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RUMI REVELATIONS: Wisdom, not reason

In consciousness, excerpts and quotes, literature, Rumi Revelations, sources of knowledge, spirituality on September 15, 2011 at 8:57 pm

In today’s edition of Rumi revelations, the commentary I have interspersed my selections with relates these more directly with the discussion of the last post.

 

In:

A COMMUNITY OF THE SPIRIT↓1

 

There is a community of the spirit.

Join it, and feel the delight

of walking in the noisy street,

and being the noise.

.

Drink all your passion,

and be a disgrace.

.

Close both eyes

to see with the other eye.

.

Open your hands,

if you want to be held.

Quit acting like a wolf, and feel

the shepherd’s love filling you.

Be empty of worrying.

Think of who created thought!

.

Why do you stay in prison

when the door is so wide open?

__________________

A QUATRAIN↓2

How long will we fill our pockets

Like children with dirt and stones?

Let the world go. Holding it

We never know ourselves, never are air-born.

_______________________

The essence of our nature is “experiential”. We experience things at first hand in such a way that the emotional, sensorial, social, intellectual, and linguistic sides are enmeshed with each other↓3. The ‘pragmatic’ world however teaches us to think purely in intellectual terms: concepts, logic, and language. Thus we come to dissociate subject matters of study from the daily reality of our lives and from the intricacies of our personality,  and from the way we are actually designed to experience the world. Subject matters which are all connected to the reality of ourself and our world, which lead us to significant questions of the meaningfulness of our lives, they are experienced as ‘dry’, ‘boring’ or ‘pedantic’ by many a student for these reasons.

Even those supposedly at the highest levels of intellectual development come to emphasize rationalism and intellectualism at the expense of the social, emotional, and intuitive sides of our nature possibly because of the natural association of language with the former approaches to life. And perhaps also becuase of the illsuion of certainty which logic creates. The social-emotional side of experience does not deal with ‘arguments’ and ‘logic’, rationalism does. Also the apparent comfort of the unemotionality of dry reason may be a source of refuge for these scholars who having lost touch with their affective intuitions must now feel all the more perturbed recasting ‘the big questions of the world’ in purely intuitive and experiential terms rather than (‘safely’ and ‘distantly’) dissecting and pruning them according to their own scholarly specializations.

And thus the majority of us remain confined in the ‘jail’ of this rationality, never having the strength to step out and experience the huge possibilities of meaningfulness and deeper ecstasies of life once the shackles of pure reason are thrown away.

______________________

QUIETNESS↓4

 

Inside this new love, die.

Your way begins on the other side.

Become the sky.

Take an axe to the prison wall.

Escape.

Walk out like someone suddenly born into color.

Do it now.

You’re covered with thick cloud.

Slide out the side. Die,

and be quiet. Quietness is the surest sign

that you’ve died.

Your old life was a frantic running

from silence.

.

The speechless full moon

comes out now.

__________________

In:

THE THREE BROTHERS AND THE CHINESE PRINCESS↓5

                              The fire under the kettle is the appearance.

The boiling water is the reality.

                                                                The beloved is in your veins

though he or she may seem to have a form outside you.

________________________________

In:

AN AWKWARD COMPARISON↓6

Language does not touch the one

who lives in each of us.

_______________________

 We become so conditioned by the ways of this world, we never realize that the access to the mysteries of the more actual reality is on the side of experience we abandoned many many years ago: the inside. There are several commonalities between death and our inside. One of them is silence. The silence of death is obvious. Our inside is indeed silent in terms of it’s nature being pre-verbal. Intuition, emotion, and the phenomenon of simple ‘immersion’ in some experience (in contrast to consciously thinking and analyzing it) are ‘holistic’ in nature: they can’t be broken down into components and laws (in contrast with, say, language which has parts of speech and rules of grammar). They are also intransferable. One’s inner experience simply cannot be translated ‘as is’ for other’s perfect understanding, or transmitted somehow into their minds. Thus our inner experience is as uniquely ours and only ours to go through as death will be.

On the other hand, the ‘worldly’ knowledges possess both these characteristics and hence often succeed too perfectly in capturing our conscious lives int their hold. Just like death will finally remove this curtain of wordly ‘outside’ experience and we will realize what we could not see before, reconnecting with our silent inner experiecne can achieve the same before the time of death arrives. May be it’s this potential of this inner side of things and the superficial comfort and time-passing quality of the outer wordly side of life that many of us literally run away from any moments of silence. Movies, games, gossip, shopping, feasting, drugs, fashion, or illicit meetings with the other sex, anything will do so as time alone (= time with oneself, when inner voices become less avoidable) will not have to be confronted.

