|obverse Chapter 17·||Turning Signs (Contents)||References||blog|
This webpage is the current version of rePatch ·17 (the reverse side of Chapter 17·) of Turning Signs, as of 9 April 2021. Each point is independent but some terms are hyperlinked to their definitions or to related contexts elsewhere.
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Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.[next]— J. L. Borges, ‘A New Refutation of Time’ (tr. Irby)
Organisms are self-reading texts.[next]— Kalevi Kull (1998)
I cannot understand the function of the living body except by enacting it myself, and except in so far as I am a body which rises toward the world.If you haven't engaged the whole bodymind in trying to answer it yourself, you don't have ears to hear the answer to a living question.— Merleau-Ponty (1945, 87)
The signs are there for you to read. The author is only here as a tour guide (or sometimes – as in this digression – a detour guide).
Even though it's all about you, there's a catch to reading these signs: to make sense of them, you have to believe that there are other subjects, and that i (the author) was one of them. It's an odd sort of collaboration where i supplied the words and you provide the meaning. I'm in past tense because the script is mine, while the performance and the presence are yours. It's a strange arrangment, but that's how it goes for literate social animals like ourselves. As Laurie Anderson used to say,
This is the time. And this is the record of the time.[next]
to remain selves, all selves must recognize the soul-stuff of the other souled selves that inhabit the cosmos. I’ve chosen the term soul blindness to describe the various debilitating forms of soul loss that result in an inability to be aware of and relate to other soul-possessing selves in this ecology of selves. I adopt the term from Cavell (2008: 93), who uses it to imagine situations in which one might fail to see others as humans. Because in this ecology of selves all selves have souls, soul blindness is not just a human problem; it is a cosmic one.What happens to a culture that has severed itself from this web of relations? Do its people sense that they have lost their souls? Or do they become hungry ghosts, cursed with a perpetual craving they can never satisfy?[next]
Some notion of the motivations of others is necessary for people to get by in a world inhabited by volitional beings. Our lives depend on our abilities to believe in and act on the provisional guesses we make about the motivations of other selves. It would be impossible for people in Ávila to hunt or to relate in any other way within this ecology of selves without treating the myriad beings that inhabit the forest as the animate creatures that they are. Losing this ability would sever the Runa from this web of relations.— Kohn 2013, 117-18
No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.— Blake
It is better to strive in one's own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another.[next]— Bhagavad Gita 3:35 (Easwaran)
They were offered the choice of becoming Kings or the couriers of kings. They way children would, they all wanted to be couriers. Therefore there are only couriers who hurry about the world, shouting to each other – since there are no kings – messages that have become meaningless. They would like to put an end to their miserable lives but they dare not because of their oaths of service.[next]— Franz Kafka, Parables and Paradoxes (1961, 175)
You might imagine the other(s) with whom you are thus engaged, and you might believe that the person you are addressing as ‘you’ is only imaginary. But it seems unlikely that you could have learned to use language in that belief; what motive could you have for learning it? If you believe that you are not even possibly addressing a real person – not even your future self – then how can your expression mean anything? Anything that means, or matters, matters to somebody in the rolling present. Embodied beings can mean something to each other, but not without a common sense of otherness.
