Monday, February 13, 2006

Alternate Realities: One is Too Many, a Thousand is Not Enough

From reader Dan, "OK, HERE'S a question: are there alternate realities based on choices, much like Richard Bach wrote of?

I don't know anything about Richard Bach, but I looked him up on Amazon and see that he is the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull and went on to write a number of other wildly successful new-age books. Unfortunately, when you write a book such as mine, you inevitably get lumped in with the new-agers such as Bach, but I hope I share nothing in common with them except competing for the same shelf space. Wait, they don't believe in competition. Or scarcity. I should say our "cooperation" in choosing this moment to create a reality in which there is the illusion of a single space for two books. In reality, because of quantum indeterminacy, there are parallel universes where my book has sold as many copies as Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and Neil Diamond has even set my book to music. Then I sued Neil Diamond for musical malpractice. No wait. That was in this reality.

For some reason, it is de rigueur in the new age world to believe in "alternate realities based on choices." Because of pioneering new-age manifestos such as Fritoj Capra's Tao of Physics, there is a widespread belief that Heisenberg's uncertainty principle means that reality is created by observing it, and that if we choose to observe it in a different way, then we can create a different reality. This is such a thorough misunderstanding that it is difficult to know how to respond.

For starters, the uncertainty principle is not so much a statement about reality as a statement about what we can say about reality. That is, looked at in one way, the quantum event is a particle. Looked at another way, it is a wave. But it's still one thing. We just can't say what. It's a limitation of language, a reminder that language falls short of our ability to describe what is going on at the subatomic level. And it is never a good idea to mistake a deficiency in language for a key to truth. Truth isn't purchased that cheaply. It's one of the reasons new age books are a paradigm a dozen.

Obviously, there is only one reality. Reality by definition is one, or else it is not reality. If there are two realities, then they are independent of each other, and one of them will be unknowable to us. But if they are related, then they are related on a higher level that unifies them. They are part of a system.

Having said that, reality is a gradient, or spectrum, if you like. Depending on where you stand in the spectrum, it will appear as a different reality. Take for example, Helen Keller. Perhaps it is an apocryphal account, but there is nevertheless a true principle involved. If you have seen The Miracle Worker, you all member the scenes before Helen understands language. Being "deaf, dumb and blind," she is thoroughly engulfed in the senses and buried in the body. She lives in a purely physical, material reality. Then, with the assistance of her teacher, Annie Sullivan, she learns the symbol for water, and is magically ushered into an entirely new domain, the realm of abstract symbols. Suddenly she is liberated from a brute material existence and enters the human world.

Again, there is the one world but there are degrees of reality. I ask you, which world is more "real," the first world inhabited by Helen--the fully material--or the second world--the abstract and symbolic? Reductionist and materialistic science would say the first world gave a more accurate representation, since our minds are just illusory side effects of a particularly complex brain, itself an accidental outcome of blind material forces. Of course, when the materialistic scientist says this, there is no reason to take him seriously, since according to his paradigm, his ideas have no reality and no ultimate truth value at all. After all, how can matter know anything, much less the truth of its existence? That's pretty grandiose for a piece of mere matter.

As I have mentioned before, the world of science is the horizontal world of quantities, of time, of linear cause-and-effect. The vertical world runs perpendicular to this, and is the realm of qualities, of spiritual evolution, of truth, beauty and love, among other things. Not only is it governed by a different kind of causation, but it is also ruled by a different form of logic, called "bi-logic." This is not the place for a full explication, but everyday Aristotelian logic is what we call assymetrical, whereas bi-logic is symmetrical. Both the Freudian unconscious and the spiritual supra-conscious operate along the lines of symmetrical logic, which includes five main features: timelessness, placelessness, non-contradiction, symbolism, and an absence of clear distinction between "imagination" and "reality."

Now before Helen Keller entered the realm of abstract thought, she lived in a world that was both concrete and infinite. It was the world of the eternal zero, the endless void of the infinitely finite. Once she entered the world of abstract symbols, she had a way to bring local meaning from the infinite into the finite. There is still just the one world, but now she had evolved vertically in such a way that the world appeared entirely different. There are countless such vertical worlds. For example, this is what happens when you "inhabit" a religion. You literally enter a world. Is it real? Yes. Is it accessible to science? No. It does not exist in the way that the blunt instruments of science require to perceive it. Ex-ist literally means to "stand out" in the same way that an object does. As such, even though God is real, he does not actually exist. He just is.

