Mind, Non-Duality and What’s Up


The identity of the relative and absolute; from infinite circle to infinite waves


If you want to pursue and intellectual philosophical understanding of non-duality, consider reading Bernardo Kastrup. He posits One Mind, though his terminology is more technical. He asks tough questions of himself and all who consider Mind as foundational. This is Zen, Buddhism in general, Biocentrism, ancient Mahadyamika and other more recent non-dualistic philosophies.

Mind, consciousness, as foundational, brain as secondary, as a mode of Mind function, an expression of mind, how consciousness translates in our world, rather than the other way around.

If that is so, how come I can’t wiggle your toes? Why is there apparent self and other? What is death? If it is all Mind, what is all that stuff out there, galaxies, black holes, and so on, and how come we didn’t know about it all before if we have minds?


You can find out about this with a science/quantum bent reading Bob Lanza’s books on biocentrism

Robert Lanza speaking at Hazy Moon Zen Center a few years ago. Can find it on Hazy moon website.

Bernardo Kastrup also has very good, sophisticated answers. He just got his PhD in philosophy to go with his PhD in computer science. His philosophy PhD defense is on YouTube. I suggest if the intellectual philosophical, metaphysical aspects interest you in detail, look up his books, blog, or YouTube offerings.

Kastrup has used the metaphor of individuals with consciousness as eddies in a stream of One Mind (not exactly his term), especially a stream of a reflective material so we see our projections from within and think that’s how it is. Such metaphors are not new: eddies in a stream, waves in an ocean, currents in an ocean, broken flows in a waterfall, all have a fine and ancient pedigree. We are localized energy and momentum that is not separate from the medium, in fact totally one with it, interdependent, yet endowing it with contingent temporary local form and function.

Kastrup refers to us as “alters.” Those are different identities in people with multiple personalities. Alters may or may not be aware of the other alters, but in any case, alters are clearly in the minds of the afflicted, products of mind, yet have an apparent independent existence, a “life of their own.”

Mind and existence as psychopathology. Not bad, I think. After all, in Buddhism there is samsara, Maya, and it is a kind of projected mental illness! Or just, without what could be construed as implied value judgement, the great dance of illusion.

So, how do you know consciousness? Well, meditation accesses it directly, but in any case, you do know. After all, consciousness is the awareness of some way, an experience, it is to be something (some call that meta-consciousness, but I don’t care much about that debate. Bernardo Kastrup does, I’ll let him do the heavy lifting). You know at any moment, if you care to access it (that’s the meta-consciousness part), what it is like to be you. You are influenced by it even without meta-awareness of it. You react based on what it is like to be you, colored by conditioning (karma),to the degree you are not awake. Pretty obvious, there is nothing fancy there.

So, we go to the metaphors above to get to non-duality. They are weak, but of course they are just metaphors! As an alter, as a current, wave, broken up waterfall, or eddy in a stream, in the relative, in time and space, in the six senses, in samsara, I have my own sphere, my energy is finite, I can touch you indirectly, influence you, but not wiggle your toes. And death comes to all things in time and space. The wave crashes, current abates, the water falls, the alter loses juice.

Now, then what about all that stuff I never imagined?

Well, they become manifest to us out of the ocean, river, waterfall, when they enter our sphere of experience.

How about quantum? Sure, that’s how it works. Entanglement, non-locality

[Above is a schematic Interferometer, where a photon from lower left interferes with itself when out of phase in the two paths when it engages by half silvered mirrors as long we we don’t look at it in progress and “know” what path it takes. An indivisible photon on two paths here, but really many, or maybe infinite paths? Yep. And we have to be ignorant of the path? Yep. non-locality. Subatomic particles aren’t little pebbles flying around! Waves, energy, fields. It is deeper and way beyond what we ever imagined. See old posts or read up on it if you are interested.]

Another way to look at that: Maybe, to the degree I am aware, I know my experience, have access to my consciousness, but how do I know what Mind is up to? How do I see how that works? I experience my thoughts, but how does that work for Buddha Mind? For all that I can’t wiggle? What is all that?

Open your eyes. Engage. What you can’t wiggle is Mind outside of your “alter,” your self-reflective eddy in the stream, your current, your wave, your part of the waterfall. Same stuff as inside your eddy, your wave, your current, your waterfall, just a different pattern of energy. From beetles to black holes, from quarks to quasars, from so very way teeny to so awesomely way immense, that is Mind functioning. That is what Mind is up to. That is what the ultimate thought, Mind, Cosmic Consciousness, if you like, looks like, what it is, how it functions in time and space. It is time and space.

