• darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    So Zapffe thought that humans "artificially limit the content of consciousness" in order to avoid panic, by way of isolation, attachment, distraction, and sublimation, and thought that humans were "overly-evolved" with their consciousness.

    From a purely psychological view, this does seem to be rather accurate. People "hide" from reality, so to speak. Hence culture, art, religion, self-improvement television shows, fictional literature, etc. We try to hide under the bed sheets and make our own little world. A "reality tunnel" to use a more scientific and contemporary term. Humans seem to be the only animals that have existential crises, or are able of abstract thought so advance that philosophical/scientific discussion of the nature of abstract thought is even possible.

    But it's hard to immediately see how this fits into the picture of the rest of reality, from a scientific and metaphysical perspective. Consciousness is a reflexive specimen in a world of things that aren't reflexive (is a rock reflexive upon itself? What about a stick? Or a star? Or a photon?)

    Can something become "too-evolved"? It doesn't seem like something can, it merely becomes unsuited for the environment and thus selected against.

    What I think Zapffe was going for here, though, is like an out-of-control evolution, like a car rolling down the hill without any gasoline, propelled by its own mass and ultimately aimed at self-destruction (suicide is the "natural death" from spiritual causes).

    But on the metaphysical perspective, it's difficult to see how something as "weird" as consciousness could even come into existence in the first place if it's inherently malignant to itself. It's literally as if human consciousness is in a kind of metaphysical "exile", with no comfort or home in reality. Like an alien to the rest of the cosmos. Schopenhauer, if I recall correctly, mused that an "exile" was the only explanation of our condition, similar to that of the Garden of Eden story. Of course, Schopenhauer lived right before Darwin's theory of evolution came around and so didn't have the scientific knowledge that we have today.

    For it's quite strange to think about what the mind's place in the world is. If we weren't "meant" to know about the world (as Zapffe thought), whence do we come from? If we don't "belong" in the universe, then why the hell are we here? Zapffe (and Schopenhauer) thought that the universe was "inadequate" to satiate the human consciousness (we get bored and restless), and they both put this phenomenon in the more metaphysical way, as if it were a cosmic principle that consciousness is listless and apt to boredom. But how does the universe even accommodate something like human consciousness? How is the big-brained "monkey mind" even physically possible? If human consciousness "does not belong" in nature, then how did it come to be a part of nature (like a pimple on an otherwise clean face)?

    We can't expel the idea that we are the universe experiencing itself. Call it cliche, but it's true. Consciousness is an aspect of the world (or perhaps is the world if we're idealists).

    There currently is only one explanation that I can think of:

    Human consciousness is not a unique specimen, in the sense that it's not the only thing in the vast universe that is displaced, so to speak. Or, it's that human consciousness is a unique specimen in a literal sea of unique-ness.

    This goes a bit into Spinoza's metaphysics: Spinoza thought there was one Substance, with various Modes of existence, and these Modes had Attributes. According to Spinoza, we humans have knowledge of two Modes: the Physical (extension) and the Mental (mind). And Spinoza thought there were infinite Modes.

    Drawing from his metaphysics, could it not be argued that human consciousness (or consciousness in general) is just one of infinite manifestations of the Substance (or perhaps the Will if we're to follow Schopenhauer)? An uncaring Will would create, create, create, and we happen to just be one of the unlucky creations that isn't self-sufficient and "happy". Consciousness is just one of the fluke Modes in an infinity of Modes, completely unknowable by us. Some of these other Modes also have an "experience" of inadequacy and alienation, albeit in a different way that consciousness does. Or perhaps all Modes do.

