Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

osokin osokin, modified 1 Month ago.

Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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A clip from a longer dialogue, in which the two seem to agree on the epistemological primacy of consciousness, while disagreeing on its ontological primacy:

https://youtu.be/Dpr6WhJEnIs
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Griffin, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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Interesting discussion. I have to agree with Sam's agnosticism here. What Spira is saying is essentially like fish proclaiming: "I have never experienced any reality outside of water, therefore I know that there is nothing except the ocean".

I feel like Sam was politety over-complicating his arguments and failed to clearly demonstrate how Spira's stance is not any less dogmatic/speculative than materialist one.
osokin *, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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I think that declaring anything as the fundamental nature of reality will always be problematic and contentious.  There’s simply no way to prove the thesis, whatever it is.  In that sense, agnosticism on the matter is probably the most reasonable stance, at least where it comes to making public assertions about it. 

While I don’t share his materialist leaning, I can appreciate Sam’s point when he refers (at 19:32 in the video) to the “temptation to be materialist” being based on “all of these happenings outside of any one individual’s awareness” as well as there being “such an amazing spectrum of effects in terms of making predictions.”

Still, even as persuasive and compelling as those points admittedly are, there remains the so-called hard problem, and the equally (or more) compelling intuition that no amount of neuronal complexity could magically produce the phenomenon of subjectivity.  Then again, I’m also sympathetic to the fact that not everyone shares that intuition. 
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Jellyfish, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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osokin * While I don’t share his materialist leaning, I can appreciate Sam’s point when he refers (at 19:32 in the video) to the “temptation to be materialist” being based on “all of these happenings outside of any one individual’s awareness” as well as there being “such an amazing spectrum of effects in terms of making predictions.”

Still, even as persuasive and compelling as those points admittedly are, there remains the so-called hard problem, and the equally (or more) compelling intuition that no amount of neuronal complexity could magically produce the phenomenon of subjectivity. Then again, I’m also sympathetic to the fact that not everyone shares that intuition.

You might find the work of Riccardo Manzotti interesting. He proposes a realist, physicalist, nondual model of reality that doesn't deny our lived experience. He agrees with you that no amount of neuronal complexity could produce the phenomenon of subjectivity, but that's no problem because experience is not located inside the human head. There are no subject-object relationships, only object-object relationships. What we've historically thought of as mind, subject or experience is actually the existence of object-object (human body and world) in relation to each other. He accounts for conventional 'subjectivity' in terms of this object-object relativity. 'Relative objects' have different properties depending on who/what they are relative to, so there is diversity of experience (formerly 'subjectivity') without any ontological dualities.

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/327914702_The_Spread_Mind_Why_Conciousness_and_the_World_are_One
George S, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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osokin *
Still, even as persuasive and compelling as those points admittedly are, there remains the so-called hard problem, and the equally (or more) compelling intuition that no amount of neuronal complexity could magically produce the phenomenon of subjectivity.  Then again, I’m also sympathetic to the fact that not everyone shares that intuition. 
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​​​​​​​I'm curious about this intuition - why would it be magic if subjectivity was a product of neuronal activity?
osokin *, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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You're the second person to recommend Manzotti to me (the first was an acquaintance a couple years ago), so I've downloaded the free PDF of the first chapter of his book you linked to, and plan to read it.

Just based on what you've mentioned, and from what I've gathered so far via reading the brief abstract on that download page, his thesis is intriguing.  I don't know yet how (or if) it might differ from the eliminativist approach of Dennett, et al, since it also denies the reality of subjectivity while being predicated on materialism.

Of course, deconstructing a reified phantom subject is one thing.  Many of us on this forum have done that to varying degrees of liberating effect.  But in conjunction with this we've also deconstructed objects, even to the point that what remains is a vivid, powerful, fluid multimedia appearance that is no longer solid, discrete or object-like.  So, given that objects are the sine qua non of his philosophy, it'll be interesting to see how he conceives of them.

Thanks for the recommendation.
Jellyfish, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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Osokin:
Of course, deconstructing a reified phantom subject is one thing.  Many of us on this forum have done that to varying degrees of liberating effect.  But in conjunction with this we've also deconstructed objects, even to the point that what remains is a vivid, powerful, fluid multimedia appearance that is no longer solid, discrete or object-like.

Yes. For me, "deconstructing a reified phantom subject" has been the most important thing. In doing that, I've worked with teachings that also deconstruct the notion of physical reality, but I remain basically agnostic with a realist bias. Physicalism per se isn't important to me, but the grip of realism is more tenacious, and I don't necessarily mistrust that instinct.

I only discovered Manzotti a few weeks ago, and I can't say I'm completely convinced yet, but I find his outlook refreshing. (If you don't like him, I'm glad you have someone else to blame emoticon)

The effect of reading Manzotti reminds me of reading Douglas Harding's "Heirarchy of Heaven and Earth" many years ago. When I understood what he was talking about, the muddled and painful sense of a being an immaterial ghost inside a body just evaporated, whooosh! Suddenly everything's vast, open, clear, unimpeded, limitless, with no particular aspect of it that could be called me.

Other people get the same liberating effect from Rupert Spira's Direct Path teachings (see also Atmananda Krishna Menon, Jean Klein, Francis Lucille, Greg Goode). I like some aspects those teachings -- especially where they end! -- but the analogies of "God's dream" and "Consciousness is like the screen on which all arisings appear" wouldn't do it for me as interim steps.

I'm more comfortable with realist models that can account for the fact that things appear to be durable and have real efficacy, independently of any known sentience, without needing to posit a god (by any name) to keep the back of my head existing when I'm alone. Those are rare in 'nondual' circles. That's why I find Manzotti refreshing.

