More Hippy Wisdom, Science and Upside Down Thinking

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On the commune, “The Farm,” I heard (and again I do not know if it originated there with Stephen Gaskin):

“Don’t limit the universe.”

That is something like when Einstein said ‘God doesn’t play dice” referring to randomness in quantum mechanics. Bohr responded by saying: “Don’t tell God what to do, Al.”

Or Shakespeare having Hamlet say: “there are more things in heaven and earth Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Our senses, including cognition, were evolved to limit the universe so we can deal with it as four-dimensional beings, not to understand the ultimate nature of reality.

It is an assumption of science, and many mystical traditions, that “as above so below,” though often applied very differently in science and mysticism or spirituality. In science, as we perceive ever deeper and deeper into the workings of things and uncover more complex facts about these things and their relationships using the tools of science to organize and extend the limits of our senses, our powers of observation, we believe we are getting closer to the Truth. As we look at and think deeply (and mathematically) about the smaller and the smallest, the subatomic world, and the the larger and the largest, the Cosmos, we see the same processes and so feel confident that science is hot on the trail of how it is.

And of course we are hot on that trail, until we hit the areas on the intellectual map in the middle of the ocean of our explorations that are labeled “Here There Be Sea Monsters.” These are the grand unifications we hope for, the realm underpinning quantum field theory, the play of energy writ large and small, where we start dreaming about multiverses and strings.

Then what?

What is in the spaces, the deep empty spaces between thoughts, between perceptions?

As I quoted Stephen Hawking in an earlier post: what breathes the fire in to the equations?

A recent book I read that Nyogen Roshi had suggested, an 800 page three volume compendium by a physicist, Thomas Campbell, called “My Big Toe.” My take on it sums up to:

Consciousness is the foundation, evolution is the process.

Tom suggests that information is the warp and woof of our perceptions, we have free will, and meditation is a tool to improve the quality of our being by decreasing random chaotic fluctuations and being more compassionate.

He also doesn’t like infinity much, and neither does Buddhism, which is why my GUT had “no beginning, no end” rather than “for eternity.”

Tom may disagree with my couple of sentences summing up his work, but it was 800 pages, so I may have missed something.

And it is not that far from the GUT I started my writing with:

You are the Universe unfolding

Mind evolving

No separation

No beginning, no end

As well as blogs I wrote about evolution, and Mind, Zen, and yes, breathing fire into the equations that create a Universe.

In Buddhism there is an idea that most unenlightened views are “not even wrong” (a statement I like by a physicist deriding a crazy theory, but here more a statement of fact than a put down), but rather are “upside down thinking.”

As a self-taught painter in high school I found turning a canvas upside down was quite useful in giving a new perspective to the work, highlighting asymmetries and abstractions (color, shapes) I may have missed by knowing what I thought the upright painting was SUPPOSED to look like. I later learned that is a pretty standard technique that I stumbled on. You can see the painting anew and learn a lot by doing that. So upside down perspectives aren’t even wrong, just not what you are after. They may even provide insights that set you on the right path!

And science is simply upside down, I suspect, when it limits consciousness to being an epiphenomenon of this incredibly marvelous (in the true sense of the term) brain.

It is not that science is wrong about brains. The complexity of even the smallest brains should astound. More on that in another blog, but as an example I like the teeny tiny brain of a wasp that is less than a millimeter (a twenty fourth of an inch) long (the whole wasp, not the brain!) that allows for complex behaviors like flying, finding the larvae of another insect in a tree, and then injecting it’s wasp eggs into the sac of that larva of the other insect so the wasp’s larva can eat it later.

It is really, as I wrote recently, just a question as to whether consciousness itself is primary or an epiphenomenon.

I know it may be impossible to prove that the former is true using the techniques of math and science. Although considering Consciousness primary, while perhaps implied when we find that turning the canvas of science upside down, answers some deep questions, doing so relies on subjective experience and that is not the rules of science as most commonly understood. We can’t get “outside” of Consciousness to dissect and measure it. We can measure brain function very well though.

Legitimate as many of us feel that meditation and insight and subjective experience are as away to pursue Truth, they are not necessarily the accepted definitions of “scientific method.” Do we need “scientific method? I would answer: Yes, if we don’t want to fall prey to superstition and we want to do any kind of complex engineering. It is a very powerful tool.

