Friday, August 25, 2006

Autobangography of a Small Cosmos

Dr. Sanity has a very eloquent piece today that touches on the mysterious relationship between mind and brain. I left a little comment, recalling the truism that “if the brain were simple enough to understand, we'd be too simple to understand it. Then again, the great mystery is how the virtually infinite complexity of the brain resolves itself into the simple, unitary experience of an ‘I.’ It doesn't get any simpler than that, and yet, what an extraordinary tangle of complexity to make it possible!”

I suppose that that dialectical tension between mind and brain, or subject and object, is what spurred me to write my book, for that’s the ultimate question, isn’t it? That is, how does matter give rise to consciousness? More generally, how does mere existence become experience? How is it that the cosmos has given rise to an interior through which it may experience itself?

To a large extent, a philosopher is somewhat like an annoying child who persists in asking “why” after others have stopped. Some people, like my father, just intuitively realize that such questions are ultimately pointless, that no matter how much we think about existence, no one will ever really figure it out. So why bother with such an impractical and ultimately fruitless endeavor? The history of philosophy is simply a chronicle of error on a particularly grandiose scale. As sometwo once said, it is “an an abuse of language invented for that purpose,” or “a journey of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing.”

But some cosmonauts and vertical adventurers can’t help thinking about these things. For one thing, human beings have an intrinsic need for meaning. And what is meaning? Meaning is revealed when things come together in such a way that the union of particulars reveals what they are pointing toward or converging upon.

For example, the meaning of letters is revealed in the word, just as the meaning of words is revealed in the sentence. Once you know how to read, your mind doesn’t even notice the letters of which the words are composed. They fade into the background and become “invisible,” as your mind sees through them, to what they are pointing toward. Nor, as you read this, is your mind focussed on my words (at least until I brought your attention to them), but is instead focusing on the meaning I am trying to convey through words. Words and letter are simply the vehicles of meaning, not its creator. Or, you might say that words are necessary but insufficient to account for the meaning that transcends them.

The reason why human language exists--can exist--is that the cosmos is composed of language, or what is called the logos or Word. For example, astrophysicists search for the mathematical language that governs the big bang. Physicists have discovered the mathematical language that explains both the macro (relativity theory) and micro (quantum theory) realms, but cannot figure out how those two are related. In other words, they are searching for a “higher meaning” that would unify those two outweirdly incompatible theories.

Likewise, DNA is obviously a highly sophisticated language, a language that “speaks” biological organisms. But strict materialists are mistaken in thinking that any purely Darwinian paradigm is sufficient to account for life. For one thing, natural selection presupposes a very special cosmos in which one thing can stand for another and carry messages. In other words, before we even talk about the “message” of DNA, we must have a medium capable of carrying the message, just as, in order to write a book, you need something like rock and chisel, paper and a pen, or computer chip and bits. And no biological theory can account for the existence of biology, for the simple reason that biology presupposes the presence of biological entities, including the biologist studying them.

Furthermore, natural selection presupposes a wholeness of which the organism is an expression. In other words, wholeness is not an emergent phenomena, but an anterior one. Wholeness can manifest in organisms--or in the genome, or in human consciousness--because wholeness is somehow built into the cosmos. In a whole--as opposed to a mere agglomeration of parts--the parts are internally related to one another, so life and consciousness presuppose an internally related cosmos--which our cosmos just happens to be, based upon the testimony of quantum physics, which reveals a vast sea of entangled energy underlying our perception of clear-cut boundaries and separation.

Obviously the universe is ultimately “One,” for it cannot not be One and still be a cosmos. That is, if there is something that cannot resolve itself into the unity of our cosmos, then it is part of another cosmos, not this one. So no matter how “dualistic” things may appear on the surface, any dualism must ultimately spring from the same nondual source.

This nondual source has always been known and recognized, except perhaps in postmodern times. In Vedanta it is called Brahman. In Kabbalistic Judaism it is called the ain sof. Lao Tsu called it the tao. In Christianity it is called the “godhead” or “ground” (by Meister Eckhart). Steely Dan refer to it as the El Supremo at the top of the stairs.

But because the One is truly One, it necessarily contains the many. That is, the One, by its very nature, is a unity, not a sum. Therefore, while every part has its own relative existence, it is ultimately one with the ground.

As the One “blows itself out” or bangs into existence, it creates the ineluctable primordial dualities of subject-object, part-whole, form-substance, time-eternity, wave-particle, quantity-quality, vertical-horizontal, and others. Therefore, wherever you see one of these, you must see the other. If there are objects--which there surely are--then there must be a subject. And if there is a cosmos--which there undoubtedly is--there must be a Subject.