Why is it that way? Wrong question. That tries to bring it down to human terms. Too self-centered and self-important. A deflection, an infinite regress that will lead nowhere. In Zen we talk about the identity of relative and absolute; this is not a newly recognized conundrum. For most of us most of the time, those are just words and concepts. Distractions. Maybe that’s got to be okay. Maybe it’s how we function, not worth worrying about. That just makes for more noise, more distractions.

Better, perhaps, to be aware, awake, intimate with what is True, with Mind.

Shut up and see what’s up.



Merry Christmas from a Non-Materialist Atheist (really, no irony intended! )


Being into Zen doesn’t mean I couldn’t be a materialist in the metaphysical sense. Zen does suggest being a materialist in the sense of being greedy and wanting things, with the hope that having stuff (including just the right ideas and rituals) will assuage anxieties and delusions and make up for ignorance and fear, is a bad idea, though with enough rationalization anybody can be a materialist, even a Zen practitioner. It is modern science that makes it difficult to be a metaphysical materialist. After all, what is “material”? What is matter? What makes things “thingy”? All that seems solid dissolves into a state of energy differences that follow rules and constraints (quantum mechanics and relativity, for example). Material, matter, exists only as those energy states are put together into being “something” by our senses and colored our hopes and fears, our conditioning and our scale of biological existence, themselves just energy states determined by energy states:

turtles all the way down.

Peel the onion until there is nothing.

In this cartoon each circle defines a square, which defines a circle. It is an iteration much like how magnetic fields change, defining a changing electric field, creating a propagating magnetic field, etc. This is electromagnetism, the first unified theory, developed in the mid-19th century by Maxwell based on work by an autodidact, Faraday. But where does that first circle come from?


Science confirms that these energy states are not the same as the stories our senses project to create our world. Sure, those senses evolved in the context of the rules of energy transformations, and so must relate to them in some way. In Zen there is the foundational poem called (in the translation I know) “The Identity of the Relative and Absolute “(the Sandokai). Zen accepts the challenge.



Science has a hard time with this. How does my life, my mind, relate to phenomena like quantum entanglement and quantum fields? Very indirectly, it seems, and only with big leaps of faith going from one level of scientific inquiry to another.


We may be energy fields, but we are also information, information of a certain contingent form, congealed on one level as DNA, as other levels as chemical  metabolism, interacting, communicating cells and organs and bodies, honed by energy states (our environment), in an iterative way similar to the circle and squares.


Scientists tells us science won’t be able to answer some basic questions in our lifetimes, and other questions not likely ever, (is the universe infinite or only 90 billion light years across? Is there one universe or “multiverses”? What is time? Can we verify strings or supersymmetric particles or quantum loop gravity experimentally?), but scientists do tell us that the universe is not what our limited senses describe.



That is fine with me, because while I can appreciate great beauty and love I have so often in my life, my senses also reveal a pretty dim picture of lies, delusion, death and suffering a lot of the time, not a world where some omniscient creator god just adores its creation…

Cue in Buddhism.


One guy came up to Buddha and said I will follow you if you’ll answer my big questions, like is the universe eternal?

Buddha told him he was wasting his time. It’s like being shot by a poison arrow and asking what wood the shaft of the arrow is made of, and similar irrelevant questions, rather than taking out the arrow. In some places Buddha said he came to end suffering. Others he said hey, your heads on fire, man, stop asking dumb questions.

So peel back the stories, and, as the Tang dynasty Zen master Huang Po suggested, watch out for concepts you project on to your life. What are you left with?



Now, since this is Christmas and I am not going to leave it there. I am not going to allow the arrogance of some scientists and professional atheists make it difficult to hear and appreciate the marvelous absurdity of manifest reality at its deepest scientific description. On the other hand, I am not going to be the atheist who just dishes on a dualistic creator god outside his creation of adoring puppets, that so loves the sparrow in the field, you know, the sparrow that is going to be eaten by the hawk leaving its chicks squawking in desperation, if they are lucky attracting a predator (the same hawk?) to end their misery quickly, rather than dying slowly by dehydration and starvation, without a clue as to what happened.

I am going to get into the Christmas spirit instead! Yay!

My Christmas present is sharing that my favorite book right now is “Barking to the Choir” by Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest who walks the walk Jesus had in mind.

Father Boyle is the founder of Homeboys industries, a job program for ex-gangbangers, but so much more.

“Barking to the Choir” is a spiritual tome abput the here and now reality of suffering and redemption. As an aside, it is respectful of Buddhism, but more to the point it is real, it is spiritual in the deepest sense, in a way I can respect and admire, and brought me to tears several times. The book is challenging in its radial compassion, vision of no separation, and belief in redemption. I am glad that this priest found in his religion something of value. And there are others, intelligent, thinking, caring people I know who have found deep meaning in religion as well. But I equally love that the values in this book do not need religion to inform them. Atheists I know (and I include myself in the technical sense of not believing in a dualistic creator god with separate mind and intention from its creation) share the core values that Father Boyle expresses in his life and work as a vision of natural ethics, an expression of who we are at our best, not as a command from on high.

