Hi, leaving this dialogue here in case anybody finds it stimulating. Feel free to pick it apart or bring up any inconsistencies.
Discussion between two INTPs (see Jungian cognitive typology) on the Infinite.
GK: Well… I'm still a nihilist. So, the direct philosophy of life I can derive from it is live however you want as long as it doesn't hurt another.
VD: Ah well I'm pretty certain nihilism is not looking at the picture broadly. So my values are different.
GK: Hmm... I also try to think of new views. But my mind always circles back to nihilism. I think it's more a general depression kind of thing.
VD: Well consider this, there are two ways you can get over nihilism, given your cognitive
nature. One, you experience bliss to such an extent your Ti (introverted thinking) hardened ego driven depression is forced to recede.
GK: That's true. But that bliss also needs to be permanent. Any temporary thing and Ti induced depression comes right back.
VD: Yes, so second thing is when you are offered a view, that is superior in rationality than nihilism. Enough to overcome Ti induced depression or sense of helplessness and Ne (extraverted intuition) to be able to 'see' the possibilities of a practical solution. Ti bows to rationality does it not?
GK: Definitely. Hmm. I don't think I have come across such a view
Yet. If there is something with a superior logic I will accept it.
VD: Well so hypothetically speaking if you were offered one, and you examined it
and satisfied yourself with its validity, then logically, you would have to replace nihilistic view correct?
GK: Yes definitely. Only one idea came close to nihilism for me actually, and that is to attain immortality. So that I can observe everything all the way to the end of the universe
VD: He what if immortality was to understand that you're observing the
moment of creation every moment of experience? ;)
GK: Moment of creation every moment of experience, that sounds kind of complicated VD. Can you elaborate?
VD: Well it’s just going out on a limb doing an exercise in pure reasoning, that’s all.
GK: Hm. So basically, you are saying there is no time?
VD: Not really. Scientifically time is measured accurately by using precise naturally occurring phenomena. For example, radioactive decay of caesium is used to define the duration of a second according to the metric system. Thing is though logically there are infinitesimal divisions of time, given that the number line is continuous, not discrete. So, we are still measuring time to a certain degree of accuracy only.
GK: Fair enough.
VD: It could be argued that perhaps empirically speaking, time only ‘manifests’ itself in discrete quantities, similar to how physical theories (such as string theory) posit limits such as Planck length for elementary particles. However, given empirical suppositions are provisional, let’s entertain the idea that time is continuous for now. Now it can be argued that the perspective of the observer is involved in measuring or discretizing time, even if it plays second fiddle to precise measuring instruments. In a manner that is more fundamental than our psychological perception of it i.e. For example, when Einstein joked about relativity being the difference in spending an hour with a hot girl in a bar versus putting your hand on a hot pan. Or reports of experience of time in altered states of consciousness.
It’s not unreasonable to say that the mind is involved in discretizing time, as if moments are separated by actual boundaries. Just bringing this intuitively here for the moment, has a more logical basis.
GK: No, I know what you mean. I've always wondered how different our physical laws
will be if our chemical makeup was different.
VD: Well that is going off to another tangent, but we are limiting ourselves
to time here for now.
GK: Okay sure.
VD: Time is best experienced as flux or change. This is not only sort of intuitive in everyday experience, but even physicists agree you need change in order to have a concept of
time (entropy proposed by Eddington, quantum circuit complexity in modern conceptions of it)
GK: Yeah. Agreed.
VD: Here is what I propose. Let's treat time as an abstract entity (to do logic) for now. Say it is equivalent to the concept of change logically. Do you have some idea of the principle of dependent origination?
GK: Ok. No.
VD: A=A. A thing, say A, can only exist relative to what it is not (not A). There’s some degree of explanation that might be needed to ‘grasp’ why this holds true, but it sort of boils down to an intuitive logical premise. Take it as a hypothesis for now rather than worrying about what all it means/ implies.
GK: Ah. Okay. Basically, you need a difference to differentiate. I understood.
VD: Yes, so coming back, the concept of time must be dependent on concept of not time. Or equivalently, concept of change must be dependent on staticness. Translating this back to our experience of time, our experience of change must be dependent on the existence of
something static. Something that seems to be disassociated with flux.
GK: Yeah. In order to recognize said change. Hm. But is there anything like that?
VD: Well if you’re bringing that up, one possible candidate could be your sense of ‘I’ ness, the aspect of consciousness that gives a sort of continuity to your experience.
