Crossing the Road

Categorized under Enlightenment

After so much suffering in Nirvanic castles
What a joy to sink into this world!
People wear silk clothes,
Buddhas dress in rags.
A wooden man walking in the evening,
A stone woman with a bonnet -
For the first time you will see
When you can cup your hands
And pick up the moon as it floats
On the still surface of a pond.

A few years ago I wrote a book called The Wisdom of the Infinite which detailed some of the logic involved in reaching a perfect intellectual understanding of reality. Reaching such an understanding, however, is really just the first step of the spiritual path. It is the easy part. The real business of spirituality involves applying this understanding to your daily life – indeed, applying it whole-heartedly to such an extent that it utterly consumes your existence.

This is the stage where philosophy transforms into spirituality and all subsequent progress is driven by desire, courage and character. It is the stage where terms like ‚Äúfaith” and ‚Äúgnashing of teeth‚ÄĚ begin to have real meaning. It can be a lonely and frightening road, but also one filled with wondrous sights. It is like being dropped into a hostile world which has no interest in truth and one has to fight demons on all fronts – both outwardly in the form of other people and their sheer loathing towards anything that forces them to become more conscious, and inwardly in the form of one‚Äôs own hesitations and weaknesses. And then, every now and then, one slips into heaven.

Many people who seek the truth are motivated by the wrong reasons. Their desire for truth is borne out of a disgust of mainstream life and a hatred of the lies and falsehoods which permeate society. Their disgust is essentially a desire to escape. This is fine as far as it goes, as it can take you some way towards the goal, but if it is not sublimated and eventually replaced by a child-like love of truth for its own sake, then there will come a point where you will stop and go no further. For as your intellectual understanding develops and creates distance between yourself and the world, the driving force of disgust will peter out and all you will be left with is a hollow conceptual understanding of things and an impoverished daily existence. The disgust needs to be transformed into love, for only then will you be motivated to push on when the going gets tough. Only then will truth come to life and reveal its countless treasures.

Don‚Äôt be fooled by lesser attainments. Set only the highest standards for yourself. Aim for the stars. If you are not experiencing the full nature of the Infinite in every moment – concretely, directly and consciously, in every situation you find yourself in – then you do not really know it at all. That is how you should always be viewing the matter. The whole of God’s nature can be found in a crumpled leaf or a speck of dust if you know how to look. The key lies in having the courage to look.

If you truly desire the truth, then it helps to burn your bridges to the world. If you can extinguish all other avenues of fulfilment, if you can place all of your eggs in the one basket of truth, it will force you to make the truth the centre of your life whether you like it or not. Spiritual success is a product of total commitment. If you can take the plunge and reject the world completely then not only will you quickly find nirvana, but it will save you a lot of unnecessary suffering as well. Kevin Solway makes the analogy of crossing a busy street to get to the other side (where nirvana resides). If you hesitantly venture out a little way and then stop, you will quickly be battered into submission. But if you can stride out with clarity and purpose, you will reach the other side in no time. Then you can take your ease.

Of course, things are rarely this black and white. We are human, after all, and each of us has our own fears and weaknesses. While stepping out onto the road is relatively easy, as one is still feeling empowered by one’s intellectual understanding and everything still looks fresh and new, it is making the decision to go further out into the road, away from the world, away from the human race, which is the challenge. For it means entering a sort of bleak half-way abyss in which one is all alone. Those who enter it find that they are too spiritual to find comfort in the world and yet not spiritual enough to find comfort in nirvana. It is at this point that the lustre of the spiritual path seems to fade, reason seems to lose its power and truth seems to be an empty mirage. Even people with great character sometimes need encouragement to continue on with their journey, and indeed this is the primary purpose of the world’s scriptures and spiritual texts, such as the Tao Te Ching, the Dharmapada, the Bhagavad Gita, the Gospels, Kierkegaard’s writings, etc. They are essentially written for those few who have already reached the very pinnacle of intellectual understanding. Their prime focus is to encourage such people to continue striving for the other side. The great value of these texts is that they can help steel the mind and fan a powerful love for truth.

In any case, enough of the introduction. Time to step out onto the road ….

The phrase ‚Äúintellectually understanding the nature of reality‚ÄĚ essentially means understanding the illusory nature of all things. Again, I refer the reader to The Wisdom of the Infinite for a detailed account of what this is about. But for those of you who already understand the logic of why things are illusory, the next step is to thoroughly break the spell of ‚Äúobjective existence‚ÄĚ in every aspect of your daily life.

It has sometimes been said by Buddhist sages that life is like a dream, which is not a bad way of looking at the matter. It is obviously not equivalent to a dream, but it is like a dream in the sense that all we ever experience are appearances. Whether it be the distant stars, the nearby hills, the busy streets, the crowds of noisy people milling around, the molecules inside your body, the thoughts inside your mind – they are all appearances. Even your very own self is nothing more than an appearance.

It is very important to thoroughly understand what this means. There is no denying that the world appears to objectively exist, and for all intents and purposes, it does objectively exist, yet it is easy to see that it is nothing more than an apparition. It is similar to the way the sun appears to rise and set each day. We might directly experience the rising and setting of the sun with our own eyes, so to speak, yet the whole thing is an illusion produced by the rotating earth. It is an experience which is constructed out of our perspective as beings situated on the earth. In the same way, our experience of the world as an objective entity is a mirage generated out of a particular perspective, one that is centred around a belief in the self and reinforced by habit of thought. The objectivity of the world appears real on the surface, but it disappears the moment you begin to approach it.

All things are fundamentally like this. They appear to exist from certain angles, but they are not really there. I have always liked the Buddha’s illustration of this, where he twirled a flame around and around in a circle so that it formed a ring of light. The ring of light certainly appears to exist and can be perceived by observers, and yet it has no existence outside of that perception. As soon as you look more closely at the twirling, you can see that the ring does not really exist at all. It is merely an illusion of perspective. Your very own self is like that ring. You could search for your self forever and you would never find it. For there is nothing to find.

The biggest mistake people make is grasping at the world as though it was real. They are subconsciously convinced that there must be a ‚Äúbottom line‚ÄĚ to Nature, that there is a fundamental realm of reality somewhere, that there is a particular form of Nature which comprises the one true reality. This is ultimately where all belief comes from, whether it be a belief in a particular god, or a belief in scientific atheism. Belief is the arbitrary raising of a particular form over and above all other forms. It is also the essence of insanity.

The word ‚Äúenlightenment‚ÄĚ is sometimes used to mean moksha or liberation, and this is probably the best way to conceive of it. To be enlightened means to be liberated from all forms, all things, all events, all states, all hopes, all regrets, all happiness, and all suffering. It even means being liberated from the truth, from the spiritual path, from all knowledge and wisdom, even from enlightenment itself. In each moment, all of it has to be abandoned. Throw it all away as though it were a filthy piece of clothing. Whatever you think you might have achieved, whatever insights you might have gathered, whatever skills or merits you believe you have accumulated, whatever mystical experiences you have enjoyed, whatever social standing you possess – all of it needs to be tossed to the winds and allowed to disperse. Hold on to nothing whatsoever.

The greatest spiritual practice is to engage in no practice at all. The person who engages in such a practice single-mindedly ensures that his mind never clings to anything and never strives for anything. His meditation is to studiously avoid all forms of meditation. He does not seek any kind of understanding, nor any kind of mystical experience, nor any kind of altered state of consciousness. He does not seek these things because his every experience is already nirvanic in nature. He is already in nirvana. Even the most mundane aspects of his life are full expressions of nirvana. He knows that he can no more leave nirvana than he can enter into it.

The enlightened person is perfectly at home in all realms. He sees them all as equal expressions of ultimate reality. He does not have to enter a particular realm or mental state in order to feel more enlightened. He could travel into the depths of outer space and into other galaxies, or into other universes and dimensions, and yet he would not have moved an inch. He could dive inwardly into the most heavenly of mystical states and experience all that is sublime and timeless, and yet he would feel as though nothing has happened. For him, everything is already complete. And he too is complete.

In order to fully understand and engage in this practice, you need to abandon every preconceived idea of what you think nirvana should be. You must not equate it with any kind of egotistical heaven. Accept nirvana for what it is and forget about what you would like it to be. Nirvana has no form, yet there is never any place where it is absent. It is constantly before our eyes in all of its glory, yet it is impossible to get a handle on it in any way. It has an infinite number of faces and yet none of them can be caught.

So treat everything that you experience for the appearance that it is. Or better yet, treat every experience as a temporary form that only exists in the moment. In this way, you can go beyond the perception that everything is an appearance, for that too lacks objective reality. The whole history of the Universe, with the Big Bang and the formation of the galaxies and stars, and the long, gradual evolution of life on earth eventually leading to the reign of the dinosaurs and the mammals, and then human history with the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, the Dark Ages, the scientific revolution and the advent of the modern world – all of it is nothing more than a fleeting form that exists in the moment and nowhere else. Break the spell of objective reality in all of its guises and slide into formlessness. Stop seeing yourself as a finite being who is stuck inside a concrete, three-dimensional world. Slip sideways out of existence, as it were, and enter the void of the All which is not really a void. Tune into your unborn nature and truly live.

The most important aspect of this practice is constancy of application. Moment after moment, day after day, do everything you can to be aware of your formless nature. No matter what the situation is, or what you are doing, or how you are feeling, or who you are talking to, make it your highest priority to constantly think of the Infinite. Try to avoid the habit of confining such a meditation to your spare time. It is relatively easy to think of the Infinite when you are alone and not doing anything else, but the real test comes when you are in the midst of the world and its distracting situations. That is when you should redouble your efforts and really apply yourself. The more you can think about God in those situations the more powerful your overall practice will be, and even your quieter times will become more fruitful. It is all about building up a head of steam and maintaining the momentum, and this requires the discipline of single-mindedness. It is like using a magnifying glass to focus the sun’s rays in order to set fire to a piece of paper. If you are constantly stopping and starting, or waving the magnifying glass about, you will never succeed.

The definitive sign that one is enlightened is when one is able to see into the nature of reality with an instantaneous application of will, without any need to engage in laborious mental processes or having to solve philosophic problems. And this can only be achieved when you become intimately familiar with the ins and outs of nirvana, when you know it like the back of your hand. This is the great prize of spiritual expertise. It is only at this point that the real benefits of truthful living start to emerge in terms of perfect freedom, utter certainty, pure spontaneity, fearlessness, immeasurable peace, and so on.

While the ultimate spiritual practice is to engage in no practice at all, sometimes you do need to engage in other practices in order to keep the mind focused. The practice of no practice can be difficult to sustain throughout the day, particularly in the early stages. It is easy to become distracted and lose sight of what needs to be done. It is a bit like experiencing narcolepsy, in that one often slides into unconsciousness of reality Рthat is to say, back into ordinary consciousness Рwithout even realizing what is happening. And then twenty minutes later you suddenly wake up and only then do you realize that you have been fast asleep all that while! When this happens Рas it will, again and again Рall you can do is write the whole thing off as the workings of karma and climb back into the saddle once more. There is no point in recriminating yourself over such lapses. They will invariably happen. It is better to look to the future, vow to improve, and move on.

One way to keep the mind focused is to exploit your ego’s instinctive desire for happiness and use it to direct your attention to the All. For example, you can train your mind to view every aspect of Nature as an artistic masterpiece. It is easy to see that everything is immensely beautiful in an aesthetic sense. The colours, textures and sounds of even the most mundane things in life possess a sublime beauty if you know how to see it. Most people block out this beauty because they are so caught up in their daily worries, but there is no reason why you should be trapped in misery like them and go around being cranky at everything. You are well within your rights to experience the magical beauty of reality in everything that you do. It is an excellent way to find joy in the All and help free the mind from worldly attachments. All it takes is a little time and practice until it becomes second nature.

I have found through experience that many people who embark on the path to enlightenment are afraid to enjoy God. This relates to the earlier point about being motivated by the wrong reasons Рnamely, by disgust and anger, rather than by love and joy. A lot of people become too caught up in the crassness of the human race and the dire situation of modern society, and they waste their lives loathing everything, including themselves. This is surely the height of stupidity. To hate something, whatever it might be, is to hate Nature itself, for Nature is the root cause of everything that happens. People are essentially flawed robots, as far as this matter is concerned. It is not their fault if they grow up with lots of bugs in their programming. If an opportunity presents itself to engage in some debugging, then fine. Go for it. But it is not your responsibility to worry and fret over the outcome.

A genius is able to shoulder the responsibility of the world and work diligently for the sake of other people’s welfare, yet for him it is no burden at all. Freedom and lightness is his default state of being. So give up all your cares and keep your mind in the Infinite. Don’t be afraid to enjoy God. Indeed, it is very important that you learn how to flourish in your infinite nature and take delight in it. It will make you a far better teacher in the long run.

In everything that you do, treat each moment as though it were the very first moment of creation. Beginningless time and the present moment are the same. There is no before, and no after. Everything is as it should be – utterly pure and innocent. We literally live our lives in the Garden of Eden. What is there to fix?

Another example of an exercise you can do involves making love to everything that happens. You can even mentally verbalize this love, if you want. Sometimes, I like to walk around the place and mentally affirm my love for everything that I see. ‚ÄúI love the way that piece of paper is crumpled up like that‚ÄĚ, or ‚ÄúI love the way that tree is fluttering lightly in the breeze‚ÄĚ, or ‚ÄúI love the way all that hair is growing out of that man‚Äôs ear.‚ÄĚ This might seem like a corny thing to do, but using words to mentally verbalize such practices can help concentrate the mind and lock it into the right attitude. It is not unlike the way writing can help crystallize your thoughts and bring them into greater clarity.

Another exercise involves affirming the truth that everything is literally your self, simply by reversing or subverting habitual thought. For example, you can view the world as your body, and your body as the world. See how the distant stars are as familiar as the freckles on your legs, while the blood coursing throughout your body and the synapses firing inside your brain are as alien as the stars. The wind rustling through the trees is your consciousness moving. The thoughts appearing in your mind are like the clouds which appear in the sky. A loud noise erupts and the heart beats faster. A decision is made in the brain and the world changes. Where exactly is this boundary between self and other!

In any case, these are just a few examples of what can be done to keep the mind focused on the All. I am sure there are countless other exercises you can devise. Feel free to be creative. Experiment and improvise. Try not to settle into any one kind of practice, though. Mix it up. Always be alert, intelligent and flexible. Learn to read your moods and adapt your practice accordingly.

To recap ….

If you are planning to cross the road, then do it whole-heartedly. Burn all of your bridges and escape routes and go at it as hard as you can. Generate the momentum needed to reach the other side. This momentum will be your greatest asset during that bleak period when you are neither part of the world, nor part of nirvana. Use your ego against itself and exploit its desire for happiness by seeking joy in the All. Be intelligent and creative with your practices and ground them all in the core practice of no practice. Keep doing this day after day after day.

In the end, the whole spiritual path to enlightenment boils down to belief. Not in the sense of blindly accepting articles of faith, but in the sense of having utter conviction in the truth. You really have to believe, with the whole of your being, in what you know to be true. Intellectually, you know that everything is nirvana. So believe it. And keep believing it, over and over, all the time, no matter what the situation. If you can apply this belief in a sustained manner, you will find yourself on the other side of the road in no time. Indeed, you will find that there has never been any road in the first place.

***

Physicists:‭ ‬The Great Pretenders

Categorized under Science

In the past, science was practiced by renaissance-type intellectuals who had a strong interest in philosophy. While the likes of Copernicus, Newton, Darwin and Einstein were no philosophic sages, they at least possessed an awareness of the limitations of science and understood that it had a context within the larger realm of philosophic thought. But this all changed when Niels Bohr and Werner Heisenberg came onto the scene and instigated the Copenhagen movement for interpreting quantum theory, an interpretation which gained an early foothold in the classrooms and has subsequently become the dominant paradigm ever since. The anti-causal, anti-logical nature of the Copenhagen interpretation succeeded in severing all connection between physics and philosophy.

As a result of this disconnection, physicists have lost their philosophic perspective and become entirely trapped within the scientific mentality, causing them to vastly overrate the philosophic importance of their work. Like air rushing into a vacuum, a collective hysteria has swept through the physics community, leading to numerous cosmologists and quantum physicists deceiving the public with wild, outlandish philosophic claims that are falsely presented as being supported by scientific theory and having the backing of the rest of the scientific community. If they are not staring into the mind of God, they are formulating the Theory of Everything, or unlocking the very fabric of reality, or discovering the God particle.¬† It is as though the vagarities of the Copenhagen movement have given physicists permission to push away and ignore their intellectual conscience, allowing a kind of ‚Äúanything goes‚ÄĚ mentality to take over. Like kids suddenly being let out of school, they have been excitedly running amok with each trying to be more outlandish than the others.