If a model can account for the efficacy of things 'out there' without inducing a sense of separate and ontologically different observer/self/mind stuck 'in here', while also restoring the vividness, directness, clarity and authenticity of first person experience, I like it.

Most of what you wrote in your reply to George S. is true for me too, and the bottom line is this:

Osokin:
I actually consider the idealist alternative to materialism to be almost equally magical.  That is, it strikes me as unfathomable and remarkable that "this" -- whatever you want to call the reality that's in your face right here and now -- is appearing at all, regardless of the assumed makeup, mechanism, or provenance of its appearance.
osokin *, modified 1 Month ago.

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      "I'm curious about this intuition - why would it be magic if subjectivity was a product of neuronal activity?"

For the same "reason" it would strike me as magic if an enormously complex machine were to suddenly produce subjectivity (not behavior, which AI can already do, albeit at the initiative of a human programmer).  Even in principle, there's just no explanation for how the intrinsically inert properties of physics and physical systems could combine in such a way as to produce the inner phenomenology of consciousness.  That's what's so hard about the hard problem, and why it's still around.  It's also probably why some bright folk have attempted to resolve it by arguing that consciousness doesn't even exist in the first place.

And yet I'm aware that this response to your question is still predicated on what I've referred to as an intuition, and so if you don't already share that intuition, there's a strong possibility that nothing I say in support of it will do the trick for you.  This is one of the relative limitations of views supported by intuition versus those arrived at by a process of methodical, rational analysis, at least where it comes to communication.

That said, while none of what follows has factored in to this intuition, I will mention three points that, to some extent or other, might support it:

* Neuroscience has so far shown only correlations, not causation, between consciousness and the brain.
 
* What those correlations pertain to isn't even consciousness per se, but rather the various *contents* of consciousness in the form of thoughts, feelings, and perceptions.  The purely subjective dynamic that gives those contents their defining salience, and which serves as their phenomenological basis, is nowhere to be found in the fMRI and EEG data.

* There are many reports of out-of-body experiences during NDEs, or under general anesthesia on the operating table, that include verified accounts of veridical perception from a non-local perspective, which would be impossible to account for under the assumption that consciousness is produced by the brain.

One last thing: I actually consider the idealist alternative to materialism to be almost equally magical.  That is, it strikes me as unfathomable and remarkable that "this" -- whatever you want to call the reality that's in your face right here and now -- is appearing at all, regardless of the assumed makeup, mechanism, or provenance of its appearance. 
osokin *, modified 1 Month ago.

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     "...the grip of realism is more tenacious, and I don't necessarily mistrust that instinct."

Same here, for the most part.  But then, my sense of what constitutes "real" has also gotten recalibrated as my base of reference has shifted.  Things are still observably durable and predictable, but also underpinned by a subtle sense of "as if"-ness.

Of the people you mentioned, Greg Goode was influential to me when I stumbled onto him ten years ago.  Unlike just about everyone else in nondual circles (at least back then), he was up on western philosophy, which I appreciated.  But more importantly, his approach to contemplative deconstruction helped me experientially realize emptiness for the first time.  And unlike most (or all) teachers on the satsang circuit, he stressed the importance of realizing that emptiness pertains to "awareness" as much as to more obviously reified content.
George S, modified 1 Month ago.

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I’ve been through a couple of periods where I was into nondualism and under the influence of the “intuition” that everything is some kind of unified field of consciousness. I was surprised when I finally examined this intuition closely and discovered that it’s an extraneous construction - sensations arise and are cognized independently at the sense doors, objects are fabricated out of them, responses are forthcoming or not, and all this happens automatically and naturally without any need for a unifying overlay of “consciousness”. I can still put myself back into the “field of consciousness” state, but it feels artificial and the subtle tension in trying to maintain is obvious. Now when I read philosophers laboring over the “hard problem of consciousness” I feel like shouting ‘just teach yourself to meditate and see for yourself what it feels like when the problem vanishes!’ Of course, if someone had told me all this when I was in one of those consciousness phases I would have thought ‘smart alec trying to argue that consciousness doesn’t even exist’. I think it’s worth bearing in mind though that philosophers and researchers have a certain vested interest in maintaining the assumption that there is actually a problem of consciousness!

Subjectivity feels like a learned behavior to me, having learned how to manipulate it. I’m not convinced by the argument that AI is ‘intrinsically inert’ compared with humans. Our best computers have 10^7 cores and took 80 years to develop. The human brain has 10^11 neurons and life has been evolving for 4 billion years.

I also spent a lot of time in the past reading about NDEs (and past lives). There’s no way of knowing for sure what might happen to subjectivity after death, but one thing I have noticed is that I was more inclined to believe in non-physical effects when I was more scared of death. Having fallen into a near jhana where everything was white and it felt like going to heaven, I’m more inclined to believe that the brain is capable of producing NDE-like effects. Non-local effects are clearly produced in dreams and certain mediation states. Which leaves one relying on the veridical argument. The problem with that is non-local veridical knowledge has never been demonstrated in a laboratory. Some of the accounts seem very convincing, but against that you have to set the natural human tendency to inflate stories when there’s demand and possibly a complementary belief system. Also, if enough people were having NDEs and reporting random hallucinated non-local facts, then simply by chance some of those facts would turn out to be true.

Regarding the mere fact of existence, yes this is something that is truly surprising and hard to explain using current experimentally-verified physics. No one has a good explanation yet of why an expanding ball of energy should suddenly appear and condense into matter. But they’re working on it and equally strange things have happened before in physics (I doubt many people would have believed quantum mechanics if you had told them 20 years before it was developed). That this matter should then condense into stars and planets which allow intelligent life to develop and experience jhanas and create verified theories about how it all happened - all the while operating under the second law of thermodynamics which says that a local decrease in entropy like life is only tolerated if it creates more entropy globally - that I find pretty magical!
osokin *, modified 1 Month ago.