__________________

When once, however, the inner mirror has come clear of the breath of the outer world, recognizing the truth is not that difficult:

 

MYSTICS KNOW↓7

 

Since wisdom is the true believer’s stray camel*, he knows it with certainty

               from whomsoever, he may have heard of it,

And when he finds himself face to face with it, how should there be doubt?

               How can he mistake?

If you tell a thirsty man — ‘Here is a cup of water: drink!’–

Will he reply? — ‘This is mere assertion: let me alone, O liar, go away.’

Or suppose a mother cries to her babe, ‘Come, I am mother: hark my child!’ —

Will it say? — ‘Prove this to me, so that I may take comfort in thy milk.’

When in the heart of a people there is spiritual perception, the face and voice

               of the prophet are as an evidentiary miracle.

When the prophet utters a cry from without, the soul of the people falls to

               worship within,

Because never in the world will the soul’s ear have heard a cry of the same

               kind as his.

That wondrous voice is heard by the soul in exile — the voice of God calling, ‘Lo, I am nigh.’

*A reference to a saying attributed to Hazrat Ali (razi-Allahu unh): “The faithful seek the knowledge of God which they possessed in past eternity and recognize it immediately when found.”  

_______________________

 

Notes:

1. Translated by Coleman Barks, in Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets: RUMI, p. 32-33

2. Translated by Andrew Harvey, in above, p. 60.

3. Even neuroscientists have now studied the brain to the extent of realizing that the brain indeed works in such a ‘holistic’ fashion. There may be separate brain areas specializing in certaint types of experience (for instance vision, sound, language, emotions, etc) but they are all interconnected and are working together whenever we are learning something somewhere. [Readings on topics such as ‘neural circuits’ and ‘plasticity of the brain’ will lead any reader to authentic primary sources.]Psychologists have studied a small part of this phenomenon called as learning by conditioning: When the emotional or social sides are vivid, we come to associate them forever with the new conept we have learned. For instance, reading a certain poem may always give happy feelings not just because it talks about a peaceful moment in life but beause we used to read it in our childhood in some pleasant family circumstance. Similarly some topics are forever emotionally aversive to us because of the negative attitudes of the teacher.

4. Translated by Coleman Barks, in same as 1 & 2, p. 69.

5. Translated by above, in above, pp. 111-8.

6. Same as above, p. 139.

7. Translated by Reynold Nicholson, in same as 1, 2, 4, 5, & 6, pp. 132-3.

 

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MIND’S I EXPLORATIONS: The Wise Window on the World

In consciousness, Mind's I Explorations, Mind|Body|World, perception, psychology, psychology of religion, Psychology|Religion, Quran, sources of knowledge, The Method, universe on September 11, 2011 at 8:26 pm

This is the second edition of Mind’s I Explorations, a series I began with a view to base my reflections on the nature of reality (and how we come to learn it) on the anthology: The Mind’s I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self and Soul.

 

On having no head

The second piece of the anthology is a ‘charmingly childish’* narration of how one day in the Hamalyas, the author↓1  discovered (or rather realized) that he had in fact no head on his shoulders! In his own words, the discovery (or rediscovery) was an ultimate outcome of pondering a question for a long time: “What am I?”

*according to editors of the anthology, in their commnetary following the original piece.

If there was no head, what was there?:

It was a vast emptiness vastly filled, a nothing that found room for everything—room for grass, trees, shadowy distant hills, and far above them snow-peaks like a row of angular clouds riding the blue sky. I had lost a head and gained a world.

Indeed imagine not having grown up mentally, only developing the sharpened skill of seeing. And what would you have seen? No, you won’t see a head on your shoulders!

We conclude the presence of this head by comparing ourselves with others who have two sets of limbs and an overall physique similar to ours, and who speak, walk, eat and generally live like us. And based on this comparison, we deduce, that if they have a head, we must have one too. For although we can see our heads in the mirrors, can the testimony of a mirror (in a way, an optical illusion) be trusted?

