Biologists and cognitive “scientists” have developed something called a Theory of Mind which posits that humans are possibly unique in having evolved the capacity to conceive of the existence of separate ‘selves’, our own and others’, with unique and divergent beliefs, ideas and perspectives, and behave in accordance with that belief. Given the evidence that this capacity apparently exists in ravens and other creatures with relatively large brains (thanks to Natalie Shell for this link), and the compelling arguments of non-dualists that there is in fact no separate self, one might conclude that such a capacity, rather than being a sign of intelligence, is a sign of delusion and disease, and that all creatures trapped in this delusion might deserve our pity rather than our respect.
This has led me to start to develop a Theory of No-Mind, which holds, ultimately, that everything our culture believes (and legislates) based on the idea of human responsibility, will, control and morality is essentially self-defeating and abusive — the equivalent of chastising a pet for the pet “owner’s” inability to convey clearly the behaviour the “owner” is trying to coerce from the poor beleaguered creature.
If the idea of mass delusion seems far-fetched — if it seems improbable that the vast majority of humans would come to believe something that is patently false — one need only glance back to the many, many atrocities of the past century, carried out with the complicity of millions or billions of humans. We humans seem to like our delusions — that climate change is a myth, that unregulated ‘free’ markets act in the best interests of the majority, that economic growth can continue forever, that humanity is the crown of creation, that most animals we eat live comfortable unstressful lives, that the current global civilization culture is the healthiest and most democratic and humanitarian ever, etc.
What might a Theory of No-Mind look like? Here are my early thoughts:
- The evolution of the concept of the self-reflexive ‘conscious’ mind, and the derived concept of a separate self with free will, are unintended (exaptive) and tragic consequences of the evolution of large brains (and large brain-to-body-mass) in some organisms. Although these concepts are extremely useful, and enormously evolutionarily successful, they are delusions, a mistaking of representation for reality, and they have disastrous consequences for these organisms and their environment.
- This exaptation occurs as the brain evolves as a pattern-recognition and feature-detection organ, a ‘control centre’ for assessing danger, finding food and mates and other evolutionarily successful tasks of the organism. Because reality is far too staggeringly complex for something as simple as a bodily organ to understand, the brain evolves to invent a drastically simplified but still-useful representation (model) of reality — a dream world.
- The evolved brain’s role was initially to collect and present data to the organism which enabled it (the organism) to react in the organism’s collective best interest (fight, flee, freeze, eat, mate etc.) But as the brain grows, it evolves the mind, and in so doing gains the capacity to rationalize the organism’s decisions (e.g. fast yellow creature ~> tiger, flee). Mind is in fact ‘second-guessing’ the organism’s real world decisions within its dream world representation of reality, but because so little time passes between the organism’s decision and the mind’s second-guessing, the correlating, pattern-seeking mind imagines and comes to believe it is actually making the decision, that it (mind/self) exists separately from the rest of the organism, and is capable of deciding for it, and is in control of it. That the representational dream world it has creates is the real world. This is the birth of ego.
- In (the many) cases where the (extremely complex) organism makes (usually ‘unconscious’) decisions that the mind cannot rationalize or ‘make sense’ of, the reflexive egoic mind is torn. It believes it has ‘sinned’, made an error, a misjudgement, an inexplicably bad decision. It suffers.
- Poor mind! It believes it is in control, it is responsible, it is your self, it is you! But everything is going wrong. All these (in the mind’s judgement) sad things, outrageous things, terrifying things, and you, mind-self, didn’t anticipate them, didn’t prevent them, didn’t fix them! So mind-self is filled with grief, anger, fear, shame. Then mind learns to assign each sensation and thought and emotional reaction to an invention it calls ‘past’, or memory, hopefully in order to learn from these figments of reality and screw up less. And it learns to imagine possible, unrealized sensations and thoughts and emotional reactions and assign them to another invention it calls ‘future’, hopefully in order to anticipate and prevent or achieve or influence these figments of reality. So now these memories and imaginings are playing out in mind, over and over, stirring up these thoughts and emotional reactions again and again, until the present moment (the only moment there ever really is, now caught between the mind’s fictitious ‘past’ and fictitious ‘future’) narrows to a tiny dot and disappears entirely from thought. The egoic mind is now totally caught up in itself, its dream-world of reality, and all consciousness of real reality is lost to it, to the mind-self that believes it is you.