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      "I've been through a couple of periods where I was into nondualism and under the influence of the 'intuition' that everything is some
       kind of unified field of consciousness."

If your use of quotation marks on "intuition" in that statement is meant to suggest you think that's what I was using the word to refer to, it isn't.  The intuition I mentioned earlier doesn't refer to a "unified field of consciousness."  It simply refers to a sense that the phenomenon of consciousness doesn't emerge from fundamentally inert stuff or the laws that seem to govern it.  It might, however, emerge *with* said stuff and laws, as a sort of reciprocal arising characterized by subjective and objective poles or aspects.

      "I was surprised when I finally examined this intuition closely and discovered that it's an extraneous construction..."

Of course it is.  "You" yourself are "an extraneous construction."  Anything that arises -- bar nothing -- is an extraneous consctruction, or a fabrication.

      "...and all this happens automatically and naturally without any need for a unifying overlay of 'consciousness'.  I can still put myself
       back into the 'field of consciousness' state..."

Again, this whole "field of consciousness" and "unifying overlay" story has nothing to do with where my statement were coming from.  If that's what you're implying here, I think you may be projecting your own erstwhile beliefs onto me.  Maybe it's because I stated that I'm not a materialist, so you think I must therefore be... what? -- a "spiritual" nondualist?

In case you missed it, scroll up to my previous reply to Jellyfish, and read the part about emptiness and "awareness."  Or maybe you did read it and for whatever reason (poor phrasing on my part?) the point was missed.  In any case, to be clear:  I do not hold that consciousness, subjectivity, awareness, or whatever you want to call it, is a field or substratum of any kind.  I just think that, whatever it is, it's not *produced by* something (matter) that's imputed to have self-existence, which is what materialism / physicalism contends.

      "Now when I read philosphers laboring over the 'hard problem of consciousness' I feel like shouting 'just teach yourself to
       meditate and see for yourself what if feels like when the problem vanishes!'"

Yes, exactly.  Same here.  It's nice to see we agree on something.

      "I'm not convinced by the argument that AI is 'intrinsically inert' compared with humans."

The comparison with humans isn't the point.  The point is that, in my view, neither AI nor brains generate consciousness.  And since both AI and brains are presumably composed of (or facilitated by, in the case of AI) the same subatomic building blocks, which according to materialism are 1) fundamental, and 2) inert (in the sense of lacking intrinsic animation; needing to be acted upon by something else), then AI and brains are equally inert at that fundamental level according to that theory.

      "Subjectivity feels like a learned behavior to me..."

Then we're defining the word differently, because as I see it, subjectivity is not behavior or any other content.  Rather, it's the subjective pole of so-called objective arisings, and as such it's only ever *implicit* in content such as behavior (and perceptions, and thoughts, and intuitions, and jhanas, etc., etc.).  But although implicit, it still has a sort of phenomenological potentiation or valence, which registers as the bare capacity for experience.

      "There's no way of knowing for sure what might happen to subjectivity after death..."

Agreed.  In fact, I argued the same point (among others) in a thread elsewhere on the DhO not too long ago.  If you're curious, the thread was created by "Solvo" and titled "Suicide and Liberation," and was posted under births and deaths last summer.  You have to scroll almost to the end of the thread to find my post.  (Just checked, and for some reason my post is now showing with the name Peter rather than osokin, FYI.)

      "...one thing I have noticed is that I was more inclined to believe in non-physical effects when I was more scared of death..."

That's probably because, like most people, you took (take?) the fear of death to be about the prospect of annihilation or "nothingness."  I could never relate to this, as it has never been my fear; in fact my orientation to the issue has always been the complete opposite of that.  In other words, absolute non-being in a final, once-and-for-all sense was precisely what I always hoped death would be.  In that sense, any insight on my part suggesting that there's no absolute end has been disquieting rather than comforting.  My point in mentioning this is to counter the common tendency (implied in your quote above) to assume that such a view must be fueled by a wish fulfillment fantasy about living forever.  Clearly, in that case, my own wish fulfillment driver should lead me to embrace the eschatology of physicalism with its guarantee of annihilation at death.  Alas...

      "The problem with that is non-local veridical knowledge has never been demonstrated in a laboratory..."

So... it hasn't been demonstrated in a lab, therefore the data from the many reports that have been corroborated by medical professionals and others are spurious or useless?  That sounds like a disingenuous objection to me.

      "Some of the accounts seem very convincing, but against that you have to set the natural human tendency to inflate stories
       when there's a demand and possibly a complementary belief system."

Sure, it's good to bear that in mind as a potential, one which may or may not apply in any given instance.  But to use that preemptively, as a way to downplay, dismiss, or ignore such accounts is simply fallacious (specifically, it's the genetic fallacy with a circumstantial ad hominem chaser).

Look, I don't have any skin in debates about what NDEs or OBEs do or don't signify, or whether consciousness is or isn't fundamental.  At bottom, it really doesn't matter to me.  It seems clear that we see these things differently, and that's fine, though I'm not sure whether any further back and forth of this nature will be useful or interesting.
George S, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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Thanks for the detailed reply. Sorry to misrepresent your views.

My original fear of death (apart from physical pain) was indeed annihilation. I got over that after experiencing various degrees of annihilation in meditation, which caused some anxiety at first but then became pleasurable. Around that time I started inclining towards believing in reincarnation which led to a different fear of death, namely worse/more rebirths due to shit I had done in this life. After a while I learned that the suttas don't necessarily imply reincarnation, that dependent origination can also be applied to taking on identities in this life, which again moved my focus away from death and more towards what can be done to change current experience of life. Also, getting deeper insights into selfing kind of rendered reincarnation moot due to reduced identification with anything which could be reincarnated. I guess now my view is that anything is possible, certain explanations seem more likely than others, but if it ain't happening in the present moment then effectively it ain't happening at all, so any discussion beyond that is academic (which ironically is what I'm doing!)
osokin *, modified 1 Month ago.