This is the apparently naive explanation of the author. It’s not a philosophical explanation, rather it’s intuitive, describing things on an strictly ‘as is’ basis rather than distorting the first native experience of the world through rational logic. When we are born we have no idea of how the ‘uppermost part’ of our body looks. Our view is just like those film camera views when the directors are trying to show things from the ‘eyes’ of a particular character. Again, no head is visible in that view, only the body and limbs. And in place of the head is the view, the scene, itself.

In the author’s own words:

It was self-luminous reality for once swept clean of all obscuring mind … It was a ceasing to ignore something which (since early childhood at any rate) I had always been too busy or too clever to see.

The essence of this way of thinking really is: that the experience we go through at first hand must always be fundamentally different from all others. Yet, in this subjective experience lies a greater and more peaceful unity with the external world, than in reliance on logically deduced objective experiences.↓2(the anthology editors who comment on every piece seem to have interpreted it slightly differently).

All twoness—all duality of subject and object—has vanished.

 

The subject and the object: dichotomous, complementary, or uniform?

A duality or dichotomy refers to “two mutually exclusive, opposed or contradictory groups (such as): a dichotomy between thought and action”. Such dichotomies or dualities are of concern in nearly all major fields of knowledge. In human sciences and philosophy, often such dichotomies are subject of much debate as to their respective significance in some area and as to how much in distinction &/or opposition they stand with respect to each other. Examples include wave-particle duality, mind and matter/body, good and evil, creationism vs evolution, etc. Complement is what supplies the lack of another entity; literally, something which makes another thing complete, whole, or perfect. Uniformity may refer to an overall sameness, homogeneity and regularity.

In philosophy, the subject-object problem is concerned with delineating what is objective and what is subjective in our experience. As a starting point, we can think of ‘objects’, different beings in the universe, being perceived by an observer: the ‘subject’.  Thus on the face of it, the two entities appear to be dichotomous. However, we encounter various problems when we attempt to further elaborate this basic premise. For instance, if we depend on our own sensory experience to perceive an object, discerning only those properties which our capacities enable us to, can we really know the object objectively, as it really is?↓3 This also relates to the ‘observer vs the observed’ problem in physics epitomzied by the uncertainty principle so recently discussed on this blog. And then, to what extent our own properties (i.e. the subject’s) affect what has been observed?  

Thus, the way we actually experience the object (or the universe) certaintly seems to unify us (the subject) with it (the object). This is despite the fact that, through logical analysis, we may feel certain that the object (or the universe) has its own reality independent of our sensibility of it↓4, and also despite the fact that the total dependence for our own experience on our own devises of sensation and perception may also lead us to doubt whether ‘it’s all in the head’ or not↓5. Perhaps it’s best to say that what is out there complements what is in here (in me and in you), and that they are unified into one experience by the device of the mind which has no way to see the separation of the two.

Now, let us return to the original piece for further deliberations:

 

On regaining the pure nativity of one’s original perspective on the world:

What actually happened was something absurdly simple and unspectacular: I stopped thinking … as if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories … like a sudden waking from the sleep of ordinary life, an end to dreaming.

I had been blind to the one thing that is always present, and without which I am blind indeed—to this marvellous substitute-for-a-head, this unbounded clarity, this luminous and absolutely pure void, which nevertheless is—rather than contains—all things.

…no arguement can add to or take away from an experience which is as plain and incotrovertible as hearing middle-C* or tasting strawberry jam.

— *a note in music

There arose no questions, no reference beyond the experience itself, but only peace and a quiet joy, and the sensation of having dropped an intolerable burden.

—-

These quotes let us infer four different aspects about the experience.

i) Our intuitive experience is pre-verbal; language is not involved. All thinking and speaking is learned from the world. The nature of the kind of thinking and speaking we learn from the world is rational: we learn to associate features with specific objects, objects with specific categories. We usually learn not to cross-over between concepts. As we grow older our creativity dies down since we are taught to think in terms of what’s rational and familiar, not what’s new and different.

ii) The ‘burden’ of all this rational knowledge and way of thinking tends to bury our own sources of pre-verbal thought (let’s call them intuition and the freshness and naitvity of creativity) farther and farther beyond the boundaries of conscious life. Whereas, the fact remains that this intuitive thought is as basic and primary to us as ‘tasting jam’ or hearing a melody.

iii) The burden is not just metaphorical, it’s literal: The more thought we put into issues, the more we experience generally negative emotions and the more the issue (that we have been thinking on) seems like a ‘pressure’ or ‘full of stress’. The most peaceful moments of our lives are indeed those when we are simply submerged in an experience rather than caught in the tangles of thought.

iv) Hence, the sense of joy and peace on having reconnected with one’s innate perspective on the world: that the whole world is unified by the fabric of first-hand experience. It’s the artifact of logic that ‘divides’ the world into things and categories and hierarchies, and into I and it. This is this and that is that. The author has replaced it with the original ‘I≡universe≡reality’ kind of experience that would have remained in our consciousness if we had not been trained otherwise by the rigors of reason.