Lawrence Krauss, a cosmologist and author of popular scientific works, is the latest to be caught up in the hysteria. In 2009, he gave a lecture entitled, A Universe From Nothing, which garnered a lot of attention. A youtube clip of the lecture (featured below) went viral at the time and attracted over a million viewings, prompting Krauss to publish a book under the same title. The buzz that was created was largely driven by followers of the New Atheist movement (of which Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are leading figures) who saw the lecture as a powerful piece of anti-religious polemic, and indeed Krauss has since openly aligned himself with the atheistic movement by teaming up with Richard Dawkins to give talks and participate in debates for the purpose of promoting atheism and science.

The lecture (and book) also caused a stir within academic philosophic circles, partly because Krauss is openly dismissive of philosophy and partly because Krauss’s own utilization of philosophic concepts are badly executed. Critics have accused him of being arrogant, anti-intellectual, anti-philosophical, unnecessarily provocative, and even deceptive. I will use this blog to add my voice to this chorus, although I will be coming to it from a different angle than most. My main interest in Krauss is that he is a representative member of the modern physics community and thus an example of what happens to an otherwise intelligent man when he loses his philosophic perspective and falls into hysteria.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with my work, I would like to stress that I have no interest in religion (I support Krauss and Dawkins in their attacks on religious fundamentalism), nor in academic philosophy (I agree with Krauss that academic philosophy, for the most part, is a waste of time). My interest lies in what can loosely be described as ‚Äúspiritual philosophy‚ÄĚ, which is neither religious nor academic in nature, and involves worshipping rationality in all aspects of existence, including every nook and cranny of one‚Äôs personal life. Thus, in writing this blog, I am representing those rare thinkers of the past – such as Socrates, Diogenes, Buddha, Lao Tzu, Chuang Tzu, Nagarjuna, Huang Po, Hakuin, Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche – who took reason seriously and applied it relentlessly to expose and reject everything that was false in their lives, both personally and professionally. In other words, the true atheists.

In any case, here is the infamous lecture by Krauss. The clip is about an hour long:

The first thing that strikes you when watching this video is that the title, A Universe From Nothing, conflicts with the actual content of the lecture and is misleading on a number of fronts. In particular, it is clear that the words ‚ÄúUniverse‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúNothing” are not being used in the conventional manner. The ‚ÄúUniverse‚ÄĚ is commonly defined to be the totality of everything that exists or can exist, but in physics, and therefore with Krauss, the word has adopted a considerably lesser meaning. What he calls the ‚ÄúUniverse” is simply the observable cosmos, the small expanding space-time bubble in which we live, one of possibly countless other space-time bubbles within a larger reality called the ‚ÄúMultiverse‚ÄĚ. In other words, the ‚ÄúUniverse” in physics has come to mean a mere portion of the Totality, and not the Totality itself.

The word ‚Äúnothing‚ÄĚ, in turn, is also given a strange, unconventional meaning (19:40 in the video). For most people, ‚Äúnothing‚ÄĚ in the purest sense of the word means nothing whatsoever. It means the complete and utter absence of all existences, forms, properties, states, laws,¬†potentialities, etc. It is the complete antithesis of ‚Äúsomething‚ÄĚ in every respect. But this evidently does not suit Krauss, for he decides to redefine the word to mean something else entirely – namely, a quantum vacuum which consists of a ‚Äúboiling, bubbling brew of virtual particles popping in and out of existence at a time-scale so short you can‚Äôt see them‚ÄĚ (20:19). In essence, he constructs a facade of nothing which he presents to the public, only to sneakily slip a form of ‚Äúsomething‚ÄĚ in through the back door.

Krauss attempts to justify this bizarre use of the word ‚Äúnothing” by arguing that modern cutting-edge physics has changed our view of what nothingness is, that the old idea of it being nothing whatsoever has to be abandoned. But that is clearly rubbish. The concept of ‚Äúnothing‚ÄĚ is like the mathematical concept of ‚Äúzero‚ÄĚ in that you cannot modify or tweak it without utterly destroying it. As soon as you try to tweak ‚Äúnothing”, however slightly, it automatically ceases to be nothing and instantly slides into the other camp, into the realm of ‚Äúsomething‚ÄĚ.

If Krauss was to go around telling mathematicians that the latest cutting-edge physics shows that zero no longer equals zero, but instead equals, say, 0.0043, he would be quickly¬†laughed out of his profession. His reputation as a credible thinker would vanish. And yet that is exactly what he is attempting to do with the concept of nothing. He isolates a particular subset of ‚Äúsomething‚ÄĚ (i.e. the quantum vacuum) and arbitrarily defines it to be nothing. He only gets away with it because the people he generally hangs around with are¬†scientists who also don‚Äôt give a toss about anything other than science. It is all part of the ‚Äúanything goes‚ÄĚ mentality which currently afflicts the physics community.

Just¬†the¬†idea of altering definitions for ostensibly ‚Äúscientific reasons‚ÄĚ should be regarded with¬†a great deal of skepticism. Imagine if a group of leading biologists with a militant social agenda were to start advocating that the definition of a ‚Äúhuman being” should be changed to exclude blonde, blue-eyed Germans on account that they were missing a particular gene that the rest of the human race possessed. What would be your response? Wouldn‚Äôt you instantly smell a rat? I don‚Äôt see how Krauss‚Äôs attempt to redefine nothing is any different. There is a hidden agenda at play and it is not scientific. The agenda, at root, is to make cosmology seem more philosophically significant than it is.

Given that the ‚ÄúUniverse‚ÄĚ does not really mean the Totality, and ‚ÄúNothing‚ÄĚ does not really mean nothing, then by rights Krauss‚Äôs book should really be called, ‚ÄúOur local environment within the larger body of reality comes from something else.‚ÄĚ Or if it needs to be more catchy: ‚ÄúNothing New Here, Business as Usual‚ÄĚ. It might not attract as much attention, but at least it would be honest. Curiously, Krauss seems half-aware that it is all a sham. In another video on youtube which features Krauss and Dawkins conversing at the Australian National University, he¬†admits¬†that when he puts his ‚Äúeducator‚Äôs hat‚ÄĚ on and gives lectures about modern cosmology he does not mind being provocative with his language (1:28:20). His aim, he says, is to seduce people into taking an interest in science and if that means using misleading philosophic language to mess with¬†their heads, then so be it. In other words, he admits that he deliberately participates in a confidence trick. It is the first time I have ever seen a physicist being so open about it, so I will grudgingly give him some credit for that.

This raises the question of whether Krauss is not only seducing and deceiving the general public, but also his scientific colleagues as well. Richard Dawkins, for example, seems to have become positively awestruck by the idea that something can come from nothing, and he even endorses Krauss’s book, A Universe From Nothing, in a glowing afterword:

Do the laws and constants of physics look like a finely tuned put-up job, designed to bring us into existence? Do you think some agent must have caused everything to start? Read Victor Stenger if you can‚Äôt see what‚Äôs wrong with arguments like that. Read Steven Weinberg, Peter Atkins, Martin Rees, Stephen Hawking. And now we can read Lawrence Krauss for what looks to me like the knockout blow. Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, ‚ÄúWhy is there something rather than nothing?‚ÄĚ shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages. If On the Origin of Species was biology‚Äôs deadliest blow to supernaturalism, we may come to see A Universe from Nothing as the equivalent from cosmology. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is devastating.

Yet things are rarely straightforward in real life. Dawkins appeared on Australian television earlier this year and there he was rather less confident about the matter:

At 27:35, Dawkins states, ‚ÄúLawrence Krauss calls the substrate of his explanations ‚Äėnothing‚Äô. It is possible to dispute whether ‚Äėnothing‚Äô is quite the right word, but whatever it is, it is going to be very, very simple and therefore is a worthy premise for an explanation – whereas a god, a creative intelligence, is not a worthy substrate for an explanation because it is already very complicated‚ÄĚ. So here we see Dawkins backing away from his original stance that the title A Universe From Nothing means exactly what it says. He now seems to be hedging his bets. The Nothing is now possibly a Something. A very simple Something perhaps, but still a Something. In prevaricating like this, Dawkins is effectively conceding that modern cosmology is as far away from resolving the origins of Nature as ever (from now on I will be using the word ‚ÄúNature‚ÄĚ to mean the totality of all there is). Thus, far from being the ‚Äúknock-out blow‚ÄĚ against theology, Dawkins unwittingly affirms that Krauss‚Äôs punch is¬†limited and weak, and far from being dead and buried, theology is allowed to climb back up from the deck once more.

Atheists are quick to pounce on religious people for postulating ‚ÄúGod” as the ultimate explanation for the existence of Nature. As they correctly point out, such a postulation does not achieve anything as this new thing called ‚ÄúGod” is itself in need of explanation. The goal posts have merely been shifted from a thing called the ‚ÄúUniverse‚ÄĚ to a thing called ‚ÄúGod‚ÄĚ, with nothing being resolved in the process. Or to put it more succinctly,¬†any postulated God would necessarily be a part of Nature (again, defined as the totality of all there is). In a similar way, if Krauss wants to push the idea that the quantum vacuum is the ultimate explanation of Nature, then the existence of the quantum vacuum itself will need explaining. Trying to airbrush this quantum vacuum into nothingness is a cute way to try and remove the need for an explanation, but I doubt that it will convince anyone in the long run.

Perhaps he is getting old, but Dawkins is somehow failing to see that as far as the ultimate explanation of Nature is concerned, it does not matter if the quantum vacuum turns out to be simple or not. That is entirely irrelevant. It will still be a form of something and thus will still be in need of explanation. In fact, this goes to the heart of why science will never be able to uncover the ultimate explanation of Nature. For as soon as you assert ‚Äúsomething‚ÄĚ to be the ultimate explanation of Nature, no matter what this ‚Äúsomething‚ÄĚ is or how simple it might be, it automatically disqualifies itself on the grounds that it too is a part of Nature.

From a purely logical standpoint, there are only two possibilities concerning the origins of Nature. It either stretches back forever into the beginningless past, or it popped into being out of nothing whatsoever at some point. In other words, it either had an absolute beginning or no beginning at all. And science utterly lacks the capacity to deal with either possibility.

If Nature stretches back forever, then no one, not even a great physicist, can isolate a first cause. For there would be no first cause. In such a context, science will always remain a limited phenomenon, a collection of concepts and equations that might be efficient at mapping a small portion of Nature, but which can only look on wistfully as the rest of Nature spreads endlessly beyond its sights. Physics would no longer be the puffed-up aristocratic scientific discipline that probes at the very fundamentals of reality, but rather a local science concerned with the immediate environment and not much else. It would be a mere blip in an endless sea of reality.

On the other hand, if Nature had an absolute beginning, then no one, not even a great physicist, will be able to formulate an explanation. Contrary to what some people say, science cannot deal with a state of pure nothingness in which all causes are entirely absent. The very premise of science, its raison d’être, is the investigation of causes. If thousands of years ago the human race had simply decided to believe that everything they experienced just popped into existence out of nothing whatsoever, then science would never have got off the ground in the first place. No amount of scientific theorizing, no matter how mathematically sophisticated, can deal with a reality that has things popping into existence out of nowhere without rhyme or reason.

Not even the probabilistic theories of quantum mechanics can deal with pure nothingness. Quantum theory can only work as a predictive tool because there are regularities in the quantum realm for it to measure, and regularities can only exist because the quantum vacuum is not pure nothingness, but a realm in which causal forces (in whatever form) are at play. The Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics asserts that there are no such forces, but if that was really the case then we would not be seeing the same handful of particles constantly arising (electrons, protons, quarks, etc), complete with the same recognizable qualities of mass and spin and so on, and we would not be seeing these particles constantly appearing in the expected areas in line with the probability distribution curves. Instead, there would be an infinite array of unique forms appearing all over the place, with little or no repetition at all. The very attempt to create probability distribution curves under such a scenario would be useless. It would be like trying to model white noise.

So if it really was the case that Nature just popped into existence out of nothing whatsoever, without rhyme or reason, then no scientific explanation of any kind can be formulated. ‚ÄúIt just happened‚ÄĚ would be the considered verdict and that would be the end of the matter. In the lecture above, Krauss tries to get around this dilemma by saying that the nothingness he talks about is unstable. ‚ÄúWhy is there something rather nothing?‚ÄĚ, he asks (40:34), before answering: ‚ÄúThere had to be. If you have nothing in quantum mechanics, you will always get something‚ÄĚ. Or to paraphrase: ‚ÄúI dunno, it just happens.‚ÄĚ

This fact alone, that science cannot deal with Nature either having a beginning or not having a beginning, demonstrates that science is incapable of providing the ultimate explanation of things. The greatest minds of each generation could conceivably spend the next ten million years single-mindedly building larger telescopes, inventing more finely-tuned observational devices, developing ever more sophisticated conceptual models, making breakthrough after breakthrough in cosmology and quantum mechanics, constantly pushing back the boundaries of what can be observed in Nature Рand even then, after all that time, they still will not have advanced a single inch towards reaching an ultimate understanding of things. Why? Because it is the wrong tool for the job. Science can no more provide an ultimate explanation of things than reading the Bible can provide meaningful scientific theories.

You only have to look at the way scientists today can find support for a wild variety of philosophical and religious beliefs from current cosmological theories. Cosmologists can look at the same scientific data and see Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, atheism, theism, agnosticism, and even pagan gods staring out of its patterns. In effect, modern cosmology, along with quantum physics, has become a glorified Rorschach ink blot onto which people can project any kind of religious or philosophic belief they want. As a constructed realm of ambiguity, perhaps only the Bible can rival it. Indeed, modern physics has in many respects become the new Bible, and Krauss and Dawkins are just another couple of scientists who, armed with their own personal baggage, biases and gripes, have dipped into it and ‚Äúseen‚ÄĚ their own non-scientific belief in atheism reflecting back at them.

As far as philosophy is concerned, science will always remain nothing more than a glorified Rorschach ink blot. Unless it radically changes its nature and abandons the scientific method, this will always be the case. It is one of the inherent limitations of science. This is why I am always puzzled and amused whenever I hear physicists talking about their search for the Theory of Everything. Of course, with scientists and their god-given habit of redefining common words, the ‚ÄúEverything‚ÄĚ they talk about does not really mean everything, and their search for the Theory of Everything usually refers to the more technical goal of uncovering a consistent set of laws or equations that can describe all of the processes that physicists observe in the universe. But there are still some physicists¬†who have grander aims and continue to hope that cosmology will one day uncover the ultimate explanation of things. What they do not realize, however, is that in order to find the ultimate explanation of things one has to leave science behind and enter the realm of pure logic.

The human race already knows the Theory of Everything and has known about it for thousands of years. It is there staring at us in the face in every single moment of our lives, but like all great truths it can sometimes be too obvious and too simple for people to see. The great Theory of Everything, the kernel truth that explains the existence of all things, the core process which creates everything that you are and everything that you experience, is none other than: cause and effect.

To get a handle on what I mean by cause and effect, think of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection, but tweak it so that it becomes simpler, broader and more wide-ranging, such that it embraces not only all forms of life, but all forms of non-life as well. Whether it be billiard balls crashing into each other, or the plasma movements inside stars, or the neurons firing inside the brain to create conscious thought, or the fluctuations occurring within the quantum vacuum, cause and effect is always in operation. It is the key process behind all processes.  Blind, aimless, relentless, it never sleeps.

Everything is explained with this simple principle alone. Indeed, it is the simplest and most elegant explanation imaginable. And what’s more, no other explanation is possible. Any attempt to create an alternative explanation will always assume cause and effect and make use of it. Whether it be a religious person positing a God or a divine force to explain the Universe, or a physicist positing a quantum vacuum or a set of laws, cause and effect will always be at the heart of it. All other explanations are essentially cause and effect fleshed out into more complicated forms. If you were to boil them back down to their essence, then only cause and effect would remain. Cause and effect is always the core explanation (the trunk), while religious beliefs and scientific theories are the decorative, incomplete descriptions of certain kinds of causal processes that are observed in the world (the branches).

Of course, it is the fashion these days to think of cause and effect as an out-dated concept. And what is an intellectual but a slave to fashion? Many people seem to think that David Hume cast doubt on cause and effect back in the 18th century, while quantum mechanics more recently hammered the final blow. But they are wrong on both counts. David Hume did argue, correctly, that we can never be sure about what actually causes what in the observable universe. We might throw a glass against the wall and watch it smash into pieces, and we might naturally conclude that the glass hitting the wall was the cause of it being smashed, but we can never be 100% sure that the two events are that tightly linked. For all we know, the glass might have been smashed by a ray gun operated by aliens from outer space. But in pointing this out, Hume is not really undermining the concept of cause and effect as such, not as a logical principle at least. He is not saying that things come from nothing. He affirms that they do come from somewhere. We just cannot be sure exactly where.

In other words, Hume’s argument is directed towards the inherent limitations of empirical observation and affirms the obvious truth that the scientific method can never uncover any knowledge that possesses absolute certainty. It does not address the deeper, more logical conception of causality. The logical proof of causality ultimately stems from recognizing that nothing can exist of its own accord, independently of other things. Unfortunately, there is not enough space in this blog to go into this matter properly, but for those who are interested I have outlined the logical nature of cause and effect in some detail in a book called Wisdom of the Infinite.