- A gap now emerges between what mind in its dream-world perceives as happening and what mind believes ‘should’ be happening, according to its simple model of reality, on the assumption it is in control and responsible for this gap. This creates, in the mind, needs and wants, which are intellectual concepts (thoughts) feeding emotional reactions to this (to the mind) intolerable gap, and mind strives, impossibly, to satisfy them.
- The organism, meanwhile, has no needs or wants; these are just intellectual constructs. The organism seeks only to enjoy: warmth, beauty, wonder, connection, sex, food and other sensory pleasures, as it always has, and as organisms free of egoic minds always do. The organism enjoys these pleasures but is indifferent to their attainment. It accepts what is, seeks the pleasures it has evolved successfully to seek, and decides and acts, instinctively, accordingly. It exists only in the real eternal now that the mind-self has forgotten.
- But now the entire organism is, almost from birth, getting relentlessly damaged by the mind infecting it. The self-mind’s deluded cravings, anxieties, fears, grief, sorrows, and (in the desperate search for relief from these incessant and horrific emotions) addictions, continuously flood the entire organism with potent chemicals, originally designed for initiating response to brief and acute existential threats, destabilizing it and inflicting a host of debilitating chronic diseases upon it. Mind isn’t causing this because it is ‘evil’; it’s just a bull in a china shop, inadvertently destroying things, just doing its best to try to escape its self-invented prison.
- Mind makes up stories, imaginary future stories of ideal love, of consuming lust, of perfect peace, of total power, to escape the suffering it has unintentionally inflicted on itself and on the organism by dwelling on the imagined ‘failings’ of the past. It craves and yearns to realize an idealized perfect future to ‘fix’ its suffering; nothing less will satisfy it. Tragically, this idealism interferes with the organism’s simple taking of pleasures from what is, making pleasures that are merely ‘real’ unsatisfactory to the mind, ruining what little happiness mind derived from the organism. The disconnection of the mind from reality is complete.
- Buried in the past, aching for and insisting upon an ideal and impossible future, mind is in an awful quandary. The dream-world it has created is mostly and relentlessly terrible, but there seems no lasting escape. And equally unbearable is the thought of giving up, completely letting go, abandoning the organism to being, real and raw, in the forgotten, thought-less, terrifying, unfathomable, uncontrollable present moment. That would mean the mind-self’s certain death.
- To make matters worse, the evolved egoic mind discovers it can influence the egoic minds of other humans, in what it believes is the collective best interest of its perceived ‘tribe’ of autonomous, ‘self-ish’, humans. This leads to the evolution of language to increase this capacity, and ultimately leads to power hierarchies, where, the egoic minds believe, collective decision-making and decision-making by those at the top of the hierarchy will be better than individual minds’ obviously flawed decision-making. None of the ‘self-conscious’ egoic minds realize that they are all acting out a scene, a fiction, while what is real goes on beyond their tiny self-obsessed consciousness.
- The malaise of mind continues to worsen, and to be inflicted on other minds as well, in collective delusional thoughts and collective emotional reactions, spreading like an epidemic. The self-blame of the egoic mind grows to include a collective blaming of other egoic minds, individually and collectively, and to insane fear-driven competition over and hoarding of resources, intended to provide, the mind imagines, ‘self’ security and ‘personal’ betterment for the organism and its tribe. This leads to the disconnection of each mind-deranged organism from the collective, evolved, intuitive knowing of all organisms in the ecosystem, and ultimately of the planet, and hence to wars, genocides, ecocide, and other atrocities that produce further insane delusional thoughts and emotional reactions in a vicious cycle of accelerating violence and destruction.