    The point being made here is that it's quite strange that consciousness, in all its infinite depth and contradictions, is even possible in the first place. It's so strange that I think it rather impossible for it to have evolved from unconscious matter. I hesitate to say this, since I have sympathy with naturalism, but the utter ridiculousness and weirdness of consciousness makes it seem as though there is a wider metaphysical narrative going on here (Neo-Platonism or Buddhism anyone?)
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    From Alduous Huxley's Doors of Perception

    Reflecting on my [mescaline-induced] experience, I find myself agreeing with the eminent Cambridge philosopher, Dr. C. D. Broad, "that we should do well to consider much more seriously than we have hitherto been inclined to do the type of theory which Bergson put forward in connection with memory and sense perception. The suggestion is that the function of the brain and nervous system and sense organs is in the main eliminative and not productive. Each person is at each moment capable of remembering all that has ever happened to him and of perceiving everything that is happening everywhere in the universe. The function of the brain and nervous system is to protect us from being overwhelmed and confused by this mass of largely useless and irrelevant knowledge, by shutting out most of what we should otherwise perceive or remember at any moment, and leaving only that very small and special selection which is likely to be practically useful."

    According to such a theory, each one of us is potentially Mind at Large. But in so far as we are animals, our business is at all costs to survive. To make biological survival possible, Mind at Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the surface of this Particular planet. To formulate and express the contents of this reduced awareness, man has invented and endlessly elaborated those symbol-systems and implicit philosophies which we call languages.

    Every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the linguistic tradition into which he has been born--the beneficiary inasmuch as language gives access to the accumulated records of other people's experience, the victim in so far as it confirms him in the belief that reduced awareness is the only awareness and as it bedevils his sense of reality, so that he is all too apt to take his concepts for data, his words for actual things. That which, in the language of religion, is called "this world" is the universe of reduced awareness, expressed, and, as it were, petrified by language. The various "other worlds," with which human beings erratically make contact are so many elements in the totality of the awareness belonging to Mind at Large. Most people, most of the time, know only what comes through the reducing valve and is consecrated as genuinely real by the local language. Certain persons, however, seem to be born with a kind of by-pass that circumvents the reducing valve.

    If you've never watched Jill Bolte Taylor's famous TED talk, 'My Stroke of Insight', then have a listen to that as well. It makes a very similar point (although I think mescaline would be preferable to having a massive stroke).
  • unenlightened
    2.8k
    There is precedent for maladaptive evolution in sexual selection. I think of the peacock's fan, an evolutionary pain in the butt, that happens, we are told, when mere survival is less of a problem than obtaining a mate. Extravagant antlers similarly.
    So perhaps big brain is more about social competitiveness than dealing with the environment at large. But as a side effect, it allows the radical manipulation a 'conquest' of the environment.

    Too much success, though, is also maladaptive. Consider the rampant success of Dutch Elm disease, spreads like wildfire, kills all the Elms, destroys its own niche. Unfortunately, our niche is the whole planet.

    Here we are unfolding our peacock fans of mind, even though there are no ladies to impress, because we have them all the time and can't help it. It's a pain, but we keep doing it, as if the 'understanding' of a species of ape is the crown of creation.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    Darwinian rationalism.
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    1.6k
    This goes a bit into Spinoza's metaphysics: Spinoza thought there was one Substance, with various Modes of existence, and these Modes had Attributes. According to Spinoza, we humans have knowledge of two Modes: the Physical (extension) and the Mental (mind). And Spinoza thought there were infinite Modes. — darthbarracuda

    You've fallen into the substance dualism Spinoza refutes here. Humans don't have knowledge in two realms of modes. Some states of knowledge are not "body" and others "mind."

    Extension and mind refer not to different types of things in the world (e.g. different human experiences), but rather to the logical discintion between an existing state (extension) and a meaning in thought (mind). Any state of the world has both a form in existence but also an infinite logical expression of meaning. (and conversely, infinite logical expressions are expressed by extension when a state with a given meaning exists).