As for quantum mechanics, I dealt with this earlier. The truth is, no one really understands quantum theory and what its implications are. Even its¬†leading researchers¬†admit they do not really understand it. ‚ÄúI think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics‚ÄĚ, said the great physicist, Richard Feynman. It is a glorified Rorschach ink blot in and of itself. Whatever philosophic conclusions you extract from it depends on what assumptions you plug into it. The Copenhaganists plug in the assumption that quantum mechanics is a complete theory and lo and behold, uncausality pops out as a result. The many-worldists assume that the¬†universal wave function is objectively real and does not collapse upon observation and lo and behold, causality pops out again. Clearly, as a philosophic device for discerning truth, quantum theory is useless. And besides, regardless of whatever assumptions physicists care to plug into the system, the fact still remains that quantum mechanics is a remarkably accurate predictive tool – indeed, it possesses an accuracy that is ‚Äúequivalent to predicting the distance between New York and Los Angeles to within one hairsbreadth‚ÄĚ, to quote Feynman again – which automatically implies that the quantum realm is a highly regulated one. The quantum realm is clearly deterministic in the sense that it is composed of causal forces, even though it may be indeterministic in the sense that the old models of classical physics cannot follow what is going on down there.

It might be objected that cause and effect is a useless explanation since it cannot be used to make predictions or be falsified by the scientific method. While that is true, it does not automatically make it useless.  Cause and effect is a philosophic explanation, not a scientific one. If you want to make predictions, then you have to devise and utilize the appropriate scientific theories. If you want to find the core philosophic explanation of why anything exists at all, then you need to leave science behind and philosophically reason your way to cause and effect. That is the choice you have. It is either one or the other. You cannot have a theory that does both. While the philosophic truth of cause and effect is indeed limited in that it cannot be used to make specific predictions about the future, scientific theorizing is equally limited in that it can never provide the ultimate explanation of things. They both represent two different fields of expertise, with each focused on two different forms of knowledge. And they are both perfectly compatible with one another. To affirm the one does not require us to negate the other. Both Dawkins and Krauss make the mistake of assuming that absolute certainty of any kind is a threat to the open-endedness of scientific theorizing. But then, they are so ignorant about non-scientific matters and so spooked by religious people that they have lost the ability to distinguish between religion and philosophy.

To repeat, if you want predictions, do science. If you want explanation, do philosophy. If you want to avoid both, do religion.

In my experience, religious people are just as repelled by the principle of cause and effect as scientists are. They do not see any value in it either. It is too cold and impersonal for them. It does not promise any security in this life, nor any kind of heaven in the next. Just as cause and effect is not a scientific explanation, it is not a religious one either. However, truth is truth and should never be ignored just because you do not like it. Regardless of what scientists and religious people want to believe, cause and effect remains the only ultimate explanation there can ever be.

I found it interesting that in the first video above, A Universe From Nothing, Krauss talks candidly about ‚Äúthe most poetic thing he knows‚ÄĚ about the Universe (16:25-17:25), which is that the atoms in our bodies come from dead stars, and that the atoms in our right hand could well have come from different stars to the atoms in our left hand. What is interesting to me¬†is that Krauss here comes close to an awareness of cause and effect in a deeper, more existential sense and it seems to affect him profoundly, so much so that it was probably one of the contributing factors that led him to take up cosmology in the first place. But instead of becoming more directly conscious of cause and effect via philosophic reasoning, he took a tangential path away from this insight and became a scientist instead. And now he tries to rekindle that feeling through the indirect means of physics and mathematics, which allows him to gain the occasional glimpse of causality from a safe distance.

I mentioned earlier that modern cosmology, and indeed science in general, is like a Rorschach ink blot onto which people can project any religious or philosophical theory they like. We can think of the entire realm of science as a loose collection (or splotches) of complicated formulations of cause and effect, with plenty of gaps in between these various splotches, as well as a large gap between the splotches as a whole and the root principle of cause and effect. It is by exploiting these gaps that people can insert their religion. They can project a belief in God into these gaps if they want, or they can project atheism. And this is only made possible because people everywhere, including scientists and academics from all over the world, have intellectually and existentially removed themselves from the principle of cause and effect as far as humanly possible. They created the gaps to begin with and now they instinctively do everything they can to maintain them.

This is why the likes of Krauss and Dawkins appear insane in my eyes, and why their atheistic crusade is little more than a futile parody that actually encourages the growth of religion, rather than the opposite. By constantly affirming that science is the only valid means of gaining meaningful knowledge about the world, they are in effect affirming that all we ever have access to are Rorschach ink blots Рwhich in turn preserves the gaps for religious people to exploit.  So in the guise of trying to eliminate religion, they are actually helping to support it. If they were not so firmly entrenched in their scientific mindset, they would easily perceive this. But as with most scientists these days, they have lost their philosophic perspective and hence they are unable to see anything of any real note.

On the other hand, perhaps they do sense their own irrationality on some level. There is, after all, an element of violence to the way Krauss and Dawkins conduct themselves in their battle to counter religion, and there is a violence to the way they grasp tightly to their Rorschach ink blots. It brings to mind the image of the homophobic male who is quick to lash out at gay people as a way to distance himself from the nagging thought that he himself might be gay. Perhaps they do need religious people around, after all, in order to maintain their own belief that they are rational human beings. It is very easy to appear rational if all you do is constantly compare yourself to the Mormons, the Creation Scientists and their like.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, despite outward appearances, Krauss and Dawkins harbour no real desire to eliminate religion from the world. For that would mean having to face up to their own irrationality. If they were truly rational and genuinely serious about gaining knowledge of the world, then they would not be closing their minds to philosophy and the realm of logical truth. The fact that they seem to have no awareness at all that such a source of knowledge exists, not even the slightest inkling of it, shows that their minds are ultimately just as rigid and close-minded as the religious people they attack.

If the human race were to fully embrace cause and effect, both intellectually as the core explanation of everything, and existentially as the ‚Äústuff‚ÄĚ out of which every aspect of their personal lives is composed, religion would quickly become a thing of the past. It is only by embracing cause and effect that one can truly go beyond all religion. It is the most atheistic of all activities and also the most spiritual. For spirituality is nothing other than atheism pushed to the extreme.

***

Incidentally…

The question, ‚ÄúWhy is there something rather than nothing?‚ÄĚ is wrongly framed because it falsely assumes there is something to begin with. While Nature is obviously not nothing whatsoever (on account that we appear to exist and have experiences), it does not automatically mean that Nature is a something. Both categories are inaccurate in this case. Only things within Nature are capable of existing and not-existing, whereas Nature itself (the totality of all there is) is capable of neither. To put it crudely, Nature does not have the ability to coalesce into a form of some kind. For if it ever did, it would immediately cease to be Nature as a whole and instead just be another thing within Nature.

Nature is ‚Äúunborn, and therefore ever-living‚ÄĚ, as the sagely Lao Tzu once said.

***

Additional reading:

A Universe From Nothing?,  Sean Carroll

Nuthin’ to Explain,  Victor J. Stenger

An Explanation from Nothing?,  philocosmology

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The Last Man

Categorized under Postmodernism, Science

Science has undoubtedly created numerous benefits for the world, but it has also been detrimental in many ways as well. By far its most detrimental effect has been the way it has steadily diminished the depth and scope of human consciousness over the past century. Despite the fact that we nowadays have access to vast amounts of information from all corners of the globe, the human race seems to be becoming dumber and shallower with every passing year.

With global communication tools such as satellite television and the internet, we are in constant contact with all kinds of different cultures, languages, perspectives, and theories, which has undeniably broadened our minds. But just as a piece of rubber becomes narrower when stretched, our consciousness has been thinning out as it has broadened. It is thinning out because people are unable to rationally cope with the torrents of information that are daily bombarding them. They have to resort to shutting down large swathes of their cerebral cortex in order to suppress their sense of confusion.

Since no one is ever encouraged to think powerfully in a logical manner, and since no one is able to take time out from their busy lives to engage in serious thought in the first place, people nowadays have no means of reconciling the conflicting views and beliefs that swirl around them. The only way they know how to deal with the confusion is either by seeking refuge in the simplified, pre-packaged answers of religion, or in the simplified, pre-packaged answers of postmodernism (i.e. truth can never be known; everything is uncertain; everything is subjective; everything is relative, etc). In both cases, the act of thinking is abandoned, the shutters come up, the confusion is pushed aside, and everyone can get on with the important business of mindlessly enjoying life.

The religious side of this shutting down process is already well-known, so I won’t bother addressing it in this blog. Religious people, as a whole, tend to be very generic and uninteresting. To spend one’s life suppressing reason and thrusting one’s mind into childish bed-time fantasies that are clearly designed to make the ego feel more secure would have to be one of the most boring activities imaginable. And when you look at their plastic smiles and forced jolliness, and their wooden conversation composed of religious clichés and scripts, it is obvious that their minds are almost completely dead. So instead I will be using this blog to focus on agnostics Рthat is to say, on those who seek refuge in the standard bundle of postmodernist clichés (i.e. truth can never be known; everything is uncertain; everything is subjective; everything is relative, etc). Not only are they a growing menace in today’s society, but their lives are filled with all sorts of interesting contradictions and amusing ironies that are worth highlighting.

But first we need to make a distinction between agnosticism and atheism. The primary difference between them is that the atheist openly makes claims of certainty, while the agnostic does not. For example, the atheist categorically rules out the possibility that God exists, while the agnostic believes it is impossible to be sure. From the agnostic’s point of view, the atheistic rejection of God is nothing more than an act of faith, and thus the agnostic believes that he is more rational than the atheist. What the agnostic does not see, however, is that his own position is supported by similar acts of faith.

Let us examine the typical agnostic more closely. You will recognize him instantly, for they are everywhere and they are all clones of one another. He is first and foremost a worshipper of science. He subscribes to the view that the scientific method is the only valid means of gaining meaningful knowledge about the world. He even goes so far as to equate rationality with science, such that the two terms become synonymous with one another, and thus he believes it is impossible for anyone to be rational in a meta-scientific manner. If he observes anyone moving beyond science in their search for understanding, he automatically dismisses them as religious fanatics who have entered the realm of blind faith, regardless of how rational and clear-sighted their search might be.

Just as a religious person has his mantras (‚ÄúGod moves in mysterious ways‚ÄĚ, ‚ÄúFaith surpasses understanding‚ÄĚ, ‚ÄúHe who speaks does not know‚ÄĚ, etc) and cunningly employs them to dismiss all opposing points of view, the agnostic too has his own mantra – namely, ‚ÄúEverything is uncertain‚ÄĚ. Whenever he spies a thought beginning to emerge, whether in his own mind or in the words of others, he immediately wields his mantra like a sword and lops it off. Indeed, he comes to do this so regularly and so instinctively that over time the whole process slides imperceptibly into his subconscious and he is no longer aware that he is doing it. In effect, he has performed a philosophical lobotomy on himself and since forgotten that it ever happened.

I remember when I was younger and pushing myself ever more deeply into philosophy, I used to hate the fact that I was uncertain of everything. It is a truly terrible experience not knowing where to ground the mind. Being uncertain of everything is like having a bad acid trip, with everything flopping about topsy-turvy. It is not a realm in which you can rest and take it easy. Quite the reverse, in fact. It is very much a life or death situation, with the prospect of madness only a finger-snap away, compelling the mind to become intensely focused on finding the certainty of absolute truth. The very fact that agnostics do not have a problem with their supposed uncertainty – indeed, they even seem quite smug and comfortable about it – shows that something is seriously amiss.

To put no finer point on it, their proclaimed uncertainty is fake. It rests on all kinds of secret certainties that reside deep within their minds. Even the idea that ‚Äúeverything is uncertain‚ÄĚ is subconsciously treated as a certainty.

It is one thing for a person to recognize that he is personally uncertain of everything and to say to the world, ‚ÄúI do not know anything” – for that would constitute an honest appraisal of his own situation. But for him to project this onto everyone else and state emphatically that no one can ever reach genuine certainty, or that it is impossible to know the absolute truth – well, that is something else altogether. That is his own dishonesty gone mad. In effect, he is claiming that he possesses mystical or supernatural powers and has peered into the minds of everyone who is alive today, as well as everyone who has ever lived in the past, to establish with absolute certainty that indeed no one has ever reached the certainty of absolute truth. Even the most fanatical of fundamentalists wouldn‚Äôt dare¬†make such a wild religious claim, yet the agnostic is somehow able to perform this miracle without blinking an eye. And like all religious claims it is contradictory in nature, since it involves being certain (‚ÄúI know for sure that no one knows anything for sure‚ÄĚ) and uncertain (‚ÄúI myself don‚Äôt know anything for sure‚ÄĚ) at the same time.

Oh yes indeed, scratch the surface of a sober agnostic and there is always a religious nutter underneath!

Of course, in saying these things I have been a little disingenuous in my treatment of agnosticism. For I have been treating it as though it were a serious philosophic position, one that is worthy of being rationally analyzed, whereas in reality it is nothing more than a crude attempt to destroy philosophy altogether. The agnostic is happy enough to erect an intellectual facade for the sake of appearances, but in reality he is anti-philosophy and anti-truth to the core. Behind it all, what he really wants is peace of mind and the opportunity to live like a contented animal, enjoying the little things in life. That is the root of the matter. He wants to run along with the herd, make some money, have a social life, marry a woman, produce kids and grow comfortably to a ripe old age. His innermost desire is to merge into the crowd, to not create any waves, to remain invisible and mediocre. As such, the very last thing he wants to do is take logic seriously and form a relationship with truth.

We can think of agnosticism, then, not as an intellectual activity, but as a Borg-like process in which mediocrity consumes everything in its path and begets even more mediocrity.

Given this, you can see why the agnostic wholly commits himself to the scientific world-view and actively promotes the idea that the scientific method is the only valid means of gaining meaningful knowledge about the world. He is fully aware that the scientific method can only ever yield theories that are ‚Äúprovisionally true‚ÄĚ, and therefore he knows that all scientific theories are fundamentally uncertain in nature. And so by praising the scientific method to the skies and dismissing everything else, it allows him to mount the argument that it is impossible for anyone, anywhere, to reach absolute certainty in their knowledge.

How does he know that the scientific method is the only valid means of gaining meaningful knowledge about the world? He doesn’t. He just makes it up. Having no interest in truth, he is free to make up what he likes. Again, all he wants to do is promote the uncertainty meme within the community. He wants the world to think that the very idea of absolute truth is a pipe-dream entertained by superstitious people who are anti-science. And why? Because in eliminating every other point of contrast, his own attachment to mediocrity can begin to gain a semblance of respectability.

It only takes a few moments to see through all this. It is very easy to become aware of the logical pathways that extend beyond science into the realm of absolute truth and thus see agnosticism for the nonsense that it is. For example, the view that ‚Äúscientific theories are always provisional and uncertain‚ÄĚ is itself a logical truth that is absolute in nature and can be known with certainty. Since a scientific theory ultimately relies on empirical evidence for its validity (i.e. on what is observed through the senses), and since what is observed through the senses always carries an element of uncertainty, it automatically becomes true by definition¬†that all scientific theories are inherently uncertain. Poof! Straight away, with this piece of reasoning alone, the existence of absolute truth and the human mind‚Äôs capacity to apprehend it is proven without any shadow of a doubt. With a single stroke of logic, the irrationality of agnosticism is exposed. And yet this simple logical step, which only takes a moment to execute, is one that the agnostic will never take.

Since the agnostic spends his time blocking out deeper forms of logical thought, he is unable to see how foolish he is. For example, in his desire to present philosophy as a form of quackery, he often says things like: ‚ÄúPhilosophy is to science what astrology is to astronomy‚ÄĚ. What the fool does not realize is that if philosophy is a form of quackery, then science itself must also be a form of quackery, since the validity of science can only ever be established by philosophic thought. Turning to the scientific method does not help in this instance. It is meaningless to conduct a scientific experiment to test the validity of science, for that would involve pre-affirming what is being tested. It can only be tested and established by a higher methodology – that is to say, by a philosophic act of logic.

There are countless logical truths beyond science, with many of them able to provide meaningful knowledge about the world. For instance, there is the truth that nothing can exist of its own accord. A car, for example, is necessarily dependent on the parts that comprise it. If you take away its panels, windows, steering wheel, seats, tyres, etc, then you also take away the car. The very existence of the car depends on the existence of its parts being assembled together in the proper manner, and as such the car cannot exist of its own accord. The same principle can be equally applied to all things in the Universe without exception, including electrons, quarks and strings Рand of course, ourselves.  Anything that exists can be divided into parts, either physically or mentally.  Again, this is not a piece of knowledge that can be uncovered by the scientific method. It is a philosophic truth, one that is purely logical in nature, and it is very meaningful to those who are awake to its implications.