In addition to explaining how we come to loose the freshness of our inborn perspective, these conclusions also touch upon another commonly discussed ‘duality’: nature and environment. However, the whole discussion might remain a heady philosphical or incomprehensibly mystical narrative if not made plainer.

 

How the world conditions us

The best way to clarify the subject is to recast it in terms of a famous (though not very widely known in mass media) person-centered theory of personality by Carl Rogers. In addition to becoming more familiar, an additional advantage in speaking in terms of this theory is that a lot of general psychological insights abour how life works might be gained.

In Rogers’ theory, the counterpart of the ‘native perspective on things’ is a process called ‘organismic valuing’. The counterpart for ‘the perspective the world imposes on us’ is ‘conditions of worth’. Before coming to these concepts, however, we must first consider what Rogers meant by conditional and unconditional positive regard.

When we give a person our trust and acceptance, with an expression of genuine positive sentiment towards them, despite their shortcomings, faults and mistakes, they have recieved ‘unconditional positive regard’.

On the other hand, when we treat a person based on how they behave, and how well they perform tasks, we are treating them with conditional positive regard: we love them when they are good to us, and neglect or mistreat them when they are incapable of goodness. In a way, we expect them to ‘conform’ to our standards of behavior; if they don’t meet those standards they are somehow worthy of inferior treatment.

These standards that others must meet to obtain our regard are what Rogers called as the conditions of worth.

Typically, learning takes place through the application of these conditions on the growing child. The child is given the impression of being a ‘bad child’ and treated with various forms of punishments (at the very least, the withdrawal of positive objects such as attention, praise or toys), when he/she fails in behaving as expected. It is the incentives of parents’ love and attention (positive regard) that prompts the child to learn speech, get toilet-trained, and learn to eat with manners. If parents are not very mindful of the balance in their attitude (specifically, in giving the child a steady sense of unconditional positive regard through all the ups and downs of child development) the child might well loose the innate interest and ‘fun’ in learning and exploring new things. As such, the child will learn to do every new thing just to obtain someone’s regard or to avoid someone’s punishment. That is also how many children come to despise any new learning, except what they learn from play-at-will.

Many a children have ‘discovered’ that playing with a certain child was ‘bad’ given his/her background; that someone we never thought of as good or bad is now definitely good or certainly bad since we have heard some of our elders announce and reinforce that; that even thought the idea that an act of dishonesty is unjust and harmful makes perfect sense, whether it’s ok to engage in it or not depends on who does it. Thus even when children have received noble and valuable guidelines for living at a formal level, they are more often than not negated by actual conditioning.

In adulthood, the primary forms of conditions may be replaced by other more sophisticated ones: money, power, status, achievement, renown and fame, and a luxurious life. Even though we come to experience them as our own needs, their common sense definitions contain the sense of comparison with ‘others’: more money than others, power over others, satus higher than others, achievement better than or different from others’, renown and fame among others, more luxury and comfort than others…. Our life is reduced to nothing but a race for meeting more and more worthy conditions of being.

 

What we loose in the process

What we loose in the process is our own pre-verbal, intuitive, and emotionally tinged sense of things—what Rogers called as ‘organismic valuing’. According to Rogers, all organisms (humans or lower) have a tendecy to develop as fully as possible. For lower organisms, this is restricted more or less to the physical sense: body needs and survival. For humans however, there is an additional dimension called as self-actualizing. This tendency refers to our innermost urge to realize all the possibilities of experience and capacity innate to us. This urge creates in us ‘organismic valuing’: an inner voice (of course, experienced as a feeling rather than a thought) that tells us that some things are superior and make us more content and peacefully satisfied from the inside than some other things, without anybody’s commentary as a go-between. In cases where conditioning has been rather foolproof, we never even come to realize that there are whole undiscovered, and unexplored sides of us suppressed beneath the life of society-imposed ‘values’ we are pursuing.