It is said in the Upanishads that this Subject is hidden in the universe as cream is hidden in milk. The cosmos is actually suffused with a subjectivity of which we are all the beneficiaries. You might say that we are all sparks of this divine Subject--not “I think, therefore I am,” but “I am, therefore Being is.”

Or, as I mythunderstood it in One Cosmos, there is only the

One brahman deathless breathing breathless, unknown origin prior to time and space, fount of all being, unborn thus undying, beginning and end of all impossibility, empty plenum and inexhaustible void. Who is? I AM. A wake. A lone. Hallow, noumena!

And that is the story of your cosmic birthday, my child. Now open His presence and report for karmic duty.


Lisa said...

Due to my fascination of the enteric brain, one of my clients lent me a book called The Second Brain by Dr. Michael Gershon. It is a really interesting book. The enteric brain or nervous system is located in the wall of the stomach, intestines, and bowel. This enteric brain is the only organ that can function without receiving signals from the cerebral brain. There are more nerve cells in the enteric brain than in the cerebral brain and spinal cord.

A paragraph from the book that I love is Rebellion in the Bowel: The Brain Below. It is "The enteric nervous system, uniquely, can escape from this functional hierarchy. Technically, the enteric nervous system is a component of the peripheral nervous system, but is only so by definition. Everything is part of the peripheral nervous system as long as it nervous and is not brain or spinal cord. In contrast to the remainder of the peripheral nervous system, however, the enteric nervous system does not necessarily follow commands it receives from the brain or spinal cord; nor does it inevitably send the information it receives back to them. The enteric nervous system can, when it chooses, process data its sensory receptors pick up all by themselves, and it can act on the basis of those data to activate a set of effectors that it alone controls. The enteric nervous system is thus not a slave of the brain but a contrarian, independent spirit in the nervous organization of the body. It is a rebel, the only element of the peripheral nervous system that can elect NOT to do the bidding of the brain or spinal cord."

This surely explains my fascination as I have always been attracted to the bad boy/rebel. So, I was thinking that God gave us cerebral brains to be independent of God and give us freedom of choice, but perhaps he didn't trust us entirely and created a second brain, the enteric one that was more directly connected to God. Our "gut instinct" always leads us in the right direction. Will follow this thought later. Feel free to add to it...

Howard Nelson said...

lisa -- " ... our "gut-instinct" always leads us in the right direction."
Where is the explanation for the gut-brain [GB] trained by the cerebral-brain [CB]to commit atrocities, with equanimity? I suspect it's somewhere in what we call the subconscious CB which sends its messengers out to receptors thruout the body, until the body is conditioned in the
'desired' manner. Ask any murderous suicidal jihadist.

As someone expressed it, "If it's true, it must be true at all the extremes as well as the in-betweens."

Lisa said...

Are those suicidal jihadist murderers the best and brightest of their society? Could it be they are misunderstanding their gut brain and it's just a severe case of flatulence!? ;0)

Lisa said...

I also tend to think the gut brain cannot be trained by the cerebral brain. Anyone that has had severe intestional disorders can tell you that their gut brain was not following orders nor trained by their cerebral brain.

Van said...

What Lisa noted reminds me of a book I'd read some while back "Molecules of Emotion" by Dr. Pert(?), it got a little new agey around the edges, but the hard facts seemed to indicate that part of emotions tasks or operations were to use "neuro-peptides"(?) to help store/retrieve & transmit memories, signals... basically tie the mind, body & immune system together - so that when you significantly changed your mind, you also changed your body in the process.

I may have to dust that off & reread it again.

Anonymous said...

Burroughs was more aware of the power of Word, I think, than any other writer. And it frightened him.

"The 'Other Half' is the word. The 'Other Half' is an organism. Word is an organism. The presence of the 'Other Half' is a seperate organism attached to your nervous system. [...] The Other Half worked quite some years on a symbiotic basis. From symbiosis to parasitism is a short step. The word is now a virus. The flu virus, too, may have once been a healthy lung cell; it is now a parasitic organism [...] Modern man has lost the option of silence. Try halting sub-vocal speech. Try to acheive even ten seconds of inner silence. You will encounter a resistance that forces you to think and to talk."

"Language is a virus from outer space... it is obviously a virus because it depends on replication."