- This is, of course, an unsustainable cycle. In some egoic minds, the suffering reaches a stage, for various reasons, where the mind asserts it can no longer stand its self. But this perception is untenable, since the mind believes it is the self, that it is you. Who or what is it that can no longer stand the poor exhausted, deranged, deluded, ruinous mind-self? If you are a non-dualist, the answer is you, your true being. If you realize that the egoic mind-self is not you, but just a well-intentioned evolved construct, then you ask: Who or what evolved this construct? The non-dualist answer is the one timeless undivided consciousness, which is also you.
- This realization is the awakening from the nightmare of the egoic mind’s dream-world and its separate self. ‘Your’ journey then begins to let go of and disentangle all the mind-self’s misconceptions and see what really is, to begin to behave in accordance with this new understanding, and to neurally ‘rewire’ the brain to slowly remove all the dysfunctional figments of the mind-self, so that all the useless thoughts and emotional reactions diminish and finally cease.
- The hold, and collective insanity, of egoic minds in the human organism, is likely such, however, that only a very few will awaken before the accelerating sixth great extinction of life on this planet is complete. The larger question then is: Will the survivors of that extinction include creatures plagued with egoic minds with the delusion of separate selves, and if so will they be fated to repeat the destruction?
This is, of course, only a theory. The value of any theory is its capacity to usefully represent reality. Non-dualists are not the only ones arguing that such a theory conforms to an informed appreciation of what we now know and can discover empirically. Many scientists now believe that time, past and future are merely mental constructs not in accordance with any observable reality. Gaia Theory argues compellingly that our sense of disconnection from all life on Earth is illusory and dangerous. Triple Helix author and scientist Richard Lewontin explains why any attempt to understand cells, organisms and environments as ‘separate’ phenomena is deluded and self-defeating. Cohen and Stewart in Figments of Reality argue persuasively that the brain evolved as a feature-detection system and not as a control ‘centre’ and that the mind is a (possibly exaptive) process that produces ‘figments’ (simplified representations i.e. models) of reality.
The most obvious objection to this theory is that it is not ‘actionable’ — that it excuses inaction by denying ‘individual’ free will and responsibility. Surely, critics might say, awareness of the true nature of reality and knowledge of the tragic nature and ‘volition’ of our mind-self enables and requires us to be even more active in curtailing the excesses and misbehaviour of our collective ‘selves’ (i.e. our ‘culture’). We should, they could argue, work to help others achieve the same awakening we have realized until we are all awakened (as Eckhart Tolle seems to advocate in his optimistic book A New Earth). And, they might argue, at least we can, from an informed perspective, work to stem, reform or even reverse some of the worst manifestations of humans’ self-deluded minds — the Tar Sands and other accelerators of climate change, factory farms, our destructive penal, health and education systems and institutions etc.
What this criticism misses is that massively complex systems like our industrial economy and industrial agriculture self-perpetuate — in their own way they have successfully ‘evolved’ to survive attempts to undermine and defeat them. And belief that we can somehow achieve a change of consciousness on some kind of large scale on a rapid timetable overlooks the reality of how systems (including cultures like our global civilization culture) actually change — slowly, and mostly after a die-off (disaster, generational, or extinction event).
A more pragmatic strategy, then, would probably be at the micro-level, modelling this awareness, wherever we are along the path to its realization and internalization, for others, using it to inform what we do and don’t do, beyond the knee-jerk reactions of the mind-self. My sense, at least for now, is that the belief we can mobilize or innovate large-scale change is the mind’s hubris, though I know this is contentious and debatable and at this stage only an intuition.
That’s my theory, anyway.