The Dali Lama, who Father Doyle has met and quotes in his book (among other Buddhists), said that we need more compassionate people, not more Buddhists. I agree. I don’t care if anybody goes to a Zen center or not. Father Boyle also is not trying to convert people to his religion. He does want to share his vision, and I love that vision; it is deep and sincere.

Father Gregory’s religion isn’t exactly Zen, but in buddhism all teachings are a raft to be let go of when true understanding is experienced. And Father Boyle offers one magnificent raft for so many.

So, as I sit here on call on Christmas (I volunteer to let the goyim have their day with their families; I have for a quarter of a century) I am not looking to science for ultimate truth or religion for redemption. I do not appreciate my arrogant co-scientists who belittle those who find their materialistic metaphysics and philosophic stances (some deny they indulge in metaphysics and philosophy, itself a metaphysical, philosophical stance) to be limited and caustic, unable to answer deep questions, any more than I appreciate my spiritual brethren who use their religion to shore up their delusions and create more distance and suffering.

Too bad about all the haters.



I appreciate both science and Zen for the depth of seeing and peace, however shallow and tentative, however diminished by my own limitations, that they have brought me. My dreams come true!

And to the extent that science and religion brings their practitioners, and those they reach out to, into a state of wonder and inspires them to compassion and to make the world a better place, I am thrilled.

There is, after all, Father Boyle, walking the walk. And dedicated scientists and physicians and atheists and agnostics and artists and religious people and others I know trying to heal the world and make us all a bit smarter as well.

Mazel tov. A mitzvah.

Have a merry Christmas and happy whatever.

And don’t forget to keep dancing.



Quantum Peak Again

There is another famous experiment that I would like to talk you through. I will try with lots of schematic drawings. The pay off is that it is another look at how the quantum world is beyond our day-to-day experience and how our basic notions are projections. For now, that is plenty! We can go deeper later.

We are going to look at what happens when a light goes through an interferometer.

Lets look at the basic set up, a “big picture” look.It is all there, but we will have to go over it step by step. First, what is in the diagram?.



There is a light source, here the green lamp in the lower left corner of the diagram.

The yellow arrows indicate the path the light takes.

There are four mirrors, one at each corner, all indicated by diagonal lines.

Two mirrors, one at the upper left corner and the other at the lower right corner, are indicated by a single blue line. They are full-silvered mirrors and they reflect all the light that comes to them.

Two other mirrors, one at the lower left corner and the other at the upper right corner, are half-silvered mirrors. These reflect half of the light that comes to them, and let half of the light through. A very important point is that the half-silvered mirrors have a front and a back. The back, here indicated by a red line, also reflects half the light and lets half the light through, but there is a change in the reflected light when reflected off the back ( red) side of the half-silvered mirror. The “phase” of the light is shifted. We will get back to that in a bit; it makes all the difference.

The black trapezoid objects in the upper right par of the diagram are light detectors. That is, they will register the light that gets to them (and their color will turn from black to yellow here in these diagrams).

This next diagram shows another overview showing what will happen. We send light through the interferometer and only the top light detector registers light. Why is that? What happened to the light going toward the lower right detector?



Lets follow the light,


Here we see the light that came from our lamp at the lower left in our first “big picture” diagram. This light first interacts with the lower left half-silvered mirror. Half of the light is reflected, and because of the mirror’s angle the reflected light is sent up in this diagram. The other half of the light goes straight through along the bottom left to right. This is why there is a half-silvered mirror here at the beginning of our interferometer device, to split the light into two pants, an upper and lower path.



The half of the light that was reflected straight up along the upper path at the first mirror now reaches the upper left full-silvered mirror and all of that light is reflected, now going along the top from left to right.


The half of the light going left to right on the lower path that went through the first half-silvered mirror next reaches the lower right full-silvered mirror and is reflected up along the right side of our interferometer.



The light in the upper path going from left to right reaches the upper right corner half-silvered mirror. This light from the upper path is again split at the half-silvered mirror at the upper right just like the light was at the first half-silvered mirror at the lower left corner of the interferometer. At this last mirror once again half of the upper path light goes through unchanged, and half is reflected up to the top light detector.



Now here is where it gets a bit tricky. The light from the lower path next reaches this last half-silvered mirror in the upper right corner of the interferometer. But this time it interacts with the back of the half-silvered mirror! This light from the lower path is also split at the half-silvered mirror. The half of the lower path light that goes straight through the half-silvered mirror continues up to the upper detector unchanged. That light transmitted from the lower path gets to the upper detector at the same time as the light from the upper path that was reflected up to the detector, so the light reflected from the upper path and the light that goes through from the bottom path combine and the upper detector registers the light.