Everything in nature is created by its meaning.We owe the concept of Umwelt to Jakob von Uexküll. In a 1934 paper he introduced it to the reader as follows:— Jakob von Uexküll (1940, in Favareau 2009, 111)
This little monograph does not claim to point the way to a new science. Perhaps it should be called a stroll into unfamiliar worlds; worlds strange to us but known to other creatures, manifold and varied as the animals themselves. The best time to set out on such an adventure is on a sunny day. The place, a flower-strewn meadow, humming with insects, fluttering with butterflies. Here we may glimpse the worlds of the lowly dwellers of the meadow. To do so, we must first blow, in fancy, a soap bubble around each creature to represent its own world, filled with the perceptions which it alone knows. When we ourselves then step into one of these bubbles, the familiar meadow is transformed. Many of its colorful features disappear, others no longer belong together but appear in new relationships. A new world comes into being. Through the bubble we see the world of the burrowing worm, of the butterfly, or of the field mouse; the world as it appears to the animals themselves, not as it appears to us. This we may call the phenomenal world or the self-world of the animal.Uexküll's ‘soap bubble’ is a precursor of the perceptual or ‘cognitive bubble’ introduced in Chapter 6 of Turning Signs. The closure of ‘perceptual’ and ‘effector worlds’ is a version of the meaning cycle concept. [next]
We thus unlock the gates that lead to other realms, for all that a subject perceives becomes his perceptual world and all that he does, his effector world. Perceptual and effector worlds together form a closed unit, the Umwelt.— Uexküll, in Favareau 2009, 90-91 (translated by Barry Stone and Herbert Weiner)
Charles Kahn on Heraclitus:
It is true that wisdom, or the search for wisdom in sound thinking (σωφρονειν), begins with self-knowledge (XXIX); and Heraclitus went in search of himself (XXVIII). But what he found within his own psyche was a logos deep enough to be co-extensive with the universe (XXXV). So the true recognition of one's self is a discovery not of what is private and personal but of what is ‘shared by all’: the unity of all nature which is the deep logos, the deepest structure of the self. And this unity is discovered in thinking, phronein, which is ‘common to all’ (XXXI), and common not only because for Heraclitus all things think but because it is precisely in thought, when it is in sound condition – as in the case of the dry soul – that one can embrace the structure of the whole universe.— Kahn (1979, 251-2)
Charles Peirce on the continuity of intelligence:
Whatever the philosopher thinks that every scientific intelligence must observe, will necessarily be something which he himself observes, or seems to observe. I have several times argued, at some length, that the unity of personality is in some measure illusory, that our ideas are not so entirely in the grasp of an ego as we fancy that they are, that personal identity differs rather in degree than in kind from the unity of “public opinion” and gregarious intelligence, and that there is a sort of identity of dynamic continuity in all intelligence. Accepting this opinion, a man is not radically devoid of the power of saying what every scientific intelligence must observe, if he has the power of saying what he observes himself. If he is in dynamic continuity with his whole self, he is in the same kind of continuity, albeit less intimate, with the whole range of intelligence. He can observe, in a fallible, yet genuine, observation what it is that every scientific intelligence must observe. Such observations will, however, require correction; because there is a danger of mistaking special observations about intelligences peculiarly like our own for observations that are open to every “scientific intelligence,” by which I mean an intelligence that needs to learn and can learn (provided there be anything for it to learn) from experience. I would here define experience as the resultant of the mental compulsions from the course of life; and I would define learning as the gradual approximation of representations toward a limiting definite agreement. My theory has to be that not only can man thus observe that certain phenomena are open to every scientific intelligence, but that this power inheres essentially in every scientific intelligence.[next]— Peirce, unidentified fragment (NEM 4, ix-x)
Nobody ever was or had a self. All that ever existed were conscious self-models that could not be recognized as models. The phenomenal self is not a thing, but a process—and the subjective experience of being someone emerges if a conscious information-processing system operates under a transparent self-model. You are such a system right now, as you read these sentences. Because you cannot recognize your self-model as a model, it is transparent: you look right through it. You don't see it. But you see with it.[next]— Metzinger (2003, 1)
he begins to find that what these people about him say is the very best evidence of fact. So much so, that testimony is even a stronger mark of fact than the facts themselves, or rather than what must now be thought of as the appearances themselves. (I may remark, by the way, that this remains so through life; testimony will convince a man that he himself is mad.) A child hears it said that the stove is hot. But it is not, he says; and, indeed, that central body is not touching it, and only what that touches is hot or cold. But he touches it, and finds the testimony confirmed in a striking way. Thus, he becomes aware of ignorance, and it is necessary to suppose a self in which this ignorance can inhere. So testimony gives the first dawning of self-consciousness.In Peirce's own example, it is clearly the collision of bodily experience with expectation that leads directly to the ‘dawning of self-consciousness,’ and such surprises can certainly occur without requiring language or ‘testimony’ to set up the expectation. However, ‘testimony’ – whether explicit or implicit – does play a major role in forming the Lebenswelt of anticipatory systems who rely on language as much as humans do; and for them, a heightened consciousness of self does arise from the experience of difference between private expectation or belief and public or consensual testimony, when the latter is confirmed and the former falsified by direct experience.