Lots here my friend to chew on. I think the concept of evolutionary success is what stands out in my mind. In evolution it seems that success can only be measured by fitness to a specific context in a specific moment. That means that our ability to separate ourselves from others seems to have success in this moment but over time it may turn out not to be an evolutionary advantage for our species. Using the right tools for the right context at the right time can also provide an illusion of success in a situation where there are no object of ways to measure advantage or disadvantage.
«What is it like to be a bat?»
«Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living»
Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela
Thanks for this, Dave – it seems serendipitous that we’re making the same kind of inquiries at the same time, and I massively appreciate allies in this rather isolating journey!
I’ve come to similar conclusions (I don’t like to use that word, as it’s rare that any of my ‘conclusions’ are ‘final’ – they seem more like stepping stones along an infinite path), albeit in a slightly different way. My lens is a different one, and for that reasons the limitations on my perspective are different – but we’re stabbing at more or less the same thing, I think.
My understanding, from formal study (a blessing and a curse, for its compelling explanations and ongoing inquiry, and its resultant restrictions of my horizons – i.e. once inside a box, the box may appear to expand, but it’s still just a box, and everything else is outside…), is that theory of mind is an evolutionary advantage because it enables an individual to imagine another individual’s vantage point, and therefore understand that their experience may be different from our own (or similar, but uniquely theirs). This is advantageous for many reasons, not least in enabling us to identify gaps in information that others may have so that we may fill those gaps or manipulate those people; in judging another’s intentions based on their position/perception; or in comprehending differences in beliefs and the causes of these, for example.
Theory of mind presupposes that we have the ability to view ourselves as separate entities, because if we did not, then we would not be able to consider the vantage points of others as different from our own – we’d be stuck in a trap of not understanding or being able to interpret the behaviour of others, which would land us in a lot of trouble (presumably evolution has weeded out those who lacked theory of mind for this reason). That would be a highly disadvantageous cognitive error to make, which is why, I suspect, that as our ability to more accurately interpret the behaviours of non-human animals increases (thanks to ethologists learning the behavioural patterns of non-human animals, and ditching the anthropomorphism of bygone eras), so does our ability to perceive theory of mind playing out in those non-human animals too.
In a nutshell, it’s got less to do with an egocentric self and the notion of free will, and more to do with the logistics of comprehending that our perception may vary from that of others largely due to our different locations in time and space – the fact that we inhabit separate bodies whose perception is therefore limited.
However, we’ve ended up with a double-edged sword replete with imagination and a capacity for extrapolation that we’re better off playing with but not buying into, but which our lazy logic lets run rampant. The brain doesn’t default to formal logic; it defaults to shortcuts that are underpinned by biases based on prior experience – memory, and the notion of past, are culpable here.
I think you’re spot on in your description of the illusion of egocentric free will – which I think I suggested in a comment on an earlier post is an outgrowth of theory of mind – an over-extrapolation, if you will, that belies our neocortex’s underdeveloped (but overestimated – thanks to cognitive psychology’s flawed preoccupation with computers as a parallel for the human brain…) capacity for logical reasoning.
I agree that we are deluding ourselves in thinking that we are in control of our responses, as those are triggered by far more primal parts of the brain than the neocortex, in which our cognitive processes take place. The reasoning capacity of the neocortex applies post-hoc rationalisations to ‘decisions’ already ‘made’ by other brain functions that exist in all species of animals regardless the extent of development of their neocortex.
In sum, we’re really quite full of it when we come to believe we can control our thoughts and decisions – we’re just a bunch of stimulus-response controlled organic machines, and our ego doesn’t like the sound of that :-P
And from here on, yes, the delusion of self takes over, and we come to believe that our self-created fictional realities represent ‘what is’, and our collective delusions, or consensus realities, likewise. From here, we then take up the notion that we can ‘create our reality’, and we grab hold of what we believe to be ‘the secret’ – and we learn to ‘manifest’ things that we want by ‘giving them energy’, and so forth… We’ve come a long way with this delusion, and much of the self-improvement through Eastern philosophies movement (a cash cow if ever there was one…), not to mention the self-help industry (possibly an even bigger cash cow), presents a dramatic irony in this regard!