    The former is the state of something's existence, while the latter is the meaning of the state in thought, which extends beyond that state's existence in the world-- thus, our experiences, which are not the existence of the things we experience, nevertheless hold the meaning of those state of existence, despite the states being entirely different (e.g. a tree is a different state to experience of a tree).
  • schopenhauer1
    2.3k
    Drawing from his metaphysics, could it not be argued that human consciousness (or consciousness in general) is just one of infinite manifestations of the Substance (or perhaps the Will if we're to follow Schopenhauer)? An uncaring Will would create, create, create, and we happen to just be one of the unlucky creations that isn't self-sufficient and "happy". Consciousness is just one of the fluke Modes in an infinity of Modes, completely unknowable by us. Some of these other Modes also have an "experience" of inadequacy and alienation, albeit in a different way that consciousness does. Or perhaps all Modes do.darthbarracuda

    This goes back to my idea of instrumentality- especially when you describe "create, create, create". We do, we do, we do... But for no other reason than motives that ultimately come down to survival and boredom. To elaborate - there is Other (world)- imposed constraints of survival/culturo-survival needs. There is also the Other-imposed constraints of dealing with unwanted pain. Conversely, there are also self-imposed constraints of our own inner restlessness (angst/boredom/restlessness) which help sustain this situation of instrumentality (we are surviving, avoiding unwanted pain, and trying to convert our restless nature into pleasure-seeking and goal-seeking in genera ad infinitum). Ultimately a principle of a Will-for-nothing ensues (pace Schopenhauer).

    It's interesting how survival manifests in a plethora of ways. When I use the word "survival" or "culturo-survival", what I mean is something as subtle as an office-worker taking upon themselves the yoke of "hard-worker". This ideal may come from a deep-seated enculturated idea that working hard at your job is just and right. Society in turn, would approve of this ethic as it sustains production for survival etc. [This example is just to prove that not all survival is directly related to the survival itself, but the culture and complex contingent/environmental factors surrounding it.]

    To add a bit further here about our "unique" situation- humans have the unique "language-brain" caused by multiple environmental factors in our evolutionary development. This language-brain itself creates a unique framework to see the world, that may be a major layer in how we are "stuck" in consciousness which seems remote from the rest of nature. By being stuck in consciousness, are stuck in time, both projecting backwards and forwards. We try to make modern mantras of "living in the present", but our restless natures are part and parcel of the human condition. The fact that we even have to go on a "journey" to calm the Will (not that I think this happens really in any Buddhist/Ascetic fashion aka pipe dream), is enough to make this situation undesirable.
  • mcdoodle
    995
    People "hide" from reality, so to speak. Hence culture, art, religion, self-improvement television shows, fictional literature, etc.darthbarracuda

    I don't understand the word 'Hence' here. All these genres or ways of acting seem to me attempts to come to terms with human experience, not to hide from it.

    Not that I'm necessarily disagreeing with the overarching thesis. Maybe humans are creatures dissatisfied with their ecological niche but incapable of the wisdom required to moderate our behaviour now we're clothed and sheltered in inhospitable climes. 'The over-reacher' is a classic modern cultural notion from the plays and poetry of Marlowe onwards: we recognise this tendency in ourselves but seem powerless to negotiate with it.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    I'll admit I never heard of such a theory (that the brain acts as a repressive organ and not a storage and functional organ), but I don't really see how it could be true. If it were true, you'd see car accident victims (with brain damage) remembering a ton of new things. Drugs would actually give us insight and not just "whoa dude" catch-phrases.

    In a certain sense, the brain does act as a filter. We're constantly bombarded by countless stimuli, and the brain has to narrow the focus down to the relevant stimuli. We aren't consciously aware of our toes, or our scalp, or the back of our throat. We aren't consciously aware of the corners of our eyesight, or the rhythmic beating of our heart in the ear canal.

    But to say that there is an entire world that our brain "represses" without our control seems to be quite extravagant.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    There is precedent for maladaptive evolution in sexual selection. I think of the peacock's fan, an evolutionary pain in the butt, that happens, we are told, when mere survival is less of a problem than obtaining a mate. Extravagant antlers similarly.
    So perhaps big brain is more about social competitiveness than dealing with the environment at large. But as a side effect, it allows the radical manipulation a 'conquest' of the environment.

