Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I and Thou

"It is in encounter that the creation reveals its formhood; it does not pour itself into senses that are waiting but deigns to meet those that are reaching out. What is to surround the finished human being as an object, has to be acquired and wooed strenuously by him while he is still developing. No thing is a component of experience or reveals itself except through the reciprocal force of confrontation." - Martin Buber, I and Thou (1970 translation).

I'm not even going to pretend that I understand all of the intricacies of Buber's I-Thou/dialogical philosophy. (I'm only about halfway through the book, and it's rough going.) I picked up I and Thou after reading a brief description of Buber's attempt to distinguish two modes of relatedness - I-It, and I-You (or I-Thou).

One of the main points of Buber's thesis seems to be the fundamental 'otherness' of another person - "You do not experience the human being; rather you can only relate to him or her in the sacredness of the I-Thou relation." (W) (Buber is a lot more poetic, even after translation.) Quasi-mystical knowledge-seeking aside, it's worth studying how much of what you see in an 'other' person is actually a function of what you bring to the relation. Miscommunication, misunderstanding, and misperceptions plague even the best of our relationships, resulting in the perception of possible threats to ourselves where there in fact may be none.

And if our experience of an 'other' is dependent upon what we bring to the relation (as discussed in a 5-dimensional model, or in a more mundane way), we are prompted to shoulder responsibility for potential misperceptions, and to 'put the best construction' on a relation until all room for ambiguity is gone. That is not always easy. [Aside: This is largely prompted by me beating myself up over something which I no longer have the chance to rectify and for which I may someday have to answer. Kindly don't assume that I'm preaching at you.]

I suppose the question is still... How much of what I see as You is really Me? How do I respect you and your sovereignty in a way that promotes a healthy society, while doing my utmost to avoid perceiving you as a threat, which would be detrimental to a healthy society?

I'll try to puzzle out Buber's answer to this, if there is one. To be continued...

"As long as the firmament of the You is spread over me, the tempests of causality cower at my heels, and the whirl of doom congeals." (That's Buber, as translated by Kaufmann.)

Thursday, May 21, 2009

So That I Don't Have To

"Compassion is that which makes the heart of the good move at the pain of others. It crushes and destroys the pain of others." - The Buddha

When stumped by a problem, attack it from a different angle. So rather than focus on what the relationship between 'self' and 'other' must look like in order to give rise to compassion, I found myself focusing on compassion. I know what it feels like. I know what it can do. But where does it come from?

[Aside to those wondering why I care about this particular perception of 'inseparability': 1) Though not a Buddhist, I have found wisdom in many of the teachings of the Buddha. 2) I am also trying to understand the self/other relationship as an interconnected/interdependent one (as discussed in Buddhist teachings) that I generally call 'multiple-observer interaction'. 3) It seems worth the effort to examine the Buddha's perception of the self/other relationship for clues to any 'truth' about the nature of this relationship.]

"Compassion is a profound human emotion prompted by the pain of others." But what produces it? It is not a universal response to the suffering of others, so it must be acquired, or dependent upon a particular way of perceiving the other. When I think of instances in which I've felt a 'wave of compassion' for another person, I can recall no specific thoughts that triggered the emotions. (Such is often the nature of emotions though.)

What I attempted to do while lying in bed early this morning was to create a particular idea about another person that would invoke compassion. I cannot think of the other person as 'me' and feel compassion - I am ridiculously not compassionate towards myself. I'm quite demanding of myself: always seeing how I could do better, never quite being content with who I am or what I have done. I don't eat particularly well or exercise as much as I should, though I know that doing so would make me physically feel better. In short, I don't worry about or consciously do a lot to alleviate my own suffering.

Thinking of the other person as completely separate from me produces no compassion either. Compassion is a visceral, and often uncomfortable, reaction. While I have no doubt that a person could be conditioned to experience it, it makes no rational sense to have such a reaction to something that is apart from you. What possible reason is there to induce suffering in yourself in response to the suffering of a separate 'other'?