To my mind, the sensible (logical… so maybe a tall order for us, eh?) response to the understanding that we are not actually in control would be to stop trying to control everything that happens – whether it be our own actions, those of others, or the natural world of which we are a part – and instead focus on removing barriers to realising our animal nature. How would this look? Well, instead of training the brain to ‘believe’ or ‘buy into’ new ideas at the cognitive level while things remain unchanged at deeper, more primal levels, or creating ever ore elaborate fictions for others to buy into in the hope that this will change reality, we could just *be*…
…I feel that sounds facetious, however. What’s so simple is hardly easy, as we’re conditioned otherwise, and conditioning is monumentally difficult to break free from (and as a disclaimer, I don’t believe it is possible to be free from conditioning, even if completely isolated… because even that condition would condition us!). But try to free ourselves we must, and that comes not from further attempts at control, but from a surrendering of control and an acceptance of our very real insecurity in this finite world of ours. I don’t believe we’ll ever know ‘truth’ in the sense of fully understanding the nature of nature, as I don’t believe we’ll ever transcend our perceptual limitations – but we can slowly deconstruct our constructs, and back away from the elaborate fictions we’ve bought into.
I agree with you that the belief we can mobilize or innovate large-scale change is the mind’s hubris. I think it’s only contentious or debatable because of our attachments to the control delusion. I’ve very recently reached a new stage of acceptance (hopefully no more back-pedalling to bargaining or depression!) in my process of grieving the death of my own control delusion – and I’m playing with feeling rather rudderless!
I’m finding it liberating, but also a tad frustrating, because not buying in liberates the mind, but not the body. I’m still trapped in a system that doesn’t reflect reality, and relate to fewer and fewer people as a result. Ironically, this has sent me to the unexpected position of often being able to have more fulfilling conversations with mainstream folks who haven’t ever engaged in self-discovery, change-making or activism than I can with folks who are embroiled in those pursuits to the extent that they identify with their tribe to the detriment of their cause. It’s become difficult to know how best to support well-meaning friends and allies in their attempts at making the world a better place without questioning the actual root of our predicament.
Anyhoo… perhaps time to write on some of this myself!
Have a look at Dave’s Flatland theories on Decline of the Empire. You’re on the same track.
Has anyone visiting read “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman? I’m still working my way through, but he’s clearly been working on the overriding influence of intuition in humans for years. This is related to the insight that the mind cons a human into thinking it operates rationally.
I’m considerably more conscious of confirmation bias and the halo effect. Nobody is immune…
So Dave, I notice you’re doing an awful lot of thinking here. I don’t know if it’s necessary. That said, coming from an Autistic perspective, I have a fairly impaired Theory of Mind ability, or my mind just doesn’t do the same thing as everyone else so I can’t figure them out. I think it does push me to see what’s in front of me, rather than be obsessed with what people are thinking. Ironically, it’s said Autistic people can “be in their own worlds”, but in general people live in their heads even if they can connect up with other people more easily. In general Autistic people are more connected to physical reality, which might be said to be more real than the accumulation of what people think about stuff in this present civilisation.
I’m pretty tired of thinking or trying to find rational answers to life. The problem with doing all this theorising is that you’re trying to get back to the non-verbal, non-describable self.
