. These statements
all make sense to me. I know—at least intellectually—that they
describe a legitimate way of looking at what is. I practice in
this way to help this perspective become my ordinary everyday perspective.
This practice is the real
life counterpart of detaching from a scary movie simply by reminding myself
that I'm in a theater, watching patterns of light on a screen. When I
do that, the movie immediately loses its power to affect me. In this version
of Assaglioli's practice I remind myself that I—universal awareness—am
situated in the theater of the brain, watching the informational show
that it creates. Reminding myself of this reduces fear and other intense
emotions. I realize that even if this brain should be destroyed, I-awareness,
the true me, will still be watching the show in billions of other such
This intellect-based practice
probably won't, in itself, bring about a gestalt-flip of reidentification.
But it reinforces our other practices, and helps keep them on track. It's
a verbal reminder of the reality that exists here and now: the reality
lying behind the obscuring show of everyday life; the reality we're trying
to comprehend—not only intellectually, but also intuitively and experientially.
Generosity is a practice that
was advocated by the Buddha, and has been strongly advocated by Christianity.
Christianity's message to care about others always made ethical sense
to me. But I now see that there was more to it than that. Adopting an
interested, caring attitude—and actually giving of ourselves and our wherewithal—is
a reprogramming exercise, an exercise that leads to changed mind-habits,
to new, higher-level brain programs. Acting in caring ways toward other
people is a spiritual practice; it can actually move us closer to seeing
This happens because love
is inherently noumenal; it is noumenon in its bridging role, noumenon
reaching out into the informational world. Love has both subjective and
objective aspects. As subjective process, love is interest and acceptance.
As objective process, love is that proactive movement in which noumenal
values become manifested in the informational show of existence. Practicing
interest, acceptance, and upleveling actions—even when done imperfectly—makes
them more deeply real to us. Acting in these loving ways helps dissolve
the illusion of separateness between the local self and the object of
its love. Love recognizes oneness—if not explicitly, at least implicitly.
Closely related to acting
in generous, caring ways toward others is thinking kind and generous thoughts
about them. When we forgive others who have harmed us, and wish them happiness
and the best that life has to offer, we are training our own mind to identify
with other people, to feel less separated from them, to feel more closely
connected with the process as a whole. There is, in fact, a Buddhist lovingkindness
meditation in which we forgive ourselves and others. We send thoughts
of lovingkindness to ourselves, those we love, and those who we have not
yet come to love. Sending out warm wishes to others may or may not help
them, but that is not the point. The point of the practice is to loosen
our own ego-centricity and to strengthen our mental bonds with beings
A related approach is to practice
looking outward in a more general way: To immerse ourselves in a study
and appreciation of nature, for example. To develop a sense of wonder.
To surrender to the greater wisdom, to what is. Albert Einstein
advocated this broader sense of love as an approach. You'll recall his
statement quoted earlier:
A human being is
a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and
space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something
separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness.
This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal
desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us.
But he didn't stop there.
He also gave his prescription for action:
Our task must be
to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion
to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
We might call Einstein's way
the way of interest. It's possible for watching or observing to
be just a surface kind of activity. Genuine interest, however, leads to
a penetrating kind of observation that takes us to deeper levels. Interest
wants to go to the heart of things, to truly understand.
I've noticed that interest
brings mental quiet with it. Interest is a state of mind in which the
brain cooperates with primal awareness. Interest clears the decks, if
you will. It stops the smoke screen, the garbage, the unnecessary, and
lets awareness be aware, with few impediments. In the state of interestedness
the brain turns off competing mental activity. At those times the brain
does all it can to heighten awareness. We might say that interest is awareness
with all the help a body/mind can give it. It has an active, curious,
investigative, probing quality. It is awareness coupled with, and amplified
by, a desire to know, to understand, to be clear about what is.
Interest is particularly beneficial
when the mind gets interested in the mind—in its activities and contents.
Most of us, most of the time, are unduly influenced by our self-images—often
by the ideal self, by the person we want to be. We get so caught up in
the image of the person we want to be that we lie to ourselves about the
person we are. We needn't be ashamed of doing this. There is no "I" doing
it. Our present programming just makes it happen. But it's not an ideal
situation. We cross an important threshold when our interest in seeing
what is—in seeing the truth beneath the facade—exceeds our desire
to avoid it and sweep it under the rug of consciousness. To put it another
way, the threshold we cross is one of coming to love our small-s selves
enough to be honest with ourselves. Or, in Gandhi's terms, it is coming
to value Truth above all—or at least above our desire for psychic comfort.
To the extent we are able
to explore this realm honestly, with intense interest and a heartfelt
desire to know, we find that the very act of exploration changes things.
In physics, observing the behavior of an elementary particle affects that
particle's behavior. Similarly, when we explore some emotion or physical
sensation with a keen interest in understanding it, we find that this
deep exploration transforms the thing we're interested in. Observed closely—microscopically,
acceptingly—it's no longer what we thought it was during those distant
glances when we were trying to push it away.
When we are in a state of
intense interest, and are not thinking, there exists a whole and appropriate
responsiveness of the body/mind to the situation. When thought is out
of the way, and interest is present, the body automatically acts in appropriate
ways. Interest stirs up latent energy, and brings that energy with it.
This energizes both the watching and the action which comes out of that
Interest is both the goal
and the method. It's difficult at times. Interest is never a lean back
and take it easy state. It must be constantly renewed, moment to moment.
It's never a tuning out. It's always an intense, still, tuning in. Acceptance
of what is is an integral part of interest. If I watch with interest
what is going on in the moment, I am accepting it. If I turn my attention
away in an attempt to avoid, I am not. Being interested—compellingly,
totally interested—is being in the present moment. And practicing interest—making
an effort to observe mind happenings with interest and acceptance—is the
way to get there. We must love truth to approach life this way, to follow
this practice. But if we are earnest, the practice will lead to an interest
in all, a love for all.
Interest and acceptance are
two of love's key characteristics. Whenever we practice thoughtfulness,
caring, and love, the process starts with interest, doesn't it? One attitude
we need to cultivate, one behavior we need to practice, is intense interest
in what is going on here and now. If we are conscientious about making
the effort to do that, then interest eventually becomes a mental habit.
A sense of interest and wonder gradually replace personal concerns. And
the realization deepens: I am the observing stillness, watching it all.
Both Alan Watts and Da Free
John have advocated happiness as a practice. Free John created a formal
practice based on observations about happiness similar to the ones I made
back in Chapter 11. Free John takes the position that happiness is our
most fundamental state. We don't realize this, however, because we are
taught from an early age that we should only allow ourselves to experience
happiness at certain times, under certain agreed-upon conditions. We are
taught to seek happiness, or to seek those circumstances where—according
to the culture's rules—it is right and proper to feel happy. The truth
is that happiness inheres in Being and does not require any external events
at all for its arising. Thus, we don't have to wait until the right external
circumstances arise to enter the mental state of happiness.
The practice of happiness
is founded on the observation that we are happy when we don't want anything.
We are happy when we're in that quiet place of Being.
Alan Watts quoted Oscar Wilde
as saying: "When I am happy I am always good, but when I am good I am
seldom happy."note23 It's true. When
we are happy we tend to be more loving and considerate than when we are
not. But when we adopt "good" behavior just because we think that we should,
very often we are not happy. This all makes sense once we understand that
the feeling of happiness is primal, and that the Being place is not only
the happy place, it is also the place of love, attention and acceptance.
Thus, if we connect with this primal happiness we also become connected
with the other aspects of Being at the same time.
Acceptance is a good example
of this. Happiness and acceptance are almost the same thing. Remaining
happy, no matter what, involves accepting, no matter what. We have a choice.
We could practice acceptance or we could practice happiness. Practicing
acceptance, however, sometimes has a sort of grit-your-teeth, effortful
quality to it, and this gets in the way. By practicing happiness we avoid
this. We are surrendered to happiness effortlessly. And when happiness
is allowed, acceptance is there too.
A similar thing happens with
sensitivity. We could make an effort to be more sensitive to other people
and the natural world. Or, we could just accept the increased sensitivity
that comes as a natural side-effect of being more deeply happy.
Happiness also brings with
it what amounts almost to a protective shield against fear and other forms
of reactivity. Happiness serves as a natural barrier to our own mentally
induced hell in all its varieties. When firmly situated in Being's vantage
point we stop pushing away unpleasant informational inputs and simply
The first step in Free John's
practice is to convince yourself of what he calls this "lesson of life,"
namely, that happiness is a prior or fundamental state associated with
Being, and is not anything you can attain by chasing after it. As he put
it, "You cannot become happy, you can only be happy." Or as I would put
it, happiness inheres in Being, not in the informational show.
As I understand Free John's
practice, it is similar to Vipassana, but Vipassana in which the whole
body is taken as the chosen field (or object) of attention. When you do
this the subtle emotional coloration which arises is the feeling we know
as joy or happiness. Putting it another way, you allow attention to widen
until it includes the whole body, you allow the release of all wanting
and seeking, and you relax into ever-present, ever-peaceful Being. The
state in which you then find yourself is happiness.
Simply letting go of all wanting
and seeking (surrendering the ego) leaves you in a mental space of unalloyed
happiness. Ego will raise its head from time to time, stirring up wants
of various kinds, but if you are firmly in the habit of keeping attention
and the whole body sense in this place of happiness, then wanting and
seeking are just more stuff passing by.
Free John's formal practice
has three elements:
1. Understand the process
through which unhappiness arises. (See for yourself that unhappiness arises
through non-acceptance, through seeking for something other than what
is at this moment.)
2. Feel into the always-present
happiness and allow attention to remain there.
3. Ask at random: "Avoiding
Relationship?" (Existence is characterized by unbreakable interconnection,
by unitive relationship. But the ego denies and avoids this, heading off
on its own desire-based narcissistic adventures. Thus, it pays to check
the situation out from time to time.)
Free John's many works deal
with this practice, especially The Bodily Location of Happiness
and the book he wrote under his former name (Franklin Jones) entitled
The Knee of Listening.