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Thanks for responding, and no worries on any misunderstanding.  I was actually concerned I might've misread your post, so I appreciate your honesty.

Yes, I've also long valued those less conventional interpretations of reincarnation.  While not necessarily precluding the possibility of the more conventional interpretation, the relation of the rebirth idea to the propagating of identifications / identities and their actions and repercussions rings true, and has the advantage of, as you also said, fostering a pragmatic response *right now*.  That's a good insight.
Jellyfish, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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Osokin to George S.
It seems clear that we see these things differently, and that's fine, though I'm not sure whether any further back and forth of this nature will be useful or interesting.

What's always interesting to me is seeing how views implicitly or explicitly frame experience, emphasising certain aspects and relegating others, and how experience either conforms to a view or creates enough cognitive dissonance to force the evolution or dissolution of the view. A lot of complete paths use this explicitly, adopting certain views as teaching tools, sublating those views in stages, and eventually cleaning up after themselves. It can be interesting to see how that happens.

For example, George S wrote:

"I was surprised when I finally examined this intuition closely and discovered that it’s an extraneous construction - sensations arise and are cognized independently at the sense doors, objects are fabricated out of them, responses are forthcoming or not, and all this happens automatically and naturally without any need for a unifying overlay of “consciousness”. I can still put myself back into the “field of consciousness” state, but it feels artificial and the subtle tension in trying to maintain is obvious."

I can relate to that too. (Except that I don't see "sensations arise and are cognized independently at the sense doors" as being any closer to the truth, just a different way of modeling whatever this is). I can definitely relate to losing that subtle tension of trying to maintain that subtle object, a 'field of consciousness'. But prior to that, the 'field of consciousness' construct had been useful in untangling other knots.

George S, I don't know if you're familiar with the so-called Direct Path (the one taught by Rupert Spira), so forgive me if this is old news, but in that teaching, the "overlay of 'consciousness'" that you describe is just another subtle 'object'. The method of unfolding of that teaching is to first distill the essence of Consciousness from what it is not (ie. anything that has any objective properties whatsoever, gross or subtle), until the (admittedly fabricated) Witness is so thinned out and devoid of phenomenal attributes that it's essentially nothing, upon which the whole duality of 'Awareness' and 'Arisings' collapses. It has done its work. To use those clichéd but still apt metaphors, it was the stick that stirred the fire, or the thorn that removed the thorn.

I have much more respect for these sorts of teachings than I used to. Having stumbled blindly into (and through) a lot of papañca looking for "the truth", I appreciate the expediency and pragmatism of these teachings (though it doesn't look that way in the beginning, and Rupert Spira himself doesn't give that impression).
George S, modified 1 Month ago.

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I agree with you. I don’t see “independent cognition at the sense doors” as any closer to “the truth” than “unified field of consciousness”. The former seems to be a more subtle state and feel more natural, but to me at least it’s still a state which I can't maintain all the time. I still find the field of consciousness state useful in my current practice, which involves releasing repressed emotions “into awareness”.  “The truth” as far as I can see is that fixating on any state is unsatisfactory. I’ve read a bit of Rupert Spira’s stuff and watched some of his talks. I liked his gentle style but didn’t get deep enough into his teaching to appreciate the subtlety which you outlined. Thanks for that, I might have another look.
Jellyfish, modified 1 Month ago.

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George S.
I still find the field of consciousness state useful in my current practice, which involves releasing repressed emotions “into awareness”.  

Yeah, I've been reading your log with much appreciation and respect for what you're doing.
Tim Farrington, modified 1 Month ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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Thanks, guys, for this great conversation. I'm loving it, but haven't wanted to risk being a bull in the china shop. I am now convinced that everyone here is perfectly capable of deconstructing both the bull and the china shop, and even the wreckage, which means that I can do no harm knocking a few things off the shelves. 

Jellyfish:
George S, I don't know if you're familiar with the so-called Direct Path (the one taught by Rupert Spira), so forgive me if this is old news, but in that teaching, the "overlay of 'consciousness'" that you describe is just another subtle 'object'. The method of unfolding of that teaching is to first distill the essence of Consciousness from what it is not (ie. anything that has any objective properties whatsoever, gross or subtle), until the (admittedly fabricated) Witness is so thinned out and devoid of phenomenal attributes that it's essentially nothing, upon which the whole duality of 'Awareness' and 'Arisings' collapses. It has done its work. To use those clichéd but still apt metaphors, it was the stick that stirred the fire, or the thorn that removed the thorn.

I'm coming from a Judeo-Christian tradition, heavy on the John of the Cross and apophaticism, which I realize probably seems like a non-starter to everyone here. But that path really does hit the same disintegrations/deconstructions, of both self and God, and the experience and knowledge of emptiness really seems to me to be the commonality to work from in looking to discuss, uh, nothing, when the stirring stick disappears with the fire and the thorn has removed every thorn. It seems like osokin put it in a way we can all agree on, with

osokin:
I actually consider the idealist alternative to materialism to be almost equally magical.  That is, it strikes me as unfathomable and remarkable that "this" -- whatever you want to call the reality that's in your face right here and now -- is appearing at all, regardless of the assumed makeup, mechanism, or provenance of its appearance.