I realise I like instrumental music because it’s non-verbal. No songs about love, politics, or “let’s fix the world”. I’m fed up that I haven’t developed musical skill so I’m just playing and trying not to think, or writing and not thinking about what it’s for or if I can make any money out of it or if it’s the most important thing for me to do. As an art form it must allow the mind to disappear, so it’s drawing me into the desperate attempt to escape the mind’s control…
By the way, I see you aren’t dropping the contradiction where you’ve held on to this idea that people believe in “free” markets. It’s a massive con for a start, because nobody on this planet has an experience of one. In this same article you’ve called faith in authority a delusion related to language. In a way you are supporting the notion of a genuine free market, or anarchy. If this isn’t a good example of how confusing language is I don’t know what is. Unless you’re careful you can’t be sure someone means the same thing when they say “free market”. It’s as silly as the weasel phrase “free trade agreement” – if trade is free there is no need for some politicians to make and agreement for everyone else. The real delusion is that Capitalism has anything to do with a free market. So it would be nice to get that straight…
This mind thing will make you forget contradiction because it’s only aware of the current point you’re trying to make, which might be emotionally charged.
Summarising it seems that we live looking at the world with a pair of glasses covered by a certain filter and we think that we cannot take the glasses out. In my understanding all my efforts to take out the glasses end up with just change the filter, let’s say from green to red. Even thinking about how a non-dualistic model is better then the dualistic one is a mind process that will take us to desire a no-mind dream world, at least in my experience. In my opinion every mind processes requires judgments so a non-dualistic model is impossible to achieve. This means that it is impossible “to think” in non-dualistic terms because this is how the mind works, so the only way to obtain a certain “peace” must be somewhere else. Of course i don’t have answers, i’ve no idea where to find this “pure being”, the “source”, the “consciousness”, i can’t find any moment of my life in which my mind is not chatting and i can see what’s behind it.
Any suggestions are welcomed :)
Do not try to get a Mind that Never has thoughts. It is a mistake and a wrong way.
Meditation ( buddhist Vipassana, or, the buddhist Zen) can lead to the nonproliferation of thought, to calm, and, to clarity. As well as also to better integration of all aspects: cognitive, affective and action. With the guidance of a licensed teacher within these traditions. __ Neo Advaita and Advaita is/are different Ways: it is attain union with the Brahma-principle.
I puzzle over these issues myself, Dave, and appreciate that what you’ve offered here is a theory, subject to discussion and amendment. What strikes me most is that you have created a series of semantic paradoxes between things that may not really exist yet have every apparent ability to act with considerable force in human experience. So time exists, but it doesn’t; the ego-self exists, but it doesn’t; reality exists, but our representation of reality to ourselves — our mind-maps, if you will — doesn’t correspond very closely; etc. The supposition of idealized forms vs. our own bastardized operational versions has a long philosophical history, but I’m not certain that it’s possible to distinguish this ideation from other illusions. And although these thought trends (memes) are gaining ground in some rarefied circles, I daresay they are not really available to the masses, who will always be foreclosed from overthinking things.
So as research helps us refine our thinking about various phenomena (psychological or cosmological), it seems to better to recognize that many of the things we take as rather flatly obvious (time, the body, the mind/self, etc.) are not quite so obvious after all. The body and mind in particular are proving to be far more porous constructs than we have believed up to now, with materials and ideas, respectively, moving in and out constantly that belies the existence of a core identity. What still isn’t clear to me is just how significantly body-syncing and shared cognition (e.g., mass delusion or madness) functions in the world. My intuition is that, apart from the socialized norms to which we all inevitably subscribe and in which we’re frankly trapped, their impact is quite enormous. How else to explain the appearance of fads and mass movements that utterly transform our mental landscapes every few decades? Moreover, some social critics have suggested that we flipped a switch sometime around 1900 and went collectively mad and are unwittingly embarked on an unconscious path of self-destruction and -annihilation. Considering the state of the world and where industrial civilization is pointed, I’d say that may be closer to the truth than anyone wants to admit.