The Open Focus, I
AM, and Happiness practices are really quite similar. I'm almost
tempted to call all three the same practice—with slight differences of
nuance. There are, in any event, several common characteristics:
1. All three practices are
marked by a high degree of attentiveness.
2. Attention is in the wide
angle mode which includes the whole body, and opens outward beyond it.
3. All three are marked by
letting go of wanting. By surrendering in some sense. Wanting is replaced
by just watching, just accepting—by contentment just to be.
The key thing in all three
is that attention is kept wide—wide enough to include the whole body.
In this mode we remain aware of that basic sense of existence, or happiness,
that arises with whole-body awareness. And, at the same time, we are able
to see all the "stuff" that the brain is churning out. As this practice
is continued, awareness/existence/happiness is seen increasingly to be
the primary or core me. And all that informational "stuff" appears increasingly
secondary and superficial.
to Table of Contents
Becoming wise is a three
stage process involving an intellectual stage of need-meeting and
rational mind activity, an intuitive stage during which the subconscious
becomes accessible, and an experiential stage during which one
internalizes and lives the insights of the intuitive stage.
For most people, starting the intuitive stage of a wisdom-oriented practice—actually
doing it—is difficult. But for those who do start, and continue
for a prolonged period, radical changes occur. These people eventually
become wise and free.
In Chapter 15 I referred to
three progressively deeper levels of reidentification: intellectual,
intuitive, and experiential. Here I'd like to apply these
same terms to three sequential stages in the overall process of becoming
While I call the first stage
the intellectual stage, it is also the stage of life during which
our basic needs are met. I refer here to Maslow's "deficiency needs"—the
physiological, security, belongingness and esteem needs. If these needs
are not adequately met during this period, we're held back. We're not
totally free to follow the path that goes beyond them—and probably won't
even be interested in it.
This stage is also characterized
by exploration and experimentation. Starting on our teens, and on through
our 20s and 30s, we explore the informational world. We read. We think.
We act. We travel. We experiment with life. We find a few answers as we
do this, but what is just as important, we load our subconscious with
data for future processing. To the extent that we live this stage actively,
the stored data will be there in quantity. And if we live this stage attentively,
it will be there in quality too.
The need to embark on the
next stage, the intuitive stage, often arises in the 40s after
the youthful illusion of immortality ends, and when culture-sanctioned
games like career, consumption, and status begin
to lose their appeal. In the intuitive stage, the barrier between the
subconscious and the intellect gradually thins, and a relatively open
communication channel between intellect and intuition is developed and
maintained. Solitude, psychotherapy, and meditation are all aids that
may be called upon to help this occur. And when this channel does open,
many beneficial things happen. For one thing, unconscious junk—previously
repressed and denied material—may become conscious once again, removing
its ability to block movement forward, and allowing it to be dealt with.
For another, the intellect opens to the advice and problem solving activities
of that take-everything-into-account intuitive process. And finally, one
begins to have those intuition-born insights and gestalt flips—those mental
Aha! experiences through which we rebuild our worldview from the inside
out. The worldview we formed in the intellectual stage arose from an outside-in
process; it was the product of perception, intellect, and cultural training.
The brain took in data from the outside world, and ordered it in conventional,
culturally sanctioned ways. This new worldview arises from our own intuitive
reshuffling and re-viewing of decades of data. This intuitive stage is
a stage of enlightenment and re-visioning in which the old data is seen
in new ways.
The term experiential in the
final or experiential stage does not refer to having new life experiences
at this point in life, which is often the 50s and later.note24
It refers instead to the deeply experiential way in which the world is
seen during this stage—via the new intuitively-acquired perspectives.
This is the stage for cleaning up ones act, for finally leaving reactivity
behind. It is the stage for becoming an agent of noumenal creativity—a
channel through which holistic values become manifested in the world.
It is the stage for moving from intuitive flashes of self-realization
toward a continuously experienced gut-felt reidentification with the whole
process and its ground.
There is a paradox: On the
one hand we are there already, it's just a matter of seeing that. On the
other, there are a great many things that interfere with seeing what must
be seen. One wall of the room in which I'm sitting is covered with books.
In many of those books some spiritual teacher tells the reader that everything
necessary for the most radical kind of personal transformation is already
there within the person, just waiting to be activated the minute we see
our existential situation as it truly is. I've read words like those many
times. I would generally say, "Yeh. Exactly!" And then keep right on looking
outside myself for the answer. It is all there. But we have not
yet developed our powers of attending to the point where we can see exactly
what is there—and perfectly obvious—when observed under the right conditions,
from the right perspective. If we had those powers we wouldn't need a
practice. We'd just look for a while at what's happening in the mind,
and say, "Yes, that's obvious." And from that point on, reactive mind
content (and the mechanistic programming behind it) would no longer control
what happened in the life of the body/mind and sour it.
There is a lot of subtle,
quickly-changing mindstuff that we need to watch. But we have not yet
developed the ability to watch it carefully enough, closely enough, for
a long enough period. As we've seen, however, there are a number of simple,
dumb-seeming, stupid-seeming things we can do to develop that ability.
To learn to play a cello or
a piano well there is a whole array of skills that must be acquired. Here
the task is simpler, but just as arduous. There is really only one skill
needed: Call it mindfulness. Or bare attention. Or careful, continuous,
non-judgmental awareness. Or non-identified noticing. Whatever we call
it, the time and effort required to master this skill is similar to that
required to master a musical instrument. Ken Wilber compared the total
task of reaching Self-realization with that of getting a PhD. Beware of
those who promise shortcuts and fast results! There is no shortcut, no
easy way. When it comes to playing the piano, or learning to type, we
accept this. But we still keep looking for some shortcut to becoming a
wise, free, and loving person. There isn't any.
Reading has been a helpful
element in my practice, but it's a potentially dangerous one. For years
reading was my practice, and that just doesn't work. Books are
great for acquiring intellectual information of many types. And books
can be guides of a sort on the spiritual path, but no more than that—no
more than signposts pointing the way or maps giving a rough description
of the territory to be explored. The exploration itself must be first
hand and experiential, direct and immediate.
As Krishnamurti put it, you
have to see for yourself. You can read the words over and over again,
but without first-hand experience to connect the words to, they don't
really sink in. Your brain must come to see for itself what is going on
in your mind, in your actions, and in your relationship with the immediate
situation. Intellectual hearsay and reports from others won't do. The
brain must see for itself, through its own direct experience. The words
make perfect sense after you've been there, but the words alone won't
take you there. You must, in other words, do more than read if you want
to move from the intellectual stage into the intuitive.
In the latter stages, books
are useful as a motivators and clarifiers. I'll often spend the last half
hour before going to sleep with Nisargadatta, or Krishnamurti, or one
of half a dozen others. These are true knowers of reality, and the books
of such people bear countless readings. It's exciting to re-read them
because as my own practice and understanding deepen I see more clearly
what they were getting at, the truths their words point to. Old passages
will often sparkle with new clarity. And sometimes I'll run across wonderful,
illuminating passages that I never remember seeing before. Yes, books
are valuable at all stages of the process—but you can't read your way
to inner freedom.
There is a general rule regarding
spiritual practices that may shed some light on these later non-intellectual
stages. We might call it The Rule of Ripening. The rule is this: You choose
to practice now, with effort, what you eventually hope will be your effortless,
natural way. As you practice, you gradually "ripen." You slowly move toward
the time when the fruit of insight and Self-realization is fully ripe
and suddenly drops. It's this ripening process that we work on in the
intuitive stage of practice.
While ripening is a helpful
metaphor, rebalancing is perhaps a better fit with our image of
the gestalt flip. We could say that spiritual practices help shift the
"gestalt balance" so that a flip is more likely to occur. Look at it this
way: The influences we encounter in normal living are heavily weighted
toward keeping us locked into the ordinary perspective and point of view.
If we spend 100 percent of our waking time in this mode, then the likelihood
of flipping to that other perspective is very small. If, however, we modify
our mode of living, and spend 6 or 13 or 19 percent of our waking hours
(1, 2, or 3 hours a day) in practices that pull us toward that other view,
then the probability shifts. And if we add to this an occasional week
or ten day retreat during which we spend 100 percent of our time in such
a practice, it shifts even further. For decades, you and I have been conditioned
to interpret perceptual data in the ordinary, culturally accepted way.
Given this, it's not surprising that we're going to have to practice another
way of seeing for awhile—quite awhile—before it becomes our natural way.
Ripening and rebalancing are
useful ways of conceptualizing the role of spiritual practices. One more
is E.F. Schumacher's concept of adequatio, or adequateness of the
mind. "The understanding of the knower must be adequate to the thing to
be known," said Schumacher in A Guide for the Perplexed. In his
view, the role of spiritual practices is to develop this adequatio, or
level of adequateness. Piaget, the great student of child development,
pointed out that there are whole classes of concepts that are meaningless
to a five year old. We could say that the five year old does not have
the necessary "adequateness of mind" to comprehend them. Spiritual practices
help adults develop the adequateness of mind for wisdom and holistic kinds
There are a few individuals
who seem to have been born wise and caring, or who developed wisdom at
a young age as the result of special life circumstances. But the rest
of us need spiritual practices: to ripen us, to shift the gestalt balance,
to develop our mental adequateness. As Ruth Benedict pointed out, what
each of us becomes in specific terms depends largely on which of a broad
range of potentials are reinforced and strengthened by the prevailing
culture. But we're not prisoners of the culture we were born into. We
can change our personal situations in ways that alter the balance of influences
we expose ourselves to. We can try to create a friendly, supportive micro-culture
around ourselves. We can adopt a spiritual practice, and practice—with
effort—being the ways we effortlessly want to be.
It not only takes great patience
to enter the intuitive stage of the process, it also takes great courage.
We must be willing to dive deep and face the unknown truth about what
the badly programmed mind is up to. We must be willing to cut through
our self-images. There is a lot of fear connected with that. But it is
only if we are courageous enough to see the reality of what is—see
the greed and hate and anger and fear and loneliness—that escape from
their domination is possible. At the moment we are confused, and despite
our heartfelt wish to be free—and earnest efforts to become free—there
is part of each of us which wants to stay blind to the present patterns
of mind and action. Mindfulness reveals all that needs to be revealed
for that freeing transformation to take place—if we practice it diligently
enough and long enough. But before we can deal with the considerable trials
of practice we first need to overcome our fear of starting, our fear of
seeing what the mind is up to moment-to-moment at surface and deeper levels.