    Too much success, though, is also maladaptive. Consider the rampant success of Dutch Elm disease, spreads like wildfire, kills all the Elms, destroys its own niche. Unfortunately, our niche is the whole planet.

    Here we are unfolding our peacock fans of mind, even though there are no ladies to impress, because we have them all the time and can't help it. It's a pain, but we keep doing it, as if the 'understanding' of a species of ape is the crown of creation.
    unenlightened

    Interesting. This seems to support the idea that, when natural selection is not at its most brutal (survival or nothing), sophistication can really take off exponentially, like an out-of-control automobile racing down a hill.
  • darthbarracuda
    2.9k
    Interesting thoughts.

    What I was thinking was that, contra folk conceptions of a perfectly orderly universe that obeys timeless laws, you have "breaks" in the system that occur during key transitions within the system. Kind of like how when a computer fumbles and the processing goes haywire.

    The point I'm trying to make it kind of difficult to explain. But basically we're often told (reassuredly) that the universe "doesn't care" about us - aka it's neutral and not benevolent or malevolent.

    But this contradicts the very experiences we have. The universe is capable of producing beings who suffer. It might not be anthropomorphized but it nevertheless can be characterized as bad. Harmful, malignant.

    We can feel alienated from the rest of the world, as if we're the only ones who experience anything and everything else is just dead, lifeless matter. But isn't it quite peculiar that our of a vast ocean non-consciousness, there exist little islands of consciousness? Wouldn't it strange if we're the only beings that have consciousness?

    The self-reflexivity of consciousness is a very strange aspect of it. That we're able to introspect and feel as though we don't belong is baffling. How is it physically possible that we feel as though we don't belong? Again we feel this way because the universe allows this to happen - a self-conscious and introspecting reflexive agent is a possibility of the universe. We are simultaneously at home in the universe and yet completely alienated from it.

    So I have to criticize Zapffe a bit when he says that consciousness is "not-natural". On the contrary, everything in the universe is natural (nature doesn't exist exist in the first place, it's an empty word). It's natural that people can feel unnatural. Kind of disturbing, like an instance of cosmic self-hate.
  • Erik
    579
    I like the first post, and the topic generally resonates a great deal with my experience. But couldn't there be another way to interpret this scenario? Nietzsche tried to give it a positive spin, and here's Heidegger's take on the puzzle:

    "Celebration is self restraint, is attentiveness, is questioning, is meditating, is awaiting, is the step over into the more wakeful glimpse of the wonder- the wonder that a world is worlding around us at all, that there are beings rather than nothing, that things are and we ourselves are in their midst, that we ourselves are and yet barely know who we are, and barely know that we do not know all this."

    So acute consciousness - free of comforting illusions - need not necessarily lead to despair, but can (admittedly in are cases) result in joyful affirmation or at least a more subdued sense of wonder and thankfulness. I waver on the issue quite a bit.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    I'll admit I never heard of such a theory (that the brain acts as a repressive organ and not a storage and functional organ), but I don't really see how it could be true. If it were true, you'd see car accident victims (with brain damage) remembering a ton of new things. Drugs would actually give us insight and not just "whoa dude" catch-phrases. — DarthBarracuda

    'Drugs' is a generalisation and in the context a pejorative. Different 'drugs' do many different things, obviously. Hallucinogenic agents, specifically psilocybin, mescaline, and LSD, do a great deal more than produce 'whoa-dude' catchphrases (not that I wish to advocate ingestion of illegal substances.)

    Huxley's point, and indeed the essay in which the point was made, was fundamental to the counter-culture, which has given rise to huge changes in philosophy, attitude, science, technology, society, etc, since that time.