Lastly, I want to object to the notion that as adaptive or exaptive creatures, we are caught in an endless cycle of response that defines out of existence the possibility of volition. It doesn’t matter whether decisions are arrived at consciously or unconsciously, rationally or emotionally, or individually or collectively. Maybe at some level we’re just a bunch of atoms and molecules bouncing against each other blindly, but at that’s just too kinetic. At the level of human experience, we act as though we have some operational decision-making power precisely because the mind tells us so. Surely the mind isn’t really what we think it is, but it’s also not nothing, just like motion (and waves), gravity, thought, emotion, and other intangible forces we understand poorly are not nothing. Why must will (free or otherwise) be identified as some pure, idealized thing isolated and immune from the context in which it functions? To suggest that even when we change our minds we’re only responding to external (or internal?) stimuli is another way of saying “the devil made me do it” by merely substituting some force for the demon. It’s a linguistic puzzle.
Thanks for the comments and links, everyone. It’s encouraging to discover people who are in a similar head-space, though sometimes also discouraging to discover how many disparate perspectives on what it all means and the ‘path’ to awakening there are. When I listen to the questions of those at satsangs, most of them seem so bewildered and inarticulate and so rooted in what I consider a pretty primitive stage of appreciating the nature and illusion of self, that I despair of ever finding others to talk to ‘meaningfully’ about this, and start to wonder if the whole non-dual ‘realization’ is just a con job put forward by a group of clever idealists seeking to reassure stressed-out people there is a magic, reductionist answer to all their suffering.
Kari, several of the non-dualists warn that ‘awakening’ is just the first step, and that it can leave a lot of ‘residual’ trauma in the body that can take the rest of your life to shake off and resolve. If we’ve spent our whole lives believing the ‘self’ and the suffering it imposes is real, and internalizing that in the body through reactive emotions, then even if the reactive emotions and ‘self’-ish thoughts slowly cease, the damage, to body and neural paths, has been done, and a long healing journey of ‘re-wiring’ still remains ahead.
Nathan, I appreciate the irony about all this intellectualization over the fact that the ‘self’ is just an intellectualization, and that ‘realizing’ that cannot be done intellectually. Sometimes, however, it is helpful and even comforting to ‘think through’ the consequences of such a radical shift of perspective on existence, even if the actual shift cannot be accomplished through thinking. It gives one a sense that it’s not an insane or dangerous perspective, which lowers at least the intellectual resistance to making that shift. That might be necessary, even though it is clearly not sufficient, to make that shift effectively.
Cargonauta, I’m kind of at the same place you are, except I haven’t concluded that awakening is impossible. Clearly it is impossible as an intellectual or emotional activity or journey, but it is not obvious to me (at least not yet) that it is impossible for the ‘real I’ to get ‘behind’ my mind/brain/emotional sense of reality, and see reality and my being for what it really is. It seems to me that if the mind is clever enough to invent its ‘self’ as a recursive consciousness, then it should not be impossible to ‘be aware of being aware’ from a place behind or before the ‘self’. If that place is real, anyway, which non-dualists insist it is.
Liliana: I’m not seeking to have no thoughts, just no thoughts that are recursive about ‘self’. And I confess I’m skeptical about ‘teachers’ — its the unschooler in me, and the witness of a lot of people who claim their ‘teacher’ has helped them achieve some breakthrough, when from my perspective they’re as stuck as they ever were (and that includes some self-proclaimed ‘teachers’ themselves).
«to be a slave to, or to fight against the movement of mind is the disease.
to appreciate the movement of mind as the movement of mind is the cure.»
Brutus, the issue of volition is one that I keep coming back to again and again, because the lack of volition seems both counter-intuitive and self-contradictory.