Having examined the two extremes of self/other the relationship, I was back to trying to find a way of understanding a connected self/other that produced compassion in the 'self' in response to the suffering of the 'other'. In that chaotic swirl of thought, one idea surfaced and has not gone away.

If I see another person suffering, and I perceive that person as suffering so that I don't have to, I immediately feel compassion for the person.

This idea was partially triggered by the mental-replaying of a conversation I was having yesterday about balance in the universe. Not a particularly profound conversation in itself, but it triggered some thoughts I've had in the past about the balance of qualities within a particular relationship/interpersonal dynamic. 'If I had had less ambition, would you have had more ambition?'-type of questions that make no rational sense, but nonetheless are thought of by seemingly-rational people. This spun into the 'If I suffer less, do you suffer more?' scenario that gave rise to that perception of 'other' that trigger a feeling of compassion.

This particular idea about the self/other relationship hasn't gone away, and it fits data. Okay, it fits experiential data that you may or may not agree with or share, but which is data all the same.

All day I've obsessed over how to convey this perception. (Capture the perception before you become overly concerned with its validity.) I'm fairly sure that I won't be able to do it adequately, but here goes...

What is 'self' is not 'other', though it can be shared with/given to the 'other'. What is 'other' cannot be a part of the 'self' unless it is no longer 'other'. In seeing the suffering of the 'other', the 'self' sees what it cannot experience, unless it exchanges a portion of itself with the 'other'. The suffering of the 'other' shows the 'self' what it does not have, and what it does not have to have.

Compassion doesn't demand that we physically take on the suffering of the 'other', though that response is possible. In seeking to alleviate the suffering of the 'other', we exchange a portion of our peace of mind for an empathic awareness of what the 'other' must be feeling. We may exchange a portion of our physical resources for their absence in order that the 'other' might make use of them. We exchange our previous worldview for one that now includes an awareness of this particular instance/kind of suffering. Compassion seeks a better balance between 'self' and 'other' - whether that balance is one of peace of mind, physical resources, or actual pain.

Okay, I don't know where the hell all that just came from. To be continued, once I give this some more thought...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Problematic Nonduality

"Real wisdom is never achieved in isolation or by objectifying the other. Wisdom is the by-product of the mystery of human communion with the nonobjectified other, met with humility and vulnerability in the sacred space that appears when one is asked to dance."

I'm still waiting for the aforementioned-book to arrive. I can't help but keep thinking about the nature of the self/other dichotomy, and how it might be understood in a nondual way that prompts something good in the way in which the 'self' responds to the 'other'.

I can imagine plenty of ways in which the 'other' might be perceived as a reflection of the 'self'. I can even imagine a concept of the 'self' that is largely a product of the 'other'. What I can't imagine is how either of these leads to a conception of the 'other' in a way that promotes respectful and compassionate feelings and actions towards the 'other'. If anything, what I find in attempts to unify 'self' and 'other' is a resulting unhealthy imbalance in priorities when it comes to determining actions.

Perhaps I should take a moment to clarify that the 'other' I'm referring to is an 'other' person, rather than the general 'otherness' of anything that is not me. Presumably it's better to value a person more highly than one values an inanimate object, yet both are not the 'self' in any standard definition of 'self'. And if I can see how an 'other' object is related to or the product of my thoughts, then why shouldn't I view an 'other' person in the same way? For the purposes of this argument though, we'll accept that the 'otherness' of a person is of a significantly different nature than the 'otherness' of an inanimate object.

"Practicing Buddhists know that when they perceive their own interdependence with the world, they are filled with an irresistible compassion toward every living being..." This sounds very noble. Sometimes I even think that I understand the way of perceiving reality that gives rise to such compassion. But it leaves questions that I don't pretend to have conclusive answers for...