I just suggest that it is OK to turn the canvas upside down and then back, that we don’t, a priori, based on an interpretation of science, a metaphysical stance, limit the Universe.

 

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Belief Traps

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The Diamond Sutra professes that we mistakenly believe in ourselves as persons that are persistent and real entities. We make it up. We want to believe we are this and that and more.

The Lankavatara sutra discusses how we approach reality blinded by  our perceptions and projections, creating rabbits with horns.

A Zen Master said, name the color, classifying it and believing thereby that you know what it “is” in some concrete and enduring manner, and you blind the eye.

As the Enlightenment polymath and genius Laplace is supposed to have said on his death bed, we chase phantoms.

Beliefs.

We want to grasp intellectually, to touch, smell, taste, see, and hear it all. And when we can’t, we fill in the blanks with what we believe should be there, projecting our beliefs, like the way our brains fill in the physiologic/anatomic blind spots in our vision or the details in our peripheral vision that we don’t really see.

We are trapped by our beliefs, and they don’t have to be the clearly wrongheaded absurd beliefs those other people believe that lead to such disasters all of the time, as we can plainly see. Seemingly benign and elegant beliefs can still trap us and become a filter, a distortion, an unconscious bias that keeps us in a fog of delusion, keeping us in a stupor of ignorance.

On top of that, when we have sufficient insight to discover a belief we might be trapped by, a cobbled together way to pretend to ourselves that we know what we are talking about, to explain ourselves and to make our selves more comfortable, allowing us to at least have the illusion that we have some control over things we don’t really understand or have the big picture for, we often simply replace that exposed belief with a more subtle or palatable belief.

We use beliefs as shortcuts, to make our lives easier. That may be a necessary temporizing measure, but it doesn’t work for long. Our beliefs often confer a false security. We are like the turkey that thinks seeing the farmer means feeding time, until of course he is carrying an axe one morning in late November.

This is because beliefs, to the extent that they are beliefs, reflect our state of ignorance, which means our degree of entropy and disorganization, the energy not available for us to use consciously and conscientiously (more on entropy, ignorance and information later), and are at best simply a set of working hypotheses to guide us until we evolve and mature in our actual experience of reality.

Both Buddhism and science (though not all Buddhists or scientists, of course) stress experience (the word “experiment” was derived from the word “experience”), not authority or beliefs. But lacking the requisite experience and maturity, driven by fear and grasping for reassurance, we can’t abide empty files, incomplete knowledge or unclassified experience. They taunt us and remind us of our ignorance, our tentative situation. Of impermanence. Of our limitations in the world of the senses.

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Of course, that is in part why I have thought quantum mechanics might be worth looking at at all for a student of Zen. Whatever interpretation of what quantum mechanics is “really” about that you favor, quantum phenomenon minimally demonstrate that we have to resist trying to jam reality, even experimental reality, into the “how it really is” mentality of the beliefs we hold, the classifications we walk around with in our heads based on our day-to-day experience in the 4-d world of the senses at the level we experience energy transformations.

It won’t fit.

You can jam your experiences into your beliefs and your beliefs into reality, then close the lid, like pushing a spring loaded clown into a Jack in the Box, but eventually the music will stop and pop goes the weasel.

This includes beliefs in materialism (science), Platonism (math), philosophy, post-modernist relativity, religion, political or social ideals, or artistic/poetic ideals like beauty or romantic love, and yes, even Buddhism! To the extent that they are indeed beliefs that are treated as more than mere provisional models to orient you (or say Buddhism as template, as Nyogen likes to say), to the extent that they are concepts, files you need to fit your experiences into, rigid structures that can not expand as you grow and evolve, I suspect that they will sometime or another fail. And then they will cause pain and suffering for yourself and others. Or at least disappointment and disorientation!

I bring this up today because I came across this sentence that I wanted to share in a book called “My Big TOE” by Thomas Campbell:

“Jeez those belief traps are amazing – they can transmute simple ignorance and incompetence into blind stupidity in a flash.”

Been there, done that!

Beliefs: a very, very subtle practice.

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photos courtesy of Susan Levinson