In the primal innocence which does not distinguish between public and private, our thoughts are not our own; but in the world of social experience, we begin to think of our feelings, beliefs, memories and private thoughts – even our ‘experiences’ – as belonging to an inner world, while reality belongs mainly to a world external to that, simply because we know it to be quite independent of our impressions of it. In other words, it doesn't go away if we stop believing in it, and offers at least some resistance to our efforts to change it.
The main distinction between the Inner and the Outer Worlds is that inner objects promptly take any modifications we wish, while outer objects are hard facts that no man can make to be other than they are. Yet tremendous as this distinction is, it is after all only relative. Inner objects do offer a certain degree of resistance and outer objects are susceptible of being modified in some measure by sufficient exertion intelligently directed.By symbolic means, the consensual reality is represented to the interpretant person-sign as external to the consensual as well as the individual mind. But ‘the very origin of the conception of reality shows that this conception essentially involves the notion of a COMMUNITY, without definite limits, and capable of a definite increase of knowledge’ (EP1:52). Consensual reality is the ideal and public product of the reality monitoring process indefinitely prolonged. Along the way, facts individually experienced find public expression as testimony. [next]— EP2:151 (Harvard Lecture 2, 1903)
The individual man, since his separate existence is manifested only by ignorance and error, so far as he is anything apart from his fellows, and from what he and they are to be, is only a negation.This resonates with the Buddhist insight represented (for instance) in the Gandhavyuha Sutra (Cleary 1984, 1445):
We see all sentient beings, afflicted by birth, old age, death, grief, lament, suffering, and sorrow, as illusory, born of the illusion of untrue ideas.According to Nishiari Bokusan in his commentary on Dogen's ‘Genjokoan’, ‘A human being is only the causes and conditions of karma that consists of ignorance and attachment’ (Weitsman et al. 2011, 75).
The Buddhist principle of ‘emptiness’ (sunyata) is the denial of svabhava or ‘self-existence.’
From the point of view of Mahayana Buddhism, this is the greatest of all delusions, the belief that something exists. Upon close analysis, nothing exists by itself. Any given entity can only be defined in terms of other entities in time, space, or mind. And these in turn can only be defined in terms of other entities, and so on ad infinitum. Thus, nothing exists by itself, and nothing exists as itself. There is no such thing as a self.Red Pine goes on to explain that the second greatest of all delusions is the belief that nothing exists. This is why Thich Nhat Hanh's term ‘interbeing’ is, for English-speaking people unaccustomed to Buddhist thinking, a better translation of sunyata than ‘emptiness’: ‘interbeing’ does not carry the notion of void or empty space but does suggest the relative nature of existence.— Red Pine (2004, 68)
We are not separate. We are inextricably interrelated. The rose is the garbage, and the non-prostitute is the prostitute. The rich man is the very poor woman, and the Buddhist is the non-Buddhist. The non-Buddhist cannot help but be a Buddhist, because we inter-are. The emancipation of the prostitute will come as she sees into the nature of interbeing. She will know that she is bearing the fruit of the whole world. And if we look into ourselves and see her, we bear her pain, and the pain of the whole world.To bear fruit is to bear pain. To see that fruit and pain are one is to see that both are ‘empty’ – that is, each is made of relations to the other, not of some separate substance.— Thich Nhat Hanh (1988, 38)
The difference between svabhava and sunyata corresponds, in physics, to the difference between the Newtonian conception of absolute time and space and the relational conception which was ‘posited by Leibniz and realized by Einstein’ (Smolin 1997, 220).