Agnosticism is very much the flavour of the modern technological age. There is something about agnosticism and electronic devices which makes them so compatible. It is as though they are made for each other. They are like soulless-mates. A positive feedback loop has thus emerged in modern society, one that involves technological progress and agnosticism mutually reinforcing each other. As people become more and more overwhelmed by the pace of society and its endless technological distractions, they have less and less time to think and thus increasingly fall ever more deeply into the black hole of agnosticism; in turn, the mental vacuum created by agnosticism needs to be filled somehow and so the agnostic naturally gravitates towards information overload and endless distraction, if for no other reason than to ward off boredom. And so it goes on. A continuous cycle that is strengthening and gathering pace, consuming everything in its path. And all the while the intangible path of philosophic reasoning, together with all of its treasures and glories, slips further and further out of sight.

In the past, the masses used to be in awe of the religious temples and cathedrals that stood in their midst. These grand buildings, full of colour and religious imagery, created the impression that religion was a matter of great significance. To the ignorant peasants living in nearby hovels, these buildings seemed as though they belonged in another plane of existence far removed from their daily lives. How could they possibly begin to question the authority of those who build these temples and inhabit them? In a similar way, the technological marvels of modern science – computers, TVs, smart phones, cars, aeroplanes, space shuttles, etc – are seducing the masses like never before. With agnosticism effectively turning people into intellectual peasants, the authority of science in their eyes has become absolute.

The effect this is all having on children as they grow up is devastating. Without knowing what is happening, children absorb by osmosis the agnostic vacuity which is in the air, and so by the time they reach adulthood they are no longer capable of believing in anything. And as their own minds become increasingly more vacuous, they become hopelessly addicted to electronic devices. Indeed, their addiction is so ingrained that they can no longer bear the thought of being alone with themselves. They can barely sit still for a couple of moments before having to desperately reach for their mobile phones in order to send an inane text or watch a moronic video on youtube. They do not live, they flit. From one thing to the next, they flit, never stopping long enough to derive any real pleasure or satisfaction, always on the look out for the next quick hit, always on the look out for something to poke fun at. Laughing at anything and everything is the only thing they know how to do. However, it is not a laughter which comes out of intelligent understanding, but out of a desperate desire to gain a sense of control over their lives. For their lives have long ago fractured into thousands of disparate elements. They have become utterly disconnected from the deeper parts of their minds. They have reached adulthood and now they are spiritually dead. This has been agnosticism’s gift to the world.

Just as all closed systems invariably degenerate towards a state of maximum entropy, the world is gradually becoming more bland and homogenous. The signs of this are everywhere. How long will it be before the various nations and cultures of today are replaced by a vast mono-culture in which everyone speaks the same language, holds the same values and engages in the same kinds of shallow activities? It will be maximum entropy right across the board – physically, in the form of science, technology and market-based economics; psychologically, in the form of mindless hedonism and feminization; and intellectually, in the form of agnosticism.

Nietzsche, with his usual prescience, was able to discern this trend way back in the 19th century and wrote about it in the prologue of his seminal work, Thus Spake Zarathustra:

It is time for man to fix his goal. It is time for man to plant the germ of his highest hope.

Still is his soil rich enough for it. But that soil will one day be poor and exhausted, and no lofty tree will any longer be able to grow thereon.

Alas! there comes the time when man will no longer launch the arrow of his longing beyond man — and the string of his bow will have unlearned to whizz!

I tell you: one must still have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you: ye have still chaos in you.

Alas! There comes the time when man will no longer give birth to any star. Alas! There comes the time of the most despicable man, who can no longer despise himself.

Lo! I show you THE LAST MAN.

“‚ÄúWhat is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?”‚ÄĚ — so asks the last man and blinks.

The earth has then become small, and on it there hops the last man who makes everything small. His species is ineradicable like that of the ground-flea; the last man lives longest.

“‚ÄúWe have discovered happiness‚ÄĚ” — say the last men, and blink thereby.

They have left the regions where it is hard to live; for they need warmth. One still loves one’s neighbour and rubs against him; for one needs warmth.

Turning ill and being distrustful, they consider sinful: they walk warily. He is a fool who still stumbles over stones or men!

A little poison now and then: that makes pleasant dreams. And much poison at last for a pleasant death.

One still works, for work is a pastime. But one is careful lest the pastime should hurt one.

One no longer becomes poor or rich; both are too burdensome. Who still wants to rule? Who still wants to obey? Both are too burdensome.

No shepherd, and one herd! Every one wants the same; every one is equal: he who has other sentiments goes voluntarily into the madhouse.

“‚ÄúFormerly all the world was insane”‚ÄĚ — say the subtlest of them, and blink thereby.

They are clever and know all that has happened: so there is no end to their raillery. People still fall out, but are soon reconciled — otherwise it spoils their stomachs.

They have their little pleasures for the day, and their little pleasures for the night, but they have a regard for health.

“‚ÄúWe have discovered happiness‚ÄĚ — say the last men, and blink thereby.

It has long been one of my goals in life to eliminate religion from the face of the earth. I cannot begin to tell you how much I despise religion, with its insane theologies and banal rituals, its timid reliance on rules and scriptures, its closed-mindedness, its herdliness, its violence. To submit to a religion is truly cowardly behaviour. But even so, I would much rather have the company of a religious person than I would an agnostic. For no matter how insane or fanatical the religious person might be, at least he still has a bit of life in him. He might be a buffoon, but at least he can be an amusing buffoon.

But with agnostics you get nothing. It is like staring into a void. Aimlessly flitting from one petty thought to the next, passively accepting whatever happens to be fashionable on the day, passively going along with whatever the majority think, filling one’s life with emotional relationships and hedonistic pleasures, having no interest in the absolute truth or philosophic wisdom, living in the moment, waiting to die Рcan anything be lower than this? In letting himself go like this, the agnostic has committed a very grave crime, perhaps the biggest crime that a man could possibly commit. He has degenerated into a woman.

***

The Dangers of Compassion

Categorized under Love

The yearning to be happy is quite possibly the most destructive force in the world.  The amount of suffering it causes, the amount of psychotic behaviour it generates, the number of lives it wrecks, is incalculable. As a destructive force it far outweighs Nature’s meagre attempts to whip up storms, floods, earthquakes and the like.  Millions of lives are being hurt, maimed or destroyed every single day in the name of happiness, yet you will never see a story on this in the news.  It is simply taboo in the modern era to expose the truth this deeply.

The yearning for happiness is also the biggest source of human ignorance. It is easy enough for the mind to deceive itself at the best of times, but once the yearning for fulfillment, security and pleasure is thrown into the mix it virtually becomes a fait accompli.  When a person manages to secure what he thinks is a reliable source of happiness, you can more or less kiss him goodbye.  He ceases to be human and becomes a kind of cunning fox, his mind perpetually on the alert for anything that might threaten his prize possession.  Always on the defensive, his eyes constantly darting around, he intuitively fills his mind with emotions, justifications, rationalizations, platitudes, snippets of scripture, popular opinions, women’s views Рanything that can muddy the waters and save him from having to look too closely into the truth of his own situation.

For example, I often encounter philosophically-inclined men who¬†go to great lengths to justify their marriage and being in love with their wife.¬† They are compelled to go to these lengths because, being philosophical types, they respect logic and therefore agree that it is important to give up attachments.¬† But when it comes to their wives, they suddenly whistle a different tune.¬† A common justification put forward, usually in sheepish tones, is that the wife in question is a very intelligent woman who also happens to be deeply spiritual.¬† But many of them are simply content to argue that their love for their wife is ‚Äúunconditional‚ÄĚ and therefore spiritual in nature.

But is their love really unconditional?¬† One can say to these men, ‚ÄúIf you were to come home from work one day to find that your wife had run away with another man, would your love for her be as blissful and affirmative as always?¬† Or if you found out that she was slowly poisoning you for the purpose of eventually killing you and inheriting your money, would you continue to adore her as much as ever?‚Ä̬† If the man is honest, he will answer that it would be highly doubtful.¬† For deep down he knows and I know that his love for his wife is very much conditional.¬†¬†It is sustained on the strict condition that she continues to love him back – that is to say, that she continues to boost his ego and give him pleasure.

Unconditional love is an entirely different matter.  It is a love which goes beyond the emotions and embraces all things without reservation.  It is an adoration which wholeheartedly affirms everything that happens in Nature, regardless of what it is.  Loving every person that one meets, no matter how they behave.  Loving all circumstances as they occur, no matter how gruesome or unpleasant.  Loving every aspect of every moment that one experiences, right down to the smallest detail.  If you are foolish enough to have a wife, then it means loving everything else in the Universe in the same way that you love your wife.  And should she run away with another man, or die an agonizing death, then that too is loved with as much fervour as ever.  Anything less than this and it ceases to be unconditional love.  It instead becomes just another instance of ordinary, run-of-the-mill, selfish love.  For unconditional love is nothing other than a love for God, a love for the All.

The difference between unconditional love and selfish love is immeasurable.  When a person loves unconditionally he expects and receives no rewards at all.  He gets absolutely nothing back in return.  He loves all things because he clearly sees they are manifestations of his true nature.  All things are literally his self, and thus it becomes impossible for him to isolate one particular thing in the Universe (e.g. a beautiful woman) and cherish it more than other things.  To him, the woman is no more special that the trees, mountains and clouds.  They are all part of the nature of God.   Selfish love, by contrast, expects and demands certain benefits, and if the husband does not receive them he becomes angry and begins to fight with his wife.

The compassionate love for the welfare of all humanity falls into the same category.  It is fundamentally indistinguishable from ordinary, selfish love.  Unconditionally speaking, it makes no difference whether the human race lives or dies, or whether humans are miserable or happy, or whether they are ignorant or wise.  None of this matters to God in the slightest.  And so the mind of the man who is fully immersed in unconditional love remains tranquil in all circumstances.  He has tuned into the All and therefore gone beyond all forms.  He sees the joy of God in utterly everything.  He knows there is nothing he can do to increase this joy, nor does he have any power to diminish it.

Just as a husband expects certain rewards for loving his wife, so too the compassionate person is motivated by the selfish desire to gain rewards.  There is always an underlying egotism to the practice of compassion.  Religious people, for example, like to be compassionate because it makes them feel more holy.  It makes them look good in the eyes of their God (or so it seems to their eyes) and they believe it accrues them brownie points towards the goal of reaching heaven.  What pleases them most is basking in the certainty of a rewarding future.

In non-religious people, there are other forms of egotism at play.  There is the desire to prevent feelings of guilt from arising, for example.  Most people subconsciously know that if they refrain from behaving compassionately in a particular situation before them they will come to perceive themselves as being mean-spirited and self-centred.  There is also the egotism involved in trying to make the world a better place Рthat is to say, in laying down the groundwork for the production of future benefits for everyone, including oneself.  And then there are some people, usually women, who desperately spend their lives serving others as a way to ward off loneliness and boredom.  Without such an outlet available to them, they would have no life at all.

People often invoke the Golden Rule when it comes to compassion: ‚ÄúDo unto others as you would have them do unto you‚ÄĚ.¬† Expressed in this way, compassion becomes an investment in the future.¬† Weak, vulnerable people, in particular, are quick to adopt this rule.¬†¬†They instinctively feel that if they treat others in a caring, non-judgmental way, then others in turn will probably treat them in the same manner.¬† It is a cunning method aimed at disabling the strength and violence of others and wiping away all potential conflict from the world – that is to say, to recreate the womb on earth.¬†¬† Nietzsche was pretty much on the mark when he described Christians as being haters of life.

Stronger, more successful people understandably tend to be not so enthusiastic about the Golden Rule.  Nonetheless, many of them donate to charities and become philanthropists, not because they expect charity in return, but to assuage their guilt.  Successful people usually gain their success by trampling over people in their eagerness to climb to the top, which can poison their conscience with the nagging thought that they really are despicable narcissists.  Indulging in philanthropy is their way of alleviating, not other people’s suffering, but their own.

Compassion, then, essentially boils down to being just another method to boost one’s ego.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t be helping others, and I am certainly not arguing for the preservation of the mean-spirited, petty-minded selfishness which consumes most people on this planet, but it is important to be completely honest about what motivates us in everything that we do.  All too often, compassion becomes little more than a drug that people take to make them feel better about themselves.  And when people are addicted to drugs they cannot think clearly and they end up causing far more harm than good.

While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.

Chinua Achebe

If compassion is limited to simply picking up the pieces in the aftermath of human greed and brutality (e.g. feeding the hungry, healing the injured, comforting the distressed, etc), if it refrains from dealing with the root causes of human suffering, then it does nothing to prevent the same sort of suffering from occurring again and again in the future.  Compassion, in this sense, is like trying to douse flames with petrol.  It might quieten the flames for a moment or two, but watch how they roar back into life with even greater ferocity than before!

The greatest form of compassion is the compassion that seeks to prevent suffering from arising in the first place, as opposed to simply trying to contain it after the horse has bolted.  If human beings could be encouraged to tune their minds into the All, abandoning the desire to seek their happiness in particular circumstances or particular forms, learning to get high on life itself without the need for particular things to emotionally and psychologically prop them up, using reason to free themselves from their mental prisons and becoming fully open to the truth, then 99% of human suffering would vanish overnight.  In other words, the greatest form of compassion is the practice of reason and the perfecting of one’s understanding of reality, all the while encouraging others to do likewise.

Most people, however, are repulsed by the very thought of this, for it means having to make radical changes to what passes these days for ordinary, everyday life, and very few have the stomach or desire to do that.

For example, love is easily the biggest cause of human suffering worldwide.  Anyone can see this.  You don’t have to be a genius to see it.  It is obvious that the consequences of love are truly terrible, yet people everywhere are more than happy to turn a blind eye.  What is the love between a man and a woman but the fertile soil out of which springs heartbreak, jealousy, domestic violence, child abuse, bitterness, revenge, murder, loneliness, low self-esteem and alcoholism?  It is a dreadful condition which, although it might generate the occasional moment of bliss, produces endless amounts of misery all over the world.

Yet who among the compassionate are truly serious about abandoning love?   Not a single one of them, I wager.  This fact alone reveals that their proclaimed desire to eliminate suffering is insincere.

What would be your reaction if you observed a person deliberately setting fire to an occupied house and clapping his hands with joy at the sight of the flames growing larger and ever more fierce, only to start empathizing with the victims as they stagger out of the burning house and actively going over to help them?  You would probably consider him to be an utterly deranged nutter who should be locked away for a very long time for the good of public safety.  And yet that is exactly how the compassionate appear to me.

Compassion and misery are two sides of the same coin.  Just as the joys of harmonic resolution in music depend on the prior existence of dissonant tension, so too the enjoyment of compassion depends on the existence of ignorance, greed, pettiness and violence.  Without human insanity to constantly botch things up, there would be no need for compassion, and the delicious joy that people derive from compassionate acts would be denied them.

And yes, the pleasures of love and compassion can be very exquisite indeed.  It can bring a tear to the eye to watch people who were once apart coming together Рthe prodigal son coming home, a Muslim and a Christian embracing each other, a black man and a white man becoming friends, the public appreciation of a woman’s skills in a misogynistic society.  These dissolving of barriers speak to our own alienation and conflict with the world.  It brings to the surface our own yearning to be accepted by others, which is the true source of our tears.  The joy found in compassion ultimately derives from own ignorance of the nature of reality, from the deluded belief in our own self-existence.

One of the greatest dangers of compassion is the effect it can have of turning people’s minds against reality.  It is a truism that nothing brings two parties closer together more effectively than the presence of a shared enemy.  We can see that in the way a nation pulls together during a time of war, or when a community comes together in the aftermath of a natural disaster.  In a similar way, the easiest and most efficient way to bring all of humanity together is to make an enemy out of life itself.  Everyone can thus huddle together in the face of a threatening larger reality.  In this way compassion becomes a form of evil, causing people to turn their backs on God.

When the average person is asked to provide an example of a compassionate person, they invariably point the finger at Mother Teresa.  Just as Einstein has become the poster boy of genius, Mother Teresa has nowadays become the poster girl of compassion.  And I admit that in some respects the extreme nature of her lifestyle was admirable.  Most people put firm limits on their desire to help others.  They quickly put the brakes on their compassion as soon as it begins to interfere with their personal lives.  But Mother Teresa went out on a limb and turned her entire personal life into an exercise in helping others.

Yet, as with other compassionate people, her motivation for helping others was entirely egotistical in nature.  According to the official story, Mother Teresa started off on her life-long path while she was teaching at a convent school in Calcutta, where she became increasingly disturbed by the poverty surrounding her.  The sight of all that poverty was making her suffer inwardly, and so at bottom her desire to help others was really a desire to ease the pain inside herself.  It was her maternal impulses coming into play, akin to rushing over to comfort a crying child.  Although she devoted herself to easing the physical and emotional sufferings of the poverty-stricken in an immediate sense, she never tried to resolve her own suffering through wisdom, nor did she strive to eliminate the root causes of suffering in others.  Quite the reverse, in fact, she actively promoted suffering through her desire to get people addicted to religious fantasy, which is like getting people addicted to heroin.