The fear that keeps some people
from trying meditation is the same fear that keeps them from seeking counseling
and psychotherapy. They sense that there is something of a tangled mess
in the mind, and they would dearly love to have it all untangled. But
they resist the obvious: To untangle a tangle you have to look at it,
to see clearly the present tangled state. With the seeing of what is tangled,
and how, there is the hope of freeing it up—almost an assurance of freeing
it up. Keeping the tangle in the dark and hoping by some magic it will
become untangled isn't a helpful attitude—however understandable.
Getting started is the biggest
problem for most people. Nisargadatta pointed out that there is a bit
of faith needed to undertake an Eastern practice—but it's not the leap
of faith which Christianity asked of us. It's the amount of faith you
have when you repeat an experiment which some scientist has already run
and reported on. "This is what I did, and this is what happened," the
report says. You tentatively believe that. At least you believe it enough
to repeat the experiment. You need that much faith.
Once underway, things begin
to change for the better—slowly at times, with ups and downs—but unmistakably
for the better. The mind gets quiet, and the first insights come. The
original apprehension is replaced by a little confidence, and from that
point on there is enthusiasm and a desire to continue.
In the final experiential
stage, a radical change starts to take place. With the mind quiet, and
the worst of the ego out of the way, the more profound knowledge, or Being,
or Love—whatever we want to call it—starts to live the body/mind. It's
as though this physical being is its avenue from the realm of potential
into the realm of physical existence where it wants to express itself.
It's as though it has been waiting with perfect patience for this body/mind
to become willing to cooperate, to be taken over in a sense, to be lived
by its values. The body/mind at this point is taking steps to insure that
its activities are no longer directed by the old matrix of determining
drives and needs and fears. It actively wishes to be directed instead
by this more profound intelligence. It wants to be only love—love in perception
as interest and attention, and love in action as an agent through which
the high values of Being become part of the informational world. The body-mind
is still an energized, capable, decision-making node of process. But with
a vast difference in inner peace and outer effectiveness.
One delightful part of all
this is that the compulsion to be ceaselessly active fades away. The wisdom
seems content to let the body/mind just be much of the time. When
it's time to do, the body does—but it's effortless and natural—an organic
integrated involvement with the larger process. The body is no longer
run by reactive emotion, and by this uptight rational mind which always
before tried to control everything through serious plan-directed action.
It's almost as though when
a mind/body allows itself to be lived by the Wisdom, the relaxation of
completion settles down upon the event. The striving universe relaxes
a bit. This little piece of process has come into harmony with its source.
Through a practice such as
Vipassana, or Nisargadatta's meditation on the "I am" sense, or Da Free
John's practice, we eventually find a peaceful place where we can always
go. Within that place mindstuff is just more stuff to watch pass by. The
state is one of non-reactivity and solitude. It is the place one of my
teachers called "home," and "a place of imperturbability." It is the "alone"
space of Krishnamurti and the "loneliness" of Trungpa Rimpoche's Shambhala
warrior. It is T.S. Eliot's "still point of the turning world." It is
the still place of Being.
Staying in the quiet is the
way you find and get familiar with that place. You are there whenever
you see yourself as that still center of witnessing awareness which is
the real you. No matter if you-awareness get lost in the most horrendous
fast-moving show; you can return to the place of stillness and watch that
same show with compassionate detachment, unperturbed—once you know how.
Finding this place and learning to return there is the key to liberation.
Staying there is liberation. Again and again to return and say to yourself:
"I am awareness watching the contents of consciousness." Awareness itself
is the imperturbable space. And you are that awareness.
The game is to stop all the
foolishness and learn to see, once and for all—permanently—that these
shows are not the optimum thing to identify with. When we allow the mind
to become still, and the show stops, the subtle glowing reality of the
"I am"—the glow of awareness and basic identification—rises from the ground
and becomes figure. We see that the stillness is me. The intuition that
I am belongs with it and points to it. The show is just this season's
display of information.
There are various ways of
conceptualizing this end-process situation. The Theravadin Buddhist sees
it as disidentification: The Universe (including human body/minds) is
just impersonal process, and giving up the "wrong view" of identification
with a body/mind liberates. The Vedantist sees it as a larger identification:
Our true identity is the ground of the entire process. Making that switch
of identity liberates. The Christian mystic sees an identity of Being:
Our being and God's being are one. Experiencing that identity liberates.
It is a single reality that all these commentators are referring to, and
their different concepts and verbal expressions highlight different aspects
of that reality. All are legitimate ways of looking at it and describing
it; all are partial and incomplete ways.
When you get a new perspective
on something, when you come to see—with great depth and clarity—the illusion
and distortion and limitation in your former view, then a permanent change
takes place. After that you may occasionally forget to see things in the
new way, but you can never really go back to the old mental space. You
can't unsee what you've seen. You can't replace new clarity with old illusions.
It is when we artificially
create boundaries and distinctions and parts that conflict arises, and
the emotional turmoil that goes along with conflict. The informational
realm is a realm of differences and distinctions—difference being the
essence of information itself. Thus, to find peace we must look beyond
the particular with that expanded perception which intuits Being. Peace
resides in the oneness of Being, not the conflict-ridden realm of information.
In the liberated state there
is freedom from domination by information—the body/mind's own brain-generated
information. As I understand the Zen view of Nirvana, one "enters Nirvana"
during those moments when there is a perfectly clear intuitive seeing-through
of the curtain of information—during those moments when the mind is totally
free of information's compulsive effects. Nirvana is always with us, always
inherent in Samsara, yet ordinarily obscured by the mind's identification
with the information which overlays or modulates Nirvana to produce Samsara.
When that identification is finally and completely broken then awareness
can watch with complete equanimity any informational show which the brain
Another way to look at realization
is this: There is an inherent dimension of depth to existence that we
have been missing—a missing perspective that, when seen, makes everything
stand out in three-dimensional bold relief. We could compare realization
to the difference between viewing a slide in a slide viewer with its flat
2-dimensional effect, and simultaneously viewing two slides taken from
positions 4 inches apart. Seen through a stereo viewer (the old Viewmaster,
or the like) the whole scene then springs into three-dimensional life.
Realization adds the missing depth, the missing element of Being, to our
view of the world. It provides us with intuitive cognizance of the cosmic
medium to complement our sense-based perception of the cosmic message.
As radical transformation
of the person takes place, what remains and what disappears? What can
be expected as one nears the endpoint of the process? Combining what I
see from my present vantage point in the early experiential stage with
reports from others further along, I have formed a picture of life in
the latter part of this stage. I'm sure that this picture will change
somewhat as I continue my own adventure in the years ahead; the reality
will no doubt have its surprises. Nevertheless, it seems worthwhile to
share this present view despite the risk that it may contain some errors
of fact and emphasis.
As I see it, the body, mental
and physical skills, voice and appearance remain the same. But the reactivity
is gone. Impulses of anger, hate, fear, jealousy, greed, craving and aversion
arise at times. But sustained attention and energy are denied them, so
they no longer become states of anger, hate, fear etc. Positive
mind states are present much more of the time: lovingkindness, patience,
equanimity, compassion, joy at another's good fortune, etc. Old, limited,
less correct models of reality are dropped, or are relegated to the special
circumstances where they are appropriate. More holistic, more correct
models are present much of the time.
These new models result in
less judgment of others; there is a compassionate understanding that every
body/mind is doing the best it can at every moment. What is at
this moment must be. The mental/physical informational play which is unfolding
at this instant is the inescapable effect of countless prior causes. It
makes no sense to rail at present circumstances. What is at this
moment simply is, the logical consequence of all that has gone
before. Acceptance, therefore, is only rational, sane. Let me accept the
present moment's inevitability and allow intuitive wisdom to guide this
body/mind into the next. Let me accept an imperfect present so that I
may transmute the next moment, and the next, into something just a little
more loving, a little more harmonious, a little wiser. Let me observe
the present moment with deep interest. Accept it. Then let it go.
Yes, these people have a profound
acceptance of whatever is happening at this moment. They see this moment's
frame of the informational show as a necessary unfolding of physical causes
and mental programming. It might be possible to influence the next frame,
but this one is spilled milk. And since these people live alertly, the
intuitive process receives the information on current circumstances which
it needs to guide them. Also, their attentive observation turns off thought—keeping
the mental noise down so that the inner guidance can be sensed.
Lastly, in these people the
basic feeling of beingness, of identity, of dedication, has expanded outward,
away from the body and from mind contents to include, in many cases, the
whole universal process and the ground of that process.
My impression is that once
someone arrives at this mental way of living, they almost always keep
making the effort needed to stay there. I've heard a few stories about
people far along the path who became alcoholics, or who got involved in
sexual activities that caused suffering for others. I don't know if these
stories are true or not—but I can see that they might be. The ancient
brains are always going to be there—with their wanting, hating, survival-oriented
programming still intact. They stay relatively quiet and controlled when
the right sort of mind habits continue to be practiced. But the body and
reactive brain are never conquered in any full or permanent sense. Reversion
to old negative patterns—or even the development of new ones—is still
technically possible. What makes this unlikely to happen is not that this
final state is permanent, but that someone who reaches it sees with utter
clarity the need to keep making the effort.
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Individuals today who want
to develop wisdom and a quiet mind receive little encouragement and support
from mainstream cultures.
They must do it themselves, either by finding supportive subcultures or
by creating their own personal-practice "micro-cultures."
The world desperately needs wisdom. But for wisdom to become widespread,
world cultures must adopt it as a central value, and actively support
Mainstream industrial cultures
actively support the early stages of growth, but not the later ones. As
a result, to become wise in our present culture we must either be very
lucky, very resourceful, or both. We must either find supportive subcultures,
or create around ourselves supportive micro-cultures. This do-it-yourself
approach works for truly dedicated individuals, but it's not going to
create the large numbers of non-reactive holistic seers needed to make
Phase 2 evolution a success. For that to happen, mainstream cultures must
Is there any hope of creating
a society which would produce many such people? I believe there is. There
are growing numbers of people who already pursue inner adventures without
organized societal support. And they are right now creating networks,
support groups, and institutions which are prototypes of the structures
needed in a wisdom-centered society.