"There is no line between the 'real world' and the 'world of myth and symbol.' Objects, sensations, hit with the impact of hallucination."

Will said...

>> . . no matter how much we think about existence, no one will ever really figure it out. So why bother with such an impractical and ultimately fruitless endeavor?<<

Well, not completely figure it out. But I think we can figure out a lot more than what is generally assumed. After all, we are indeed micros of the macro, the below's of the Above, the withins of the Without. And made in the Image of the Infinite Spirit, as well. If we study ourselves, our lower and higher workings, we can deduce quite a bit about the nature of Existence, about the Creator. And the more we gain in knowledge of Existence, the better we know ourselves. It's the eternal feedback loop.

Gagdad Bob said...

Oh yes, I was only conveying the opinion Robert, Sr., the Gagdad-dad. The only philosopher I can ever remember him speaking of with any enthusiasm was Flip Wilson.

Lisa said...

Neurotransmitters are the chemical "words" of the body and cell. Receptors are the body's ears, in this case. Like a key to a door, certain receptors are only able to hear certain words from certain uniquely shaped neurotransmitters.

Is this intricate design created out of chaos or chance? I highly doubt it! That is why I love science and math. The depth you can divide and explore is infinite but always seems to lead to the one non-dual source.

Will said...

>>. . . Flip Wilson<<

Professor Irwin Corey wasn't bad either.

anagrams for ONE COSMOS BLOG:



Dr Bob said...

Another deeply thought-out treatise on life and the cosmos--yada, yada, yada. Anyone can answer the easy spiritual questions, like the meaning of life and the origins of the cosmos.

Here's my spiritual question:

Is that a Rickenbacker bass you're playing in the sidebar photo?

Had a bass player in my group who played a stereo Rickenbacker bass--now that's a righteous axe!

Axe and you shall receive, as the Good Book says...

Howard Nelson said...

In a manner of speaking and writing, if you want to be aware of you as Self/Source, devotedly follow any one or more of the systems described by Patanjali, Ramana Maharshi, Ramakrishna, Nisargadatta Maharaj, Sai Baba of Shirdi, Shankara,... Forgive me for being only an Indian-giver.

The Buddha scriptures and Islam-Sufi tradition as well describe other paths to be trod and ultimately left. The path and method, tho contained in THAT is not all of THAT -- so say the travelers retuned from beyond.

In the words of Tukaram Maharaj: "In this life I have attained what I had to attain, and now the only reason I live is to serve." Ol' TM started out thinking he was only a poor slob like many of us, but uncovered that he was all and everything and
more -- as we all essentially are [or AM, as the cause may be].

Gagdad Bob said...

Dr. B.--

Very good. Yes, a Rickenbacker 4001 stereo bass with an amp that went up to 11.

The Rickenbacker came about because our band had three guitarists, of which I was the worst. Therefore, I was promoted to bass.

Oh, and since you asked, there is a better view of Rick & Bobber at the end of this post.

Dr Bob said...

Even at that tender young age, you were striving to reach the stars--a quest made easier no doubt by those 16-ouncers...

I say we had a bass player with a stereo Rick...which is true, although I think he only practiced with us 2-3 times before moving on. Of course, since the band only played 3 gigs in 6 months, that counts as a fairly long stint...

Van said...

Dr Bob, I think that is a Rickenbacker bass, but I've decided to overlook the fact that Gagdad didn't have the judgement to play a Fender P-bass.
Even he isn't perfect...

Gagdad Bob said...

To be honest, I only got the Rick because I liked the way it looked. If you can't really play, it costs you nothing to look good while doing so.

Van said...

Actually that was an example of envy typing. I had (looks like) the same Rickenbacker ... well, actually our keyboard had the same Rickenbacker, which he let me use for a few years, until we got a new singer who forgot about the kill-zone rule ("If you don't go make eye-contact with Van first, don't go with 6' of him on "Born to be wild" or "Rebel Yell"). I didn't see him coming and I jumped & spun around, whacked the singer in the back of the head with the headstock, he did a perfect 360 sommersault off the stage right onto a table - drinks & people flying - and neither of us missed a note.

We both thought it was pretty impressive, but our keyboard player didn't, he took his Rick back, & I had to go back to playing my Fender.

The Machine said...

Ricky necks may have dual truss rods, but they can snap in two like dry twigs.

Joan of Argghh! said...

All the transcendence descending into visceral bragging and envy! It's why I like the, "My Karma ran over your Dogma" bumper stickers.

'sides, if it ain't a Fender
might as well be tinder.