    I don't know who 'Zappfe' is, but the fact that he or she assumes that 'panic' is at the basis of the unconscious does not incline me to want to investigate.
  • unenlightened
    2.8k
    I'll admit I never heard of such a theory (that the brain acts as a repressive organ and not a storage and functional organ), but I don't really see how it could be true.darthbarracuda

    There is a sense in which it is an obvious truth, that has probably never been made explicit in quite that way. Not that it's an either or thing quite as you put it, but the process of abstraction is the removal of detail; to make sense of things is to simplify and classify. Instead of remembering every chicken image from every angle in every light, one abstracts the form of the generic chicken, along with along with some salient particularities of Gertrude and Florence perhaps. Instead of remembering every interaction with one's brother, one forms a kernel of character that is more powerfully predictive than the endless scenes in which he might have appeared.

    But there is another sense in which repression is a response to fear and trauma. If one learns that one's own affective responses put one in danger - from a drunken parent perhaps - at an age when one cannot deal with the situation, then one learns to operate on oneself to repress one's responsiveness (other fuck ups are available). I would suggest that the major part of religion, the self-improvement industry, politics, philosophy and so on, are the insane attempts of the insane to cure or at least ameliorate our insanity.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    Oh, so this is Zappfe

    Peter Wessel Zapffe (December 18, 1899 – October 12, 1990) was a Norwegian metaphysician, author, lawyer and mountaineer. He is often noted for his philosophically pessimistic and fatalistic view of human existence[1]—his system of philosophy in line with the work of the earlier philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, by whom he was inspired—as well as his firm advocacy of antinatalism.[2]

    I don't agree at all with 'antinatalism' except for in the case of those who propose it (by which time, of course, it is too late.)
  • unenlightened
    2.8k


    This chap is not an anti-natalist or a pessimist...

    We are occupied with one little corner of consciousness which is most of our life; the rest, which we call the subconscious, with all its motives, its fears, its racial and inherited qualities, we do not even know how to get into. Now I am asking you, is there such a thing as the subconscious at all? We use that word very freely. We have accepted that there is such a thing and all the phrases and jargon of the analysts and psychologists have seeped into the language; but is there such a thing? And why is it that we give such extraordinary importance to it? It seems to me that it is as trivial and stupid as the conscious mind - as narrow, bigoted, conditioned, anxious and tawdry.

    So is it possible to be totally aware of the whole field of consciousness and not merely a part, a fragment, of it?

    If you are able to be aware of the totality, then you are functioning all the time with your total attention, not partial attention. This is important to understand because when you are being totally aware of the whole field of consciousness there no friction. it is only when you divide consciousness, which is all thought, feeling and action, into different levels that there is friction.

    We live in fragments. You are one thing at the office, another at home; you talk about democracy and in your heart you are autocratic; you talk about loving your neighbours, yet kill him with competition; there is one part of you working, looking, independently of the other. Are you aware of this fragmentary existence in yourself? And is it possible for a brain that has broken up its own functioning, its own thinking, into fragments - is it possible for such a brain to be aware of the whole field? Is it possible to look at the whole of consciousness completely, totally, which means to be a total human being?
    — J. Krishnamurti
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    I was an enthusiastic reader of Krishnamurti for quite a while, read everything by and about him I could get my hands on. But ultimately my answer to the question he asks above was 'no, not through simply reading Krishnamurti. It takes something more than that.'
  • unenlightened
    2.8k
    Well I agree, but if there is this 'more' I'd like to hear about it.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.3k
    So I have to criticize Zapffe a bit when he says that consciousness is "not-natural". On the contrary, everything in the universe is natural (nature doesn't exist exist in the first place, it's an empty word). It's natural that people can feel unnatural. Kind of disturbing, like an instance of cosmic self-hate.darthbarracuda

    I agree that "natural" here may be the feeling rather than an actual metaphysical position. It is more of a poetic idiom. The closest we may get to "feeling" natural may be in a communal social setting. Knowing we came from a close-knit hunting/gathering way of life, and knowing that our species is one of "meme" sharing (concept-sharing) my guess is that humans are most in their "element" when socializing. This may be universal social interactions like sharing stories, laughing, teaching others, sharing creative achievements, customs, etc. The problem is that at any given time we may feel a "broken-tool" moment when the surfaces of our everyday "flow" of things gives way to existential dread. We are no longer in a flow. We become aware of our own restless nature. At this point of self-awareness we are always chasing after "flow" again. We must get our attention caught up in the moment again so as not to think of existence itself.