What is at stake in the conflict between the absolute and relational views of space and time … goes to the roots of the whole of the scientific conception of the universe. Does the world consist of a large number of independently autonomous atoms, the properties of each owing nothing to the others? Or, instead, is the world a vast, interconnected system of relations, in which even the properties of a single elementary particle or the identity of a point in space requires and reflects the whole rest of the universe? The two views of space and time underlie and imply two very different views of what it means to speak of a property, of identity, or of individuality. Consequently, the transition from a cosmology based on an absolute notion of space and time to one based on a relational notion—a transition we are now in the midst of—must have profound implications for our understanding of the place of complexity and life in the universe.[next]— Smolin (1997, 221)
… many I cured with the power that came through me. Of course it was not I who cured. It was the power from the outer world, and the visions and ceremonies had only made me like a hole through which the power could come to the two-leggeds. If I thought that I was doing it myself, the hole would close up and no power could come through. Then everything I could do would be foolish.Later in the same chapter:
It is from understanding that power comes; and the power in the ceremony was in understanding what it meant; for nothing can live well except in a manner that is suited to the way the sacred Power of the World lives and moves.[next]
a lush garden of sacred eros, filled to overflowing with luxurious plantings of love between master and disciples; among the mystical companions themselves; between the souls of Israel and Shekhinah, God's lovely bride; but most of all between the male and female elements that together make up the Godhead.— Green (2004, 3)
The Blessed Holy One expresses his love to Jerusalem in this way: ‘I swear to you that I Myself will not enter above until your inhabitants enter you below’ (Zohar 1:1b (ZP I.6). Daniel Matt's comment says that ‘The Blessed Holy One promises not to enter the heavenly Jerusalem, Shekhinah, until the earthly Jerusalem is restored.’ This is a parallel to the bodhisattva vow in Buddhism.
The bodhisattva (or Blessed Holy One, or Jesus) is not an exemplar of self-sacrifice, giving up his own good for the sake of others, but a practitioner of enlightenment like Shakyamuni Buddha, who, upon seeing the morning star, “simultaneously with all sentient beings and the great earth” attained the way (Tanahashi 2010, 1148). A buddha has no self other than that of the great earth, and therefore no thought of individual salvation. The prophet or bodhisattva may indeed have to endure suffering or martyrdom for the sake of helping others, but the others accept that help not by weeping over the martyr's fate, but by ‘seeing the morning star’ (reading the turning sign) themselves. [next]
The disciples said to Jesus, ‘We know that you will depart from us. Who is to be our leader?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Wherever you are, you are to go to James the righteous, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.’In the Gospel of Thomas, seekers after an authoritative leader do not usually get such a straightforward answer from Jesus; indeed the very next saying (Chapter 6) presents the role of Jesus himself as a mystery. Saying 13 also elevates Thomas, not James, to the highest position. Perhaps, as Helmut Koester suggested, Sayings 12 and 13 were meant to juxtapose James as an exoteric or ‘ecclesiastical’ authority figure with the esoteric understanding represented by Thomas (Valantasis 1997, 74). Or perhaps they are later accretions to the gospel, as DeConick (2007a) argues.— Thomas 12 (Lambdin)
Saying 12 is the only mention of James in the Gospel of Thomas; he may be the brother of Jesus also mentioned in Matthew 13:55, Mark 6:3 and Galatians 1:19, but we can't be sure of that. So perhaps we should read the description of him in this saying as the essential clue to what qualifies him (or anyone) as the right leader for a community in need of one: he is the one ‘for whose sake heaven and earth came into being.’ But this sounds very much like the Tsaddik or ‘Righteous One’ of the Jewish mystical tradition, or Traherne's ‘sole heir of the whole world,’ or the ‘king over the All’ of Thomas 2, which the seeker himself becomes after passing through dismay and astonishment. So for this group of disciples, James is to be the external sign of the primal person.