I am also deeply interested in the tenacity of reality, and want nothing to do with maya/dream/illusionist models that deny tenacious reality and its attendant suffering. Call that intuition, or taste in art, or whatever, but: see hungry man, feed hungry man. See crying baby, comfort crying baby. Any spiritual path that doesn't bring the emptiness into effective interface with the unfathomable existence of reality, and its suffering, with at least a shot at the exponentially unfathomable existence of a responsive mercy and love, just doesn't seem like a game worth playing, as inevitable constructs and stories go. I say this very soberly. I actually have a strong strong lean toward something osokin said:

 most people . . . [take] the fear of death to be about the prospect of annihilation or "nothingness."  I could never relate to this, as it has never been my fear; in fact my orientation to the issue has always been the complete opposite of that.  In other words, absolute non-being in a final, once-and-for-all sense was precisely what I always hoped death would be.  In that sense, any insight on my part suggesting that there's no absolute end has been disquieting rather than comforting.  My point in mentioning this is to counter the common tendency (implied in your quote above) to assume that such a view must be fueled by a wish fulfillment fantasy about living forever.  Clearly, in that case, my own wish fulfillment driver should lead me to embrace the eschatology of physicalism with its guarantee of annihilation at death.  Alas...

A lot of the time, and recurrently, I've got a "God, snuff my fucking flame" prayer going on. Nothingness is the pretty theory, and a helluva lot less miserable, a lot less possibly endless work. Continuity in any way shape form or conception seems like the most grueling scenario possible, this whole "until all sentient beings are saved" thing. But here we are. And every time I disappear, i find myself reborn eventually despite my best intentions. Alas, lol . . . as a wise man said.
osokin *, modified 29 Days ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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Hey Tim,

I appreciate your responses and reflections.

I had to look up apophaticism to be reminded of what it means.  I immediately thought of a guy who used to post here many years ago (maybe even when the O in DhO was a U).  His name is David Scoma and his path was very much influenced by John of the Cross and other Christian mystics.  He also strongly emphasized a subtractive / via negativa approach (his motto was something like "ignore what you're not until it kills you").  His website ("Just Perception") might still have some of his writings and audios archived, if you're curious (he seems to go through phases where he removes pieces en masse from the site, so...).

It also brought to mind Bernadette Roberts.  The little I've read of her strikes me as profound.  I know that Jeffery Martin thought she was trying a little too hard to shoehorn her insights into the framework of Christian doctrine, but it rings true to me regardless of whether or not it rests on innovation or novelty on her part.

I have to confess to being partial to those "maya/dream/illusionist models," except that for me that doesn't deny the exigency and poignance of reality, nor does it preclude responding with compassion to suffering (except when I'm set on being a self-absorbed dickhead, that is).  For me, those models or ideas point to reality not being what it seems prima facie.

Still, I have to also acknowledge how readily those ideas -- particularly when that's *all* they are to someone: just ideas -- can be used for spiritual bypassing.  I've been there, so I know the temptation and the danger.  But I also know that having a more direct, immediate, non-conceptual realization can change how one understands those ideas.  And the resulting shift of perspective seems to render reality all the more extraordinary for being dream-like, or mirage-like, or rope-as-snake-like.

      "Nothingness is the pretty theory..."

That's a nice way of putting it.  I think that in terms of both physics and psychology, there's a lack of clarity around the notion of nothing.  Regarding the former, astrophysicists take such creative license in defining the primordial nothing out of which something supposedly emerged that the word ceases to have any real meaning.  (Hint: quantum fluctuations aren't nothing; a vacuum isn't nothing; even a nothing that's taken to be inherently unstable and thus naturally bound to explode into something is still not nothing -- though taken as a metaphysical phenomenon, I actually think this idea has merit.)

Regarding the latter, this is something I've explored quite a bit, fueled at least in part by a fascination with how so many people could react with fear to the thought of ceasing to be.  I've come up with several possibilities, two of which are: imagining the world going about its business with oneself no longer in it, in which case one's *implied* absence unconsciously conjures a sort of negative presence; and/or reifying nothing into an experience *of* nothing (as the word "nothingness" tends to support), perhaps imagining oneself languishing endlessly in some kind of void.

It's also telling that many people actually claim it's impossible to conceive of nothing.  This claim seems incredible given that we each vanish into oblivion every night in deep, dreamless sleep.  It's that perfect absence, recognized and delineated only from other states in retrospect, that is everyone's most immediate and familiar touchstone for "nothing."

I've come to suspect that the stark divergence in what people attribute the ultimate fear to be about (endless nothing vs. endless something) might reflect an innate psychological polarity which produces either an accepting or rejecting orientation to existence.  For what it's worth, I think those with the accepting orientation have an advantage: given that "something" is clearly already the case, it puts them in an optimal orientation with reality.  And while my own orientation is clearly the other one (I can so relate to your snuffing prayer), I've found myself coming to some acceptance and even, at rare moments of exhilarating Nietzschean abandon, some amor fati embrace.

 
Tim Farrington, modified 28 Days ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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osokin *

I had to look up apophaticism to be reminded of what it means.  I immediately thought of a guy who used to post here many years ago (maybe even when the O in DhO was a U).  His name is David Scoma and his path was very much influenced by John of the Cross and other Christian mystics.  He also strongly emphasized a subtractive / via negativa approach (his motto was something like "ignore what you're not until it kills you").  His website ("Just Perception") might still have some of his writings and audios archived, if you're curious (he seems to go through phases where he removes pieces en masse from the site, so...).
osokin, thanks for your beautiful post! what a treat.

I tried to track down David Scoma, and he really does seem to have pulled the spiritual version of a J.D. Salinger, putting out a small volume of extraordinary work and then intentionally disappearing for reasons of his own. I did find something from 2016 saying he was now taking on people for one to one work, and there are reviews from as recently as March, 2019, so he's probably still kicking, but he's definitely only kicking where he wants to kick.