With regards to my relationship to the 'other'... What degree of autonomy do I have in determining my actions if I am inseparable from the 'other'? If I perceive that I have no autonomy (as is the case if I am merely a creation of the 'other'), then what is my motive to try to be good and do good? If I perceive that I have full autonomy, and the 'other' has no ability to affect me save what I allow it to have, then what is my motivation to sacrifice for it or behave compassionately towards it? Does it then become to me as my creation, which surely devalues it in relation to me?

How am I inseparable from the 'other', yet neither superior nor inferior to it?

(Great, now I have the desire to get mathematical... Pardon the incoherent rambling.)

To arrive at this particular concept of 'self' that is inseparable from the 'other', the 'self' must be less than the sum total of all that is 'other'. Such a condition would preclude the 'self' from correctly identifying itself as a complex interaction/product of all that is 'other'. What is inherently less than cannot contain all the complexity of what is greater than. This would help explain the 'self's' illusion of separateness from the 'other', but it does not shed light on the actual relationship of 'self' to 'other'...

Yet how does reconciling oneself to inseparability from the 'other' foster anything other than surrender to the forces of the 'other'? What is the degree and nature of this inseparability that it would prompt me to respond with compassion for the 'other' rather than surrender to the 'other'?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

The End of Suffering

"Questers for secrets of the universe are generally channels of Spirit - caring, gentle souls, lovers of creation, children of the one true God. But when it comes to relationships, we are about as dumb as the next person."

I'm still a little hung-up on the quote from the last post. More specifically, I suppose, I'm hung-up on what that quote must be saying about the self/other dichotomy.

Full-disclosure: I'm currently doubting the wisdom of anyone who claims the inherent unity of self and other. Either that, or I am doubting my understanding of the way in which the words 'self', 'other', and 'unity' are being used.

If you've read what I've written in the past three years, then you know that, based on my experiences, I believe that...

1) We are connected to each other in some way, which can permit one person to experience the thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations of another.

2) Such events tend to function as a transference of information, rather than a simultaneous sharing of the experience.

3) What one person experiences can be heavily influenced by the Will of another, who has more of an effect upon the selected outcome.

Now, you can argue that, from a mystical/metaphysical standpoint, I remain in the dark about the true nature of the relationship between self and other. Great! Kindly explain it to me so that I no longer have to suffer. (Oh yes, other people can still make me angry, sad, and afraid.)

You see, even though I am convinced of our ability to connect to each other in that nonlocal way that everyone loves to mock, such experiences seem to reinforce the idea that the other is real, is complex beyond anything I could create, and is not me.

Searching 'nonduality' in the library system's catalogue brought up exactly one hit - The End of Suffering, by Russell Targ and J.J. Hurtak. (chuckle) Targ is a well-known ESP researcher, so perhaps this book will address that issue.

I've requested the book. I'm now tempted to grumble about which is more difficult - trying to understand physics, or trying to understand metaphysics...

(I checked for "An Introduction to Awareness", but they didn't have it. Thanks for the suggestion though; I may end up ordering it.)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Science of Nonduality

"All suffering is caused by the illusion of separateness, which generates fear and self-hatred..."

Perhaps it is telling that, when I try to type 'the science of nonduality', it invariably comes out 'the science of nonlocality'. I'm not that familiar with the mystical/metaphysical concept of nonduality. So if I'm going to do this (though that is entirely contingent on certain as-yet-unobserved outcomes), I should become more familiar with the notion of nonduality, and how anything I have to say supports or contradicts the idea.

My idea seems most applicable to further illuminating the underlying unity of two particular dichotomies - thought/observation (which can also be called 'external observable world'/'internal mental world', or mind/matter), and self/other. The most convincing observations and methods of testing each of these unities/dichotomies differ, so it is worth dealing with them separately, though some may argue that they are, in fact, the same unity/dichotomy.