Contrast this to someone like Soren Kierkegaard, who made it his life to suffer for the truth.  Although Kierkegaard rarely helped the poor his compassion was immense, completely dwarfing that of Mother Teresa in all respects.  The way in which he stared into the truth without flinching and the humility with which he took it upon himself to accept the role of being the conscience of humanity, even though it came at great personal cost, is awe-inspiring.  Kierkegaard’s work will continue to live on through the ages, terrorizing the dishonest and the deceitful, while inspiring others to form a genuine relationship with truth and open their minds to God.  Mother Teresa, on the other hand, will increasingly become a dim memory and her influence, such as it is, will vanish.

Here lies the difference between the genuine compassion of the wise and the ordinary compassion of the egotist.¬† The former seeks to increase suffering in the world (as a spur towards higher things), while the latter tries to eliminate it.¬† Ordinary compassion is entirely worldly in nature and its core aim is to bring people happiness and peace – or spiritually speaking, to put people back to sleep.¬†¬†It is the opposite of true compassion in every respect.¬† ‚ÄúDo not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword‚ÄĚ, said the compassionate Jesus.

It is no coincidence that the modern worship of love and compassion has arisen at the same time that society has granted more social and political powers to women.  It is a reflection of the growing feminization of Western society over the past century.  In the past the highest virtues were considered to be things like honour, courage, rationality, knowledge, and idealism; nowadays, it is all confined to what is motherly.  Indeed, the archetypal compassionate person nowadays bears a close resemblance to the archetypal mother figure Рthat is, someone who is soft, comforting, nurturing, accepting and non-judgmental.

There is nothing about Mother Teresa that reflects the Infinite. She inspires no one to abandon their delusions and become perfectly wise.  While the extreme nature of her lifestyle did harbour some possibilities, it was undermined by her maternal manner and her conventional Christian outlook, and so her life failed to express the rarest and most glorious of all things Рnamely, the madness of the divine.  Unlike her mentor, Jesus, who himself rarely helped the poor and instead spent his life suffering for the truth, she eliminated the dangerous elements from her life and retreated to the safe confines of the mother figure.  In effect, she was little more than a super-mum, with all of the limitations that entails.

This is why I am utterly dismayed that Mother Teresa and her like are nowadays regarded by most people to embody the highest of human virtues. The whole thrust of such worship serves to place worldliness front and centre in people’s minds, while the spiritual wisdom of a Kierkegaard or a Jesus is being marginalized and pushed out of sight.  It distracts people’s attention away from what is truly important and thus becomes a powerful force for evil.

***

Believing in the World

Categorized under Personal/Daily Life

A new dawn. Looking around with fresh eyes. Catching sight of a box wrapped in colorful paper. Rushing over to it, clapping with joy. Eagerly ripping the paper off and peering inside Рand nothing is there.

Disappointment.

Another box is spied with even more beautiful wrapping paper. Elbowing others out of the way in the stampede to reach it.  Tearing away the paper in anticipation and hungrily peering inside Рand nothing is there.

Confusion. Boredom. Filling in the time with self-loathing.

Another box comes into view, a larger box, covered in glorious gold paper with crimson ribbons tied in a magnificent bow. Trampling over everyone else, punching them, knifing them, stepping over their corpses, eyes fully focused on the prize. Finally reaching the box and¬†carefully unwrapping the¬†gold paper, heart pumping, breathing faint, hands trembling.¬†A moment’s pause and then peering inside with a gulp – and nothing is there.

Cynicism. Falling into drink. Wanting to die.

A flicker of hope as another box, a little box wrapped in plain paper, is glimpsed. Wearily stumbling over at a slow pace. No one around. Clawing at the paper half-heartedly. Peering inside with little expectation Рand nothing is there.

***

Spirituality and Income

Categorized under Personal/Daily Life

In previous blogs on this site I have been emphasizing the importance of bringing the whole of one’s personal life into the logical spotlight.  And I have been critical of the way people in general, and academics and scientists in particular, limit their rationality to what is technical, abstract and impersonal, thereby keeping it well away from their deepest emotional attachments.  So it is only fair that I turn the logical spotlight around and direct it towards my own life.  In particular, I will use this blog to examine the way I earn my livelihood.

The question of how to generate an income is a challenge for anyone who seeks to lead a truthful life and become perfectly wise.  How does one gain a livelihood from a society that is steeped in falsehood, dishonesty and lies, while remaining faithful to the truth?  Is it possible to remain uncompromising in one’s thought and behaviour and yet flourish in the modern world?

There are two specific issues involved.  The first issue is time.  The spiritual person needs a lot of free time so that he can learn to think properly, develop his meditational skills, apply his reasonings in a sustained manner and open his mind to the Infinite.   The second issue is values.  Can a spiritual person give his blessing to a system that actively promotes ignorance, false values, irrational beliefs, bigotry, confusion, pettiness, deception, exploitation of the weak, emotional orgies and violence?  Can he be party to a system which instinctively smothers wisdom and truth at every available opportunity?  These two issues ultimately merge into a single fundamental question: What is the best way for a thinking individual to live the highest life and contribute strongly to the future of the human race?

The solution I have come up with is not the only solution available, and I am not necessarily advocating that people should replicate what I have done.  Every person’s circumstances are different.  But it is very important that you think through the manner in which you lead your life and earn your income.  Indeed, everyone should be doing this, regardless of whether they have spiritual aspirations or not.  Just because someone pays you a wage, or gives you money for your goods or services, and you are surrounded by a loving family, it does not automatically mean that you are doing the right thing and leading a decent life.  After all, even drug dealers and weapons smugglers can claim that.

In the first half of this blog I will outline some background information about my life and the choices I have made, while in the second half I will explain the reasons behind these choices.¬† My main motivation for writing about this subject is to give this site some ballast, to give¬†readers a sense of my personality and a glimpse into my roots.¬† One of the problems with the internet is its encouragement of anonymity.¬† Although the internet is a wonderful tool that allows us to communicate with others from all over the world, the fact that most people hide behind pseudonyms only serves to make discussion less interesting and less substantial.¬† The popular term ‚Äúkeyboard warriors‚ÄĚ is very apt in describing those whose fearlessness in the cyberworld derives purely from being an untraceable nobody behind a computer.¬† Although there might be plenty of earnestness and fire in the things they write, there is no blood in their words, no personal sacrifice, no risk, and thus no depth.¬† Indeed, most discussions (or arguments) on the internet have little to do with truth.¬† They are more about people taking out their frustrations and bludgeoning people to death.¬† It all amounts to a lot of sound and fury about nothing.

Many who read this particular blog are likely to be disgusted over the way I live my life and will instantly dismiss everything I have to say on any subject at all.  Others will be somewhat contemptuous, but nonetheless they will continue to respect the quality of my thought, although their estimation of me will probably be lowered. And then there will be some who won’t have any problems with it at all Рin fact, they will probably find the whole thing highly amusing and have even more regard for me.  I have experienced all of these varying reactions in my everyday life, and continue to do so.  So I am well used to it.

Anyway, to business.  A little bit about my life:

I am 48 now and I have not been employed in any official capacity since I was 22.¬† The only time I had a full-time job was back in 1982, the year after I left school, when I worked as a chainman for twelve months.¬† I then studied surveying for several years at the University of Queensland, during which I was supported by my parents and had several part-time jobs.¬† By the time 1987 rolled around I had completed my course and was living in the countryside as a drop-out, my only income at this stage being unemployment benefits (or ‚ÄúNewstart Allowance‚ÄĚ as it is known) and occasional help from my father.¬† It was during this period that I began to take a serious interest in philosophy, mysticism and spirituality.¬† I remember saying to people at the time that I wanted to be a spiritual man ‚Äújust like Jesus or the Buddha‚ÄĚ.¬† And ever since then I have been relying on social security payments for my livelihood.

Australia is a wealthy country and enjoys a fairly generous welfare system that was established at the end of World War II.  But nonetheless, there are strict guidelines in place that have to be met before one can receive a welfare payment. In order to receive a Newstart Allowance, for example, one has to provide evidence on a fortnightly basis that one is genuinely looking for work.  As I had no real interest in finding work, I initially started my career as a welfare recipient doing what a lot of other young drop-outs did at the time Рnamely, pretend to look for work and provide false information on the fortnightly forms.  Occasionally, I did apply for jobs so that I could receive rejection letters which could be offered as proof that I was looking for work, always making sure during the process that they were jobs I had no chance of getting.  For example, I remember once applying for a carer’s job at a women’s refuge, to which they politely replied that after some consideration my application was unsuccessful (they were careful not to mention that it was because I was male!).

This went on for several years.  Each fortnight I continued to compile a fake list of employers that I supposedly contacted and each fortnight I continued to put down false information on my Newstart forms.  I was not overly concerned about this deceptive practice during this time Рindeed, I hardly gave the matter a thought, as my days and nights were thoroughly consumed with the process of developing my thinking and meditating abilities.  But eventually my conscience caught up with me.  I could no longer ignore the clash between my desire to worship truth in all aspects of my life and the dishonest manner of my livelihood. And so one day, in early 1993, I made the decision to stop providing false information on my fortnightly forms and began telling the Department of Social Security (DSS) of my true intentions Рnamely, that I had no desire to work in any capacity as I needed to devote all my time to wisdom and the understanding of ultimate reality.  In other words, I informed the department who I was, what my values were, what I wanted to do with my life, and then left it up to them to decide what to do with me.

I had no idea what would happen, as I did not know of anyone who had gone down this path.  There was no precedent as far as I knew.  There was every possibility that I could have ended up on the streets with no income at all.  But I was young and did not care.  I was fully prepared to live on the streets, if it ever came to that (and still am, if it ever comes to that, for it is still an ever-present danger).  I reasoned that I would get by somehow, that starving to death would be an unlikely occurrance in a first-world country such as ours, and that even though it would be rough I would still have plenty of free time to do my real work.

In any case, my values and intentions were dutifully conveyed to the DSS and wheels were set in motion.  I was examined by social workers, referred to occupational psychologists, told to undergo various tests, sent to see government psychiatrists, and so on.  Eventually it was decided that I should apply for the Disability Support Pension (DSP), which is a welfare payment made to those deemed to be unemployable, either because of long-term physical injury or mental illness.  This pleased me because it meant that I would be able to receive an income without having to engage in any form of lying and I would have all the time I needed to pursue my philosophic work.

The actual process of applying for the DSP proved to be a challenge, however, for I had no recognised medical condition to speak of, never saw a treating doctor (other than a general practitioner for minor ailments), and never took medications of any kind.  Even filling out the application form was difficult as most of the questions focused on medical matters, leaving me with no choice but to leave most of it blank.  Realizing that I could not simply hand in a blank application, but not knowing what else to do, I eventually made contact with a social worker within the DSS who helped me write something that was somewhat passable.

At root, my condition was philosophical, rather than medical.¬† I was applying for the DSP on the basis that I had a strong philosophic nature and valued wisdom ‚Äúexcessively‚ÄĚ.¬†¬† Even though my livelihood was on the line, I found the whole situation very amusing and I had a lot of fun dealing with the system in this manner.¬† And I quickly realized that I had an opportunity with this application to make a statement about the nature of our society.¬† I thought to myself that if I presented myself as truthfully as possible, telling everyone concerned that I refused to seek employment because I wanted to exclusively focus on spiritual matters, never exaggerating any quirks or eccentricities I might have, focusing all attention upon the fact that I was healthy and fully-functional and yet choosing to take my spiritual conscience seriously, then I¬†would be¬†forcing the government, and by extension the whole of society, to reveal their attitude towards spirituality and wisdom.¬† In other words, it became my ambition to gain this pension solely on the basis that I valued wisdom.¬† I wanted to prove to myself, and to others, that society does indeed regard the valuing of wisdom as a form of mental illness.

Some years later I gained a copy of my social security files under the Freedom of Information Act and so I can provide the reader with a glimpse of what went on during that time.  It does make for interesting reading.  For example, here is the report written by the social worker mentioned above: part one, part two, and translation.  And here is another report written by a couple of psychologists who also examined me during this period: part one, part two, part three, and part four.

It took around 18 months before my case was resolved and I was granted the DSP on the basis of having a Schizoid Personality Disorder, which suited me fine.¬† Such a label does fit me to some degree, in that I am solitary in nature, relatively emotionless, and apathetic towards society‚Äôs goals and values.¬† There is little doubt that my personality is fundamentally different from the norm.¬† It is all a matter of perspective, of course.¬† From my point of view, the human race is utterly mad and I am one of the few sane individuals around, so I can easily see how most people would view the matter in reverse.¬† I sometimes say to people, ‚ÄúIf you don‚Äôt have a personality disorder, then there is clearly something wrong with you.‚ÄĚ

That was in 1994, and now it is 2012 and I am still on this pension, which means for all that time I have been receiving an income from the government – that is to say, from the Australian taxpayers – and have contributed nothing of any economic value in return.¬† The only things of worth that I produce are my philosophic writings on the internet and my philosophic interactions with people in daily life, all of which I do for free.¬† In many people‚Äôs eyes, I am a bludger, a parasite who leeches off the hard work of my fellow Australians. Their sense of ‚Äúfairness‚ÄĚ flares up whenever they think about someone like me.¬† They feel that I am letting the side down, as it were.¬† This is a perfectly understandable view on their part, so it is only natural to ask the question: How do I actually justify what I do?

It all turns on how valuable my philosophic output is.  If it is of authentic value, if it helps people to become more rational and more profound, perhaps even stimulating them into realizing the nature of reality, then I am making a genuine contribution to society and earning my keep.  There are many different ways to contribute to society.  It is not all about digging things out of the ground and producing tangible goods.  There would be no richness to our culture if that was the case.  There would no sophisticated forms of art, music, mathematics, philosophic thought, humour, and research; and there would be little in the way of health services, such as psychological therapy and counselling.  The contribution I make to society falls somewhere within the realm of all these things.

On the other hand, it could be argued with some validity that the nature and scope of my work is not for everybody.  It is true that many people cannot make any sense of my vocation.  It completely goes over their heads.  But even so, they are still benefiting in an indirect sense.  There might be only a few people in the entire world at the moment who can appreciate and benefit from the sort of work I do, but in time this could change.  If more and more people strive to become rational and wise, all the while influencing yet more others in the process, then this will have a rippling effect into the rest of society.  Just as Western civilization has become more open-minded and mature over the centuries due to the influence of scientists, even though the specifics of their work are baffling to most people, so too rational philosophers can create intangible, yet meaningful, benefits that stretch far beyond their own individual lives.

I firmly believe that my work is of tremendous relevance to all human beings, whether they realize it or not, and thoroughly deserving of the small pittance I receive for it.  There are a lot of people, such as politicians, public servants, administrators and academics, who also derive their income from the taxpayers.  Can they also claim that their work is of great significance to humanity?  Many professors enjoy enormous salaries that completely dwarf my income for work that has a fraction of the value of my own.  Should they be called upon to justify their parasitic ways?

Some argue that I should put my work in the market place and try to sell it.  This sounds fine in theory, but it is unworkable in this case.  We live in a world where people have minimal interest in the great truth of existence, and they certainly do not want to read material that directly challenges the falseness of their lives.  That is very, very unmarketable.  People generally prefer to read nice, fluffy pieces that affirms their values, not attacks them.  The Buddha himself could materialize in front of these people and speak the greatest truths in the most compelling and direct manner, and still they would find a way to block it all out.  You cannot even give this stuff away.  I have spent my life offering my work up for free and still barely anyone is interested.  The chances of my being able to sustain a livelihood without compromising my work are approximately zero.

Of course, if I had a mind to, I could play the game.  I could find a robe of some kind, for example, give myself a fancy title, plaster a permanent smile on my face and speak glowingly about the importance of love and compassion, and I would probably be able to gather a sizeable following and derive a livelihood in that way.  But that would be selling my soul to the devil.  If you ever see a guru or a spiritual teacher with more than a couple of followers, you can be sure that he has compromised his teachings and leads a duplicitous life.  His words might contain some truth on the surface, but underneath it all he resorts to the lowest common denominator and happily gives his followers what they want by affirming their deluded values and feeding their egotistical fantasies.  This is one of the reasons why I consider myself fortunate to be on a pension.  I don’t have to kowtow to an audience for the sake of gaining their approval. I can speak my mind freely.

It is often said to me that if everyone followed my path and went on the dole in order to think, the economy would collapse and no one would benefit. While this is undeniable, who really thinks this is likely to happen?  And even if it did happen, even if everyone was suddenly seized by the spirit of reason and began to take truth seriously, they would not be foolish enough to allow things to fall apart.  Becoming more conscious and rational does not mean becoming more stupid.  In a rational society, we would all be doing our bit to help with the practical running of the economy.  And I too would be doing my bit.