    With the contingency of the human switch to industrial/post-industrial society comes more broken-tool moments. Rather than the "given" flow that living in a tribal or agricultural society affords, a post-industrial society must create ever more nuanced ways to achieve flow so as to avoid existential restlessness. So this is why we have self-help, exercise, technological distractions, extra hours spent at jobs (or finding "meaningful" jobs), hobbies, games, philosophizing, performing math/logic problems, reading, studying, poetry, writing, studying science, analyzing and discussing literature, inventing things, etc. etc. etc.
  • unenlightened
    2.8k
    I have to criticize Zapffe a bit when he says that consciousness is "not-natural". On the contrary, everything in the universe is natural (nature doesn't exist exist in the first place, it's an empty word). It's natural that people can feel unnatural. Kind of disturbing, like an instance of cosmic self-hate.darthbarracuda

    There is a real difference between natural and artificial stone which is reflected in the price of a slab at the builder's merchant. One can loosely define artifice as the product of the operation of mind on nature, and thus although such operations are as natural as mind is natural, yet there remains a useful distinction. Thus one can say consistently that the operation of mind on itself - by 'self-improvement', say - produces an artificial mind.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    People "hide" from reality, so to speak. Hence culture, art, religion, self-improvement television shows, fictional literature, etc. We try to hide under the bed sheets and make our own little world. A "reality tunnel" to use a more scientific and contemporary term. Humans seem to be the only animals that have existential crises, or are able of abstract thought so advance that philosophical/scientific discussion of the nature of abstract thought is even possible. — DarthBarracuda

    It seems obvious to me (although plainly it's not obvious to a lot of people) that this vision is based on a deep-rooted sense of estrangement or alienation. And I think it's indicative of the consequence of the 'death of God'. (No, this is not a conversion pitch, nor anything like an appeal to return to some golden past.)

    But one could only feel like this, if one truly believes that existence is an accident, that there is no reason for it. And that attitude is characteristic of a lot of 20th century existentialism. Read, for example, the opening paragraphs of Bertrand Russell's A Free Man's Worship which is a landmark work for the beginning of the 20th century. (I believe that later in life, Russell felt this work was overly dramatic, but I don't think he ever formally renounced it.)

    Nietszche famously foresaw the consequences of the death of God, which he himself prophesied; but Nietszche's was not atheist triumphalism. He understood the existential depths of angst which this would plunge mankind into. This finds expression the later existentialists, particularly Sartre and Camus. (You find a similar sentiment in ancient gnosticism, the sense of being thrown into a harsh and alien world, ruled by evil powers. However for the gnostics, at least, there was a way out, albeit through harsh asceticism and the rejection of the passions. I even wonder if the horror tales of H P Lovecraft are echoes of this sensibility.)

    However now we've fetched up in this strange and alien world, but with no sense of there being any alternative to it, because this is 'what science tells us'. Science sees, after all (or says it sees) that the Universe is chaotic and things only arise because of chance. Life is kind of a runaway chemical reaction, which unfolds according to the merciless logic of adaptive necessity - but without any reason for doing so, beyond that of the selfish gene. Why are we 'doomed' to self-consciousness and language, if the only tales we can tell are 'told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifiying nothing'?

    That, I think, is the background. 'There must be some kind of way out of here', said the joker to the thief. 'There's too much confusion, I can't get no relief. Businessmen, they drink my wine, ploughmen dig my earth. But none of them along the line, know what any of it is worth'. Welcome to modernity.
  • Janus
    6.1k
    So is it possible to be totally aware of the whole field of consciousness and not merely a part, a fragment, of it? — J. Krishnamurti

    I can't even imagine what that could mean. How could we ever know that anything we are aware of is the totality of what it is possible to aware of?
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    I think Krishnamurti frequently enters a state which is known to classical yoga literature as 'nirvikalpa samadhi' ('contentless consciousness'). There is an amazing book of Krishnamurti's diary jottings recorded during the 1960's where he writes of entering into higher states, and 'the presence' that manifests to him in those states. He refers constantly to 'choiceless awareness', of 'seeing without any sense of the "me" in the background' - they are, I think, references to being 'totally aware'.