What's happened with David Scoma? | Spiritualteachers.org Discussion Boards (proboards.com)

also found one post from DhO, where he took some apparently unmerited shit on a chapter of his awakening story, circa 2011--- RE: David Scoma´s great 4-page essay on his awakening - Discussion - www.dharmaoverground.org


It also brought to mind Bernadette Roberts.  The little I've read of her strikes me as profound.  I know that Jeffery Martin thought she was trying a little too hard to shoehorn her insights into the framework of Christian doctrine, but it rings true to me regardless of whether or not it rests on innovation or novelty on her part. 

lol, good old Bernadette Roberts. Check out my posts on this thread--- Bernadette Roberts (1931–2017) - Discussion - www.dharmaoverground.org ---
she was a,piece of work, but she had a genius for a certain kind of contemplative silence and stillness, and big brass balls, and she never flinched.

I have to confess to being partial to those "maya/dream/illusionist models," except that for me that doesn't deny the exigency and poignance of reality, nor does it preclude responding with compassion to suffering (except when I'm set on being a self-absorbed dickhead, that is).  For me, those models or ideas point to reality not being what it seems prima facie.

Still, I have to also acknowledge how readily those ideas -- particularly when that's *all* they are to someone: just ideas -- can be used for spiritual bypassing.  I've been there, so I know the temptation and the danger.  But I also know that having a more direct, immediate, non-conceptual realization can change how one understands those ideas.  And the resulting shift of perspective seems to render reality all the more extraordinary for being dream-like, or mirage-like, or rope-as-snake-like.
well, it's the denial and spiritual by-passing that gets me riled up on that shit. I love the fluidity and lightness of the cosmos as a play of consciousness or a vast symphonic song and dance show. I just can't get entirely over the blood and guts aspects, and don't foresee being able to do that under the current slaughterhouse conditions.

      "Nothingness is the pretty theory..."

That's a nice way of putting it.  I think that in terms of both physics and psychology, there's a lack of clarity around the notion of nothing.  Regarding the former, astrophysicists take such creative license in defining the primordial nothing out of which something supposedly emerged that the word ceases to have any real meaning.  (Hint: quantum fluctuations aren't nothing; a vacuum isn't nothing; even a nothing that's taken to be inherently unstable and thus naturally bound to explode into something is still not nothing -- though taken as a metaphysical phenomenon, I actually think this idea has merit.)

Regarding the latter, this is something I've explored quite a bit, fueled at least in part by a fascination with how so many people could react with fear to the thought of ceasing to be.  I've come up with several possibilities, two of which are: imagining the world going about its business with oneself no longer in it, in which case one's *implied* absence unconsciously conjures a sort of negative presence; and/or reifying nothing into an experience *of* nothing (as the word "nothingness" tends to support), perhaps imagining oneself languishing endlessly in some kind of void.

It's also telling that many people actually claim it's impossible to conceive of nothing.  This claim seems incredible given that we each vanish into oblivion every night in deep, dreamless sleep.  It's that perfect absence, recognized and delineated only from other states in retrospect, that is everyone's most immediate and familiar touchstone for "nothing."

I've come to suspect that the stark divergence in what people attribute the ultimate fear to be about (endless nothing vs. endless something) might reflect an innate psychological polarity which produces either an accepting or rejecting orientation to existence.  For what it's worth, I think those with the accepting orientation have an advantage: given that "something" is clearly already the case, it puts them in an optimal orientation with reality.  And while my own orientation is clearly the other one (I can so relate to your snuffing prayer), I've found myself coming to some acceptance and even, at rare moments of exhilarating Nietzschean abandon, some amor fati embrace.

lol, yeah. William James talked about "healthy-minded" and "morbidly-minded" people. The healthy minded are born seeing the universal cup as half full, and get through their lives just fine with that. The morbidly-minded, noting the healthy-minded, realize they didn't get it the first hand-out, that their own fuckings cups are half empty, and go in search of a born-again experience, through which, classically, they are able to put together an affirmative self, with all due allowance for convert zeal etc. I am an unusually morbid one, apparently, having used up any number of born-again trips and still praying way too often to just get snuffed into merciful nada. I actually consider it a mortal sin to not be grateful for existence, lol: "God looked upon the creation, and saw that it was good," is at the heart of Judeo-Christian affirmation of created existence. The various gnostic variations that despise the world as the trap constructed by an evil demi-urge enslaver of souls, and only want to escape material existence altogether, have held way too much appeal for me at various points, and I've had to work against that grain, which amounts to a temptation, my whole life. The embrace of amor fati, amen. Gratitude for existence, however considered, amen. Any moment will do, and such moments I take as grace. But it's work, man, lol. I still say that I have a gentle lean toward death, when people let me get away with saying that. But I only say it to people I trust, except, I guess, when I fling it out into cyberspace, lol.
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Griffin, modified 28 Days ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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I think that in terms of both physics and psychology, there's a lack of clarity around the notion of nothing.  Regarding the former, astrophysicists take such creative license in defining the primordial nothing out of which something supposedly emerged that the word ceases to have any real meaning.

My thughts on the issue of "nothing", and "why is there something instead of nothing":

"Nothingness" is just a human concept, an abstraction, which exists only in our imagination. Just like there is no "number 3" out there, which is just an abstraction we created in order to count. It is possible to objectively have "three individual objects" in the real world, but not the pure concept of "3". Also, it is possible to notice the ABSENCE of any individual object, but the absolute absence of everything ("nothingness") isn't really possible.

As you said, every time physicists talk about "nothingness" it's actually always something, e.g. a quantum vacuum, wich is unstable and can produce something else etc. We have no reason to believe that our abstract philosophical concept of "nothingness" has any real equivalent in the outside world.