GK: I’m not clear about what you mean.
VD: Well, like when u grow up from a being a child to now, the contents of consciousness, your memories, the way you perceive things, etc might have changed, but do you think somebody else hijacked your sense of being? Or is there a sense of continuity? (as an, interesting side note - stroke victims do report a loss of personal continuity after their stroke)
GK: Hm. There is continuity. Like someone sitting inside my head noting everything constantly.
VD: That's what I call this notion of I. You can't pinpoint it, but it's there. It's like the spokes of a wheel form a centre but the centre only exists because of the spokes and not by itself in any tangible way. It seems to be prevalent as an immediate experience, without need for reflection or recall. Rene Descartes said I think therefore I am, but that was probably his bias as a thinker. A feeler could be like, I feel therefore I am.
GK: Okay. But my doubt has always been whether this I is something your brain creates like a mirage or is it really something like a soul?
VD: Ok hang on, let's not get into that here. We were musing about possible candidates of what could represent staticness. The example of ‘I’ could not be the case. It could be very much possible that all phenomena just exist as static ‘snapshots’ and that our memory sorts of juxtaposes two or more frames and strings them together to give rise to notion of ‘motion’ or ‘change’. Instead of thinking about individual ‘things’ that could be said to have the property of ‘staticness’ (there’s a reason for not thinking about it as such which will be discussed later, for it involves the implication of intrinsic existence of things), let’s wrap up the logical line of reasoning we were employing earlier - Our experience of change is dependent upon the experience of staticness. Now, if A exists relative to not A, if you take away the existence of A, you take away the existence of not A. You take away staticness, you take away change. What is left?
GK: Yeah. The boundary is gone. I dunno. It cannot be staticness or change.
VD: And you my friend are smack in the middle of a Zen parable!
GK: Hm. What could it be. I don't see a logical way to define it. It's undefinable because it lacks boundary.
VD: Hehe you see we are limiting our discussion to just time and not time. If we generalize it to other things you'll get interesting ideas about this.
GK: Hm. There is a fundamental duality in nature as we perceive it. What happens when you remove the duality. But by definition it cannot be perceived coz, the thing that perceives, say the static ‘I’, is gone.
HP: Perhaps duality or even the discretization of experience is just a limitation of human
thinking? Maybe our neural network and conditioning aren't capable of handling continuum and spectrums and other complex things yet.
VD: Sure, could be. Anyhow, to continue the discussion, I just want to lay out some terms and their definitions.
1.Ego is defined as the intrinsic belief in the existence of things.
2. A thing is defined as a separation of a bunch of contrasts from another bunch of contrasts by the appearance of a boundary.
3. A boundary is defined to mean a genuine separation
Just to be clear, in order to make sure you understand the difference between
contrasts and things. Take the example of an optical illusion – there’s one example of an illusion in which a bunch of black and white contrasts on a paper appears as either two cups or two ladies with hooked noses or whatever, depending upon how you look at them. I hope u know what I am talking about. You can consider other examples as well that illustrate the point. But the point is depending on how the mind places boundaries on the
contrasts, you will see different things.
GK: Yes. The same thing can appear as different things based on contrast.
HP: We perceive things based on contrasts, relatively. The grey squares illusion is quite good too.
VD: And let's not get into talk about whether the mind processes boundaries or the brain, there’s a separate line of reasoning that considers that question – but for now it’s really a side issue.
GK: So, are you implying that a boundary need not be a genuine separation?
VD: Yes. The hypothesis is that the genuineness of separation is a consequence of ego.
GK: Ah. We believe things exists so we make boundaries.
VD: Lol coming from you, I’d take care not to agree directly with you, given your penchant towards all the aspects associated with classic nihilism. :p
GK: Lol OK :P
HP: They aren't one following the other I guess? They are simultaneous
VD: I suppose it’s safe to say that. I'm not offering an explanation of why we form boundaries. My best guess is that it helps us make sense of the world. Have you ever seen what it is like for a blind man to suddenly get sight? Or a deaf person to hear?
Its chaotic, apparently. Nature is so complex, discretizing it is a function that consciousness
starts doing from the minute you are born.
HP: I think these false assumptions are necessary for evolution though.
VD: Precisely what I think. It has helped us survive and grow as a species.
GK: Technically if you could take everything to its most basic level. It's all just energy that cannot be distinguished from each other. Our mind does the differentiation.