    The problem with Krishnamurti's teaching, is that he enters these states effortlessly, whereas most of us cannot. Hence the necessity of a 'sadhana', a spiritual discipline. We have to try and attain laboriously what a Krishnamurti seemed to manifest effortlessly.
  • TheWillowOfDarkness
    1.6k
    The problem is it can only be effortless. If one gets caught thinking they need to get to "total awareness," then one is obsessing over "me" and it dominates. One cannot laboriously attain "total awareness."

    In this respect spiritual discipline is often a hindrance because it frequently consists of the idea of how one needs to do something to get to total awareness-e.g. stepping towards Nirvāṇa in Buddhism.

    Now this is not to say that those with a spiritual discipline cannot attain "total awareness." They can. It's just that it "effortlessly" occurs when engaged in spiritual discipline, rather than something given by hours of laborious work of spiritual practice, working to achieve a "total awareness."

    The effortlessness of Krishnamurti is not a problem with his teaching, but a key feature-- it points out what being "total aware" entails. Rather than rambling about all over the place with allusions to some "total awareness" which we might get if we were "spiritual enough," Krishnamurti turns knowledge of ourselves over to us. We gain the knowledge "total awareness" comes not from laborious work of spiritual practice toward "total awareness", but in the Being of "seeing without any sense of me."
  • Janus
    6.1k


    Like you I have been fascinated by Krishnamurti (and others purportedly like him such as Ramana Maharshi, Barry Long, Eckhart Tolle) who spontaneously attained what may be called a state of complete egolessness or non-dual awareness. At one time I read voraciously, and occasionally still read, works by and about these men and others including Buddhists and the great mystics of the Christian tradition. But I have come to think that such states of what are called 'non-dual awareness' are merely one kind among many of mystical states in general. There may also be mystical states which consist in experiences of radical otherness, the dialectical 'twin' , so to speak.

    I self-administered a lot of LSD, Mescaline and Psilocybin when I was seventeen/eighteen and also LSD, Psilocybin, DMT, Salvia and a few other 'entheogens' for briefer periods in my twenties, thirties, forties and fifties. I have also practiced meditation diligently for various periods up to twelve years and sporadically at other times. So I am fairly well-versed in "altered states". The first time I ever took LSD, at first I was terrified, and actually experienced myself becoming transparent and beginning to disappear; I was convinced I was about to die, and the terror became so great that I was finally forced to give up fighting and simply let it go with a feeling of 'what will be, will be', upon which I entered an ecstatic state of consciousness in which I felt as if I knew the secrets of creation; and I looked upon the world as if for the first time (and yet it all seemed so familiar). I sat down to dinner with my family while 'peaking', in a state of indescribable ecstasy, with a feeling of utter ease and control and as if finally able to be myself; all this after having been cringing in my bedroom in terror of seeing anyone, feeling as if I was in Hell itself, for what seemed an eternity only an hour or so before.

    I tell you all this only to preface the fact that I have concluded that 'altered' or 'mystical' states come in all 'shapes and sizes' depending on the 'soul development' of the one who experiences them, and that gnosis consists in the 'feeling of knowing', and that 'what is known' may be very diverse and apparently contradictory. One thing such states of 'knowing' have in common though, is that all intellectual forms of knowledge pale into relative insignificance by comparison with them. The problem is that whatever is known cannot be expressed as cogent propositional knowledge, which can be a significant problem if you are trying to communicate it to others who have not experienced that kind of thing. Like trying to explain colour to the blind.

    In view of this I don't believe that any dogma at all is supportable, because the experiences which some may take to support it are so far beyond it. Dogma then only leads to confusion and ultimately conflict.

