DECONSTRUCTING THE WORLD
DECONSTRUCTING THE SELF
The Human Mind
The Human Being
There has been a conversation going on for a long time. This conversation began when our earliest ancestors looked in awe at the world they inhabited and asked themselves, “What the fuck is going on?” It was probably not phrased as such, but the vulgarity emphasizes the demand to know: What is it that we are experiencing? What is the world? What is life? What am I? Who am I? Why am I here? In other words, what the fuck is going on?
The reason there is a conversation is because no one knows the answer. It is obvious that no one knows the answer, because if we knew the answer we would not need to ask the question in the first place. Some have attempted to answer the question, and their thoughts have become the conversation.
The conversation was started by the first story-tellers, and it has been carried on ever since by bards, priests, prophets, monks, philosophers and scientists. It has also become much more serious. Entering the conversation has meant recognition, wealth and great power for some, as well as persecution, incarceration, torture and even execution for others. We are entering that conversation already in progress.
Early cultures claim that humans are just part of the life-cycle, but they are mostly extinct now. Early civilizations claim we are simply playthings for capricious deities and demi-gods, but no one takes them seriously any more. Over the millennia, there have been a few prophets who have proselytized about a cosmic battle between the forces of good & evil, that we will all be judged by our actions, and that we will either be rewarded or punished for those actions. Their claims rest on the validity of their holy scriptures. There are still others who quietly whisper from mountain tops that we are all just a part of the divine being and that we can all touch it through correct meditation.
The answer we accept reflects in the way we live. It effects how we view ourselves, one another and the world around us. Some people see themselves and others as free-willed souls living in a hostile world surrounded by demons awaiting Judgment Day, while other people see us all as beings of light caught like flies in the samsaric web of continual rebirth. These views are at the core of our identity, as individuals and as a culture.
There have been many who claimed to know the answer, so we are left with many answers from many cultures, and all of them are claiming to be the actual one. One of them could be correct, several of them could be correct, and there is also the possibility that none of them are correct.
In order to settle the question once and for all, the Enlightenment movement inadvertently suspended the conversation until enough data had been collected, and then they set about exploring and investigating the world. Unfortunately, they gave us no time table for completion because they had to come up with enough data first (which takes time). It has been over 500 years since then, and it is time to start the conversation again.
If we are going to answer the question, then we must first discuss which criteria to use. Before we can discuss if God is real, we have to establish what is real. There are many different cultures with many different answers, but there are also different criteria used to validate what is real (and they all conflict with one another). Some claim a holy book as the ultimate authority, some claim it is a personal experience, and still others claim it is the methodical investigation of the material world. It would seem we have a dilemma.
In order to overcome this conundrum, we must begin with the premise that we know nothing. This state of cluelessness is achieved when “one of them must be right” becomes “none of them are right,” thus all the various answers become equal. They become equally wrong, until proven right. Cluelessness lets us begin without prejudices, thus we can examine the various answers with as much objectivity as possible.
A greater degree of objectivity can be achieved by using reason, evidence and common sense. This trinity of deliberation has been used by judicators throughout history to weigh many conflicting answers to determine what is most-probably true. Without them, law and justice would be impossible. Each one of us uses reason to decide for ourselves every course of action we take. Common sense looks for the obvious, which can easily be over-looked. Starting from a state of cluelessness, we then use reason and common sense to examine the evidence, but which evidence carries the most weight? For that, we must enter the realm of metaphysics.
Since civilization spread and a few individuals have had time to ponder the question, they have been debating the various answers, expanding the boundaries of knowledge and questioning the criteria. The Ancient Greeks turned the conversation into the discipline of philosophy. Metaphysics is the arena of philosophy which organizes the criteria questioning into a debate, and over the years the debaters have separated themselves into three schools: idealism (mental), realism (physical) and spirituality (energy). Idealism and realism come from the classical philosophy of Ancient Greece, while spirituality comes from the Upanishadic tradition of India. Each school has a different view as to what is really real.
Idealism holds to the primacy of the mind. One of their best, René Descartes, wrote the idealist’s most-probable-statement, “I think therefore I am.” This statement helped the Enlightenment movement of Western Europe stay as objective as possible while trying to discover the answer to the question by giving primacy to the individual mind and letting it judge for itself what is real. When the mind is the most-probable answer, we become free-floating entities with the world displayed before our perceptions like brains in vats hooked-up to wires which connect us to a virtual reality machine. The world we interact in may or may not exist; the only thing we are sure of is the existence of our own mind.
Realism holds to the primacy of the physical world. The material world we inhabit is the real reality, from the air we breathe, to the land we walk on, to the Sun overhead, to the myriad of stars in the night sky, and to each one of us. We live our lives in the material world. We wake up to it each day, and we share it with our family, friends and neighbors. It is the food we eat and the water we drink. In realism, our mind becomes a product of the brain which is only an organ of our human body. The soul seems completely absent.
Spirituality holds to the primacy of the atman, or spirit. For this school, the world is a mass-hallucination and we travel through it like a chariot down a road. Our five senses are like the horses maneuvering us. Our body is the chariot itself with knowledge and the social construct as the wheels which keep it connected to the road. The mind is the driver and the atman is the passenger, but only the passenger is real. It animates the rest. The atman is not a singularity either; it is a part of a greater entity, Brahman (which is everything).
Each of the three schools of metaphysics has had its time of dominance; however, recently, the pendulum has swung towards realism again. Idealism fell when scientists watched the consciousness being shut off by the brain during deep sleep to conserve energy. Idealism also falls to modern medicine, which can keep a brain-dead body alive without a mind. Spirituality fell to orthodox materialists who can find no evidence for any spiritual claims.
Idealism and spirituality both fall to your own body’s physical need to live, breathe, eat, drink, piss, shit, sleep, fuck, feel pain and die. No one can avoid these needs of the body, no matter how great the mind or soul. Just controlling one’s libido is a test of fortitude. The mind is clearly produced by the brain and is susceptible to damage. If there is a spirit, then it is clearly yoked to the body and affected by its death.
Realism is also validated by its consistency. The material world stays the material world. Idealism and spirituality would suppose that the physical can be over-come, like it is only a dream-state or a fantasy, but things which are done in the material world can never be undone. If you lose a finger in an accident, it does not just reappear one day. What happens here stays here. It is very permanent that way. Your actions are irreversible. Amputations, scars, memories and death are all permanent in the material world.
The primacy of the physical world is also evident in its vast scale and by its magnificent complexity. Neither idealism, spirituality, nor any of the divine revelations predicted the size of the universe nor what wonders it contains: from quantum energy fields to atoms and molecules, from living cells to living planets, and from black holes to galaxy clusters. If this is a hologram, or a virtual reality machine, or an illusion, or a battle between good & evil, then the scale is too vast and too detailed for such a small purpose. It is overkill in the extreme.
So, what the fuck is going on?
The answer to the question must be based on data from the physical world due to the primacy of realism, which means the evidence from the material world carries the most weight. Fortunately, the material evidence is easily verifiable to anyone who takes the time to look at it. You can experience everything the material world has to offer for yourself. It is all displayed in front of you. Just grab a microscope or a telescope and look. You can trust what you see. Start in a state of cluelessness and examine the physical evidence using your reason and common sense. No brains in vats, no special meditation techniques and no divine inspiration. It just is what it is.
Next Chapter: Around The Worlds