We Are Not Our Selves

Yeah, yeah, OK, move along, nothing to see here. Just some lunatic asserting that nothing is real.

image circulating on FB, original source not cited; it’s photoshopped — it didn’t actually happen

One of the questions that radical non-duality speakers are often asked is: If there are no real ‘selves’, no ‘one’ actually doing anything, how come the world is so fucked up? Surely our ‘selves’ are responsible for the collective madness of our species, no? Unburden ourselves of our selves and everything should be fine, right? Back to the Garden, behaving like bonobos?

Those of us who want it both ways will try to waffle on our answer to this. Surely, we say, we should think of it this way: Science is now concluding that space and time are just mental constructs, that they are not real at all. And science is now showing that there is no ‘self’ actually doing or deciding anything. Therefore, we should be able to somehow reconcile scientific observations with the message of radical non-duality. And if we do that, we will understand, at least to some degree, what is actually real, and how and why the ‘illusory self’ emerged as an inevitable but tragic consequence of evolution.

It doesn’t take much to see through the absurdity of such ‘logic’. It reminds me a bit of those drawings of Jesus affectionately holding a baby dinosaur. Plot hole big enough to drive a Canadian protest truck convoy through, but such a nice picture!

As we perch on the edge of yet more proxy wars between the US and its obedient and credulous vassal states (collectively called “NATO”), and Russia and China, it now seems even more urgent that we understand what seem to be our nihilistic, endlessly violent, planet-destroying behaviours. How, those of us looking for radical non-duality answers may be asking, might we blow open the myth of our ‘real’ selves, so that the horrific acts going on in our world can be ‘seen’ as artifacts of this malaise, this crazy-making fear-, anger-, grief- and anxiety-creating illusion that is perhaps behind all human suffering, and hence the cause of our ‘civilization disease’? If only we could zap the faulty ‘default’ pathways in 7.9B ‘self-ish’ human brains, we submit, all war, all inequality, all the disconnection between us and all life on earth, would quickly vanish, as it was seen, suddenly, obviously, that this is no way to live.

It’s a nice story, an earnest attempt to make sense of it all. But it’s just a story. It is not true.

Let me say it again: This does not make sense. It does not need to make sense. This is just what is apparently happening, for no reason. It has no ‘meaning’. This cannot be ‘reconciled’ with science, our beloved new model of reality.

There is no time in which anything could have ‘evolved’. Everything is as it is, already. No self has ever done anything, any more than a character in your dream has actually ever done anything. Our selves are constructs, ‘dreams’ of our brains trying to piece together and make sense of what these apparent bodies, that our selves presume to inhabit, apparently do. They actually have zero effect on what ‘our’ bodies apparently do. Remove our illusory selves and nothing would change. Everything would continue to appear exactly as it does, as it ‘always’ has.

But it’s worse than that. There is actually nothing really happening.

Why do I keep saying this, with an insane sort of missionary zeal? ‘Because’ in glimpses it has been seen. ‘Because’ I now know several sane, intelligent apparent people who credibly, articulately assert that there is no one ‘there’, or anywhere. That no one and nothing is real, only an appearance, including time and space, and that nothing is really happening, or ever has. They have no reason to make that shit up. And, in a way, this seemingly absurd but elegant and totally internally consistent message is the only explanation that actually makes complete sense. Every other explanation is just a clearly-flawed theory that is full of holes (and not just black holes).

So what does this mean for our current seemingly-dire situation? Absolutely nothing. What we see as new proxy wars are just appearances, ‘nothing’ appearing as ‘warring’. ‘We’ — our ‘selves’ — did not ’cause’ them. Nothing causes anything when there is no time and nothing really happening. What ‘we’ think of as causality is just the brain’s flawed model of reality trying to make sense of things that seem to be happening ‘at once’, or proximate in (its invented construct of) time.

If there were no selves to apparently get anxious and angry and fearful, absolutely nothing would change. Because there already are no real selves, and because nothing is actually happening.

If you’ve made it this far and find this all intriguing, welcome aboard. If you find it just infuriating (ie seemingly based on a crazy form of faith, or nihilistic, or lazy, or an excuse for inaction, or deliberately and unkindly obscure, specious or provocative), my apologies — I will make the up-front warning louder and clearer in future posts.

There is no solace in this for our seemingly precarious current situation. It will play out as it will play out. ‘We’, for all our earnestness, will have no effect on it. But, fortunately, it’s not really happening. It is just, beyond this often-suffocating, ghastly dream we cannot wake up from because we are the dream, an appearance. Pixels in an array of possibilities outside of space and time, always, wondrously, just everything, just this.

This entry was posted in How the World Really Works, Illusion of the Separate Self and Free Will, Our Culture / Ourselves. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to We Are Not Our Selves

  1. Dear Dave,

    You fuck with my brain every time I fully read a post. I do it “randomly” when the title or first few lines catch my attention.

    Thank you. Seriously thank you. The screw-up of the human race is less impactful if it doesn’t exist, and if you get lost in the wilderness, what does exist, and do you exist?

    Cheers from the Island
    Joddy MacWingnut

  2. Jerry McManus says:

    Someone much wiser than me once gave this very sage advice:

    “If anyone tries to tell you that reality is an illusion, you should invite them to hit their own hand as hard as they can with a hammer. Then they can tell you what an illusion they think that is.”

    The clarity! I immediately stopped worrying about anything and everything. Life is for the living of it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

  3. Dave Pollard says:

    Hi Jerry: This point has been raised often in radical non-duality circles. It is not just a semantic quibble to say that radical non-duality does not say reality is an illusion; it is rather an appearance. There is still pain (including from hammers), and war, and all the other stuff, and the fact that it’s all just an appearance does not make it any less painful.

    What is an illusion is the separate self which presumes to control a body (including deciding whether or not to hit its hand with a hammer) and do all kinds of other things. Just as there is no free will to hit one’s hand with a hammer, or not, there is no free will to do, or not do, anything. The apparent body will do what it has been conditioned to do, and has no need of a controlling self to do so. And it’s highly unlikely that, unless it has been severely abused, its conditioning will lead to its hammering its hand. So “life is for the living” is a fine way of making sense of things, but it has little to do with reality.

    I know this is annoying, and I’m sorry about that; I used to be a follower of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenological explanation of the nature of reality, so I was not easily swayed by the almost diametrically opposite message of radical non-duality. And my writing is not intended to persuade anyone of its veracity, or to belittle anyone’s beliefs; I’m just thinking out loud, for the record for myself and anyone else who finds this at all interesting.

  4. John Graham says:

    A tangential point: I can quite easily get myself to doubt the existence of time. It’s much harder to doubt the existence of rhythm, especially when engaged with music. Noticing rhythms in nature is pretty experience-near too.

  5. Dave Pollard says:

    John, I wonder if rhythm, like colour and light and shadow, isn’t one of the patterns that intuitively resonate within us, at a level beyond the interpretation and conceptualization of the self as to what it “means”?

    I’ve watched cats and dogs, who, while clearly capable of feeling emotions and pain, do not seem to be afflicted by our sense of self and separation. Cats and dogs do seem to ‘appreciate’ beauty in nature (eg sunsets) and seem to enjoy (apparently) “doing nothing”. In other words, just (apparently) “being”. But while they’re clearly attentive to sounds, they don’t IME seem enamoured of either melody or rhythm. Is that because, do you suppose, because they have no sense, except in moments of stress and danger, of the passing of time, and hence no context to appreciate music?

Comments are closed.