I'm also encouraged by signs
of readiness on a larger scale. Some positive pre-conditions already exist
in the cultures of the industrial nations. These readiness factors are
analogous to soil, water, and fertilizer. If the right seeds are now planted,
I think many more people will pick inner growth as a consciously held
value, and pursue the inner adventure. These factors are:
Leisure. Most of us
have time that could be used for spiritual and personal growth pursuits.
The average American adult watches more than 4.5 hours of TV per day,
and I suspect that Canadian habits are similar. Employment patterns are
changing too. More people are sharing jobs, taking leaves of absence or
sabbaticals, and just plain quitting work for periods of time. Others—the
unemployed—have enforced leisure, but leisure nonetheless. It could be
used for growth. And by legitimizing time off for growth, governments
could reduce the constant pressure put on them to create more jobs.
The cultural stress on
delayed satisfaction. Perhaps it is less prevalent in the younger
generations than in my own. Still, most of us in the industrial world
have some experience in working hard now for rewards later.
Cheap books and transportation.
Unlike 50 years ago, there is now relatively easy access to spiritual
teachers and teachings. The word is getting out.
The motivating influence
of those people already doing inner work. Their numbers increase all
the time, and so their influence increases. (The very few once motivated
the few who now motivate the more—etc.)
Affluence. Many in
the industrial countries have the money needed to buy books, attend retreats,
For the first time in history,
many people "have it good" in a material and psychological sense. Their
struggle for material comfort, security, and even status has been won.
They now face the question: "What's next?" "What will be the source of
meaning in my life?" Many of these people are going to take the inner
journey despite the present difficulties. In earlier eras, before material
sufficiency, grasping for pleasure was necessary and appropriate. It had
survival value for the species. Now, faced with a gentler environment,
many are starting to explore the option of not grasping for pleasure,
and are finding a deeper, quieter, richer, happier place—a place to Be.
Later, with their new perspective, they'll help society become more supportive
for the inner journeys of their children and grandchildren.
Our present educational endeavors
concentrate on developing the rational mind. But to develop fully, and
become wise agents of Being, we also need this education in Being, existence,
and the use of attention. There will eventually be "schools" dedicated
to developing wisdom, though they may not be called schools. If the world
is spared a nuclear holocaust there will be time—the time needed for our
culture to gradually evolve into one that values wisdom, and time for
the societal system to transform itself into one that supports people
in their search for it.
It is both possible and necessary
for one to become wise in our nuclear age. We need all sorts of wise people.
To help the world uplevel itself we need people of the world, people with
worldly skills and well-developed rational minds who have taken that extra
giant-step, and more or less freed themselves from the tyranny of the
We also need those people
who are led to spend their whole lives in spiritual practice. We need
them as teachers and guides in the schools of wisdom, and to show us what
life is like at the endpoint of the path.
We need people who have led
full rich lives and have grown in wisdom to function as life management
counselors. People like this are needed to help others deal with the
existential crises in their lives. To help them find meaning. To help
them discover what they really want to do. To help them lay realistic
plans for doing it. And to discuss the process of spiritual development.
In addition, we need people
in ordinary life roles who are making the effort to clean up their acts—people
who are making significant progress in this effort. We need the wisdom
they bring into all their daily activities.
Becoming wise is what matters,
personally and globally. Growth of wisdom in social action and livelihood.
Growth of wisdom in relationships. Growth in understanding of what it's
all about. There is the path of knowledge and the path of wisdom. Highly
motivated people attend university and perhaps graduate school—seeking
knowledge and the other benefits of a degree. Now, highly motivated people
are starting to seek wisdom—a similar arduous path. There are no absolute
assurances when one begins either endeavor, and there are dropouts from
both. But for those who go a reasonable distance down either path there
are significant payoffs.
The task is to become wise—despite
present difficulties—and try to build a culture in which wisdom will not
only be possible but will be the norm, normal. The world is what
it is. And considering everything that has gone before, it couldn't, today,
be any different. So there's no point regretting or recriminating. But
there's a lot of point in making the next moment better—and the next and
I have no illusion that the
overall global transformation will happen rapidly. I suspect that in the
industrial nations it will take several generations at least—perhaps much
longer. And it will not happen on a global scale until the basic needs
of all the world's people are met—not just physical needs, but all of
Maslow's deficiency needs.
In the meantime, political
action will still be needed. Material sufficiency must reach everyone.
The nuclear, ecological, and population time bombs must be defused, and
there are other pressing problems. Unfortunately, however, political action
does nothing to correct the deeply rooted underlying problem. Again and
again humanity has had to face war and violence and the results of greed
because it has not dealt effectively with the mental roots of those behaviors.
Nuclear disarmament would buy us time for the needed psychological/cultural
transformation, but unless humanity becomes wiser, nuclear arms will someday
be back. Many short term actions are important—vital in fact. But whatever
short term actions we take, we also need to be working on the long term
solution. The human race won't be out of its self-perpetuating mess until
a great many people have dropped the identity delusion—until at least
a few million human brains have realized that the primal sense of identity
belongs with the whole process and its ground, not the local body.
This is not another elitist
retreat from the problems experienced by the majority of the world's people.
It is the most effective possible long term attack on those problems.
Most of the world's people today are in the position of those Scottish
highlanders two or three hundred years ago: neglected, exploited, and
struggling desperately to survive. What is more, too often we in the North
are like the King's man, the Earl of Argyll, just making things worse.
Third world people often say to would-be do-gooders from the industrial
world, "Go home. Work there. Help to get your nation's boot off our necks."
They tell us that they don't need to have us do good for them nearly as
much as they need to have us stop doing bad to them. At the moment, the
industrial nations are guilty of band-aid do-gooding atop crass exploitation
and pervasive unconcern.
As a society, we have not
yet become wise enough to take the boot off their necks. And that's one
reason why I'm proposing what I'm proposing. This situation must change.
And it will change. The rampant narcissism and greed of our age
will end. It will end, either in upward transformation, or in the classic
disintegration typical of past empires. We will become either a wisdom-based
society, a footnote in the history books of some future culture, or a
totally forgotten failed experiment.
As I see it, we must continue
to act politically and socially whenever points of leverage appear. And
as we move toward a more holistic ability to see, we will discover more
of them. But let's not lose sight of the fact that goodness—and lack of
"evil"—are side effects of wisdom. Whatever specific actions we take to
make things better, we'd better also be working on growing wiser—and helping
others in our culture to grow wiser.
As compassion arises in the
latter stages of the process, as holistic seeing makes the outrageous
behavior of our cultural institutions clearer, as people become more sensitive
to situations where they have some leverage, the intuitive wisdom will
guide them into various forms of effective, wise action. I have no doubt
about this. There is a time to detach, and a time to engage. And in the
coming years there will be the opportunity—and the necessity—for both.
We can't afford to neglect either. And I don't think we will.
One key step in bringing about
the upward transformation is establishing a new consensus view of reality:
an accurate, comprehensive view of what is going on and what its all about,
a description of reality that rings true to educated people, one that
ultimately will help everyone—from childhood on—to see the way things
really are. I see the book you've been reading as a contribution to that
effort, but in no sense the final word. We seek, and need, a deeper understanding
of the issues it raises—a further refinement in scope, interpretation,
and expression. We need the holes filled in and the entire paradigm fleshed
out. I think we'll get this refinement of view as more people decide to
go see for themselves. Believing any set of words is just not enough.
The needed social transformation requires widespread personal transformation.
And personal transformation comes from seeking reality directly with a
quiet mind. It comes from seeing for ourselves what is true. Some who
do this will describe what they have seen using new slants, more apt metaphors,
and more appropriate words than I have. If you're one of these I'll thank
you, and stand in line to buy your book.
From the vast array of potential
activities each of us human players of the Existence Game pours our energy
into a few—and these become the actuality we call our life. As you and
I end our time together, my wishes for you the person, the fellow player,
That you find your inner path,
the gestalt flip of reidentification, and the place of imperturbability.
That Wisdom guides you in
choosing carefully and well the objects of your time and attention. That
you are able to focus on what matters—for there is neither enough time
nor energy to do everything.
That you live to actualize
the universal values to the greatest extent possible.
That you play the Existence
Game with awareness, wisdom, love, and energy.
And that you help create,
for your deeper Self, the best of all possible universes.
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GLOSSARY OF TERMS AS USED
IN THE EXISTENCE GAME
A non-reactive mental stance
in which no attempt is made to avoid, or escape from, the informational
reality present at this moment. (Acceptance does not, however, imply that
things should necessarily remain as they are, and that nothing should
be done to make the future different from the present. One simply recognizes
that reacting emotionally to what already is serves no purpose.)
A branch of the Vedanta school
of Hindu philosophy which holds that only a three-aspect Ultimate Principle
(Brahman) exists, and that phenomenal existence (maya) is an illusion.
Brahman's three aspects are:
Being (sat)—which I take to be energy, the
Subjective awareness or consciousness (chit),
Bliss or primal happiness (ananda).
A general specification of
the way that things must happen. In computer programming an algorithm
is the list of data manipulations which will ultimately be coded in some
computer language. In brain programming it is the definition of the way
that information will be processed by the brain when that program is "running."
In nature it is the set of rules that determine how physical reality will
function: the laws of nature.
An informational structure
in one medium that parallels (at least to some degree) a second informational
structure—usually in another medium.
A mode or way of knowing based
upon the inherent parallelism of analogs.
Pertaining to the fixed-programmed
reptilian and limbic parts of the human brain.
A fundamental, often repeated
informational pattern. In particular, the term refers to the universal
themes, myths, images, and other informational structures which apparently
come hardwired into each brain: the content that sometimes arises into
awareness from what Carl Jung called the "collective unconscious."
In Hindu philosophy the true
Self, pure awareness, the subjective aspect of Brahman.
The medium that underlies
and makes possible the subjective, mental world. The subjective aspect
of reality. The subjective function. The contentless ground of mind which,
when modulated by informational patterns, becomes mind itself, becomes
awareness with informational content.