What sort of sake would the primal person have? Is it like your sake, or my sake, or God's sake? What is a sake anyway? Are there any synonyms for that word? Where did it come from?
It came into English originally “for God's sake,” according to the online etymological dictionary (consulted 25 March 2018):
sake (n.1): “purpose,” Old English sacu “a cause at law, crime, dispute, guilt,” from Proto-Germanic *sako “affair, thing, charge, accusation” (source also of Old Norse sök “charge, lawsuit, effect, cause,” Old Frisian seke “strife, dispute, matter, thing,” Dutch zaak “lawsuit, cause, sake, thing,” German Sache “thing, matter, affair, cause”), from PIE root *sag- “to investigate, seek out” (source also of Old English secan, Gothic sokjan “to seek;” see seek).So we trace it back to a Proto-Indo-European root *sag- (which, as the asterisk signifies, is our best guess at what the original prehistoric form would have been, working back from the actually attested forms).
Much of the word's original meaning has been taken over by case (n.1), cause (n.), and it survives largely in phrases for the sake of (early 13c.) and for _______'s sake (c. 1300, originally for God's sake), both probably are from Norse, as these forms have not been found in Old English.
Was or is the primal person a seeker for his sake? Is there a primal cause, or purpose, or crime? Who is trying this case? ‘The answer is always there, but people need the question to bring it out’ (Cleary 1995, 164). [next]
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,Simeon here takes salvation ‘of all peoples’ as already embodied in Jesus, and thus he is allowed to ‘depart in peace’ like a slave released by his master, as his mission is accomplished. The salvation which he now saw with his own eyes was not a private and personal one that would leave others unsaved. Desire for such a personal salvation is one face of spiritual materialism (Trungpa 1973). To renounce such a desire is to realize nirvana, or salvation, not as a remote goal but as a present reality hidden within the folds of samsara and self-interest. [next]
according to thy word;
for mine eyes have seen thy salvation
which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to thy people Israel.— Luke 2:29-32 (RSV)
Pathogens have become symbionts on at least four occasions. Symbionts have become organelles each time. Invader and invaded merge, evolve into new life forms. Branches on the tree of life do not always diverge but sometimes come together to produce strange new fruit.Merrell (1996, citing Deleuze) uses the network-like rhizome as a more apt image than the ‘tree’ for the development of interbeing. Identity itself, or disappearance/incorporation into a new identity, is just habit formation on a different scale of time and size: ‘Like an artist whose performance of a difficult routine seem effortless, the former spirochete genes may be so deeply implicated in cell function that today they all but defy detection’ (Margulis and Sagan 1995, 127). [next]— Margulis and Sagan 1995, 132
Things derive their being and nature by mutual dependence and are nothing in themselves.[next]
At the same time, what counts as an individual depends on what we are trying to account for. In classifying life forms, biologists can ‘consider the species as a whole as an individual, ontologically speaking.… Species taxa are individuals in the sense that each species has spatiotemporal unity and historical continuity’ (Mayr 1982, 253). Yet a single living person can equally well be considered as a symbiotic community of cell types and semiotic functions.