BUT the light that was reflected off of the BACK of the upper right half-silvered mirror from the lower path is now shifted 180 degrees out of phase by the back of the half silvered mirror! This means the peaks of this light, the “out of phase” light reflected off of the back of the half-silvered mirror, now in red in the diagram (but don’t get confused, that color change is just to make it easy to follow; the light doesn’t change wavelength or color) lines up with the troughs of the light that went through from the upper pathway.


So the two light waves, the wave of light that went through the last mirror from the upper path and the wave of light reflected form the back of the mirror from the lower path  “cancel” each other out. They completely “interfere” with each other (negative interference in the jargon). Hence the name of the device: interferometer!

The peaks, like we have seen in previous posts and in the diagram to the right here, we can think of as +1, the troughs as -1. So you can see how the +1 peak lines up with the -1 trough, and that kind of alignment of the same + with – holds true throughout the whole wave. So the +’s combine exactly with the -‘s and cancel each other out (+1 and -1 =0).


So NO light gets to the lower right detector, which remains black in our diagram.

When only the upper detector detects light, the lower right detector detects nothing, we know that both paths are open and the light went through both the upper and lower path.

Now for a really amazing result: if we send one photon at a time through, once again only the upper detector registers light! The indivisible, basic particle, the photon say (but other particles and even small molecules have been shown to do this), the discrete energy carrier of electromagnetic waves, is in both pathways. But it can’t be, a photon, a particle, is a most basic thing, it is not divisible, of course.Right?

Well, yes, but no. This situation where the photon interferes with itself when both paths are open is called “superposition.” It almost seems as if the photon is “in” the two paths at once in superposition. This is a mathematical idea, of course. Superposition is a word for a phenomenon that can be mathematically described but has no four-dimensional meaning in any sense we can picture or comprehend based on our day-to-day experience and our monkey brain.

The particle is, in effect, going through all possibilities of all of the paths, every one however unlikely (in this “simple” case both paths are equally likely). Though of course that is impossible in ordinary time and space.

Now, if you block a pathway, then both detectors detect light!  If  you send a beam of light through just one path (either upper or lower;in the diagram below it is the upper path) both detectors register light. If you send one photon at a time through only one path of the interferometer then only one of the two detectors will register each photon that goes through, but over many runs with single photons half the time the upper detector will register the photon, half the time the detector on the right will register the photon!


To see what is happening, in this diagram the upper pathway is open, the lower blocked. At the upper right half-silvered mirror half of  the light (or half of the photons over different run when one photon at a time is sent  into the interferometer) goes through the mirror to the detector on the right, half at the light (or half the photons over different runs) is reflected up to the upper detector.

The situation is the same if the upper pathway is blocked. The light reflecting off the back of the upper right half-silvered mirror is indeed phase shifted as before, but there is no other light wave from the upper path going through the half-silvered mirror to “interfere” with the out of phase light (the detector doesn’t care about the phase), so there is no “negative interference,” No two waves to cancel each other out!

So if both detectors light up when a beam of light is sent through, or over many runs with individual photons, you know that only one pathway is open!

This shows that indeed photons can act as discrete particles that can be detected one at a time. As before with the double slit experiment though we have to ask, how do they “know” to go half the time to one or the other mirror if they are separated in space and time?

Here is the kicker. If you don’t block either pathway, but set up some sort of detector that will tell you which path the photon is on, even if you can show it doesn’t mess with the photon in any way you can tell, it is just as if the other pathway is blocked. The superposition disappears! Both detectors will register light (again, when sending only a photon through at a time they won’t both detect the photon at the same time, one or another will do so, but over many runs it will be half and half again!).

Lets stop here. This is one of the big deals in quantum mechanics. Why does “knowing,” that is detecting the photon on one path or another make a difference? What does knowing or detecting mean? And didn’t we already show the photon is in this weird superposition as if it is in both paths at once?

I told you not to get hung up on how you are picturing this. It won’t work.


Special thanks to Prof. Benjamin Schumacher whose Great Courses lectures on quantum mechanics are very good and who presented this version of the interferometer.

Behind the Curtain; A First Peek into Quantum Weirdness




Quantum mechanics grabs the attention of so many people for some good reasons.

Quantum mechanics deals in the atomic and subatomic realms. In the reductive scientific program it is about as small and basic as you can go based on actual experiments.

The results of these studies have led to highly reproducible observations and measurements.

These findings have led to technologic breakthroughs.

 And because quantum mechanics is counterintuitive, bizarre and no matter how hard you try to picture it, model it in your head, think it through, intellectualize, fit in into your daily four-dimensional experience of reality, you will fail, like thousand upon thousands of great minds have failed for a hundred years.

Let me start with an example. I will give others in future posts. Continue reading