That which is. The real. The
The event approximately 15
billion years ago which marked the beginning of our present expanding
universe, the establishment of space and time, and the start of the evolutionary
See happiness (primal).
In Hindu philosophy, the Ultimate
Reality or Ultimate Principle. Brahman has three aspects or attributes
Being (sat)—which I take to be energy, the
Subjective awareness or consciousness (chit),
Bliss or primal happiness (ananda).
central processing unit
That part of the computer
hardware which, when directed by instructions from a software or firmware
program, will logically and mathematically modify data, and will control
its flow to and from memory and the outside world.
The fortuitous, unaccountable,
and for practical purposes, unpredictable element in existence. Included
here are not only those events which are thought to be intrinsically random
(such as quantum-level events) but also those "mechanical" events that
are uncontrollable and thus unpredictable, and those events which result
from the convergence of two or more independent chains of cause and effect.
An information processing
system with information inputs, information outputs, information memory,
and program-controlled manipulation of input and memory data to produce
the output data.
A mental model of some aspect
of reality; often a general relationship that is characteristic of a certain
class of specific instances.
The accepted view of reality
within a particular culture—the view which most people have, the view
inculcated and reinforced by cultural institutions.
See central processing unit
The state of local self-interest
created whenever the primal sense of identity becomes linked with the
body, with intellectual activity, or with reactive emotion.
A group of intense and generally
unpleasant mental/physical states which arise in reaction to various informational
stimuli. They are forms of wanting what you don't have (desire, greed,
lust, envy, jealousy, etc.) and not wanting what you do have (loneliness,
anger, hate, fear, disgust, etc.).
emotions of being
Subtle emotional colorations
(low-level mind contents) that often accompany the quiet-mind experience
of Being. Among them are peace, equanimity, joy, happiness at the good
fortune of others, wonder, compassion, a sense of energy, etc.
Something which enables something
else to happen, even if that happening appears unintentional or secondary.
Some biologists, for example, have called intelligence and living things
"enabling mechanisms"—mechanisms which enable DNA to survive and reproduce.
But we can also look at DNA and life forms as mechanisms which enable
intelligence and advanced forms of mind to emerge. It's a matter of perspective.
The medium that underlies
and makes possible the objective, physical world. The E of Einstein's
equation: E=mc2. The contentless ground of the physical world which, when
modulated by (or arranged in) informational patterns, becomes the various
"forms" of matter and energy.
Freedom from the restless
need to act, to do, to change what is going on in the present moment.
The process by which the universe—from
the Big Bang to its final state—acquires its overlay of increasingly intricate
The realm of phenomena, in
which eternal Being (Energy/Awareness) is formed or modulated by changing
Pertaining to existence.
A deep level of knowing in
which intellectual models and intuitive insights have become profoundly
internalized. Here, one's actual experience is in accord with the internalized
framework. There may be a direct sense of oneness, for example. Or the
present moment may be experienced as a time-free and spacious NOW, without
the usual sense that now is an elusive instant between a vast past and
a vast future.
A term, coined by Abraham
Maslow, signifying the intimate relationship between facts and values.
Maslow held that facts are not just facts. When reality is perceived in
a non-needy way, facts are seen to be imbued with ethical implications,
with a certain "oughtness." Maslow felt that implicit in the reality of
what is are values to live our lives by.
My own interpretation of what
is going on here is that through quiet-minded perception of reality, sensitive
people intuit the values behind the process, the values inherent in the
cosmic program. At that point it becomes obvious that these universal
values should also be our personal values.
Programs and data stored within
a computer in some permanent, unchangeable form such as read-only (ROM)
memory chips. The analog in the human brain would be genetically inherited
data and programs such as the incest taboo, primal fears like the fear
of snakes, Jung's archetypes, etc.
The modulations, or patterns
of significant difference, produced when a medium undergoes modulation.
The realm of possibility.
Intrinsic freedom is the realm of possibility in the absence of psychological
limits. Psychologically limited freedom is the more restricted realm of
possibility delineated by individual mental programming. (See Chapter
14 for a more complete discussion.)
A pattern or other informational
complexity perceived as a whole. (A pattern of lines on paper perceived
as a person's face, for example.)
A psychological phenomenon
in which the pattern of data currently giving rise to one perceived whole
or gestalt suddenly gives rise to a new whole, a new gestalt. (Gestalt
flips occur when viewing "ambiguous" drawings, and are characteristic
of many "flashes of insight.")
See discussion in Chapter
ground of being
The primary medium, energy/awareness,
which is modulated by informational patterns to create the realm of phenomena
we call existence.
happiness (primal), bliss
Our basic or root mental state.
Awareness colored with contentment and equanimity. Awareness accompanied
by a feeling that everything is basically OK. Awareness, either free from
all forms of wanting (all reactive emotions), or utterly detached from
them. Happiness is primal, noumenal, whereas both pleasure and unhappiness
Those parts of any data-processing
system (human or computer) which cannot be changed at all, or cannot be
changed without drastic physical intervention.
In a data-processing system,
the physical structures which support and enable the processing.
high values of Being
See holistic values.
A non-needy being-grounded
whole-system sort of perception in which a wide range of data is taken
in and processed without the distortion and filtering that is characteristic
of needy, personal, goal-oriented perception.
The values which underlie
the overall evolutionary program. Those values which determine
the direction evolution takes, which determine its trends and preferences.
(As contrasted with the values which underlie specific laws of nature—the
subroutines and subprograms of the overall program).
Included among the process
characteristics valued and brought into existence when possible are—
- Systemic complexity, diversity,
- Systemic adaptability and
- Systemic integration and
- Mind-enabled creativity
- Holistic understanding
- Richness of subjective
- High level perceptual capabilities
- Mental flexibility and
- Aesthetic understanding
- Concern and compassion
for the whole
- Subjective love (interest
- Objective love (noumenal
A mental process in which
the primal sense of existing becomes associated with specific mind content
or the external reality which that mind content represents.
The delusion, almost universal
among human beings, that our true identity is that of person, and person
only. It occurs when the primal sense of existing becomes identified with
the body, and with the brain's emotional and intellectual activity. It
vanishes when the misidentification dissolves, and when awareness is seen
to be the true home of this sense.
A mental state which—despite
the presence of potentially distressing mind content—is characterized
by inner stillness, freedom from emotional reactivity, and lack of identification
with the show going on in consciousness.
Patterns of significant difference
which modulate, wave, or shape various primary or derivative media and
are in some sense "carried" by them. (See Chapter 2 for a more complete
A form of attention training
in which awareness of bodily activities and mind contents is used to develop
increased continuity of attention, and insight into the nature of the
mind/body process. (It is a Buddhist practice, also called Vipassana
and mindfulness meditation.)
Newly acquired perspectives
on what is, new ways of looking at things, new gestalts abstracted
from the available data.
The activity of pattern recognition
in which a mental model or concept is successfully matched with aspects
of a real-world situation.
Intense and focused awareness.
Awareness with all the help a body/mind can give it. (See Chapter 17)
A largely unconscious but
holistic information processing activity carried on by the brain. The
information inputs to this process appear to include sensory experience,
previously arrived at concepts and mental models, and genetically-inherited
archetypal material. Informational outputs include insights, hunches,
premonitions, warnings, and commands to act. Intuitive process programs
include creative problem solving, and helping the individual deal effectively
and wisely with life situations. (See Chapter 10)
Broadly, any knowledge acquired
through the intuitive process. While often not as detailed and explicit
as intellectual knowing, it tends to be more deeply believed—one is more
likely to base life decisions on it. While it sometimes involves intellectual
concepts and images, intuitive knowing often takes simple forms such as
hunches, and yes or no feelings.
Used here as a label for the
general truth that every state of mind and every action has consequences.
What happens in this moment influences at least the odds of what will
happen in the next. Present mind states establish the pre-conditions for
future mind states. Each act contributes to the ongoing web of causes
laws of nature
Verbal and mathematical expressions
of the algorithms which underlie the individual subprograms of the overall
program which determines how nature works and evolution progresses.
Freedom from domination by
reactive emotion, by compulsions of all types (including compulsions to
use the intellect), by identification with the body/mind, and by other
mind content that doesn't reflect wisdom.
See limbic system.
The middle portion of the
human brain, both physically, and in terms of its evolutionary origin.
It is the old mammalian brain which surrounds the still older reptilian
brain, and is in turn surrounded by the more recently evolved neocortex.
Included within its structure are the thalamus, hypothalamus, amygdala,
pituitary, and hippocampus. It is a key part of the brain circuits which
generate reactive emotions and behavior.
As subjective process, love
is interest and acceptance. As objective process, love is that proactive
movement in which noumenal values become manifested in the informational
show of existence.
In the context of this book,
various exercises designed to train attention and quiet the mind. This
sort of meditation involves:
- 1. Choosing an appropriate
place to put attention,
- 2. Training it to stay
- 3. Developing a more inclusive,
wider-angle mode of attending.
That which carries, supports,
or is modulated by an informational pattern or message.
A subjective informational
construct, created by the brain, and organized in ways which parallel
(to some extent) the informational organization of objective existence.
An informational pattern which
modulates, or is carried by, a medium.
One informational construct
which stands for, or represents, another.
One's personal life situation,
looked at as though it were a culture—paying particular attention to the
influences which that situation regularly subjects one to.
The "heart" of a microcomputer;
that component which, under program control, manipulates input and memory
data to produce the output data.
Awareness modulated by informational
patterns. (Awareness being the contentless substrate or foundation of
mind, and the informational patterns being mind content.)
Those informational patterns
which comprise subjective experience.
The Zen term for the ground
of mind. (What I call pure, unmodulated awareness.)
Clear awareness of what is
happening here and now. Awareness of mind contents, the body, and the
See insight meditation.
The process of impressing
an informational pattern on a medium. Also, the pattern itself, as conveyed
by the medium.
As hypothesized by biologist
Rupert Sheldrake, they are fields, present throughout the universe, which
guide the development of informational structures, and are themselves
"strengthened" by the presence of such structures in other places.