This rosy existence is unfortunately uncommon. We remain pressurized by the need to do more for others and for ourselves as our worth has been attached to certain objects valued by our society. We have to force ourselves to ways of behaving and thinking that are inferior in our own eyes, but suit others. We have to hide our true inclinations, attitudes, and opinions on grave matters of character and way of life so that they don’t meet with censure, ridicule, indifference, bigotry, or plain misunderstanding. Our happiness comes to reside solely in other’s being happy with us; moments of peace, contentment, and joy that originate solely from inside are few and far between.

And buried deep beneath the compost of all the negated inner and intuitive knowledge of good and right, bad and wrong, must be that original and fresh perspective on the world: of being at one with the whole universe, of experiencing the whole universe at first hand.↓6

 

Where do our innate knowledge and perspective come from

Scientists may call it nature; but nature means what is there already existing before worldly learning takes place. Hence ‘nature’ is not an answer to the above question; if used, it’d merely be a ‘circular’ definition. Nature is what has been created by God:

فِطْرَتَ اللَّـهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ النَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا

 … this (faith) being the nature designed by Allah on which He has originated mankind. (in Ar-Rum, 30)

According to the Ma’ariful- Qur’an, English version,  two interpretations of ‘nature’ are derivable from sources. One is that nature here means Islam, in reference to the following Ahadith in Sahih Muslim, Book 33, Chapter 6:

There is none born but is created to his true nature. It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Majoosi… (#6423)

and:

Every new-born babe is born on the millat, and remains on this until his tongue is enabled to express himself. (#6427)

According to the second, equally acceptable interpretation, “Allah Ta’ala has bestowed the capability to every human being to discern his Creator and believe in Him”. Once this capacity is allowed to develop, it will ultimately lead the person to submission to God in the form of Islam. In fact, Maulana Taqi (the author of the Tafseer) presents arguments clarifying that the meaning that resonates with both the context of the full ayah and the ahadith quoted above is this second one:

All children are born with the natural instinct to perceive and identify the truth through an observation of their environment; however, once they develop the skill of speaking (which actually means the ability to understand logical concepts and think accordingly) their conscious development falls dependent on the teachings of their respective social environments.

 

Where does it all fit in the subject-object problem?

 In Qur’an the world has been described many times as a thing of play and pastime:

وَمَا هَـٰذِهِ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا لَهْوٌ وَلَعِبٌ

… the life of this world is nothing but a passing delight and a play… (in Al-Ankabut, 64)

And it’s objects a vehicle of deception:

وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ

THE worldly life is no more than a deceitful possession. (in Al-i-Imran, 185)

And it has indeed succeded in deceiving a majority of the people:

وَغَرَّتْهُمُ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا

 … and they have been deceived by the life in this world… (in Al-An’am, 70)

And the real life will be the one to come after:

وَإِنَّ الدَّارَ الْآخِرَةَ لَهِيَ الْحَيَوَانُ 

whereas, the life in the hereafter is indeed the real life: if they but knew this! (in Al-Ankabut, 64)

 

Even research in astrophysics has progressed to the point that some authors have speculated on the ‘tentative’ and ‘image-like’ nature of this world. According to Michael Talbot, in his book The Holographic Universe:

… there is evidence to suggest that our world and everything in it. . . are also only ghostly images, projections from a level of reality so beyond our own it is literally beyond both space and time.

The interesting part is that the way we experience it, we are never in a position to ascertain whether this world is a literal inter-play of light and other energies. All our experience tells us directly is the uniqueness of one’s own window on the world — a window we cannot share with anyone else, nor can we ever succeed in ‘peeping’ out from any one else’s window. What we call red, is what we have heard others calling red and teaching us to do the same; we are not even sure (by direct experience) that what looks as red in our eyes looks the same in anyone else’s eye or not!

On the other hand, the tangibility of the objects of this world is also directly experienced by us. So we can’t be inherently sure of any ‘philosophical idealism’ either (the idea that we experience nothing but what our minds make up). Moreover, at the level of daily life, questions of what is good and bad behavior, what is just and unjust, etc affect us more though deeper deliberations do have their effect.