Many working Australians complain loudly about the ‚Äúdole bludgers‚ÄĚ who live the high life at the taxpayers‚Äô expense, but the truth is very few people at the moment can¬†bear such a lifestyle.¬† Most people need structure and purpose in their lives and instinctively look outwards to society to provide these things for them.¬† I have personally known quite a few people, intelligent types with an interest in philosophical matters, who have attempted to live for an extended time on the dole and it was not long before they were crawling up the walls in boredom and frustration.¬† To them, it felt like a living death.¬† You really need to have a strong inner purpose and a mind that can create its own¬†entertainment to find life on the dole fulfilling. When you are on the dole you have no money to do anything, you are on the lowest rung on the social ladder, men treat you with ridicule and contempt, women look past you as though you were invisible, and you have endless amounts of time to brood.¬† For most people, this is the very definition of hell.

The question of having free time into order to properly settle the mind and think clearly is not the only issue at hand.¬† There is also the question of values.¬† Given the way society currently is, it is impossible to imagine anyone lasting a week in an employment situation while remaining faithful to the truth.¬† Can you imagine asking the boss for three days off because you wanted to explore a fantastic new insight into reality that occurred to you overnight?¬†¬† Or the boss’s reaction if you refused to perform a particular instruction because you considered it to be dishonest and exploitative?¬† You would be out on your ear in no time.¬† Employers demand loyalty – to them.¬† They could not care less about your mental and spiritual development.

It would be a strange thing indeed if you observed a person who is committed to the principle of human equality working for the Ku Klux Klan.  The clash of values alone would be striking.  From my perspective as a spiritual man, nearly everything that happens in society, both within the work-place environment and beyond, is equivalent to the inner workings of the Ku Klux Klan.  The same kind of insanity and violence is in play, although expressed in a multitude of different ways.  How could I, a lover of truth, possibly involve myself in these places in an official capacity and actively promote their values?  It is unthinkable.

Some people have told me that if I feel so strongly about these matters, then I should completely divorce myself from society and live on a plot of land somewhere, growing my own vegetables and living a self-sufficient lifestyle.  However, divorcing oneself from society is not the answer.  It is a sign that one has given up on the human race, which I have not.   I want to help people.  I believe in the capacity of the human brain and its potential.  We can see in the technology around us what a marvel the human mind is.   It just needs help in being liberated from its limited frameworks.  People sometimes need a spark, a stimulating interaction, to help free their minds from their habitual ways of looking at the world, enabling them to see that what they normally consider to be important is really not so important.  Being on the pension allows me to provide some of these sparks, while remaining true to myself.

It is not a perfect solution, by any means.  It undermines my credibility as a citizen of the world and a member of the human race, but is balanced out by the way it allows my thought to become as pure, deep and intelligent as possible.  I will leave it to others to judge whether this strange child-like combination has any value.  I personally believe that my voice is unique and worth hearing, even though it does rely on economic support from the community.

Perhaps a better solution for someone like myself would be to have a wealthy patron who believed in what I did and supported me financially, a bit like how artists used to be supported in centuries gone by.¬† That would probably make my lifestyle seem more valid, in many people’s eyes at least.¬†¬†But even here there would be problems, as one would have to take into account how the patron makes his money and what his own ethical practices are.¬† At this stage of our evolution as a species, no solution will ever be perfect.¬† The only perfect solution would be that if our entire society became sane, wherein everyone was rational and honest with each other, wherein truth and wisdom were valued above all else, and everyone was constructively helping with the practical aspects of managing the economy in an intelligent, non-selfish manner. But I cannot see that happening any time soon.

***

The Race That Chooses Confusion

Categorized under Logic

Western society is often said to be overly-rational, a claim usually made by women, New Age folk and little children.  Western society, they claim, is too logical, too sterile, too left-brained, too methodical, too organized, too bureaucratic, and too joyless.  It lacks the dionysian spirit of spontaneous celebration, fluidity, intuitive insight and unbridled emotional expression, as well as the mystical vision of universal interconnectedness.  Surprisingly, some even claim that it is too masculine, lacking the feminine energy of the East, or of indigenous cultures.

And yet when I was growing up in Australia I was never encouraged by any of my peers, teachers or elders to lead a fully rational existence.  No one ever advised me that I should apply logic to all aspects of my life in an effort to be perfectly truthful.  I was never given any insight into how powerful logic can be in overturning my personal illusions, nor was I made aware of its unlimited potential to uncover the deepest truths of life.  The subject of logic, if indeed it was raised at all, was nearly always relegated to the academic backwaters of science and mathematics (where it was safely confined).  Other than that, no one ever talked about it.

To be sure, Western society is well-organized, methodical, sterile and joyless, which is both its strength and its weakness. It is an efficient system, but leaves little room for spontaneity. Everything seemingly has to be planned to the nth degree.  To conclude, however, that this is the result of being too rational is incredibly misguided.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

The real culprit is our egotistical desire to be comfortable and in control.  Instead of striving to become truly rational and freeing ourselves from all delusion and fear, we Westerners are brainwashed into developing a bureaucratic mindset, which reduces life to a never-ending chore of working, planning, and saving.  Indeed, we are so encouraged to spend our time organizing our lives and planning for the future that we forget how to live.  And so whatever rationality we do possess is employed in a very limited way.

Is it any wonder why alcohol is so popular?  And why there is so little desire from the authorities to have it banned, despite it being a dangerous drug that causes all sorts of misery and carnage?  Getting drunk is one of the few opportunities Westerners have of cutting loose and experiencing a bit of mayhem.  It makes their joyless, sterile lives more bearable.  It helps prop up Western civilization.  If alcohol (and other similar escape valves) did not exist, then surely no one could possibly accept things the way they are.  There would be a revolution in no time.

Because this egotistical desire for comfort and control is so pervasive in society, and because logical reasoning is almost exclusively employed towards this end, people‚Äôs conceptions of rationality have become falsely associated with the desire for order.¬† When people think of a ‚Äúrational person‚ÄĚ, they think of an anally-retentive creature who obsessively builds systems of thought, who minutely categorizes everything, who has emotional problems, who avoids chaos and unpredictability at all costs.¬† In thinking this, they are extrapolating from their own limited conceptions of rationality.¬† Due to their habit of automatically associating rationality with order, they automatically imagine that the desire to become more rational is simply the desire for even more order.

Yet reason is just a tool and can be used in many different ways.  Just as a spanner can take apart scaffolding as easily as it can put it together again, so too reason can take apart illusions and systems of thought as easily as it can build them.  In the hands of someone who really wants to rid his mind of delusion and tune into his infinite nature, reason can become a very powerful tool indeed.  It can clear away all conceptual prisons, letting the cool, fresh winds of Truth to sweep into the mind.

But sadly, human beings tend to lack this kind of desire and courage.  They are only willing to use logic to the degree that they feel in control of the process and can put a halt to its workings at any time.  They like to seal their rational activities into watertight compartments within the mind, thereby ensuring that their personal lives are never placed under the logical spotlight. Science and academia are institutionalized examples of this.

We can think of each person’s life as an enclosed bubble.  Inside the bubble, the person lives out his daily life and applies his reasoning powers to the degree that it will maximize his enjoyment of things.  But surrounding this bubble are layers of unquestioned assumptions, articles of faith, mental blocks, contradictions, ambiguity, confusion, emotionalism, and vagueness.  These layers form a kind of protective shield against reality, which allows the person inside the bubble to live as he pleases without being burdened with a spiritual conscience.

Life becomes a juggling act in which the need to experience pleasure and security (and remain safely embedded within the bubble) is balanced against the need for rationality and knowledge.  On the one hand, most people know that a certain degree of logical reasoning is necessary for the practical aspects of life.  They know that there could be no buildings or traffic lights or computers without it.  They are aware of its benefits in areas such as science, mathematics, business and law.  Even the process of buying a loaf of bread or putting out the garbage requires a certain amount of logic.  Without logic life would be impossible.

And yet most people distrust it immensely.  They can sense its impersonal nature, its absence of bias, its lack of favouritism, its lack of interest in human values.  Let loose, logic is like a devouring alien creature that does not care what people believe or think.  Let loose, it can destroy entire world-views in the blink of a syllogistic eye, and deep down most people know it.  And so the human race tethers logic, keeps it on a leash, confines it, imprisons it, weakens it, cheats on it, ridicules it.  We can observe this dynamic in the way science Рwhich is itself a limited form of rationality, albeit an effective one Рis both embraced and feared by the general public.

Genius is the courage to reason fearlessly in all directions, both inwardly and outwardly.  The genius fully integrates what he knows to be true with his personal life.  He doesn’t compartmentalise.  He doesn’t seal his reasoning off into tight mental containers.  He treats knowledge and truth seriously.  He factors the whole of his life into the equation of truth, and in so doing he makes truth come alive and enjoys insights and understandings that no one else knows about.  His life becomes a constant stream of surprise and joy.

It is fascinating to observe how anti-intellectual everyone suddenly becomes whenever their deep personal attachments are in the spotlight.  If a person wants to buy a used car, he does not simply go to the nearest dealer and hand over his money for the first car he sees.  On the contrary, he takes his time, he shops around, he investigates, he applies his reasoning.  He understandably wants to get the best deal he can and does not want to be ripped off.  But when it comes to the question of ultimate truth and the future of his soul, everything changes.  The careful methodology miraculously vanishes.  Reason and investigation are tossed out the window.  He is happy to accept the first belief-system that pleases him.  In short, he is just another human being.  He puts far more thought and consideration into buying a used car than he does for the welfare of his own soul.

Scientists are no different.¬† Although they are generally regarded to be the torchbearers of reason in this day and age, even they habitually short-circuit their lines of reasoning in order to safeguard their personal attachments. ¬†A neuroscientist, for example, might be fully aware during office hours that the self is an abstract fiction, that it is a momentary construction generated by neurons firing in the brain, essentially having no more substance than, say, the concept of ‚ÄúWednesday”, yet as soon as he steps outside his office door, it all changes. ¬†Everything becomes focused on the enhancement of his own ‚Äúself‚ÄĚ (or just for fun, let‚Äôs call it ‚ÄúWednesday”). ¬†He goes home to his wife and children in the hope of finding an emotional boost for ‚ÄúWednesday”, he sits after dinner reflecting on how ‚ÄúWednesday‚ÄĚ can best make its mark in the world, perhaps dreaming that ‚ÄúWednesday‚ÄĚ could one day win the Nobel Prize, perhaps resenting that his colleagues, ‚ÄúTuesday‚ÄĚ and ‚ÄúMarch‚ÄĚ, are becoming too successful – in short, the moment a scientist steps outside his office door, he leaves his rational knowledge behind and proceeds to go insane.

The neo-Darwinist and self-proclaimed atheist, Richard Dawkins, is another example.  Having worked extensively in evolutionary theory, Dawkins must surely be aware of the causal nature of all organic beings, and by extension the causal nature of all things.  He is surely aware that we are mere machines composed of components and processes, yet how far does he extend this knowledge into his personal life?  Does he allow himself to become fully aware of the ramifications of our machine-like nature Рwhich, when taken all the way, results in the priceless understanding of the Infinite?  Or is he like everyone else, keeping himself inside his own bubble, never really straying from convention, always remaining a family man, always confining his rationality to professional biology and the philosophy of scientific materialism, never allowing it to seek something greater?  Given the exceedingly poor job he does of promoting atheism in the community, I already know the answer to that one.

As far as spiritual reasoning is concerned Рi.e. treating logic seriously, eliminating all mental delusion and reasoning one’s way into reality Рthere is a global silence.  No one ever talks about it.  No one ever thinks about it.  It is the ultimate taboo subject.  If people were a little more conscious, one could almost think there was a world-wide conspiracy going on.  But alas, no, it is all played out unconsciously.  Just as when a person is caught performing an illegal or depraved act and his first instinct is to bluff his way out of the situation (for his social standing is at stake), so too the average human brain instinctively cuts short lines of reasoning and whips up its favourite fantasies long before any of it ever reaches consciousness.

We can blame academics for this pitiful state of affairs.  They have managed, throughout the centuries, to thoroughly mangle the art of reasoning and in the process destroy the status and reputation of reason in the community.  What is academia nowadays but a refuge for people with high IQs, minimal courage and overactive imaginations?  It is a government-funded safe haven, a kind of child-minding facility, designed to keep their brains occupied while ensuring nothing of importance is ever discovered.  A glorified realm of crossword puzzles, if you will. And it is precisely because academia avoids everything personal that its reasonings and systems of thought have become so convoluted as to be unintelligible.

The history of Western philosophy, in particular, is littered with ugly, misshapen thought-structures which stand as beacons to the human avoidance of reality.  It was once the most kingly of intellectual activities; nowadays it is a laughing stock all over the world.  The professors have systematically butchered it.  Even ordinary people can see it.

While academics continue to devour the corpse, popular culture is content to pick apart the remnants. ¬†Reason and logic are constantly belittled in the mainstream media. ¬†Rational characters in films are invariably depicted as psychopathic individuals who have serious character deficiencies, who are bereft of something “human”.¬† Even poor old Spock from Star Trek is painted as a fraud whose rationality is a facade propped up by the violent suppression of his emotions. ¬†‚ÄúCould it be that rational thought destroys the soul?‚ÄĚ, muses Russell Crowe in The Next Three Days. ¬†I think Oprah and the Dalai Lama¬†might agree.

But human cunning knows no bounds and there are thousands of other ways to fight off the disease of rationality. ¬†The use of ‚Äúparadox‚ÄĚ is a popular favourite these days, particularly of college kids and intellectuals. ¬†The blithe assertion that life is ultimately a paradox conveniently nips all reasoning in the bud before it can build up a head of steam. ¬†Who would bother reasoning in earnest when the end result (i.e. confusion) is already known?¬†¬†But such a stance¬†is not all doom and gloom, I guess.¬† At least it brings people together and unites the atheists and the religious under a common cause. ¬†For in the end they both have the same goal in mind.¬† The religious might call upon ‚Äúmystery” instead of ‚Äúparadox‚ÄĚ, but the intent is still the same. ¬†Indeed, calling upon paradox allows the atheist to remain religious without having to be blatantly irrational and subscribe to a belief in God.

Atheists often sneer at Christians for being irrational, which is a bit like watching politicians sneer at the opposition for being dishonest and manipulative.  They are obviously not aware of the extent of their own irrationality.  The only real difference between atheists and Christians is that they each cut off their reasoning at different points.  They both still live inside their respective bubbles.  They both still block out reality.  They are both equally insane in their own ways.

Paradox is¬†nothing more than¬†a myth perpetuated by irrational people. ¬†Whenever a person uncovers a ‚Äúparadox‚ÄĚ, what he is really uncovering is his own contradictory thinking, conflicting values and limited vision.¬† Instead of taking responsibility for the confusion in his own mind, he passes the buck onto Nature itself. ¬†It is Nature which is at fault, not he. ¬†And with that filed away, the mind can now rest in peace.

In the end, people just want to be happy at all times and it doesn’t really matter to them who or what provides it.  Given a choice between remaining in a state of confusion (wherein the dynamics and contrasts can continue to feed their emotions) or ascending into the crystal-clear consciousness of enlightenment which is too pure for emotion to find any foothold, almost everyone will choose the former.  Indeed, they subconsciously make this choice in every moment of their lives.  It is precisely why the human race is still so deluded.

***

Mastering Perspective

Categorized under Genius, Wisdom

If genius is the art of being fully conscious of reality in the midst of daily life, then an essential step towards perfecting this art is learning how to master perspective.

Most people are the opposite. They are slaves to perspective. They allow themselves to become trapped within a limited range of perspectives, which closes their minds to everything else. Setting up home in these perspectives, they feel compelled to defend them vigorously, even violently. What makes their situation so comical is that the perspectives they cherish are not even theirs to begin with. They did not arrive at them independently through a conscious process of logic that has been thoroughly grounded in ultimate reality. They simply accepted them second-hand from others – from their peers, from their culture, from their tradition.

A person might be born in the deep south of America and thus grow up to be a fervent, bible-bashing Christian, yet if he were born in Pakistan he would be directing the same fervour towards Islam. He did not choose to be born in a region of Christian fundamentalism, anymore than a Pakistani chooses to be born in an Islamic state. Yet they both vigorously promote their respective values and beliefs with a blind fervour, oblivious to the absurdity of their own situation. Each of them have passively allowed their lives to be shaped and determined by the mere roll of a dice. They are but empty clones of one another. The fact that they both hate each other only serves to make the whole thing even more comical.

This madness is everywhere you look. I watched a football match recently between Croatia and Spain and the thing that strikes you about international football is the naked patriotism on display, from both the players and the crowd. You look at the singing, chanting and flag-waving and it is obvious that each set of supporters thinks their nation (their culture, their people, their ego) is the greatest nation of all. They have all bought into this perspective and emotionally invested in it. And yet each of these supporters could have just as easily been cheering on the opposing nation had chance rolled the dice differently. The arbitrary nature of their birth and the absurdity of their passive acceptance of this either escapes them completely, or else they are too wrapped up in the emotional pleasure contained within their limited perspective to care.