Jaques Monod's term for the
rigid determinism which dictates what will happen next in a given physical
situation because nature operates according to unchanging laws.
The outer layer of the brain
(the new brain or "roof brain") in which human intellectual activity takes
As I use the term, the medium
of existence devoid of informational content. Mind without content—pure
awareness. Energy without form or structure.
The informationless ground
of being. Energy/Awareness.
Residing or inhering in the
primal ground of being, in the eternal cosmic medium.
Love in action. That proactive
movement in which noumenal values (the high values of Being) become manifested
in the informational structures of the phenomenal world. It is wisdom-based
creativity, as contrasted with reactive or "problem solving" creativity.
See holistic values.
A comprehensive way of ordering
information in which many bits and pieces of theory and fact are tied
together into a cohesive, understandable whole.
See Chapter 5.
The ego. The self-experience
when identification with the body and/or mind contents is present.
Aspects of existence involving
both medium and message. Physical phenomena involve energy and various
informational overlays—various forms or modulations of that energy. Mental
phenomena involve awareness and brain-produced modulations of awareness.
A frequently sought, transient
state of mind—the attainment of which is the object of much human activity.
It arises in response or reaction to certain perceptions, and to the recognition
of certain informational patterns. See also happiness.
The set of rules and procedures
which guides and directs an information processing activity.
A mind in which little or
no discursive thought, reactive emotion, or identification with mind content
is present. What is present is awareness, various sense perceptions, and
perhaps one or more of the subtle "emotions of being".
The body/mind's tendency to
react to circumstances with stereotyped reptilian- and limbic-brain responses
such as anger, envy, fear, jealousy, greed, possessiveness, concern about
See also emotions (reactive).
The innermost part of the
human brain—the corpus striatum and related structures—which is
our evolutionary inheritance from the reptiles.(Konner, [The Tangled Wing]
1982, p146.) It is thought to play a role in territoriality, the establishment
of social hierarchies, ritualized behavior, and aggression..A.(Sagan,
[Dragons of Eden] 1977, p60.)
A metaphor in which spiritual
practice is seen as a process which helps a person gradually "ripen",
or slowly move toward the moment when the fruit of insight and self-realization
Existence, or the phenomenal
world: Energy overlaid with information. Awareness with informational
self (spelled with a small
Identity associated with the
body, with intellectual activity, or with reactive emotion. The personal
self, the ego. That mental state which the identity delusion creates.
Self (spelled with a capital
Pure subjective awareness,
the ground of perception and mind. Also, Energy/Awareness: the ground
Abraham Maslow's term for
the state of full psychological development, creative functioning, and
fulfillment which arises after an individual's deficiency needs (physiological,
security, relationship, and esteem needs) have been fully met.
The understanding, at a deeply
intuitive and experiential level, that the true "self" is not the human
body/mind but is the permanent medium or Ground of Being which
interpenetrates the informational universe, supports it, and enables it
Computer programs, particularly
those not permanently built into a data processing system. Modifiable
The four-dimensional framework
or matrix within which physical phenomena occur.
Energy/Awareness. The universal
medium. The Ground of Being which interpenetrates the informational universe,
supports it, and enables it to exist.
Having to do with primal realities,
and the human recognition of those realities.
A set of procedures intended
to help the participant recognize primal truths and to act in accord with
A subjective state characterized
by attentiveness, equanimity, and freedom from identification with, or
reaction to, mind contents.
Awareness. Receptivity. The
ground of perception and mind.
Part of a larger program that
is complete in itself and will function on its own.
Part of a program that is
not, itself, a complete program.
An attitude of non-reactivity
and greatly diminished ego in which the conscious intellectual process
accepts what is at this moment, and is ready to be guided by intuitive
wisdom into the next.
A patterned whole involving
interacting and interdependent components in which some basic set of relationships
among those components is maintained.
Systems designed in detail
by human beings, and built by them. Examples are television sets, computers,
Systems that are not the result
of conscious human planning. Included among these are atoms, molecules,
cells, organs, plants, animals, ecosystems, clans, communities, etc.
The Source of all things.
The Ground of Being. The fundamental medium of existence: Energy/Awareness.
The disturbance of primal
happiness caused by wanting the present situation to be different.
Goals which behavior strives
to realize. (Ervin Laszlo's definition.)
See insight meditation.
A conscious but transitional
mental state, brought into existence by unconscious mind processes, and
in turn, capable of triggering other mind processes and external behaviors.
A mode of living in which
holistic values and the intuitive process (rather than reactive ancient-brain
programming, or the culture-based programming of the rational mind) exercise
primary control over one's behavior and inner experience. In wisdom, the
intellect may aid and augment, but does not exert primary control.
A culture in which the attainment
of wisdom by all members is the central value.
The Buddhist label for identification
with body and mind contents.
In Taoism, the creative or
male principle. I equate this with the Energy aspect of the ground of
In Taoism, the receptive or
female principle. I equate this with the Awareness aspect of the ground
to Table of Contents
I would like to leave a list
of books with you—and the names and addresses of a few other resources.
The book list is far from exhaustive. I have included all the books referred
to in the text, and some others that I thought would be of special value.
I have not attempted, however, to include all the works consulted during
the years of research and living that led up to writing The Existence
Game. I refer to currently available editions, for the most part, and
where more than one edition is available, I usually refer to the least
THEORIES OF PSYCHOLOGICAL-SPIRITUAL
Four of Abraham Maslow's books
make my list. The oldest of the three is Motivation and Personality
(Harper and Row, 10 E. 53rd St. New York, NY 10022, 1970). First published
in 1954, it summarizes Maslow's work to that point and outlines his theory
of motivation and his research into the characteristics of self-actualizing
people. In Toward a Psychology of Being, 2nd Ed. (Van Nostrand
Reinhold, 135 W. 50th St., New York, NY 10020, 1968) Maslow gets into
the connections between Humanistic Psychology and Existentialism. He expands
and clarifies his theory of motivation. And he discusses peak experiences.
His posthumous book, The Further Reaches of Human Nature (Penguin
Books, 40 W. 23rd St., New York, NY 10010, 1976), deals with "Cosmic"
self-actualization and self-transcendence—the spiritual end-process of
personal growth. In it he also discusses some interesting aspects of Anthropologist
Ruth Benedict's work. The fourth book, Religions, Values, and Peak
Experiences (Viking Press, 625 Madison Avenue, NY 10022, 1970) deals
with intrinsic values and with varieties of the spiritual experience.
Wilber showed me that personal
growth is a vast spectrum on which the Freudians, Behaviorists, and the
spiritual path all have legitimate places. He shows that seeming contradictions—like
using one form of therapy to build an ego and another to tear it down—make
sense if the right thing is done at the right stage of our inner development.
It's not all intellectual, either. His reports on the far reaches of the
spectrum have the aura of first hand reports. My favorite of his books
is No Boundary: Eastern and Western Approaches to Personal Growth
(Shambhala Publications, P.O. Box 308, Boston, MA 02117, 1981, 174 pages).
Another, which goes into the spectrum concept in more detail, is The
Spectrum of Consciousness (Theosophical Publishing House, 306 W. Geneva
Rd., Wheaton, IL 60189, 1977, 374 pages). A third, which deals with evolution
and mind is Up From Eden: A Transpersonal View of Human Evolution
(Shambhala Publications, P.O. Box 308, Boston, MA 02117, 1983, 384 pages).
THE PERENNIAL PHILOSOPHY
(Practices that involve the reidentification with Being.)
There are a number of writings
from Buddhism's Zen tradition that express the perennial philosophy with
clarity and impact. Two of my favorites are "The Lankavatara Sutra," and
the discourse by the Third Patriarch of Zen on "Believing in Mind." These,
the famous "Oxherding Pictures of Zen," and much other worthwhile material
appears in The Manual of Zen Buddhism by the late Zen scholar D.
T. Suzuki. (Grove Press, 196 W. Houston St., New York, NY 10014, 1960.)
The Cloud of Unknowing
Written by an anonymous Christian
mystic in the 14th Century, The Cloud of Unknowing now appears
in an edition with a more mature work by the same author: The Book
of Privy Counseling. (Edited by William Johnston, Image Books / Doubleday,
501 Franklin Av., Garden City, NY 11530, 1973, 195 pages.) The first book
links contemplative practice with traditional Christianity. The second
focuses on the essence of the practice itself. I especially like the second.
Da Free John
In one of his writings Ken
Wilber recommended the books of Da Free John. I tracked down several.
After getting past my initial turnoff at the man's guru-with-ardent-followers
image, I, like Wilber, found much of value in his books. In Nirvanasara
Free John presents the Perennial Philosophy as he sees it: an integration
of Advaita Vedanta (the view held by Vedantists like Nisargadatta), and
Buddhism. The Bodily Location of Happiness focuses on Free John's
"Happiness" practice. His autobiography, The Knee of Listening,
also sheds light on this practice. (All of Da Free John's books are available
from Dawn Horse Press, 750 Adrian Way, San Rafael, CA 94903)
Huxley was a Western intellectual
with a Christian background who discovered the wisdom of the East—and
also discovered that this wisdom is identical with the wisdom spoken of
by the Christian mystics of the Middle Ages. In The Perennial Philosophy
(Harper and Row, 10 E. 53rd Street, New York, NY 10022, 1970), he shares
some of the teachings of Eastern and Western mysticism, and adds his own
lucid and informed commentary.
Two works are attributed to
Taoist sage Lao Tzu: the well-known Tao Teh Ching, and a compilation
of later teachings called the Hua Hu Ching. Both are available
in a volume entitled The Complete Works of Lao Tzu (College of
Tao & Traditional Chinese Healing, 117 Stonehaven Way, Los Angeles,
CA 90049, 1979, 217 pages.) The first presents the Taoist view of what
is, the second deals with the Taoist form of Perennial Philosophy
If I could take only a few
books with me to a desert island, I AM THAT: Conversations With Sri
Nisargadatta Maharaj would be one of them. (Acorn Press, 1010 Wyldewood
Rd., Box 4007, Duke Station, Durham, N.C. 27706, 1973, 550 pages.) Nisargadatta,
you may recall, was the former Bombay cigarette maker who made a permanent
gestalt flip of reidentification. Separated from the author of The
Book of Privy Counseling by culture, distance, and 600 years, these
two nevertheless watched the world from the same mental space. And they
advocated the same practice to reach that space: pay attention as continuously
as possible to the elemental sense of being, of existing.