    Now, I am not really convinced that Krishnamurti was even the 'real deal', but that he may have been just another charlatan playing to his audience. I would never say that about Ramana Maharshi, though.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    I don't see Krishnamurti as a charlatan at all, but I reached a point a long while ago when I realised that I had learned what it was I was going to learn from him. But subsequently I have formally 'taken refuge in the three jewels', that is the path I am pursuing now.

    But anyway that is a major detour from the OP so I better 'maintain noble silence' :)
  • Janus
    6.1k


    Well, I wish you all the best fortune on your path! I tried to accommodate myself to Buddhism, since there are many communities of practice here in Sydney, but there were things about the doctrines that just did not sit right with me, and that I could not, in all sincerity, embrace.
  • unenlightened
    2.8k
    I can't even imagine what that could mean. How could we ever know that anything we are aware of is the totality of what it is possible to aware of?John

    Yes. It's one of those zen type questions that cannot be answered by the imagination or by a theory, or by knowledge, because these are the fragments, but only with your whole life.
  • Janus
    6.1k


    I'm amenable to that.
  • Thorongil
    3.2k
    Would you be willing to share what those are?
  • Janus
    6.1k


    I am reluctant to say anything that might be interpreted as a criticism of Buddhism, since I have great respect for it. I think Buddhism, being an eminently practical religion, has throughout history very often passed its teachings through various lenses to suit the understanding of its adherents.

    So, I think much of the common understanding and symbolism which has accrued around the notions of karma and reincarnation may become a lure towards an unhealthy preoccupation with personal salvation, at least for modern Western aspirants. A similar phenomenon may be witnessed in relation to Christianity, I think. For me, the work to be done is to come to a stage where we can contribute more consciously (we all contribute unconsciously despite ourselves and in that sense nothing is lost) to the evolution of the human spirit. (Of course it is also true that the Bodhisattva ideal may be interpreted that way).

    I also find the symbolism of Christianity more generally sympathetic to my imagination, feelings, and creative interests, and the associated idea of the spiritual evolution of humanity (which is absent from Buddhism as far as I know) more in keeping with my intellectual understanding and intuition. I prefer the "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest." of the Hebrew Bible more amenable than the tendency towards renunciation of life that may be found in Buddhism. Of course, I am not saying any of this is "cut and dry". When it comes to all the great religions there are complexities upon complexities and levels upon levels, and in the final analysis a deep commonality, or so I am convinced.
  • Wayfarer
    6.9k
    In my experience with any kind of 'spiritual' practice - your understanding changes all the time as you do it. What you thought it was going to do, is often completely different to what actually happens.

    The thing that drew me to Zen in particular, was the emphasis in Soto Zen on 'just sit without any gaining idea' - but with constant application and persistence. Make a time, and a place, and, like Nike says, "Just Do It". In doing it, you go through all kinds of boredom, disillusionment, 'why am I doing this', 'this seems useless', and so on. And yet, if you persist, you learn something which you can't learn by other means. 'What is that', you might ask. Well, you have to try! That's the point. And it's also what changes your understanding, because despite its apparent passivity, it is actually very dynamic.

    One of the 'marks' of Buddhism is 'ehi-passiko' - meaning 'come and see'. It can only be learned by doing. And the reason for that practical approach, is that it bypasses the verbal-symbolic mind, which sets up everything as the relationship between symbols. It spins a net, and then gets caught in it. This is a literal truth, it is something that is actually happening at each moment, albeit subtly. Seeing through that, or simply being aware that it is actually going on, is a large part of the skill.

    Now you can learn the same understanding through other means - as many have noted, the contemplative aspects of Christianity have many parallels with the Buddhist approach. But again, it requires application through meditation, rather than clinging to belief or doctrinal analysis and so on.

    One of the sayings that really got me started with all this is: 'my life has been a whole series of crises, most of which have never occured'. That made me realise how much of my apparent reality was actually just a projection.
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