Self as rainbow 2

We see a rainbow, but what we have is drops of rain and light—a process. Similarly, what we ‘see’ is a self; but what we actually have is a whole lot of thoughts going on in consciousness. Against the backdrop of consciousness we are projecting a self, rather than a rainbow. If you walk toward the rainbow you will never get there.

David Bohm, Thought as a System

I had posted this wonderful quote from Bohm several years ago; I now feel I have understood something new about it.

A whole lot of thoughts going on in consciousness. To this, Bohm would probably add, there are a whole lot of feelings floating around too. On top of which there is a subtle sense of self fleetingly dancing in there somewhere; and it is this sense of self, which is in essence a thought/feeling, that somehow seems to anchor all the other stuff that floats around in consciousness.

Try as we might, we cannot pin it down; the rainbow simply cannot be found, for it is ultimately an optical illusion. For this reason, probably, Ramana insisted that we try to find out the “I” thought. Seek and ye shall not find, for it is fundamentally illusory.

I absolutely love this metaphor: drops of rain and light posing as a solid self. Drops of thoughts and emotions. Can we merely see them as drops of light, sun, rain? Nothing else is required.

Self-awareness

When we say we are “aware” of our minds and bodies, can this really be so? Are we not merely aware of a subtle master-image that has arisen in the mind that represents our current body-mind state? How, indeed, could it be otherwise?

In other words, one subtle representation–the sense of “me”–is aware of another subtle representation–the body-mind state. And both representations take themselves as “real” in a very basic sense.

To add to the mind-boggling-ness, neither of these representations is in “my” control. Both spontaneously arise and die down in the neurological storm that is reality.

I think this applies to awareness of the so-called external world as well. When we see a leaf or a chair, we are seeing something that is a massive construct of the brain. The brain fools us into thinking that we are seeing something as it is. But consider this:

  • a different organism, with a different brain and different sensorial structures, will perceive a leaf very differently from me
  • the appearance of richness in the visual field is illusory. We perceive in detail what is in focus in front of us; at our peripheral vision, we cannot make out colour changes
  • we all have a blind spot that the brain is masking, and it is filling in details from the surroundings, rather like Photoshop

This list can go on. I guess the question in my mind is: when we say we are aware of reality, what exactly do we mean?

 

 

Cosmos, by Carl Sagan

The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the
Cosmos stir us – there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation, as if a distant memory, of falling from a height. We know we are approaching the greatest of
mysteries.

The size and age of the Cosmos are beyond ordinary human understanding. Lost
somewhere between immensity and eternity is our tiny planetary home. In a cosmic
perspective, most human concerns seem insignificant, even petty. And yet our species is
young and curious and brave and shows much promise. In the last few millennia we have made the most astonishing and unexpected discoveries about the Cosmos and our place within it, explorations that are exhilarating to consider. They remind us that humans have evolved to wonder, that understanding is a joy, that knowledge is prerequisite to survival. I  believe our future depends on how well we know this Cosmos in which we float like a mote of dust in the morning sky.

Those explorations required skepticism and imagination both. Imagination will
often carry us to worlds that never were. But without it, we go nowhere. Skepticism enables us to distinguish fancy from fact, to test our speculations. The Cosmos is rich beyond measure – in elegant facts, in exquisite interrelationships, in the subtle machinery of awe…

Why are we interested in meditation?

I find the following passage by Krishnamurti extremely clear in its approach to why we are interested in the “spiritual” question. It is not just to immerse ourselves in narcissism–rather, there are profound consequences to our self-immersion as well as our attempts to explode our little bubble-worlds.

*

There is the difficulty that one’s brain functions in old habits,
like a gramophone record playing the same tune over and over
again. While the noise of that tune, of that habit is going on, one is
not capable of listening to anything new. The brain has been
conditioned to think in a certain way, to respond according to our
culture, tradition and education; that same brain tries to listen to
something new and is not capable of it. That is where our difficulty
is going to lie. A talk recorded on a tape can be wiped out and
begun again; unfortunately the recording on the tape of the brain
has been impressed on it for so long that it is very difficult to wipe
it out and begin again. We repeat the same pattern, the same ideas
and physical habits, over and over again, so we never catch
anything fresh.
I assure you one can put aside the old tape, the old way of
thinking, feeling, reacting, the innumerable habits that one has.
One can do it if one really gives attention. If the thing one is
listening to is deadly serious, tremendously important, then one is
bound to listen so that the very act of listening will wipe out the
old. Do try it – or rather do it. You are deeply interested, otherwise
you would not be here. Do listen with full attention, so that in the
very act of listening the old memories, the old habits, the
accumulated tradition, will all be wiped away.
One has to be serious when confronted with the chaos in the
world, the uncertainty, warfare and destruction, where every value
has been thrown away in a society which is completely permissive,
sexually and economically. There is no morality, no religion;everything is being thrown away and one has to be utterly, deeply serious; if you have that seriousness in your heart, you will listen.
It depends on you, not on the speaker, whether you are sufficiently
serious to listen so completely as to find out for yourself a light
that can never be put out, a way of living that does not depend on
any idea, on any circumstance, a way of life that is always free,
new, young, vital. If you have the quality of mind that wants to
find out at any price, then you and the speaker can work together
and come upon this strange thing that will solve all our problems –
whether they be the problems of the daily monotony of life or
problems of the most serious nature.

Krishnamurti, The Impossible Question

Attention

There’s an old Zen story: a student said to Master Ichu, ‘Please write for me something of great wisdom.’

Master Ichu picked up his brush and wrote one word: ‘Attention.’
The student said, ‘Is that all?’

The master wrote, ‘Attention. Attention.’
The student became irritable. ‘That doesn’t seem profound or subtle to me.’

In response, Master Ichu wrote simply, ‘Attention. Attention. Attention.’
In frustration, the student demanded, ‘What does this word attention mean?’

Master Ichu replied, ‘Attention means attention.’
Source: Charlotte Joko Beck. 1993. Nothing special: Living Zen. New York: HarperCollins. 168.

Artificial intelligence

Recently I discovered that there is a real fear amongst advanced computer experts that we will create an advanced Artificial Machine Intelligence that will match, and most likely exceed, human capabilities. This will probably happen in the next 50-100 years.

Some part of me says: this is really coolBut apparently there is good reason to worry. An artificial intelligence that does not take human interests into consideration is a profound reason to worry. Many leading thinkers say this might be the end of humanity as we know it.

Here is Sam Harris giving a TED talk on the subject.