What does it mean to say “I changed my mind (i.e. my beliefs)?” The non-dualist view is that beliefs are just thoughts that have come up repeatedly; mind is looking for useful patterns (trying to be helpful) and finds the thought patterns we call ‘beliefs’ useful. Sometimes, as circumstances and experiences change, they cease to be useful to the organism (e.g. we believed echinacea would cure our cold but it just gets worse), so then we stop identifying with them as beliefs, and identify instead with some alternative thought patterns. Who/what is it that has these thought patterns? Mind. Mind is not who/what we truly are. Our true being doesn’t change ‘it’s’ mind, it doesn’t even have a mind; the mind is just a construct. What seems to be volition is actions that the self perceives have a track record of evolutionary success. The self may believe in a ‘war against religious fundamentalists’ because its data set suggests such a war if successful could enable it (the self) to have more (self-)security. It may ‘change its mind’ to believe in non-duality because it (the self) is tired of suffering and sees the root of that suffering as belief in the separate self. But all these beliefs are just thought patterns in the mind that the self has found useful and so repeats. Who ‘we’ are is not our ‘self’, but consciousness that witnesses thoughts, beliefs, imagined selves etc.
Hi Dave, my note-comment was directly related the question raised by Cargonauta the end of her/his own comment. Specifically to “[..] i can’t find any moment of my life in which my mind is not chatting and i can see what’s behind it. Any suggestions are welcomed :)”. I should have expressed it this so. I admit that was an omission by my part.
I would like to comment on the horizon and significance of your article as I can felt-think. Unfortunately, I do not have enough time these days (I prepare for surgery). And, you know, I forgot my elementary ability to write English, so, I require intensive time to review my babbling. (Okay, it is possible that Time, as absolute reality, is non-existent (?). ^-^ But I speak here about the time as long as relative experience and a relative notion).
Meditation: I was referring to it. Because this is the more generic and known name
with which is appointed a practice by those of whom seek the insight on the meaning of existence; or on own life and psyche; or the ‘enlightenment’, or, maybe, the spiritually transcendent.
Teachers: I always have thought that one should go to original sources. In this dimension of knowledge, in Almost all matters. At/ for the beginning or afterwards. The acquis of experiences, wisdom and knowledge that come with the history; for this case, men and women whose experience precede us and it is recognised by peers or by students.
Self and “no-self”: a lot of fabric to be trimmed. And, yes, this issue is a principal core at interior your article. … I hope that I will be able to express views and my basic position another time.
Thanks Liliana and Dave for your answers and sorry if my english is a bit basic.
I don’t think that awakening isn’t possible, i just think that it is impossible trough mind.
If we consider the mind as just an organ that has some functions as well as the heart or the lungs, how it can be the site of such a complete realisation. As mind, it is doing his job in a perfect way so maybe if there is a mistake it is in considering our true self as the fruit of this job. What i’m trying to say is that if the heart pumps the blood, the mind work is to create a distance between “I” and “other” in order to keep us alive. But if i consider this as just a function and not the reality then the question “who am I” pop up inexorably. Here i’m stuck, as body and thoughts i’ve no others weapons to see or to understand if something else is there.
Cargonauta: That makes sense. I suppose you could envision ‘mind’ as a ‘virtual’ organ, resembling a ‘real’ organ like heart and lungs the way a video resembles the real life it depicts. The mind can no more recognize itself as not being real, than the characters in the video can recognize they aren’t the real people the video depicts. The challenge then is accessing the real you, ‘mindlessly’, seeing what is ‘before’ the depiction, on the other side of the lens. Easier said (or imagined) than done. Some people claim that it was dead simple for them to do this, and others claim it takes 10,000 hours of dedicated work, but I’m skeptical of both claims. To me it’s like seeing a 3D image through the old-fashioned binary viewers — at some unpredictable point that has nothing to do with effort, the 3D image just pops into awareness, and you wonder how you didn’t see it before.
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Zen Buddhist, about zazen
“[…] during zazen, one should sit down on one’s cushions and cease all physical and mental activity. By ceasing physical activity, [Dogen] means that one should sit still in an erect posture. By ceasing mental activity, he meant that one should allow thoughts to arise and pass away without engaging them, without processing them, judging them, or debating their pros and cons. In other words, let them come and let them go. He meant that one should return the mind to its natural condition. In other words, do not try to stop thinking or aim for any “special” mental state, for neither is what awakening (buddhahood) is about.”
Teacher Nonin. In: Zen Forum – International.