There Is No “Why”

Another of Dave’s annoying and pointless radical non-duality posts


drawing by Jonathan Bartlett in this intriguing NYT article

Back when I was being paid an absurd amount of money as a management consultant, we occasionally used a technique called “Ask Why Five Times”. The idea was to do a root cause analysis, figure out possible interventions that would ‘fix’ the root cause, and hence solve the business problem. It’s really rather amazing that most people’s critical and imaginative thinking skills are so stunted that they would have to hire someone to show them how to do this.

The problem with the technique, of course, is that the problems at hand that don’t have obvious solutions are mostly actually predicaments — they are so complex, and have so many inextricably interrelated variables, that root cause analysis is impossible and becomes just an exercise in dangerous oversimplified thinking. Things are the way they are for a reason, and often, it’s impossible to know why. That’s why creatures smarter than we are look for adaptations and workarounds rather than trying, impossibly, to ‘fix’ predicaments.

But the human brain is fascinated, and often preoccupied to the point of addiction, with asking “Why”, at least until we reach the age and stage where our culture has finally managed to drive the curiosity out of us. Then we become addicted to dopamine or adrenaline instead. Our conditioning is nothing if not effective.

For some reason of maladaptation, I’m still insanely curious. I still love to ask “Why”. Of course, since I know that question, whenever it’s interesting enough to ask, is practicably impossible to answer, I realize that playing the “Why” game is just that — a diversion, an ancient and uncurbed compulsion. But that doesn’t stop me playing it.

My fascination with radical non-duality sparks a lot of “Why” questions, even though I ‘understand’ the radical non-duality message well enough that I can tell myself “There is no ‘Why'” even before I ask them. Everything is just an appearance, just as it is, already, for no reason. There does not have to be a reason for everything to be as it is. Every reason we come up with for anything is just a story, a child’s attempt to make sense of the monster under the bed. It’s just the patterns we observe, the apparently related occurrences we cobble together, like images we see in clouds, or the reasons we invent for things that ‘happened’ in our dreams.

My obsessive curiosity doesn’t stop with asking “Why” just once. I’ve been conditioned (and sometimes even paid) to keep asking until I “get to the bottom of things”. Here, without my usual self-censoring of this foolish game, are some of the rabbit holes that asking “Why” the message of radical non-duality might be true, or not, and why it’s so appealing to me, have taken me down.

  • Why are the illusions of self, of separateness, of ‘me’, of the passage of time, of things ‘causing’ other things, so damned compelling, so obvious even, if  they are just illusions?
    • Because they have been reinforced by every other self these bodies we presume to inhabit has encountered over a lifetime — if you’re told something often enough, you will usually eventually believe it. But Why do we behave this way?
      • Because that is how we are conditioned and have been conditioned. We have no choice but to perpetuate these illusions, with our children and everyone we, apparently, interrelate with. But if it’s illusory, Why has this conditioning evolved?
        • It hasn’t evolved; there is no real time in which things can evolve. This conditioning is just how it is, what it is, what is apparently happening, for no reason. But Why is it, if it’s all just a useless, distracting illusion, that humans, so distracted and preoccupied and conditioned by mere illusions, haven’t vanished, disappeared from the gene pool?
          • There are no humans, no evolution, no gene pool. It is all just an appearance, for no reason. There doesn’t have to be a reason for  illusions to arise in the midst of appearances. Ugh, that’s a very unsatisfactory answer. OK, Why is that such an unsatisfactory answer?
            • Because I don’t want to believe it. Because it makes everything I do and have done purposeless and meaningless. OK, then Why don’t you want to believe it, and Why does doing purposeless and meaningless things bother you?
              • I don’t want to believe it because there is no safety, no comfort in not knowing, in believing everything is meaningless and not even real, and because it’s humiliating to think that I’ve invested all this energy, passion, and reputation for my knowledge and insights, when they’re all just fiction, useless to me and to others. In other words, you’re saying you’re suffering from a near-universal human affliction with no cure that many people think is not an affliction at all, or else one which most people think you have handled very competently. Well, that’s a big help. So the ‘solution’ is to just get over it, which of course ‘I’ can’t do. Yep, ‘fraid so. No solution, no path, no making sense of. Completely hopeless.
    • Well, maybe it’s because nature evolved us, as an experiment with large brains, to invent these illusions and mistake them for reality in the interests of our survival. Nature does this, tries constant changes and adaptations and mutations to see if they are a better ‘fit’ with the rest of life on earth, and with our environments. The ‘truth’ has nothing to do with best fit for survival. But this has already been addressed, above: There is no evolution, no time, no life or death and hence no ‘survival’. That’s all just a story, a conception to try to make sense of our perceptions. A model or map that does not even vaguely resemble the territory.
    • OK, then maybe it’s because these so-called ‘illusions’ are highly credible. They fit with what we all understand, and sense, most of the time anyway (except for that ‘earth revolves around the sun’ thing). They fit with scientific theories, models and observations. Why would all these things fit so well with what we believe to be reality, free will etc if they weren’t actually real? It doesn’t ‘make sense’.
        • Conspiracy theories, wars and genocides, hatred and jealousy and shame and grief and guilt all ‘make sense’ if you use the right points of reference. The appearance of B and the apparent or reported observation that A appears to cause B doesn’t mean A is correct, whether A is a lab leak or a ‘self’. Our sense, and science, of ‘what is’ is merely a reasonably complete and seemingly coherent and consistent story. It may be that it’s all correct, or that it’s entirely false, an illusion, a misunderstanding. Or worse, still, it may be that it’s all just a story, a theory, with no bearing on reality at all, and that actual reality is unknowable. We once believed, most of us, that diseases of all kinds were caused by devils, or vapours, or the anger of gods. They were apparently highly credible theories at the time. And if you’re thinking that theories that endure have more credibility, then see the thread above about evolution and time. OK, but Why are you so sure your ‘alternative theory’ of radical non-duality isn’t just another story?; there is no evidence to support it.
          • Well, setting aside some scientific evidence that does seem to support it (since I’ve already acknowledged the fallibility of scientific theories), I’m not sure why I’m, for now, kinda convinced the radical non-duality message is true. I have now met and spoken with at least a dozen people who say, quite eloquently, that it is seen ‘there’ that there is no ‘you’, no thing, no time, no meaning or purpose etc. They assert that this is not a ‘theory’ they are espousing; it’s what’s obvious ‘there’. They have no axe to grind and are not making a living from this message. The message seems to me far more consistent, more coherent, more complete, and less full of holes than any theory, about ‘what is’, that I’ve ever heard or studied. There is a sense, here, that our selves make things much harder for us than they need to be, or that they are for any other apparently living creature. And then there have been the ‘glimpses‘, where the truth of the radical non-duality message was obvious, beyond debate.
            • Oh, geez, here we go with the glimpses again. Perhaps the reason why you believe this message is that it’s easy, it lets you off the hook from thinking, from responsibility, from doing serious work. Perhaps the ‘glimpses’ were just something inside you so desperate to believe this unprovable and ludicrous ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ message that you just made them up to support your belief?
              • That’s entirely possible. We believe what we want to believe. The message appeals to my laziness, and sometimes eases some of my fears, for sure. I’m open to another alternative, a different message, if one that makes more sense to me were to come along.
                • Why do you think so? If these dozen radical non-duality ‘messengers’ were to tell you, now, that they made it all up, just as a test of human credulity and our propensity to join cults and believe preposterous things shared by other members, would you not still believe it? Good question. I guess we’ll see.
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5 Responses to There Is No “Why”