We also get a similar attitude from the Qur’an. While, at least at the meaningful level, the belief in the transience of this life (meant to be ever inexplicable at the level of this world and this humanity) is a direct corollary of the belief in a more real and eternal life; pondering too much on ‘how to explain it all in terms understandable to us’ won’t serve us in any practical matters:

هُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْهُ آيَاتٌ مُّحْكَمَاتٌ هُنَّ أُمُّ الْكِتَابِ وَأُخَرُ مُتَشَابِهَاتٌ

فَأَمَّا الَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ زَيْغٌ فَيَتَّبِعُونَ مَا تَشَابَهَ مِنْهُ ابْتِغَاءَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَابْتِغَاءَ تَأْوِيلِهِ

وَمَا يَعْلَمُ تَأْوِيلَهُ إِلَّا اللَّـهُ ۗ وَالرَّاسِخُونَ فِي الْعِلْمِ يَقُولُونَ آمَنَّا بِهِ كُلٌّ مِّنْ عِندِ رَبِّنَا

وَمَا يَذَّكَّرُ إِلَّا أُولُو الْأَلْبَابِ

He it is Who has revealed the Book to you; some of its verses are decisive, they are the basis of the Book, and others are allegorical; then as for those in whose hearts there is perversity they follow the part of it which is allegorical, seeking to mislead and seeking to give it (their own) interpretation. but none knows its interpretation except Allah, and those who are firmly rooted in knowledge say: ‘We believe in it, it is all from our Lord’; and only people of who are wise take heed.  (Al-i-Imran, 7)    

 

This wisdom is again pre-endowed; the same inner wisdom that begins to loose its voice pressured by the outward-imposed ‘lessons’. Attempts to scientifically analyze and study this wisdom will again fail; one cannot expect the ‘subject’ to turn back on itself and to study itself ‘objectively’. This wisdom is our side of the reality: our window of the world, whether blurred termporarily by the conditions of worth; or, open and receptive and accepting of all the mysticalities of the world, humbly accepting its own and the world’s true nature for what it is.  

This wise consciousness could well be the primary fact of life; that elusive insightfulness that imbues with belief on and certain and intimate knowledge of the only Source deservant of that belief. Interestingly, I stumbled upon but last night on an online ‘course on the consciousness‘ by a Professor Emeritus in physics, in the University of Virginia, Stanley Sobottka. It resonates nearly perfectly with the above conclusion:

Because most scientists of all types are mentally wedded to a belief in an external reality, they are unable to see an alternative picture. In particular, they are unable to see that Consciousness, rather than external reality, is the fundamental Reality. Thus, they persist in attempting (and in failing) to create an objective theory of Consciousness. When the contents of Awareness try to objectify Awareness, it is like a puppet trying to “puppetize” the puppet master, a picture on a movie screen trying to “pictureize” the actors, a shadow striving to “shadowize” the object that is casting it, or humans trying to “humanize” God.

The problem of trying to create an objective theory of subjective experience has been labeled the “hard problem” of consciousness by David Chalmers… In fact, there is no hard problem for those who are aware they are aware.↓7  

 

Notes

1. D. E. Harding was a mystical writer on the nature of self and reality.

2. The commenting editors have not articulated this angle. To read the chapter along with the commentary, click this link.

3. Read “the problem of substance” on the pertinent wikipedia page. I mentioned a relevant example formerly in Prophetic revelation and subjectivity.

4. A view called as philosophical realism.

5. The issue is examplified by this famous question that if there is no one in the jungle to hear a sound produced, can we say that the sound was really there? Yes is the answer given by subjective idealists who say, in essence, that the mind makes the world (or the subject makes the object).

6. This idea, of course, is not part of Rogers theory but links this psychological discourse with the more philosophical one we began with.

7. For flow reading I have removed internal hyperlinks in the quote pointing to sections in the course which have already elaborated in various points in here. I have also removed the cross-reference to David Chalmers. To see the original go to the section of the course here: http://faculty.virginia.edu/consciousness/new_page_13.htm#9.6

 

Related posts from this blog:

On scientific speculativeness vs certainty of Divine knowledge: Assumptions vs Certainty (Synopsis)

Note that all the related links noted down in the above-linked post page are relevant to this discussion as well.

Also, more on mysteries of consciousness ordinarily hidden from our perception: Outrageous Sensations: What can we learn from LSD?

 

MIND|BODY|WORLD: Outrageous Sensations! What Can We Learn from LSD? Part II

In consciousness on April 18, 2009 at 5:37 pm

What do drugs like LSD teach us?