VD: Is that true? Or just another discretization of your mind about what
nature really is? Let’s just say that things exist, partly due to nature and partly because we carve them out of contrasts.
GK: So, coming back. I am trying to comprehend the full implications of this advaita understanding. That boundaries are an illusion. It's all one? It’s got me thinking whether do things exist actually? More fundamentally is it logically acceptable for me to question if things exist?
VD: Well for one, you'd have to define existence. That is your problem.
GK: I try to define stuff? :p
VD: Ok, so this is to aid in understanding how a dualistic construct can be used to talk about nonduality. The most rational definition applicable to existence is appearance. If your consciousness perceives a form, the form is said to exist. So far comprende?
GK: Yeah. If our consciousness can perceive a physical form. It is said to exist.
Well not physical, generally speaking any form. I'm sorry, but this needs to reiterated unless we slip by any blind spots. For my definition of existence, discard all notions of real (aka physical) and illusory (or imaginary) existence for now, to keep it simple. If existence is appearance. If you see, hear things, feel things or emotions either in ‘waking’ life or in dreams, all these things have some kind of form.
You obviously cannot meaningfully doubt this. Because if you doubt some conscious form. You are indirectly implying you perceived some form. You can doubt if the form is real or not, but we have agreed here to drop ideas of reality or illusion. do you agree with me so far?
GK: Okay. No distinction between real or illusionary existence. If it can be perceived it is equivalent to it exists. You cannot doubt if a form exists in the moment of your perception of it. You cannot just conjure up something completely out of experience?
Hang on with that question. Now comes the all-important link between this definition of existence as I put it and logic. If a form exists, then it necessarily HAS to preclude everything it is not. If A exists, it must preclude everything not A. Or, A exists relative to not A. So far it’s the same story that we’ve covered before. Now for the finale that wraps up your question of whether the world of experience is not purely generated by our minds. And the immortality bit (later).
Now our mind might be involved in the experience of things by forming boundaries, but we have this sense of something out there, let’s guardedly call it ‘objective’ reality, that conditions what we experience. Now, I would like to define the conscious mind, as equivalent to any and every form, that could possibly exist IE be perceived by consciousness. the point is I am reducing the seemingly infinite
varieties of forms, under one label to do logical reasoning. It's like when we discussed time and not time, or change and staticness, as logical constructs.
GK: Hm. Yeah. Conscious mind is equivalent to forms as time is to change.
VD: Right on! OK, we treat this conscious mind as something bounded, so we treat it as a thing. Now logically, we can infer that the conscious mind must be dependent on what it is not, i.e. call it the unconscious mind. Let’s consider the unconscious mind to be equivalent to what we guardedly called ‘objective’ reality – that which conditions and gives rise to our experience of things in the first place. Please remember we are not talking about psychology here by using the term unconscious mind. So far do you agree?
GK: Ok. There is a no form and thus there is a boundary. Form vs no form equivalently.
VD: Well yes. Also, it’s important to note that that which has no form or the unconscious mind, is by definition never capable of coalescing into form.
GK: Yeah. I think I know what you mean by no form. I get these instances where something pops up from somewhere first, then my conscious mind forms it, almost sort of unwraps it. Is that which has no form just emptiness?
Well your notion of emptiness is dependent upon somethingness, but keeping that aside, bear with me a bit more. As soon as you think about what lies beyond the conscious mind, or what the unconscious mind is, and try to iron out it's aspects and subtleties etc (like how a
scientist keeps trying to discover hidden aspects of nature, or a philosopher thinks about the
nature of Plato's realm of forms), your mind is involved in producing more forms. Unwrapping it as you said. But we have already lumped the infinite set of possible
forms into one logical entity i.e. the conscious mind. Are you with me here?
GK: Ah. OK. Yeah, I got it. So that which has no form (i.e. the unconscious mind or objective reality) it's something we cannot perceive, or in other words we cannot experience. But it has to exist for conscious mind to exist.
VD: There’s no more mystery to it. All we know is that logically the way we have defined it. It cannot coalesce into form, and it conditions existence of forms. So now, coming back, we can say that the conscious mind exists relative to unconscious mind; Take one’s existence away, and the other’s existence falls away as well. What is left?
GK: Again. No clue :P: Neither form nor no form? No existence rather. Well, we defined existence as form, so technically it neither exists nor not exists.