  1. Paul Heft says:

    Dave, I’m trying to take this seriously, though you warn that everything is just appearances, not real, that my thoughts are terribly misleading. So it seems that there’s no way to tell what I should believe. Can I believe that I’m typing words? That you will later read these words through our amazing technology? That you will understand what I am attempting to communicate? That you will realize I’m the same person with whom you have shared earlier communications? I want to believe those things, because otherwise I have no idea how to relate to you and to every other human–and because I want to believe at least a portion of the things you write and say.

    If the radical non-duality message is that extreme–that is, if I’m not misinterpreting–then it seems to discard all conceptualization, and therefore all but the simplest communication. During your “glimpses” you probably had no need for conceptualization; you could postpone that thinking, only afterwards making sense of the “glimpse”. Doesn’t some fraction of your daily life require that you not consider everything to be just appearances, require that you believe some things exist and behave in somewhat predictable ways?

    (Reality is fun stuff, eh?!)

  2. Yes there is evolution. I was a baby (at least someone wiped my butt) then I was young and beautiful and eventually a light came on and I stopped worrying about non duality because the intrinsic property thereof is that it does not matter and we can just get on with things, evolving them in some beneficial way (to me and mine) but that was probably killing the world like everybody else does. And now it is killing me in its turn. And as for evolution of species; the extractive process is the part no-one wants to be part of and that’s a dualism that just catches us up.

  3. David Beckemeier says:

    “annoying and pointless post” hey Dave those are my favorite!!

  4. Paul Heft says:

    “Another of Dave’s annoying and pointless radical non-duality posts”

    Jeremy Lent might disagree. “Like many in our dominant culture, [a writer complaining of a ‘pointless’ universe] uses the word ‘pointless’ as a synonym for ‘meaningless’. For something to be meaningful, it’s assumed, it must have a point. This conflation arises from Western culture’s focus on linear, purpose-driven behavior – actions with a beginning, middle and endpoint. However, if we see meaning as arising, like Indra’s Net, from an infinite array of interconnections, we would not expect any ‘point’.”

    Lent, Jeremy. The Web of Meaning (pp. 316-317). New Society Publishers. Kindle Edition.

  5. connie says:

    Great thought experiment. I have never lost my childish curiosity either. It is interesting to follow your thought pattern. The only belief I can really buy into at this time is: None of it matters, ultimately. What I do, what I think, how I behave will make no difference in the big scheme of thing, which I can’t understand anyway. Some ideas are interesting to think about. I enjoy trying on different belief systems, (but just the rare ones – I long ago abandoned the popular ones.)

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