An embryo … has a dual inheritance system, one system depending on the copying of DNA base sequences, the other on the copying of states of gene activity [this is how cells are able to differentiate during growth of the embryo even though each carries the entire genome]. There is an obvious analogy between the differentiated cells of an animal body, the various castes in an ant colony, and the different trades and professions in human society. The Israeli biologist, Eva Jablonka, has pointed out that the analogy between an animal body and human society is deeper than just the presence of differentiated parts. Human society also depends on a dual inheritance system, based on DNA and language.Language is probably the most important medium of cultural “inheritance,” but other kinds of semiosis are involved as well. The continuity of a human society depends on interactions between semiotic processes internal to the body, those internal to the biological species (genetic inheritance), and those which Peirce called ‘external signs’ – including human individuals themselves. [next]— Maynard Smith and Szathmáry (1999, 28-9)
Now it happened that as he was praying alone the disciples were with him; and he asked them, “Who do the people say that I am?”Who do people say that you are? Who do you say that you are? Who are you when you are praying alone?Luke 9:18
ἔλεγεν δὲ πρὸς πάντας, εἴ τις θέλει ὀπίσω μου ἔρχεσθαι, ἀρνησάσθω ἑαυτὸν καὶ ἀράτω τὸν σταυρὸν αὐτοῦ καθ᾽ ἡμέραν, καὶ ἀκολουθείτω μοι.Give us this day our daily cross. Take it up: to bear the cross is to bear witness to the time and bear withness to the impermanence of self. Your cross is the time you live here and now, and your life is lost to the past as you live it. Let it go, and you save your life as an anticipatory system. You will be a sign of the crossing of here and now, a sign of the time, a sign of the cross, for the sake of the primal person, τὸν χριστὸν τοῦ θεοῦ, the one for whom all the heavens and the earth were created. You will be no thing but a sign in any case.
ὃς γὰρ ἂν θέλῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ σῶσαι, ἀπολέσει αὐτήν· ὃς δ᾽ ἂν ἀπολέσῃ τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἕνεκεν ἐμοῦ, οὖτος σώσει αὐτήν.
And he said to all, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.”Luke 9:23-24 (RSV)
Impermanence is the other side of continuity. To take up the cross of living the time is to lose yourself in living and to recreate yourself. Your past does not determine your future, but your memory informs it. The biographical self, the one you have been, is conjured up by ‘episodic’ memory, the conscious experience of having lived through specific events. This gives the feeling of continuing, the Firstness of Thirdness, a sign of living the time.
Without memory, our awareness would be confined to an eternal present and our lives would be virtually devoid of meaning.A person with ‘retrograde amnesia,’ in which all episodic memory of his own past is lost, is also without a personal future. His life appears to be ‘psychologically barren … It does not occur to him to make plans, and he has nothing to look forward to’ (Schacter 1996, 149-50); the engine which pulls a person's life into an anticipated future is lacking. ‘Semantic memory’ – the kind that ‘makes it possible for organisms to acquire, store, and use information about the world in which they live, in the broadest possible sense’ (Tulving and Lepage, in Schacter and Scarry 2000, 213) – does not provide a personal sense of mission. It gives the context but not the text, the mattering, the sign that turns.— Schacter and Scarry (2000, 1)
Your episodic memories are recreations of your past experience by the self living now, the one who imagines a future, the one who is saved by losing himself to living the time. The life that is saved drops off bodymind as it flows into the future, always beginning where it has just now been. Considered as a sign, this life grows its own interpretant by joining with other signs to bear withness, to produce the entelechy, as Peirce put it. Living the time, as the continuous act of meaning, is not consciously concerned with the maintenance of a permanent identity, but instead leaves the past behind by continuing presence into the future.
According to Tulving and Lepage, ‘almost all evolved forms of learning and memory are oriented toward the present and the future, rather than the past’ (in Schacter and Scarry 2000, 211). According to Jesus, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’ (Luke 9:62 (RSV)). Without semantic memory, there is no field to plow; without the sense of a continuing (and thus impermanent) self as mission, there is nothing to be done, and no one to mind the turning signs. [next]
In philosophy and theology, it is easy to entangle oneself in questions about the reality of ‘free will.’ But suppose you become a true believer in determinism: does it generate any predictions or expectations for you? If not, it is irrelevant to your guidance system. There are other reasons why determinism is irrelevant to the question of ‘freedom’ (see Dennett 2003), but this one suffices. Neither abstract questions about free will nor their answers are of any help when we are faced with actual choices and take responsibility for the consequences of choosing. In those situations, the very autonomy which is the basis of our freedom becomes the cross we bear.