The Book: On the Taboo
Against Knowing Who You Are (Vintage Press / Random House, 201 E.
50th St., New York, NY 10022, 1972) is Alan Watts' lucid discussion of
the unitive view, and of the difficulty we have in seeing things that
way. In an earlier work, The Meaning of Happiness: The Quest for Freedom
of the Spirit in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East (Harper
Colophon Books, New York, 1940, 1969) he presents his views about happiness.
MINDFULNESS MEDITATION (Vipassana)
The Experience of Insight:
A Simple and Direct Guide to Buddhist Meditation (Shambhala Publications,
P.O. Box 308, Boston, MA 02117, 1983, 185 pages) is an excellent book
on mindfulness meditation as taught by Joseph Goldstein, one of the founders
of the Insight Meditation Society.
Thich Nhat Hahn
Thich Nhat Hahn is the Vietnamese
Zen Master who headed the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation in Paris
during the war. He has written a wonderful little book on the practice
of mindfulness meditation: The Miracle of Mindfulness (Beacon Press,
25 Beacon St., Boston, MA 02108, 1976, 108 pages).
Stephen Levine's book, A
Gradual Awakening (Anchor Books / Doubleday, 245 Park Av., New York,
NY 10017, 1979, 173 pages) describes the changes in outlook and understanding
which take place as mindfulness practice continues and deepens. It is
another of my "desert island" books—one that leads me to deeper understanding
on each re-reading. I find it the perfect complement to a mindfulness
Meditation Retreats and Tapes
Information on Vipassana retreats
held at the Insight Meditation Center in Barre Massachusetts, and other
parts of the world, is available from The Insight Meditation Society,
Pleasant Street, Barre, MA 01005. Many weekend and 9-day retreats are
held each year at the Center, as well as a 3-month retreat which is traditionally
held each fall from mid-September to mid-December.
Cassette recordings of the
evening talks made during I.M.S. retreats are available through the Dharma
Seed Tape Library, 1041 Federal Street, Belchertown, MA 01007.
Information on the retreats
led by Stephen Levine, and cassette recordings of his talks and guided
meditations, are available from The Hanuman Foundation Tape Library, Box
61498, Santa Cruz, CA 95061.
SOME OTHER PERSPECTIVES
The turn-of-the-century psychologist
William James took a perceptive look at mystical experience in The
Varieties of Religious Experience (Mentor Books / New American Library,
1633 Broadway, New York, NY 10019). James, too, believed in looking at
what was happening in the mind and reporting on it—an approach which unfortunately
went out of psychological fashion a few years later.
I left Krishnamurti out of
the Perennial Philosophy section because he avoided cosmological speculation
and talk about reidentification—focusing instead on human psychology and
the human situation. My favorite among his many books is The First
and Last Freedom (Harper and Row, 10 East 53rd St., New York, N.Y.
10022) which I find particularly clear and complete. I also like the three
volume Commentaries on Living series (Theosophical Publishing House,
306 W. Geneva Rd., Wheaton, IL 60189). His descriptions of the world around
him in these latter books are priceless glimpses into his mind—the mind
of a man who lived each moment with intense alertness and sensitivity.
The Open Focus Handbook
and Open Focus cassettes are available from Biofeedback Computers, Inc.,
P.O. Box 572, Princeton, NJ 08540.
The late Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche
was a Tibetan Buddhist teacher who fled Tibet at the time of the Chinese
takeover in 1959. He was educated at Oxford in the '60s, founded Naropa
Institute in Boulder, Colorado in the '70s, and started the Naropa Institute
of Canada in Halifax, Nova Scotia in the 1980s. He also wrote several
helpful books. In Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism (Shambhala
Publications, P.O. Box 308, Boston, MA 02117, 1973, 250 pages) he pointed
out some spiritual traps into which we North Americans frequently fall—ways
that we use spiritual practices to strengthen ego rather than destroy
it. He called this spiritual materialism. A more recent book, Shambhala:
The Sacred Path of the Warrior (Shambhala Publications, 1984, 196
pages) also focused on trouble spots, on those difficult and painful places
on the path that we can't bypass if we are serious about growing.
Other Personal Growth Resources
I mentioned A Life of One's
Own by Joanna Field (Jeremy P. Tarcher, 9110 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles,
CA 90069, 1981, 228 pages). There is also Real Power: Stages of Personal
Power in Organizations by Janet O. Hagberg—a book which looks at personal
growth from a personal power perspective. (Winston Press, 430 Oak Grove,
Minneapolis, MN 55403, 1984, 268 pages.) A comprehensive and recent overview
of intuition is The Intuitive Edge: Understanding Intuition and Applying
It in Everyday Life by Philip Goldberg. (Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1983,
241 pages.) Roberto Assaglioli's Psychosynthesis (Penguin Books,
40 West 23rd St., New York, NY 10010, 1976, 323 pages) presents the details
of his multifaceted therapy. Another book I found helpful was Transitions:
Making Sense of Life's Changes by William Bridges (Addison-Wesley,
1 Jacob Way, Reading, MA 01867, 1980, 160 pages). Bridges, by naming and
talking about that fuzzy, uncomfortable stage between endings and new
beginnings, legitimizes it. He also deals with helpful, and not so helpful,
ways of going through these transitions.
THE BIG PICTURE
Brain and Mind
First-hand reports of Paul
D. McLean's research into the limbic and reptilian brains can be found
in A Triune Concept of Brain and Behavior (Books on Demand, University
Microfilms, 300N. Zeeb Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48106). A book which summarizes
this and other research in the broad field of behavioral biology is Melvin
Konner's The Tangled Wing: Biological Constraints on the Human Spirit
(Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 383 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10017, 1982,
Since the late '70s I have
subscribed to the Brain/Mind Bulletin. It reports on interesting
research in psychology and brain physiology—as well as on new theories
in these areas. I've found that the editors and I usually have similar
feelings about what is interesting and meaningful. As a result, I've often
felt that I have my own research staff out there in California, sifting
through piles of articles and books, and pulling out the ones that I'll
find interesting. (Interface Press, Box 42211, Los Angeles, CA 90042.)
Stephen Weinberg's The
First Three Minutes: A Modern
View of the Origin of the Universe (Basic Books, 10 E. 53rd St., New
York, NY 10022, 1976) presents the currently accepted model of the origin
of the universe. The Scientific American does an excellent job
of updating this picture every year or two with the latest theories, and
the the latest developments in astronomy and particle physics.
Models and Metaphors
My understanding of natural
systems owes much to the writing of Ervin Laszlo, a former concert pianist
with a doctorate from the Sorbonne who became an expert on systems and
the author of several Club of Rome studies. His book, The Systems View
of the World (George Braziller, One Park Ave., New York, NY 10016,
1972, 131 pages), is a book for the general reader that looks at nature
and human beings from the system point of view. A more scholarly work
is Laszlo's Introduction to Systems Philosophy: Toward a New Paradigm
of Contemporary Thought (Gordon and Breach, 50 W. 23rd St., New York,
NY 10010, 1972). Another excellent book on systems (and mental models
in general) is the late C.H. Waddington's Tools for Thought (Basic
Books, New York, NY, 1977, 239 pages). Unfortunately, it's no longer in
For good cross-disciplinary
science reporting I have enjoyed Carl Sagan's books—particularly The
Dragons of Eden (Ballantine Books, 201 E. 50th St., New York, NY 10022,
1978) and Cosmos (Ballantine Books, 1985, 400 pages). Another writer
in this genre is John Gribbin who has written several very readable books
on cosmology and microbiology. I found Genesis: The Origins of Man
and the Universe (Delacorte Press, 1 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, New York,
NY 10017, 1981, 360 pages) and In Search of the Double Helix: Quantum
Physics and Life (Bantam Books, 666 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10103,
1987, 369 pages) especially interesting.
There are also some interesting
but speculative theories on the table these days. One is the holonomic
model of the universe which physicist David Bohm presents in Wholeness
and the Implicate Order (Routledge & Kegan Paul, 9 Park St., Boston,
MA 02108, 1980, 224 pages). Biologist Rupert Sheldrake's theory of morphogenetic
fields is presented in his book A New Science of Life (Blond and
Briggs Ltd., Victoria Works, Edgeware Rd., London NW2 6LE, 1981, 229 pages).
(The results of various experiments designed to test Sheldrake's theory
are regularly reported in Brain/Mind Bulletin.)
In her 1934 book Patterns
of Culture (Houghton-Mifflin, 2 Park St., Boston, MA 02108, 1961)
Ruth Benedict points out the great extent to which human behavior is culturally
determined. Each culture reinforces and promotes certain potential behaviors
and discourages others—yet because we have been immersed in our own culture
from birth we greatly underestimate the extent of its influence on us.
Here, also, is information
on a number of other worthwhile books mentioned (or alluded to) in the
Jose Arguelles: The Transformative
Vision (Shambhala Publications, Berkeley, 1975). Out of Print.
Hazel Barnes, Humanistic
Existentialism. An excellent book on Existentialism written by the
translator of Sartre's Being and Nothingness. (Except for a very
expensive University Microfilms edition, it is out of print.)
Gregory Bateson: Steps
to an Ecology of Mind (Ballantine Books, 201 E. 50th St., New York,
NY 10022, 1975).
J. Samuel Bois: The Art
of Awareness: A Textbook on General Semantics and Epistemics, 3rd
Ed. (Wm. C. Brown, 2460 Kerper Blvd., Dubuque, IA 52001, 1978).
Richard Bucke, M.D.: Cosmic
Consciousness (E.P. Dutton, 2 Park Av., New York, NY 10016).
Patricia Carrington: Freedom
in Meditation (Pace Education System, 61 Kingsley Rd., Kendall Park,
NJ 08824, 1977, 384 pages).
T.S. Eliot: Four Quartets
(Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1250 6th Ave., San Diego, CA 92101, 1977).