LSD is actually just a metaphor here. There are plenty of cases in the world which reveal the limits (or rather, the ‘limitlessness’) of human perception. These ‘tales from strange lands’  constantly remind us how our conventional and normal version of reality is a construction of our brains. Change some of the underlying chemistry, and the same brain is capable of experiencing things that, in our conventional mode, we can never even imagine happening…

All brain functions are drug-induced

To quote blogger LSD Research: “Basically, mental experiences are drug-induced experiences, whether they are endogenous produced compounds or exogenous compounds.”  What does that mean?

Exogenous compounds are chemicals in the outside world which a person may take in. LSD is one example. On the other hand, endogenous compounds are natural chemicals which are a part of our body machinery and play a role in running our body. Insulin is an example.

Taking along the message from one neuron to the next, all the way from the eyes through to the brain, are naturally occurring chemicals called ‘neurotransmitters’. When a neurotransmitter is released it interacts with another category of chemicals found on the surface of the next neuron, called receptors. The ultimate action of this interaction is either to activate the neuron or to stop it from activating. Thus different neurotransmitter-receptor combinations in different areas of the brain form the basis for execution of different brain tasks.

The ‘drugs’ we are endowed with limit our ‘reality’

As we saw in the Part I of this post, LSD interferes with serotonin’s inhibitory role in the portion of the brain devoted to visual perception, namely, the visual  cortex. Apparently, serotonin plays a role in the regulation of our perception in face of a bombardment of stimuli at any time from the environment. It seems that the brain has to screen out a lot of information coming in through the eyes in order to optimize our survival as we may not be able to handle such an influx.

In the words of wikipedia: The brain, with which you perceive the world, is made up of neurons “buzzing” at 50 cycles a second, while the world as it exists in reality, is made up of electro-magnetic radiation oscillating at 500 trillion cycles a second. This means that the human brain cannot nearly keep up with the ‘realness of reality.’

Timothy Wilson observes in his book Strangers to Ourselves: the brain can absorb about 11 million pieces of information a second, of which it can process about 40 consciously.

Similarly, Bill Hammel, with reference to time perception, writes:  To a large extent, the assumption of the ontology of time, as we perceive it, is a consequence of our neurochemistry of perception; we have great difficulty in conceiving of other precisely because we are awash in this construction like the proverbial fish in water…… primitively we immediately tend to interpret the world around us in terms of the cognitively processed sensations available to us.

Can reality be directly perceived?

It seems it cannot. So the question really is… how far can we trust ‘evidences’ and ‘proofs’ promulgated by a group of ‘empiricists‘ awashed in the proverbial construction which severly limits what they can and cannot perceive…? In other words, what is the validity of the empirical method in face of a reality that is far more complicated than we like to believe?

MIND|BODY|WORLD: Outrageous Sensations!- What can we learn from LSD? Part I

In consciousness on April 9, 2009 at 5:41 pm

LSD (Lysergic acid diethylamide) is a psychoactive drug which brings about weird changes in our perception.

Before the drug was banned in the late 1960s in view of potential risks in taking it, a lot of research had been done in clinical settings. Many users also published reports of their experiences. Although the effects of LSD vary depending upon the dosage, the mood of the user and the setting, certain common trends have been observed.

Enhanced visual perception

The first prominent effect of the drug is an enhanced sensitivity of our perceptual faculties:

Random details of my surroundings suddenly stood out strongly, and somehow appeared to be ‘meaningful. -Dr. Rudolf Gelpke.

Strange shapes and patterns are seen even when the eyes are closed. When its discoverer, Albert Hoffman, first became intoxicated with it, he reported seeing fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors with his eyes closed. Ordinary objects and surfaces seem to ripple as if breathing.

moire patterns are enhanced under LSD

moire patterns are enhanced under LSD

Depersonalizations

Often, intense depersonalization is experienced in this early stage. A user realized that “she was unable to distinguish her body from the chair she was sitting on or from her lover’s body.” (Frosch, Robbins, & Stern, 1965). According to Dr. Gelpke, my own hands somehow were in my way: I put them in my pockets, let them dangle, entwined them behind my back . . . as some burdensome objects, which must be dragged around with us and which no one knows quite how to stow away.

Distorted sense of time

Time seems to be stretching, repeating itself, changing speed or stopping (wikipedia).