Being in a deep sleep is not nothingness, it's just an absence of one individual awareness. And if we accept the theory that "existence=awareness", that would mean that even deep sleep is not an absence of awareness, but a discontinuity in high-functioning mental processes that maintain personal memory which produces the feeling of continuity of awareness, and therefore gives rise to the sense of self.
osokin *, modified 27 Days ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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Tim:

Thanks for the links and further reflections, I really appreciate it.  Regarding DS, if you PM me with your email, I'll see what I can find to share, if you're interested.  In particular, there's one lengthy audio interview (formerly publicly available) where he talks about the Christian mystical stuff and its importance in his path.

Regarding the older DhO thread on BR you linked to, specifically her going off-map and how it surprised her, this was also a key happening for Franklin Merrell-Wolff.  After 20 odd years of disciplined practice, and several powerful insights and shifts, he had a realization he felt was pretty much "it."  Then just over a month later, he was more or less ambushed by another realization that was an order of magnitude greater.  Here's a précis by Thomas McFarlane:

      https://www.searchwithin.org/download/nondual_philosophy_franklin_merrell_wolff.pdf

And here's a longer, much more autobiographically detailed account by FMW himself:

      https://www.searchwithin.org/download/mystical_unfoldment.pdf

      "I just can't get entirely over the blood and guts aspects, and don't foresee being able to do that under the current slaughterhouse
       conditions"

Yeah, I'm with you there.  I'm not sure I can count how many more shoes would need to drop realization-wise for there to be ongoing equanimity on that front (and I'm agnostic on whether equanimity and the bodhisattva ideal are mutually exclusive).

      "I still say that I have a gentle lean toward death"

My lean's probably not so gentle.  But then, so much of my insight over the past three-plus decades of my adult life has been driven by this — both directly and indirectly — that I'm increasingly okay with it.  Indeed, the okayness and the insights have dovetailed to a significant degree at this point.

      "The morbidly-minded, noting the healthy-minded, realize they didn't get it the first hand-out, that their own fucking cup are
       half empty, and go in search of a born-again experience, through which, classically, they are able to put together an affirmative
       self, with all due allowance for convert zeal etc."

I love your piquant paraphrasing of James.  You do have a unique way with words, my friend ;-)


Griffin:

I agree with almost everything you said about nothing [†], especially:

      "it is possible to notice the ABSENCE of any individual object, but the absolute absence of everything ("nothingness") isn't really
       possible"

Yes, nothing in an absolute sense — as applied ontologically — is as contradictory as a square circle.  Since "nothing" used in that sense would also necessarily preclude even the mere potential for anything, the concept is a self-cancelling nonstarter.  So the problem isn't that it's an abstraction, but that even as an abstraction, it's not valid.  Mathematical zero is also an abstraction, but it's valid as a symbolic operator serving a function.

Where it comes to nothing in a relative sense, which is how I'd parse your "absence of any individual object," I also agree with you, except for needing to clarify this:

      "Being in a deep sleep is not nothingness, it's just an absence of one individual awareness"

I didn't actually say that deep sleep is "nothingness" (a term which I disclaim, for the reason alluded to elsewhere in that same post).  Rather, I said it's a "touchstone for 'nothing'" that's familiar to everyone, by which I meant that, as a gap in experience, it's at least isomorphic to nothing.  You could say that, just as mathematical zero serves a computational function, the void of dreamless sleep serves a contemplative function akin to a koan.  And this applies whether the state is conceived of as an absence of objects or an absence of awareness.



[†] Insert zany emoticon here.  I would, but Liferay 7.3 is proving too glitchy for me to do so.  Even functions such as italics, bold, bullet lists, block quoting, etc., are not usable (they result in the whole post showing as a solid block of text and HTML code).
Tim Farrington, modified 26 Days ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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Osokin
Regarding DS, if you PM me with your email, I'll see what I can find to share, if you're interested.  In particular, there's one lengthy audio interview (formerly publicly available) where he talks about the Christian mystical stuff and its importance in his path.


The PM seems down on current DhO. My email is tim_farrington@msn.com


Regarding the older DhO thread on BR you linked to, specifically her going off-map and how it surprised her, this was also a key happening for Franklin Merrell-Wolff.  After 20 odd years of disciplined practice, and several powerful insights and shifts, he had a realization he felt was pretty much "it."  Then just over a month later, he was more or less ambushed by another realization that was an order of magnitude greater.  Here's a précis by Thomas McFarlane:

      https://www.searchwithin.org/download/nondual_philosophy_franklin_merrell_wolff.pdf

And here's a longer, much more autobiographically detailed account by FMW himself:

      https://www.searchwithin.org/download/mystical_unfoldment.pdf

Ah, I love Franklin Merrell-Wolff! His Pathways Through to Space was a huge inspiration to me circa 1985. (I know Chris Marti admires his Philosophy of Consciousness Without an Object.) He was such a head guy, a jnani, a Shankara type, but I had an intuitive sense of what he meant by his uber-conceptual SPACE that I ate him up. You're right, that "last" shoe dropping was a complete surprise to him, as it was for BR, and in both cases makes their experiences ring all the more true to me. His vocabulary is largely old I AM school, with his scholarly roots on it going back to the 1920s, but he still reads very fresh to me. As a poet, he is a great philosopher, though, lol. And he did find his way to Buddhist thought eventually--- that one link of yours, he put the footnotes in seven years after the article itself, because of his reading Buddhist stuff in betwee, and he concludes, "So my outlook must deviate from those forms of Idealism that represent the Self as the final Reality. In certain fundamental respects, at least, the formulation must accord with the anatmic doctrine of Buddha, and therefore differ in important respects from any extant western system."