Eric Fromm: The Anatomy
of Human Destructiveness (Fawcett Publications, P.O. Box 1014, Greenwich,
Conn. 06830, 1975)
Julian Jaynes: The Origin
of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Houghton-Mifflin,
2 Park St., Boston, MA 02108, 1982).
Nikos Kazantzakis: The
Saviors of God (Simon and Schuster, 630 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10020).
Arthur Koestler: The Act
of Creation (Dell Publishing Co., 245 E. 47th St., New York, NY 10017).
Out of Print.
Arthur Koestler: The Ghost
in the Machine (Hutchison and Co., London, 1967)
Jacques Monod: Chance and
Necessity (Random House / Vintage Books, 201 E. 50th St., New York,
NY 10022, 1972).
John Prebble: Glencoe:
The Story of the Massacre (Secker and Warburg, U.K.). Available in
Canada in a Penguin Books Edition, and in the U.S. through David and Charles
Inc., P.O. Box 57, North Pomfret, VT 05053.
Ilya Prigogine and Isabelle
Stengers: Order Out of Chaos: Man's New Dialogue With Nature (Bantam
Books, 666 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10019, 1984).
Gail Sheehy: Passages
(Bantam Books, 666 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10019, 1977).
E.F. Schumacher: A Guide
for the Perplexed (Harper and Row, 10 E. 53rdStreet, New York, NY
Sherry Turkle: The Second
Self: Computers and the Human Spirit (Simon and Schuster / Touchstone,
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020, 1985).
R. Wilhelm and C.F. Baynes
translators: The I Ching (Princeton University Press, Princeton,
NJ, 1967, 740 pages)
to Table of Contents
information on the books referred to—and other books—can be found in the
References and Resources section.
more details about the very early universe see "The Structure of the Early
Universe" in The Scientific American, April 1980.
Prigogine, winner of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1977, has—through
his theory of energy-dissipating, non-equilibrium processes—contributed
to our understanding of information-creating activities such as life.
The overall increase in entropy predicted by the second law of thermodynamics
does not prevent the evolution of informational structures, but
is, in some sense, part of the intrinsic price paid whenever new informational
structures evolve. See Illya Prigogine and Isabelle Stengers: Order
Out of Chaos: Man's New Dialogue With Nature.
assumes that Einstein's "hidden variables" do not exist. Einstein felt
that the universe was a totally determined "clockwork" universe. (God
did not play dice with the universe.) He hypothesized that quantum "randomness"
is really a pseudo-randomness which arises from a submicroscopic determinism
that is hidden from us—it arises from "hidden variables." What this would
mean in our computer analogy is that the subatomic random number generators
would not be truly random, but would, in fact, be program-directed pseudo-random
Turkle, in her book THE SECOND SELF: Computers and the Human Spirit,
discusses this phenomenon in some depth.
Turkle's many interviews with computer users—from kids to dedicated hackers
and artificial intelligence aficionados—add much support to this observation.
some computers, the human brain has not just one, but several data processing
centers or circuits—several CPUs to use the computer term. We can walk
and think at the same time because these activities are controlled by
different parts of the brain. Because multiple CPUs add flexibility and
speed, they are starting to be used in silicon-chip computers too.
for example, the blind spot in each eye where the optic nerve goes through
the retina. If awareness was watching the direct output of the eye there
would be a hole in the image. (It would be like the situation in a TV
system when there's a defect in the camera tube and a spot appears in
the video display.) We don't see a hole because awareness watches brain
output, not eye output, and because the brain lies a little to awareness.
The brain's sophisticated image processing creates an output in which
that hole is filled in with conjured-up visual experience of the same
shade as nearby areas in the scene.
video analogy also points up the possibility that awareness need not move
or zoom. It seems as though it does when we "turn our attention" from
one thing to another. But that same subjective effect could be achieved
with a fixed, constant awareness simply by adjusting the amplitude and
"width" of the data flowing to it. Let's say that I'm reading a book and
listening to music at the same time. What I perceive as turning my attention
from listening to reading might just be the brain cranking up the amplitude
of visual-field data, and simultaneously turning down the amplitude of
hearing-field data. Similarly, awareness might not disappear during sleep—it
might be that the data which normally flows to it gets turned off.
psychologies—based on careful observation of subjective experience—went
out of fashion early in this century. Academic psychology was seeking
acceptance as a "hard," objective science at the time, and subjective
reports on mind events didn't fit the needed image. Yet such reports can
be immensely valuable if made by careful, experienced observers.
In general, the longer
you practice watching mind events, the more detail you are able to see.
While some things can be noticed as soon as the mind gets quiet, it really
does take thousands of hours of watching before you're able to catch some
of the subtler goings on. On the bright side, the reports of people who
do take the time, and make this magnitude of effort, tend to agree.
Seeing the micro-structure
of experience at the mind-moment level apparently takes extremes of practice.
There are people who, after devoting years of their lives to continuous
practice, claim to have seen it. In principle, it makes sense that subjective
experience is made up of such elements because it reflects the discrete,
choppy, pulse-like nature of what is going on physically in the brain.
We know that an individual neuron can discharge or "fire" at rates up
to several hundred times per second. Furthermore, I presume that each
variety of mind content correlates with its own complex spatial and temporal
pattern of firing neurons. If this is true, then the duration of a mind
moment would be the length of time required to present one characteristic
pattern sequence to awareness—quite possibly a small fraction of a second.
times, we confuse other types of mind content with intuitions. Sometimes
we even mistake reactive emotion for intuition. Upon seeing a sexually
attractive person, I have been known to say to myself, "That's the one
for me!" That thought, I suspect, arose from a limbic-brain sexual drive,
and was not an intuitive insight. Philip Goldberg points out a number
of such pitfalls in his book, The Intuitive Edge: Understanding and
Developing Intuition, in the section labeled: MISTAKING THE CHAFF
FOR THE WHEAT.
in Joseph Goldstein, The Experience of Insight: A Natural Unfolding.
Unity Press. Santa Cruz. 1976. p126.
Arthur Koestler: The Ghost in the Machine, Eric Fromm: The Anatomy
of Human Destructiveness, and the work of R. Paul Shaw and Yuwa Wong.
(For example, R. Paul Shaw, "Humanity's Propensity for Warfare: A Sociobiological
Perspective." The Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology,
22(2): 158-83. 1985.)
all noticed that some retarded children seem exceptionally happy. Could
it be that they simply never completed their encounter with the tree of
knowledge, and therefore never fully acquired the delusion of separateness?
Wilber has effectively pointed out that a Western therapy which attempts
to build a strong ego and an Eastern practice which attempts to tear the
ego down do not conflict if each is applied at the appropriate stage of
growth. See his books Spectrum of Consciousness, and No Boundary.
I mentioned before, I don't see an absolutely rigid "clockwork" determinism
at work here. Randomness or "noise" probably plays a part in brain processes
just as it does in other physical processes. Decision making that vacillates
may have its roots in any of several factors: Uncertainty about information.
Uncertainty about values. Or competition between two programs, one embodying
values incompatible with the other's values. In the case where a decision
hangs on the edge, with equally balanced pulls in two directions, it may
well be the "noise in the system" that makes the final decision.
work, and the comments of other researchers, were reviewed in the May
5, 1986 issue of Brain/Mind Bulletin (Vol. 11, No. 9).
passages are from the book I AM THAT, a series of talks by Sri
Nisargadatta Maharaj. Nisargadatta was a resident of Bombay and maker
of handmade cigarettes. In his mid-thirties he had a self-realization
experience, and eventually became a Hindu saint. Some of the talks he
gave when he reached his mid-seventies were recorded and translated by
a Polish-born electrical engineer named Maurice Frydman, a man whose own
deep wisdom enabled him to capture the teachings in lucid and often luminous
English. Nisargadatta was, during this latter period of his life, one
of those who saw the unity all day, every day. He died in 1981 at the
age of 84.
Nisargadatta Maharaj. I AM THAT. 1973. Acorn Press. Durham, NC.
his book Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism the late Chogyam
Trungpa Rimpoche dealt with the phenomenon of spirituality as an egoistic
possession. There are many traps along the way, and Trungpa's book can
help the earnest seeker avoid some of them.
once again, words can mislead us. In one sense awareness and the informational
show are separate—but in another they are not. The primary mental reality—the
mental aspect of Oneness—is awareness. The show is the rippling, or waving,
or modulation of awareness caused by the impact of patterned energy from
physical brain processes. In terms of the ocean/wave metaphor, the informational
show is encoded in awareness waves.
Another analogy that might
be helpful to some people involves a radio station's transmitted carrier
and program. If you tune across the FM broadcast band with one of the
older receivers you hear a loud hiss between stations. The hiss corresponds
to nothingness, to no reality at all. When you tune to a station's frequency
the hiss disappears, and if there is no program at the moment there is
silence. The energy carrier the station sends out corresponds to Being—still,
quiet, but powerful and enabling too. What it enables is the transmission
of the program, the show. The show modulates the carrier (changing the
carrier's frequency in FM, or its amplitude in AM). The physical reality
is the carrier itself; the show is an informational pattern encoded in
the instant-to-instant changes impressed upon the carrier. The show and
the carrier are separate conceptually, but they are one in the physical
reality of an energy carrier undergoing modulation. Similarly, awareness
and the mental show are conceptually different kinds of things, and in
that sense are separate. They are, however one in the reality of awareness
directed lovingkindness meditation appears in Stephen Levine's book A
Alan W.: THE MEANING OF HAPPINESS: The Quest for Freedom of the Spirit
in Modern Psychology and the Wisdom of the East. 1940, 1968. Harper
and Row (Colophon Book). New York. Page 40.
decades mentioned are a rough indication of when these stages typically
occur in growth-motivated people. Maslow said that none of his self-actualizers
was under 50, and Sam Keen puts the stage of the "childlike sage" late
in life. It will be interesting to see if this pattern changes as more
people in their 20s and 30s adopt spiritual practices.
I'm ever tempted to doubt this I just have to recall those Buddhist monks
I saw on television back in the early days of the Vietnam war. They had
drenched themselves with gasoline, and sat cross-legged—still and silent—as
they burned to death.