There are many such degrees of reality, both high and low. Psychoanalysis mostly deals with the lower planes of symmetrical logic, while spirituality deals with the higher ones. Based on an obscure cosmic principle Petey has told me about, you can only reliably ascend in the vertical to the extent that you have cleaned up the mess in the lower vertical. Otherwise, no matter how far you ascend, you will continually be "snapped back" into the lower realm--the realm of atemporal mind parasites who work their magic through the miracle of symmetrical logic. Although they are from "the past," they are "always here." They have the quality of omnipresence, which is why many people--many, many people--especially from certain Arab countries--confuse them with God. Many of these entities also have the quality of omnipotence, in that they are always watching and judging, like a malicious eye in the sky.

We live in the same reality as the Muslim world, right? Yes and no, in the sense there is single world with degrees of reality. The Muslim world of cartoontifadas, beheadings, terrorists, and systematic female abuse is steeped in symmetrical logic, whereas secular liberal world has largely been reduced to a barren, asymmetrically logical world without much of the higher vertical breaking through anymore. Through the magic of symmetrical logic, Muslims are able to freely reverse such categories as victim-terrorist, being offensive-being offended, weak-powerful, primitive-superior, etc. Since they do not respect Aristotelian logic, they are not bound by the rule of non-contradiction, and can inhabit a spiritually malicious dream world where everything is its opposite--Jews are weak and vile, yet they control the world, the Muslim world is backward and impoverished, yet Islam is superior to all religions, etc.

Also, as mentioned above, the secular liberal desert of the European and American left has lost access to the vertical world of spiritual reality. As happens with soul-corrosive socialism, too many of their citizens have been reduced to comfort-seeking animals in the horizontal wasteland. This is one of the reasons why Europe is doomed. They have exited the vital spiritual world in favor of a horizontal socialist paradise in which all of one's material needs will be ministered to but which no one will defend, because it is uncomfortable to do so. When Rome fell, it was largely a result of horizontal barbarians. This time Europe will fall as a result of an invasion of vertical barbarians. In America we have our vertical barbarians as well. But only about 49% of the population. Nothing to worry about.

To be continued tomorrow, timelessness permitting.



More difficult:



Dan Spomer said...

Thank you for addressing that issue, but I'm sorry you felt that I was "lumping" you together with ol' Richard. That was not my intent.

Still, the premise is not so easily cast away, at least for me. Please bear with me, and feel free to point out where I'm going astray....

Example: in one of his books, Richard is faced with a decision; to say "I'm sorry" and be re-united with the love of his life, or to be stubborn and obstinate and watch her fly away on a jet plane.

In one "reality," he chooses his love and his life goes happily in one direction. In the other "reality," he ends up becoming unsure, tired and depressed, which eventually leads to an accident in which he dies. It's certainly a plausible scenario, either way.

The point Bach was trying to make (I think), is that our choices dictate our "reality." No surprise there, really. But what made his book intriguing to me was how he would travel and visit the "other Richard" at some point in the future, to see how his life had turned out.

In that book, Bach chose to travel via seaplane, flying over a broad, flat sea where there where millions of interconnected lines noticeable just under the water. If he wanted to explore a particular "reality," he would merely touch the plane down on that line.

Each line represented a choice that he had made at some point in his life. Here, a turned-down business deal and the lines split of left and right, here, a relationship gone awry, here... well, you get the idea.

But I gather this would all have been horizontal? Not a vertical component to be found anywhere? Be kind... ;)

hoyden said...

Bach's book, "Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah" introduced me to my first spiritual insights that transcended my Catholic upbringing (old man on a golden throne in heaven).

I can relate to being unable to grown in spiritual, or vertical realms, while holding onto beliefs and feelings that are not in harmony with the higher realms. I've felt the irony of using a flawed tool, the mind, or intellect, to seek spiritual insight. While enlightenment cannot be attained through the mind, the mind can, as an expression of its free will, choose to seek spiritual knowledge. In the process of uncovering and addressing the ways my consciousness violates spiritual pronciple, I can prepare myself for enlightenment in the vertical realm.

Gagdad Bob said...

In the sense you are putting it, yes--there are obnviously alternate scenarios that play out based on present choices. But they aren't equally real--in other words, the universe does not split in two and form a parallel universe, where each choice exists in an equally real way.

Yes, there is a vertical world of pure potential. One of the inherent tragedies of life is that, being half finite beings, we can never come close to actualizing our infinite potential before dying. So we do have to make choices and decide what will we will manifest of the unmanifest. Choose wisely!

But the "alternate" future as sugggested by Bach does not exist. It creates the false impression of a deterministic universe, but in actuality the universe operates along the lines of sensitive dependence on initial conditions. It's like saying "if only the pitcher hadn't botched that sacrifice bunt in the first inning, we would have won the game." But if the bunt had been successful, the entire game would have been changed in a non-linear and unpredictable way, because everything would have played out differently.