FMW lived way down hw 395 in eastern California, near Lone Pine, just before the last rain-shadow mountains with Death Valley to the east. I was in SF in the 80s, and part of a desert-loving tribe, and we used to go through Lone Pine and I always thought of FMW. A buddy and I got as far as the turn to his house one time, up in the hills, but didn't quite have the nerve. Wish I had now. I later worked with a teacher, Richard Moss, who had also loved FMW and did seek him out, early on his own path, and he had some great stories. FMW was apparently just as gnarly, personality-wise, as Bernadette Roberts, and really didn't get Richard, but Richard loved him anyway.

One last, irresistible FMW anecdote: many years later, at a group retreat with Richard Moss, I came out of a group exercise and walked off to what I felt was a decent considerate distance from the group to smoke my usual nondualistic cigarette. One of the women started giving me a hard time for that, and Richard listened for a while and then said, with very obvious reluctance, "Franklin Merrell-Wolff smoked." 


TF: "I just can't get entirely over the blood and guts aspects, and don't foresee being able to do that under the current slaughterhouse
       conditions"

Osokin: Yeah, I'm with you there.  I'm not sure I can count how many more shoes would need to drop realization-wise for there to be ongoing equanimity on that front (and I'm agnostic on whether equanimity and the bodhisattva ideal are mutually exclusive).


My current temporary angle on the bodhisattva ideal, like a pup tent pitched on a narrow ledge high in the death zone on Mt. Everest, bivouacked during a gale-force blizzard, is that I'm just going to have to accept being the last sentient being saved. This allows me to root whole-heartedly for Team Bodhisattva, and keeps me from getting my panties in a bunch on a host of details. It also frees me up to enjoy equanimity where and when it comes, like water in the desert, or calorie-free chocolate. It appears to have no nutritional value, but there's no denying how lovely non-agony can be, however brief. 

Tim:  "I still say that I have a gentle lean toward death"

Osokin: My lean's probably not so gentle.  But then, so much of my insight over the past three-plus decades of my adult life has been driven by this — both directly and indirectly — that I'm increasingly okay with it.  Indeed, the okayness and the insights have dovetailed to a significant degree at this point.


Lol, and amen.

from FMW:

Frankly, I have not yet completely adjusted myself to the disillusionment that comes with a more objective and realistic appreciation of what the average human being is, when considered as a relative entity. This comes partly from an increased clarification of insight, and while I am much more certainly aware of the Jewel hidden within the mud of the personal man, yet I see more clearly also the fact of the mud and its unwholesome composition. It is not a pretty sight and not such as to increase one’s regard for this world-field. All in all, the more objective my understanding of the actualities of this relative life, the more attractive the Transcendent World becomes.  Franklin Merrell-Wolff
Tim Farrington, modified 26 Days ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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Osokin: [†] Insert zany emoticon here.  I would, but Liferay 7.3 is proving too glitchy for me to do so.  Even functions such as italics, bold, bullet lists, block quoting, etc., are not usable (they result in the whole post showing as a solid block of text and HTML code).

See the source image​​​​​​​
osokin *, modified 26 Days ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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Yep, FMW was very inspirational for me as well.  I'm familiar with his Lone Pine property from having attended a couple of the annual "conferences" his family continue to hold each summer, plus camping out on the property (with permission) for a few weeks once, years ago.  I've also hiked from the main property up to the "ashrama" building (now known as the Tuttle Creek Ashram) a few times too.  Both properties are lovely retreat settings.

A couple videos of FMW from near the end of his long life:

"Franklin Merrell-Wolff, Travels With Yogi":  https://youtu.be/MjstDKA-E1M

"Interview with Franklin Merrell-Wolff by Joel Morwood":  https://youtu.be/Bn5Vi4HDLY0


I never met Richard Moss, but remember reading his book, The Black Butterfly years ago.

And returning to Bernadette for a moment, you might find some interest in this four person account of a retreat with her in 2006:

https://tatfoundation.org/forum2006-08.htm#1

https://tatfoundation.org/forum2006-10.htm#6


lol Thanks for the Marty Feldman — perfect! 
osokin *, modified 26 Days ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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I forgot to mention one bit of trivia about the FMW Lone Pine property: the movie Tremors was filmed there, at least in part.
Tim Farrington, modified 25 Days ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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How do you have all this great archival treasure at your fingertips?! Thank you, it's a bounty. 

Also, must ask: is Oso-kin suggesting a kinship in the bear tribe? (I suspect it's an Ouspensky homage, of course.) (Groundhog Day is my favorite movie; I've heard that Harold Ramis knew the novel.)

We should hit the road and go to Lone Pine! Have lunch in town at Margie's Cafe on the main drag, then head up into the hills for a proper FMW pilgrimage.
osokin *, modified 25 Days ago.

RE: Sam Harris and Rupert Spira discuss the primacy of consciousness

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Your second guess on the handle is correct.  I was a Gurdjieffian in my youth (not just reading, but groups), and while I wasn't big on Ouspensky's approach to "the work," I was struck by the theme of that particular novel.  I've used the name as my nom de internet since the late '90s.

I love Groundhog Day! — who doesn't, right?  BTW, did you catch my post w/PDF attachment on the Movies with Dharma Themes thread?  It's my long, annotated seeker film list.

Yes, a "proper FMW pilgrimage" sounds great, at least when it warms up a bit there.  If Doroethy and Ron Leonard are there (she's FMW's granddaughter; he's a retired philosophy prof. whose dissertation was on FMW's work†), I know they'd love to meet you.


† https://www.amazon.com/Transcendental-Philosophy-Franklin-Merrell-Wolff-Traditions/dp/0791442152/ref=sr_1_4?dchild=1&keywords=the+philosophy+of+franklin+merrell+wolff&qid=1612620285&sr=8-4

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