Indeed, to understand this point - "To the Nondualist, reality is ultimately neither physical nor mental." (W) - it may be necessary to understand the interplay between the self/other unity/dichotomy and the thought/observation unity/dichotomy, as this maybe the only way to achieve a concept of reality that is neither physical nor mental. Much of what I've talked about so far deals with multiple-observer interactions, and so the self/other dichotomy is perhaps the more-important of the two when it comes to understanding the ultimate nature of reality. But for now I seem better-positioned to argue for a unity of thought/observation.

Reading the Wikipedia entry on nondualism reminds me of how much of this literature I have not read. I have the sinking feeling that I'll get hit with 'well, that's the (something) tradition of (something) as written about by (someone)'. Probably. But then if this reflects something real, it stands to reason that many others have observed it as well. Perhaps the challenge is to say something new, rather than to demonstrate how much you know about what others have said. But I digress...

If we are attempting to establish the nonduality of thought/observation, it will be necessary to show the ways in which thoughts and observations are indistinguishable. But more than is also required. The argument for the inseparability of thought and observation would be greatly strengthened if the relationship that pure thought has upon 'observation' (T --> O) could be further explained. The relationship that observation has upon pure thought (O --> T) is currently more accepted and understood by science. We generally believe that observation feeds thought and provides the material from which thoughts are conceived. But if there is a demonstrable reciprocal relationship, wherein thoughts impact observations (as is the general gist of my theory/idea), then we have moved closer to a nondual model of thought and observation.

And so the question becomes - How best to support this particular idea about thought determining observation? At this point, I would ask the readers - What was the most convincing argument/evidence you've seen so far? (Though I don't expect that you will answer me directly... (sigh))

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Afterwards, You're A Genius

A selection of quotes, in honor of the 3-year blogoversary...

"Never quite certain how she accomplished any of this, she began to read books about parallel worlds - and found them fascinating but unsatisfying. She did what she did, but still without explanation as to why and how she could do it."

You deny what you cannot explain. I explain what I cannot deny.

"At every step from the conception of a rational vision to the formation of a theory, faith is necessary: faith in the vision as a rationally valid aim to pursue, faith in the hypothesis as a likely and plausible proposition, and faith in the final theory, at least until a general consensus about its validity has been reached. This faith is rooted in one's own experience, in the confidence in one's power of thought, observation, and judgment."

"...brace yourself and try to show fortitude while reading the next couple of pages..."

"This theory reminds me of the system of delusions of an exceedingly intelligent paranoiac, concocted of incoherent elements of thought... If correct, it signifies the end of physics as a science."

"The 5th Dimension is what brings harmony, a global unity to the world: a unification of religion, of humankind; not divisions in politics, but a healing and a common thread that leads to an honoring of one another." (I can't make this stuff up. I can, however, find the universe where it lives.)

"I was surprised to find, now that my prize was within my grasp, how inconclusive its attainment seemed. As a matter of fact I was worked out; the intense strength of nearly [three] years: continuous work left me incapable of any strength of feeling."

"The time has passed for you to seek the Master. Now it is for you to be the Master." (Scariest thing anyone can ever tell you.)

"...the serious seeker must constantly challenge the teacher, ever questioning and skeptical."

"I took her words as another sign, for by then I was seeing as a schizophrenic sees: with layers of meaning, signs." ;)

"Well, it is a beginning, and that is something..."

"And so the next step was obvious: to learn all the laws of the universe, to become super-scientists."

"Play the game; you know you can't quit until it's won.
Soldier on; only you can do what must be done."

Thursday, May 7, 2009

And Having Writ...

"The moving finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line..."

And the beat goes on... Somehow I actually get more writing/thinking done when I blog.

But blogging is no substitute for formally engaging the bastions of science. I'm working on that though. Baby steps. :) The first of which is to formally present what I've blogged about. (Never ask the universe 'What now?'. It will tell you. ) If I'm really disciplined, I may even get a publishable paper knocked out by then.

As always, thoughtful comments on anything that is discussed here are welcome.

"If anyone tells you something strange about the world, something you had never heard before, do not laugh but listen attentively; make him repeat it, make him explain it; no doubt there is something there worth taking hold of."