Autobangography of a Small Cosmos
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.