It is not just a matter of where you are born, but when. A lot of college students nowadays naturally believe in the supremacy of science and have absorbed the popular nihilistic belief that truth can never be known, that everything is uncertain. They are quick to sneer at religious people for their belief in irrational superstition. Yet if these same college students were born 1000 years ago, they would have just as naturally believed in the supremacy of the Church and the doctrines of orthodox Christianity, and they would have been sneering at pagans instead. Their mindless acceptance of the dominant cultural myths of the 21st century makes them just as ignorant and irrational as the medieval Christians of old.

When I was in my teens and early twenties, I used to be astonished at how accepting and submissive my peers were. Just the fact that they were so obsessed with women, and therefore obsessed with the business of making money and appearing powerful and cool, was a puzzle to me. I would say to them, ‚ÄúDoesn‚Äôt the fact that you submit so easily to your genetic programming bother you? Surely there is more to life than living like a standard, pre-programmed robot!” Most of them would laugh and think I was crazy. But to me, they seemed unimaginative and meek.

It is hard to believe that here we are in the 21st century, with all of the technological sophistication around us, and people everywhere are still happy to play lottery with their lives and allow chance to completely dictate their beliefs, values, perception, knowledge and experiences.   It is even harder to believe that most of them are oblivious to this madness.  But I suppose I should cut a little slack. After all, the human race has barely emerged from the Middle Ages. Or more to the point, we have barely come down from the trees.

People tend to have very low standards concerning what it means to be intellectually independent. It is not enough to simply reject the beliefs and values of one’s culture and adopt another set of beliefs and values. That is merely trading one perspective for another, which means that your life is still being ruled by the roll of a dice. For example, if the person in the American deep south were to reject fundamentalist Christianity and embrace Islam, or if he were to embrace science and become an agnostic, either way he is still allowing chance to determine his understanding of things and the course of his life. These chance factors might include what his genetic make-up happens to be, what people he happens to meet, what books he happens to read, what experiences he happens to have, what kind of intellectual theories happen to exist in the world, what parts of his brain happen to fire up in any given moment, etc Рall of these things play a role in determining what belief-system he happens to find pleasing. Despite making the movement from a traditional mindset to a more individual one, the core madness in his life remains.

If you want to give full expression to your genius and become truly sane, then you must go all the way and completely eliminate the role of chance from your life, and this can only be achieved by pushing the mind beyond all perspective. And to do this, you must learn to become emotionally free of all perspectives.

In some people’s eyes, Mother Teresa was a saintly woman who helped the poor. To others, she was a cunning fanatic trapped within a fantasy. From yet another perspective, she was just another Albanian. Or just another human making up the numbers in society. Or just another animal exploiting a niche in the natural world. Or just another biological machine, comprised of fluids, chemicals and electrical impulses. Or just another manifestation of reality, essentially no different from the mountains, trees and clouds. The wrinkling around her eyes, the warmth of her personality, the slight stoop in her posture, the little moles on her skin, the saliva forming in her mouth Рthese too are all manifestations of reality, essentially no different from the mountains, trees and clouds. The genius is able to entertain all these different perspectives with ease and can flit in and out of them at will. Ordinary people, on the other hand, tend to be emotionally bound to one or two of them and have extreme trouble seeing anything beyond.

The genius is free because he succeeds in leaving behind all finite, limited, relative, human-centered perspectives and uses his mind to embrace Nature as a whole – that is to say, the totality of all there is. The All. He is free because his mind is open to the boundlessness of the ‚Äúabsolute perspective‚ÄĚ. Or to put it poetically, he is free because he sees everything through the eyes of God.

The ‚Äúabsolute perspective” is itself a poetic expression. Strictly speaking, it is a contradiction in terms and falls into the same category as the square circle, as a perspective is always relative by nature. In a less literal sense, however, the term refers to the vision and understanding which arises when every shred of relativism is mentally eliminated. Due to the flexible nature of our conceptualizing minds, we have the ability to abstract our attention away from all relative positions, from all perspectives, enabling us to understand the world in an absolute sense. This is a critical skill in being able to perceive the fundamental nature of reality.

To illustrate this, let us consider the size of an object. Mount Fuji, for example, seems enormous from our perspective as human beings, but to the earth as a whole it is a barely noticeable pimple. What size it has depends on your perspective. If you mentally take away all possible perspectives, then Mount Fuji cannot be said to have any size. From the absolute perspective, it is sizeless.

For the same reason, the Universe as a whole (i.e. the Totality, the All) is sizeless. Not in the sense that it is infinitely small, but rather that the quality of size cannot be applied to it. Without the introduction of a relative viewpoint of some kind, size has no meaning. And so ultimately, the Universe is neither infinitely big, nor infinitely small, nor any size in between.

This principle can be applied in countless other ways. For example, not only is the Universe timeless (for the same reasons as above), but it is purposeless as well. A purpose always involves the perception that there is a deficiency in the world which needs to be rectified, and perceptions of deficiency are always relative in nature. From a farmer’s point of view, a bacteria-infected tree is a problem that needs to be solved, but to the bacteria themselves it is an occasion to be celebrated. If we take away all the relativism associated with perspective, then we also take away all purpose.

The same reasoning applies to existence itself. The relative nature of perspective effectively reduces everything to the status of a mirage. A mirage is something that only appears to exist from certain perspectives and disappears when viewed from other perspectives. When a dying man in a desert spies a lake in the distance only to find nothing there when he crawls closer, he realizes through a change of perspective that he has been taken in by a mirage. In a similar way, if a person believes that Mount Fuji is really what it appears to him to be Рnamely, a large, solid, immoveable object Рthen he has also been taken in by a mirage. If he were to adopt another perspective, one that was sufficiently different, he would realize that the mountain was nothing more than a temporary appearance that occurred in the past.  From the perspective of a local atom, for example, the solid mountain gives way to a vast realm of empty space with only the occasional appearance of other atoms to interrupt the monotony.

In any case, the point of all these examples is to illustrate how the absolute perspective is not really a perspective as such, but an understanding that comes into being when all relativism is mentally eliminated. Its chief value is the equalization of everything that exists. When you truly see that reality is utterly everything, when you see that all things – i.e. all people, all events, all objects, all dimensions, all thoughts, all emotions, all states of mind, all mystical experiences, all gods, etcare direct manifestations of reality, all of them lacking inherent existence and thus all of them equal in status, then you have reached the absolute perspective. It is the absolute perspective because, having embraced everything and yet rejecting everything, there is nowhere further to go.

Genius is the art of never slipping into existence. It is the capacity to never be taken in by any experience or appearance or perception, not even for a split second.  This is where skill in mastering perspective comes into play. If you find yourself becoming emotional for any reason, or if you are burdened with fears and worries, then it means that you are no longer the master. You have been taken in and now you are fighting against mirages. You have become a slave to perspective.

There is an ethical side to this issue as well. The more you become a slave to perspective, the more you entrench yourself in a particular viewpoint and seek your emotional happiness and security within it, the more you create the conditions for violence and suffering to occur. We can see this in the way that supporting a football team can quickly lead to fan violence, patriotism can quickly lead to war, and love can quickly lead to jealousy and domestic violence.

People often like to say, ‚ÄúWe are free to do what we want, as long as we don‚Äôt hurt anyone‚ÄĚ, yet their lives are filled with emotional attachments which contain the seeds for future violence. They might not throw the fists or pull the trigger directly, but their lives nonetheless promote a grasping mentality which always has destructive consequences. This is yet another reason why people do not want to be too conscious of reality. Their freedom to live as they please relies on them remaining blind to the nature of their actions. In reality, their motto is, ‚ÄúWe are free to do what we want as long as we can get away with it, and everyone else can go to hell!‚ÄĚ

It might be argued that if people were not slaves to perspective, if they did not devote themselves wholeheartedly to a particular finite cause, then very little in the world would get done. For example, the progress of science would slow up considerably, and possibly grind to a halt, if there weren’t at least some people fully applying themselves to research. While this may be true, it should also be noted that there would be far less violence, insanity and misery in the world as well, for people would be far less defensive about their particular perspectives. As such, the question needs to be asked: Is having flashy mobile phones, sports cars and super-fast internet really worth the overload of violence and madness that comes with them?

I would much rather people begin their adult lives learning to free themselves from all perspectives and tuning into the Infinite before deciding how to behave in the world. ‚ÄúSeek first the Kingdom of God”, as Jesus urged. Make every effort to exit the world of conditioning and chance, find the tremendous freedom of nirvana which is your birthright, and then come back into the world on your own terms minus any baggage. Then you can decide how best to contribute to society. You might decide to pursue scientific research, or become involved in social reform, or perhaps even write a philosophic blog. But whatever you decide to do, at least you will be doing it in a conscious, rational manner, and you won‚Äôt simply be adding to the misery and ignorance that already exists in the world.

*** 

„ÄÄ

Believing in Death

Categorized under Wisdom

It goes without saying that people generally do not want to die.  Most of us want to live for a long time, if not forever.  The thought that it all comes to an end can be a difficult thing to contemplate.

Consider what death means for you personally.  Utterly everything disappears.  Your memories, your hopes, your emotions, your thoughts, your education, your wisdom, your subjectivity, your consciousness, your very identity as a person Рall of it vanishes.  Your position in society, your business concerns, your relationships with friends and family, your passions, your loves, your triumphs and attainments Рpoof!  All gone in the blink of an eye.  Everything that you love and enjoy in life, all the little things that bring you pleasure, all the delightful moments that you experience in music, art, sport and sex, all the social narratives and soap-opera plots that engage you in daily life Рall of it is extinguished.  In effect, the whole world vanishes and you along with it.  Everything about you disappears forever and ever and ever.

The thought that Nature will continue to unfold for the rest of eternity and that you will never wake up again…..

The thought¬†that countless civilizations will rise and fall, that¬†countless¬†technologies will come and go, that countless conscious beings, with no knowledge or awareness of the human race,¬†will emerge, flourish¬†and disappear¬†within the swells of countless¬†universes, galaxies and¬†planets,¬†all of it part of a never-ending series of dramatic events, unique situations and fascinating stories that will stretch on¬†forever and¬†you will never get to experience any of it…..

The thought that it could happen at any moment, without warning.¬†¬†A sudden heart-attack.¬† A stroke.¬† A brain aneurysm.¬† A virus.¬† A car accident.¬† A random act of violence.¬† A meteor crashing down on you.¬† Death can strike from anywhere, at any time.¬† People often use the term ‚Äúdeath row” when they talk about convicted prisoners who have been sentenced to death.¬† But in truth, we are all on death row and there is nothing we can do about it.¬† How we behave or what we believe or what society thinks of us is immaterial.¬†¬† Nothing can save us.

It is no wonder that human beings do everything they can to paper over this reality with religious fantasy, or try to block it out by keeping busy, by cuddling with each other, by seeking out distractions, by taking drugs.  When a child learns for the first time that he will one day die he is truly horrified and he never really gets over it.  He might try to suppress it, he might become distracted by the challenges of growing up in this world, but it never leaves him.  It becomes a sort of gnawing background horror to his life Рconstantly pushed away, but ready to erupt at a moment’s notice.

The term ‚Äúmid-life crisis‚ÄĚ immediately springs to mind here,¬†yet the human propensity to suppress death, and the grotesque¬†consequences of this,¬†manifests in many other ways as well.¬† One of the more interesting examples is grief.¬† When a person suddenly loses a family member or an intimate friend and falls down howling with grief, he openly displays his life-long suppression of the reality of death.¬† His howls reveal his shock, as though he has been caught completely by surprise; they reveal that he has been asleep, that he has been stagnating comfortably in a fantasy world which he believed would never end – such has been the strength of his suppression.¬†¬†He might be 40 or 50 years old and highly experienced in business matters and the ways of society, but it is as though he has never lived.¬†¬†He naively thought he could get away with living in a fantasy world indefinitely.¬† And now he howls like a new-born babe at the injustice of it all.

Grief, like love, is rooted in selfishness.  And so the howls of a grieving person are invariably steeped in anger and self-righteous indignation.  Anger at the loved one for suddenly leaving him, anger at the Universe for allowing it to happen, anger at those around him for still being alive.  Consumed with bitterness, the grieving person shamelessly throws around the blackness of his egotism in a very ugly display.  Just as bad fruit comes from bad trees, as the old saying goes, the blackness and ugliness of his grief comes from the blackness and ugliness of his love.  For love itself can only blossom when reality is suppressed and ignored.  The whole cycle of love and grief is a cycle of ignorance, one that depends not only on suppressing death, but suppressing consciousness of the nature of reality as a whole.

If one is forced to choose a single piece of evidence that reveals just how ignorant and out of tune with reality the human race is, then one only has to point the finger at the daily outbreaks of grief worldwide.  For it shows that, spiritually speaking, people everywhere are completely wasting their lives.  You can forgive children if they fall into grief over the loss of a parent or a sibling, for they are young and do not know any better.  But for anyone over the age of 25, it is truly shameful behaviour.

Concentrate your thoughts for a moment and avoid thinking in terms of good and evil. While you are not thinking of good, and not thinking of evil, just at this very moment, return to what you were before your father and mother were born.

Hui-neng

An objection could be raised that it is impossible for me, or indeed for anyone else, to be absolutely certain that our consciousness ends with our death.  While this is true, it is all but irrelevant.  Nobody really believes in an afterlife, not when it comes down to it.  Not even the believers believe in it.  When a person howls with grief over the loss of a loved one, he is not thinking that the loved one has simply travelled to another place and they will probably meet up again soon.  No, his howls tell a completely different story.  They tell us that he knows, deep down, that the person has been extinguished forever.  The afterlife fantasy might be useful for suppressing the thought of death in normal everyday life, but it quickly evaporates the moment reality intrudes.

Looked at objectively, the odds that our consciousness will continue on after the death of the brain, that there is an afterlife, are exceedingly slim.  All the credible evidence points against it.  Everything suggests that we fully emerged out of Nature’s causal processes and that we will one day fully dissolve back into them.  Just as a wave crashes against the shore and wholly disappears, and a cloud dissipates in the sky and wholly disappears, there is no reason to think that our own fate will be any different.

And even if, in the remotest of remote possibilities, some kind of mechanism does exist which enables human consciousness to survive death, it is still going to represent a monumental change.  It still means that all of our connections to the world are going to be ripped away from us.  So either way, our death is going to constitute the most traumatic event of our lives.  The only comparable event, perhaps, is expulsion from the womb, but even here a fetus doesn’t spend decades consciously forming an identity within the womb and consciously attaching himself to its various pleasures and comforts within.  Those who cling to the hope that an afterlife will soften the reality and trauma of death are seriously deluding themselves.

In response to this, a few of you will probably point to the reality of near-death experiences which sometimes involve powerful altered states of consciousness imbued with great joy and an overwhelming sense of divine love, persuading many who undergo these experiences that there is indeed a loving God waiting for us beyond death.   This issue is far too large and complex to go into here, but I will be analyzing these experiences in detail, along with mystical states in general and other similar kinds of neurological phenomena, in a future blog.  For now, I will simply point out that the mere fact these people feel compelled to emphasize the sheer beauty and joy of the near-death experience underlines just how traumatic they consider death to be.

The human race is so mindlessly lost in delusion that it tends to automatically couple spirituality with a belief in an afterlife, without giving it another thought.  But if you believe that it is only possible to experience God and enter into heaven after you have physically died, then you will be far too late.  You will have missed the boat completely.  Heaven can only be experienced here on this earth, while you are still alive, or not at all.  Even near-death experiences are experiences that occur within this life.  In the end, the desire to believe in an afterlife is the desire to cling to this life.  And the desire to cling to this life is the desire to avoid becoming conscious of reality.  It is to turn your back on God.  As such, believing in an afterlife is really a form of evil.

The kingdom of God is for none but the thoroughly dead.

Meister Eckhart

Enough!  Away with the fantasies!  Away with the desperate search for loopholes!  It is far better, from a spiritual perspective, to accept the full horror of death at face value and prepare for the worst.  In this way, a sense of urgency can permeate your life.  A powerful, driving need to become enlightened about the nature of reality NOW, before it is too late, can fill the mind.  People tend to work far more productively when they know they have a deadline, for it can focus the mind like nothing else.  If there is no deadline, if you believe that you have endless amounts of time to complete a task, then it is unlikely you will ever begin it at all.  You will procrastinate and dither so much that you will end up forgetting what the task was to begin with.

Weak men ever lose themselves on the way. And at length their weariness asketh: “Wherefore did we¬†set out? All is indifferent!