Not to mention that fact that our conscious choices are often bad ones that violate the telos that is non-deterministically drawing us toward our true self. There is a higher wisdom operating there that far transcends the little choices we make with our limited perspective in the horizontal. We can definitely inhabit a "false world" based on merely egoic choices.

I could say more, but I'm late for work.

Gagdad Bob said...

There is some discussion in occult lore about higher dimensions of time, where alternate futures co-exist. I will try to work that in to tomorrow's post.

Gagdad Bob said...

Oh, and in case it isn't clear, I'm happy to make this a free-wheeling discussion. I don't want to pretend I have the final word. I'm just throwing things out for general discussion, although I will continue to delete the comments of our agenda-driven troll unless they stay on topic and refrain from being silly or abusive.

And if he does post something silly or abusive, please just ignore it until I get around to deleting it.

jwm said...

I can point to several instances in my life where seemingly insignificant decisions resulted in life changing consequences. Every one of those decisions propelled me in a life affirming direction. Those moments often were accompanied by- how do I put it? Transcendendtal events? That voice that just calls out in your head and says, "Stay here." A lucid dream that left me feeling haunted for months until I made the connection by jumping in the ocean on a cold winter day. A decision to go to a meeting. A decision to go to Mexico. A sudden impulse to go look at motorcycles. All of these things represented major turning points for me. I think it's what Bob talks about when he refers to Petey. When I look back it's very hard for me to escape the conclusion that some greater hand was at work for me in those moments. When I look back I can see where the consequences of going in other directions would have been disastrous. But don't get me wrong- I have made some hugely disastous decisions, and lived with the consequences as well. But even the bad stuff has somehow resulted in reinforcing my preference for the good. I believe that it is the will of God that life should flourish. Call it God's will, a guardian angel, or some prescience from my higher self, I don't know.
I guess the alternate realities could have existed, and would have if I had made other choices. If there was indeed a greater hand pointing me in one direction, then the wielder of that hand must have known the consequences of my moving in the other.


Kahntheroad said...

Bob, a somewhat related question I had reading your book last night, re: synchronicity.

How can we tell if a synchronicity is a signal from our higher self rather than a ploy of mind parasites? Does our higher self ever use synchronicities to compel us towards situations with immediate negative consequences with, perhaps long term positive implications? Or are such negative consequences always a result of our own failure of interpretation or execution?

For example, I've had situations where my mind had literally convinced me of something that was, in hindsight, completely untrue, yet, under that delusion I was able resolve an issue that my conscious mind had otherwise refused to deal with.

Kahntheroad said...

Oh, and on a more related point.

Do you think you're being a tad bit hard on the new agers? Before coming across your work I must say that, in addition to studying traditional religions, I also benefited from listening - with a critical ear, of course - to some of these 'gurus.' For example, someone like Wayne Dyer talks about a broader spirituality, personal responsibility and is even able to get away with quoting Jesus on a PBS.

Of course, I wouldn't presume he'd be a stalwart on the war, but - unlike his buddy Deepak - Dyer seems to stay pretty focused on talking about spiritual growth, and he does so on a deeper level than someone like, say, Tony Robbins, who just seems to repeat the standard 'positive thinking' clichés, but at a higher decibel.

Anyway, my point is that, even if these guys espouse some nonsense, I think an intelligent, discerning mind can still gather some insight from them. As for non-intelligent, non-discerning minds, well, wouldn't you rather they read Johnny the Magic Seagull than some bile by Al Franken; or ponder alternate dimensions and massage their chakras instead of seething over Karl Rove or blocking traffic with ugly puppets?

To paraphrase The Big Lebowski: 'Say what you will about new age pseudo-science, at least its an ethos.'

As for Richard Bach, I don't know anything about him, but is there any reason to suggest that his description of traveling in multiple dimensions is not just a metaphor?

Dan Spomer said...

Re: Bach...

For those of you unfamiliar with him, I posted a wonderful bit written by him over at my blog. The post is entitled "The Keeper of the Pages."

jodie d said...

how long would you think europe has left before it is overun by the vertical invaders (oops i mean islamo maniac fascists) ?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

hoyden, CS Lewis addresses our mind-pictures of God, what they are good for and what they are not, in numerous places. It was a favored theme of his. Screwtape, and Mere Christianity are two.

Jorge Luis Borges used this multiple choice realities idea in fiction forty years ago, in Ficciones for example -- especially "The Garden of Forking Paths." I still don't buy it, but it's a more elegant expression of the idea than what has come after.

There is something comforting in the idea that somewhere, we Got It Right, and all our screwups here will become meaningless -- Sort of "Groundhog Day" as theology. But "comforting" is not a solid foundation for "true."