VD: Right, so before you dismiss this as something not particularly useful, let’s entertain a possibility and make this all relatable to psychology. To give it some additional significance. The co-dependent nature of the unconscious and conscious mind is essentially what fuels the dynamic of ego (previously defined). We think these two entities exist as separate things because ego generates genuine boundaries. If we were to somehow drop the ego, we could see that these two aspects of Nature as a whole, are illusory because of co-dependency. So if you want to know what it beyond them, You find a way to drop ego
GK: Hm. That's the only way I could ever actually find real answers. Nihilism is just a comfort state. A state that I prefer being in because it's easy. But the real truth lies beyond that.
VD: Well, both the conscious and unconscious mind are aspects of the same Reality. The point of bringing up the concept of the unconscious mind (and discerning that it is formless), as put by somebody else, is to stop people from thinking that ultimate reality is confined to the realm beyond consciousness. It is meant to press home to people that the unconscious mind is as much a dualistic illusion as anything else, that ultimate reality embraces utterly everything, including both conscious reality and the unconscious aspect alike. Similarly, it is also not correct to think that Reality is somewhat separate or other than the conscious and unconscious aspects of mind.
GK: Hm. But how can one hope to explore the unexplorable?
VD: So as the guy who I've talked to puts it like this, with an enlightened view of Nature, you can form boundaries and perceive things just as they are, like anybody else. But since your ego is dropped, you won't get attached to the forms. The previously established meaning of boundary (that implied a “genuine” separation) no longer applies to an enlightened mind. You are not a prisoner to those boundaries because you no longer believe them to be intrinsically real. The very categories of what is real or what is illusory don't apply or matter
to an enlightened perspective. To make this more relatable to you (considering your extraverted feeling aspect), consider this scenario - A bus is coming to run you over, for a normal person what does this do? It would invoke his survival instinct perhaps – flight or fight, or he could perhaps just freeze and maybe even faint with fear. What do you think will be the case of a person who at that moment is in an enlightened state of mind?
GK: They wouldn't feel anything? They might still move away.
VD: Well they experience forms like everybody else, and as rational thinking creatures they would have the impetus to move away, but the psychological component of feeling, or raw emotion (such as fear), would not arise, because apparently ego (defined above as the belief in intrinsic existence of things) forms the basis for the arising of such emotion. Like if I pinched you it's minor pain. But if I chopped your hand off, you'd probably lose your
mind to the pain. An enlightened person wouldn’t experience emotion with an intensity such that it becomes amorphous thing that encompasses or filters out all other aspects of experience to the point that you’re driven by this animalistic urge to escape it at the cost of everything else.
And this is how an understanding of Reality ties with what the Buddha said ' the end of suffering'.
So, seems sensible?
GK: Ah. I see. Well in the big picture it made sense. Even I'll need time to think further and reach the subtleties.
VD: As an INTP it is exciting. A theory of everything that ties up with ending of suffering?
A dream Ti- Fe reconciliation!!
GK: Well physicists will never accept it.
VD: Well physicists believe, that the laws of nature are related with sensory data “out there”.
VD: But if you remember the unconscious mind and conscious mind co-dependency logic, the number of variations of forms you can come up with is infinite. However, no matter which form you are able to conjure, it still wouldn’t uncover the essence of the unconscious mind/ void, it is fundamentally formless. And thus, they will never reach an ultimate answer, or at least one that can be said to be completely satisfactory or absolutely true (at least to somebody with a conscience).
GK: You have addressed a long-time doubt that's I've had. It always bothered me that you can always keep asking the question "why?"
VD: Right. ‘Why’ essentially leads to question of the origins of the universe. Cause and effect could be said to be the underlying ‘principle’ for all things/events in the universe, but it itself is causeless. For any proposed cause of cause and effect, will necessarily be boiled back into cause and effect.
GK: And trying to determine the first cause is absurd in such a framework.
VD: Exactly. Moreover, both cause and effect if treated as logical entities are co-dependent (so their intrinsic existence goes poof), so not only finding a beginning or first cause is absurd, but even an end. This is what I meant to say that each moment is the same as the moment of creation.
GK: Oh!! Wow. And a full cycle. I understand it now. OK my head is spinning.
VD: Lol yeah, sleep on it. Have a read of the Wisdom of the Infinite, it expands on various nuances in a structured manner.
Discussion of the nature of Ultimate Reality and the path to Enlightenment.
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