Friedrich Nietzsche

For those of us who strive to become fully conscious of reality, death is actually a blessing in disguise.  Not because we want to die and lose our consciousness, but because the ever-present prospect of death can steel the wavering mind and urge it forward.  Those on the spiritual path often vacillate between their love of life and their spiritual desire to abandon all attachments for the sake of becoming fully conscious.  Death teaches us that all of our attachments and loves are going to ripped away from us, regardless.  It is definitely going to happen, one way or the other.  You can either abandon your attachments voluntarily (thereby allowing you the opportunity to experience the greatest wisdom of all), or you can be like everyone else and mindlessly wait for the chopping block to fall.

Imagine you are flying in an aeroplane high above a mountainous region and the captain announces over the intercom, ‚ÄúExcuse me, ladies and gentlemen.¬† Do not panic, but the engines are failing and we will be crashing down to earth in a few moments.¬† Please follow the safety proceedures.‚Ä̬† How will you respond, knowing that you only have a few minutes to live?¬† Will you continue to sleep away your time with trivial matters like you normally do?¬†¬†Or will each moment be intensely focused on the most vital of concerns with unbridled urgency?¬† It is amazing just how clear and focused the mind becomes when it is fully aware of life and death. ¬†We should be striving for this kind of intensity and clarity all the time, in every moment of our daily lives, and being fully aware of the reality of death can serve as the perfect catalyst for this.

It is not enough to simply understand the truth on an intellectual level.  That is a very easy thing to do.  All it takes is a single glance at the world to see the impermanency of everything, to see that things are like fragile bubbles which are sustained by equally fragile causal conditions, that each fleeting moment is a whole universe unto itself.   Death is occuring all around us at every moment.  It is the reality of change.  But to truly understand what this means Рto fully understand the illusory nature of our existence and to live in the tremendous freedom this understanding provides - we have to bring the whole of our selves, the whole of our minds, the whole of our lives, into the equation.

It is eternally true that if one knocks, the door will be opened. But suppose that the difficulty for us human beings is simply that we are afraid to go – and knock.

Soren Kierkegaard

In order to go beyond death, one needs to go through death and beyond.  One needs to become like a dead man, without attachment and desire, and only then can the boundless freedom that exists beyond death be fully realized.  Indeed, this boundless freedom already exists around us.  It is there in the way the wind blows without a care in the world, in the way a wave crashes into the shoreline without any thought of self-preservation, in the way a particle of dust settles indifferently onto a table.  And it is there inside us, in the way the neurons fire and our muscles contract, the way the heart beats and the blood courses through our veins, the way the eyes automatically transmit visual data to the brain, the way each thought spontaneously emerges into the mind.  All of it is effortless, fearless, and free.   This fearlessness is the very stuff of life and death and we are fully part of it.

The sages ramble in the vacancy of untroubled ease, find their food in the fields of indifference, and stand in the gardens which they had not borrowed.

Chuang Tzu

A dead man has nothing to lose.  Possessing nothing, being nothing, he is beyond all possibility of harm.  And so too, if a person empties himself of utterly everything while remaining alive, if he becomes the nothingness that he really is, abandoning all desire for personal happiness, discarding everything he has gained from the past and renouncing every hope for the future, no longer seeking anything, no longer storing anything, no longer paying any attention to forms, being wholly unmoved in all circumstances, unmoved even to his own reputation, even to his own consciousness, even to his own life, even to wisdom itself Рthen death loses all of its power and meaning.  It melts back into the charade that it has always been.   In the end, death is nothing more than a thief, and not even the greatest of thieves can steal from those who have no possessions to begin with.

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Expanding the Limits of Genius

Categorized under Genius

Needless to say, people come in all shapes and sizes.  Everyone has their own particular traits and abilities.  But if there is one enduring trait that human beings share the world over, it is this: they have an overwhelming instinct to avoid becoming conscious of reality.

No matter what the culture, no matter what the era, no matter what the race, the same processes invariably take place.  Mental blocks are erected, horizons are lowered, childish fantasies are clung to, blatant irrationalities are praised, emotional fears are exaggerated, the comforts of the crowd are revelled in, mind-numbing distractions are seized upon Рall of it designed to keep human consciousness to a bare minimum.

People only want to be a little bit conscious, that is the sad truth of it.   They want to be conscious enough to be able to acquire the things they need to enjoy life Рand that is all.  Being too conscious simply gets in the way.

One only has to look at the world-wide prevalence of religion, in all of its various guises, to see this at play.  As soon as people lift their attention above the humdrum activities of their daily lives and take in the bigger picture, their minds suddenly seem to go insane.  No theology is too bizarre for them, no priest too ridiculously dressed, no minister too absurdly titled, no ritual too banal.   The more ludicrous the religion, the more bizarre the belief-system, the more readily it is accepted.  It is as though the human mind is utterly incapable of approaching reality in a rational manner.

But religion is not the only culprit here.  There are thousands of ways to avoid reality.  You can see it in the way academics harmlessly confine their reasoning powers to what is technical and abstract, thereby keeping their logical attention well away from what is personal and real.  Or in the way certain kinds of people wholly give themselves over to the scientific world-view, thereby keeping their minds locked within the one-dimensional surface of science.  Or in the way many people thrust their whole lives into the animal realms by focusing exclusively on the work ethic and the acquirement of money, status, property and sex.  Or in the way some people prefer to live like vegetables and constantly dull their minds with drugs, TV, porn, video games, and so on.  Really, the list of ways to avoid reality is endless.

I will be addressing these matters in greater detail in upcoming blogs, but since this site is called Genius Realms and this is my first blog here, it is only appropriate that I should open my account with a focus on the subject of genius Рand in particular, the way in which people’s conceptions of genius limit their own consciousness.

The word ‚Äúgenius‚ÄĚ has gone through many different meanings throughout the course of history and none of them, I have to say, are particularly inspiring.¬† It apparently originated in Roman times in reference to a ‚Äúguardian spirit‚ÄĚ.¬†¬†¬†A genius was a kind of spirit being, an intermediary betweeen this world and the next, who looked after your affairs, protected you from misfortune and provided you with wise advice.

On the surface, this sounds like just another comical religious belief and no doubt the Romans, who were as irrational and superstitious as the rest of the human race, did everything they could to make the whole endeavour as insane as possible Рand indeed they happily incorporated into the charade the use of omens, ritual sacrifices, oracles, soothsayers and the like.   However, it seems there was at least a pretence of trying to associate the idea of genius with wisdom, which is not something we can say about our modern conceptions of genius.  In other words, it appears that behind all the superstitiousness the Roman conception of genius made reference, not to extraordinary talent, but to something much larger and more important Рnamely, to enlightenment, knowledge of human psychology and the art of living.  It had a connection to the absolute, at least in principle.

Maybe I am grasping at straws here.  After all, the Romans lived in brutal and uncertain times and they were probably desperate for advice and reassurance from wherever they could find it, even from imaginary sources.  But at least they were seeking wisdom from their geniuses.  They weren’t seeking dazzling music or complex theorizing.  They were looking for insight into life and death matters.   And one can imagine that they occasionally sought it from a genuine source of wisdom Рthat is to say, from a Socrates-type figure.  From an enlightened sage.

In any case, after the collapse of the Roman Empire, things began to change.  The connection to the absolute was broken and the meaning of genius went into decline.  It became synonymous with extraordinary talent in a particular field.   As Andrew Robinson writes in an article in Psychology Today:

The word genius has its roots in Roman antiquity; in Latin, genius described the tutelary (guardian) spirit of a person, place, institution, and so on, which linked these to the forces of fate and the rhythms of time. Among the Romans, the idea of genius had no necessary relationship with ability or exceptional creativity.

Not until the Enlightenment did genius acquire its distinctly different, chief modern meaning: an individual who demonstrates exceptional intellectual or creative powers, whether inborn or acquired (or both). Homer, despite two millennia of veneration as a divinely inspired poet, did not become a ‚Äėgenius’ until the 18th century. This later usage derives from the Latin ingenium (not from genius), meaning ‚Äėnatural disposition’, ‚Äėinnate ability’, or ‚Äėtalent’.

As we can see, what genius meant in Roman times is very different from how we conceive of it today.  Nowadays, the term is reserved for people with freakish skills, regardless of whether or not they possess any wisdom.  The most celebrated examples are men like Michelangelo, Rembrandt, da Vinci, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein.  These men are considered geniuses, not because they had any awareness or understanding of the absolute, but because their talents caused them to stand out from the mediocrity of the human race.

Once you uncouple genius from the absolute, all sorts of absurdities and anomalies arise.¬† For example, if we were to pluck Einstein from the confines of the 20th century human race and place him in a community of beings whose intelligence and scientific abilities were far greater than his own, then what would become of his ‚Äúgenius‚ÄĚ?¬†¬† It would miraculously disappear.¬† Instead of being feted as a great thinker, he would be dismissed as a dunce.¬†¬† This alone shows that genius (in the sense we mean today, uncoupled from the absolute) is a relative quality, which effectively turns it into a mirage.

Another amusing anomaly involves the stark contrast between the exceptional skill displayed by the genius within his chosen field and his sheer ineptitude outside of it.  Einstein was undeniably talented within the realm of physics, but as soon as he stepped outside the lab or office, his skill and insight into life seemed to vanish.  His philosophical musings, for example, were nearly always uninspired and mediocre.  The following quote more or less sums up his philosophic outlook on life:

The most beautiful and deepest experience a man can have is the sense of the mysterious. It is the underlying principle of religion as well as all serious endeavour in art and science. He who never had this experience seems to me, if not dead, then at least blind. To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness. In this sense I am religious. To me it suffices to wonder at these secrets and to attempt humbly to grasp with my mind a mere image of the lofty structure of all that there is.

- Albert Einstein, The World As I See It (1949)

In essence, what Einstein expresses with his philosophic views is a sense of awe at the size and structural complexity of the universe, an awe that is almost girl-like in its naivity.  There is no specific knowledge on display, no depth of insight, no awareness of the logical pathways that extend beyond science, no understanding of the fundamental nature of things, not even an inkling that such an understanding is possible.  Just a vague sense of astonishment that any happy-go-lucky teenager might experience when puffing on a joint.  To put it bluntly, Einstein was a philosophical simpleton.  If his expertise in physics went far beyond the greatest of PhD graduates, then his expertise in philosophy and spirituality went no further than the kindergarten.

This leads to another interesting point Рnamely, that the nature of genius, as exhibited by the likes of Einstein, Darwin, Mozart, Bach, etc, bears an uncanny resemblance to autism.  The image of the idiot savant is brought to mind, a mishappen creature who can perform complex mathematical operations inside his head, but can barely cope with saying hello and buying a loaf of bread.  In the late 19th century and early 20th century, there were traveling freak shows which featured bizarre people with long necks or no legs, or who were hairy all over, or who could pull trains along with their teeth. People used to flock to these shows and marvel at the strange amusements they housed.  In a similar way, the pantheon of celebrated geniuses Рthe Mozarts and Bachs, the Rembrandts and da Vincis, the Darwins and Einsteins Рconstitute a sort of freak show for people to oggle at and express their amazement.

And yes, people do express their amazement.¬† One of the more interesting aspects of the modern conception of genius is the way in which it is generally regarded to be a mysterious quality, one that is almost divine or supernatural in origin.¬† When someone exults in the talents of a musician they admire, or a writer, or a scientist, and exclaims, ‚ÄúHe really is a genius!‚ÄĚ, it is invariably done with a sort of religious zeal.¬† Even atheists are prone to this way of behaving.¬†¬† An atheist might loudly boast that he is beyond all religious belief, but as soon as a celebrated genius like an Einstein or a Feynman walks into the room, watch how he swoons as though in the presence of a god.¬†¬†The desire to bow down and worship is as strong as ever, it would seem, even in our so-called cynical age.¬†¬†‚ÄúGod may be dead, but his shadow lives on‚ÄĚ, as Nietzsche once observed.

Yet there is nothing essentially mysterious about genius.  It is basically the result of incremental steps deviating away from the norm at an early age.   An unhappy childhood, perhaps.  Unresolved family issues generating a life-long passion for something better.  A genetic predisposition towards logic and introspection.  A lack of emotional connection with childhood companions.  A thirst for clarity and understanding.  A desire to make a mark.  A perfectionist streak.  These are the building blocks of genius.

And so little by little, as he grows older, the budding genius deviates from the rest of his peers, so much so that by the time he reaches adulthood he is more or less in another world, making conceptual connections and leaps that no one else has made before.  Often these connections and leaps are of little consequence and the budding genius remains no more than a peripheral figure.  But when the circumstances are ripe, when the budding genius is in the right time and the right place, these connections and leaps can lead to major conceptual breakthroughs.

The mysterious nature of genius is thus an illusion.  It is not unlike the way a stage magician is able to dazzle us with his tricks.  From our perspective in the audience, the magician’s performances seem mysterious because we are not privy to the incremental steps involved.  But once the trick is explained the magic suddenly vanishes, making it seem humdrum, which of course it is.

We like to laugh at the religious fundamentalists who, in their crude misunderstanding of evolutionary theory, often make absurd comments such as, ‚ÄúHow can something as complex as the wing of a bird or the human eye be thrown together by chance!‚Ä̬†¬† Trapped within the fog of their own wishful thinking, they do not want to see that evolution is all about incremental steps occuring over prodigious amounts of time, and that when changes do occur they are built upon the legacy of past changes.¬†¬†Fundamentalists deserve to be laughed at because they are willfully blind.¬†¬† Yet the moment we regard genius to be a mysterious quality, we immediately fall into the same trap.

This applies to all areas of life, not just to genius.  In reality, there is nothing mysterious about anything at all in the Universe.  Everything comes into existence through incremental steps, through causes and conditions.  We might be ignorant of many of the specific steps and causes behind many of the things that happen in life, but that does not make them mysterious.

Given that the label of ‚Äúgenius‚ÄĚ is nowadays applied to freakish, mishappen creatures with little or no wisdom, the question needs to be asked:¬† How much control does a genius actually have over his life?¬†¬† Does a genius really desire to be an ignorant freak?¬† Or is he compelled by forces beyond his control to diminish and humiliate himself in this manner?

Or to put the question more succinctly, are we looking at evil or incompetence?

I always used to wonder at the choices people made in their lives.¬†Given the sheer richness of existence, with its infinite complexities and the endless array of possibilities open to us all, and given that the primary question of why we are alive in the first place is constantly staring us in the face, how is it that an otherwise intelligent person can decide to devote his entire life to, say, studying the mating cycles of dung-beetles?¬† Or the behaviour of amino acids?¬† Or the Latvian underground art movement of the 1920‚Äės?¬† Isn‚Äôt this just the strangest thing?¬† How do people bring themselves to make such a decision?¬†¬† Are they really that blind to the madness of it?

This is bizarre enough for ordinary people, but it is even more strange and puzzling when it comes to geniuses.  Mozart, for example, was obviously a very sensitive soul with a brilliant memory and an intuitive, well-structured mind.  He had the potential to do anything, at least in theory.  He could have opened his mind to the Infinite, grasped the fundamental nature of everything, solved all the great problems of philosophy, spiritually soared to every corner of existence, learned to live joyously and freely, helping everyone to become liberated with great skill and spontaneity Рbut no.   He instead chose to confine himself to stringing pleasing noises together to entertain shallow people with dull minds.   How is this possible?   Are these really the actions of a genius?

It is commonly said that there is a fine line between genius and madness.  And yes, to be sure, if we reduce the meaning of genius so that it applies to autistic-type people who are not really in control of their lives, then there is indeed a fine line between genius and madness.  In fact, we can go a step further and say that genius, in this sense, is inseparable from madness.  It just happens to be a more productive form of madness.  But true genius Рand by this I mean genius conceived in the greatest possible manner Рis a very different matter.  True genius is infinitely removed from madness.  If madness represents a deviation away from the normality of human consciousness, then true genius represents a deviation in the opposite direction.  For true genius is nothing other than the full expression of sanity.

Ideally, the Mozarts and Einsteins of this world should be measured, not against the mediocrity of the average human being, but against the highest possible conception of genius.¬† By doing this, it allows us the opportunity to dissolve our mental barriers and become more conscious of what the human mind is capable of.¬† With this in mind, it should be obvious that it is not my intention to belittle the achievements of Mozart and Einstein and their like.¬†¬†That isn’t the purpose of this blog.¬†¬† From the point of view of human mediocrity, there is no question¬†their achievements are dazzling.¬† The truth, however, needs to be said.¬† Stacked up against the highest conception of genius, what Mozart and Einstein did with their lives barely registers on the lower end of the scale.

At root, genius is essentially a question of character, not intelligence or ability.  It is the determination and will to become truly sane.  Genius knows how to open up to the most tremendous thing in life Рnamely, the reality of the Infinite Рand to blossom within it.  Genius knows how go to the very foundation of all experiences, of all perceptions, of all subjective realities, and use this foundation to understand everything that can ever be known.  Genius sees into the heart of Nature, it sees into the heart of other people, and, through the workings of cause and effect, it sees into the heart of the past and the heart of the future.  Genius is the deepest and clearest form of consciousness possible.

***