It felt like everything that was going to happen, everything that had just happened, and everything that was happening for about 3 seconds before and 3 seconds after where I was in time, was condensed into one moment. [http://www.erowid.org/experiences/exp.php?ID=4048]

Synaesthesia

Colors are heard and voices are seen: synaesthesia

Here is the experience of a 25-year old advertising agent, related by John Cashman, taken from Hoffman’s book:

I think it was several minutes before I realized that the light was changing color kaleidoscopically with the different pitch of the musical sounds, bright reds and yellows in the high register, deep purple in the low. I laughed. I had no idea when it had started. I simply knew it had. I closed my eyes, but the colored notes were still there. I was overcome by the remarkable brilliance of the colors. I tried to talk, to explain what I was seeing, the vibrant and luminous colors. Somehow it didn’t seem important. With my eyes open, the radiant colors flooded the room, folding over on top of one another in rhythm with the music. Suddenly I was aware that the colors were the music. The discovery did not seem startling. Values, so cherished and guarded, were becoming unimportant.

Transcendental experiences

Finally, strange transcendence may be experienced involving ‘ego death’, sensation of ‘being born’ and ‘harmony with the universe’.

The 25-year old agent, quoted above, realizes the presence of a large, pulsating and luminous egg suspended in the room. Slowly the egg dissolves into a flower that, according to him, was like no flower I have ever seen. Its incredibly exquisite petals opened on the room, spraying indescribable colors in every direction. I felt the colors and heard them as they played across my body, cool and warm, reedlike and tinkling.

The petals of this flower are soon perceived as being eaten up by its own black, shiny center “that appeared to be formed by the backs of a thousand ants”. This is followed by the horrifying realization that the black thing was actually devouring me. I was the flower and this foreign, creeping thing was eating me!

Finally, I felt myself dissolving into the terrifying apparition, my body melting in waves into the core of blackness, my mind stripped of ego and life and, yes even death. In one great crystal instant I realized that I was immortal. I asked the question: “Am I dead?” But the question had no meaning. Meaning was meaningless. Suddenly there was white light and the shimmering beauty of unity. There was light everywhere, white light with a clarity beyond description. I was dead and I was born and the exultation was pure and holy. My lungs were bursting with the joyful song of being. There was unity and life and the exquisite love that filled my being was unbounded. My awareness was acute and complete.

Bad trips

Psychedelic Art by Erik Parker

Psychedelic Art by Erik Parker

In a bad trip, the experiences can be terrorizing. This is hell, I thought. There is indeed no Devil and no demons, and yet they were perceptible in us, filled up the room, and tormented us with unimaginable terror. Imagination, or not? Hallucinations, projections? – insignificant questions when confronted with the reality of fear that was fixed in our bodies and shook us: the fear alone, it existed. The experiences of a painter.

Meaningfulness

Heavenly or hellish, the experiences are intensely meaningful for most users. The above-mentioned painter realizes: I realized that in the horror of the passing night I had experienced my own individual condition: selfishness. My egotism had kept me separated from mankind and had led me to inner isolation… Therefore everything had seemed strange and unconnected to me, so scornful and threatening.

According to Dr. Hoffman: “Such a variety and contradiction of reactions to a drug is found only in LSD and the related hallucinogens. The explanation for this lies in the complexity and variability of the conscious and subconscious minds of people, which LSD is able to penetrate and to bring to life as experienced reality.

How does LSD bring about such changes?

LSD primarily affects by interfering with the normal activity of a chemical called serotonin in those areas of the brain concerned with transmission of visual information. Ordinarily when serotonin-containing neurons are activated, they release serotonin, whose action helps the brain to filter incoming sensory messages. Without the action of serotonin, the brain would be flooded by perceptual and emotional input-particularly visual input-and people would experience more sensations, see more details, distort visual images and even see things not actually there. (Comer, 1995).

Notes:

Here are the two text references mentioned in this post.

1. Frosch, W. A., Robbins, E. S., & Stern, M. (1965). Untoward reactions to lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) resulting in hospitalization. New England Journal Medicine, 273, 1235-1239.

2. Comer, R. J. (1995). Abnormal Psychology, 2nd ed. New York: Freeman and Co. p. 461.

3. The explanation of LSD’s effects in Comer is referenced to Jacobs, B. L. (Ed.). (1984). Hallucinogens: neurochemical, behavioral, and clinical perspectives. New York: Springer.

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