Any help we can get with decision-making – that is, any trustworthy guidance we can get – is always welcome. One way of getting the crux of autonomy off our backs is to shift the burden of choice to a higher authority. In a way this is an evasion, because we still have to choose among the range of authorities that presents itself, and the moral basis on which an adult human can judge one authority to be ‘higher’ than another is unclear. However, once this choice is made, we have a guide in place that can simplify life by making choices for us, or at least framing and thus facilitating later decisions.
Most religions offer such a framework of authority and invite you to submit yourself to it (for your own good, of course). Many set up a contrast between your personal will and the higher Will, and set up the Saint as an exemplar of submission. The sign of sainthood is annihilation of the personal, private will, or its absorption into the universal Will or the will of God: as Jesus prayed to his Father just before giving himself up for crucifixion, not what I will, but what thou wilt (Mark 14:36). But if self-control means control of self by something or someone higher – an authority beyond self rather than within it – then the ideal is guidance by remote control.
From another spiritual perspective, the true authority or higher will is not located beyond the circle of self but rather at the centre of it, as a ‘higher self’ or as an intimacy with the divine. Thus the saint's will is merged into God's rather than being annihilated – though the contrast between these two approaches vanishes at the point where the distinction between self and God disappears. [next]
The Self is one, and it has become all things.— Chandogya Upanishad (Prabhavananda and Manchester 1947, 118)
He is one, the lord and innermost Self of all; of one form, he makes of himself many forms. To him who sees the Self revealed in his own heart belongs eternal bliss—to none else, to none else!
This universe is a tree eternally existing, its root aloft, its branches spread below. The pure root of the tree is Brahman, the immortal, in whom the three worlds have their being, whom none can transcend, who is verily the Self.
He hath known God who hath known himself.[next]— hadíth of Imám ‘Alí
This sentence contradicts itself—or rather—well, no, actually it doesn't![next]— Douglas Hofstadter (1985, 7)
that I—I in the widest meaning of the word, that is to say, every conscious mind that has ever said or felt ‘I’—am the person, if any, who controls the ‘motion of the atoms’ according to the Laws of Nature … Hence I am God Almighty.— (Schrödinger 1944, 87)
Schrödinger conceded that in the ‘cultural milieu’ he was addressing, ‘it is daring to give to this conclusion the simple wording that it requires’ – indeed it ‘sounds both blasphemous and lunatic’ (87). However he claims to be in accord not only with the Upanishads but with ‘the mystics of many centuries,’ who ‘have described, each of them, the unique experience of his or her life in terms that can be condensed in the phrase: Deus factus sum (I have become God).’
But what's to prevent this ‘grandest of all thoughts,’ as Schrödinger termed it, from turning into a grand delusion? His own conclusion was drawn from the two premises that the body ‘functions as a pure mechanism’ (which therefore cannot be a free agent or experiencing subject), and ‘that I am directing its motions’ (86-7). Further developments in science have undermined both of those premises – the purely mechanistic nature of the body, and the claim of conscious will to be in full control of it. Wegner (2002) even refers to the latter as The Illusion of Conscious Will.
Schrödinger argued that subjectivity is singular while bodies are many, which implies that the plurality of conscious selves must be an illusion derived from the plurality of bodies. He denied the existence of individual souls as incompatible with the singleness of the One Self (88). But except for that, his idea resembles Cartesian dualism more than Peircean synechism. He considered it ‘the closest a biologist can get to proving God and immortality at one stroke’ (87). But long before Schrödinger, this ‘grandest of all thoughts’ was recognized by Buddhists as concealing a pitfall: that the Big Self may turn out to be a mere inflation of the ego.
We should also recognize that the idea of an almighty God who controls everything that happens does not explain anything that happens. In order to be an explanatory hypothesis, it would have to be testable; and in order to be testable, it would have to make predictions about what would happen in the observable world under given conditions. But the actions of an almighty God are radically unpredictable, no matter what human prophets tell us about “the Will of God.”
How, for example, can we ever expect to be able to predict what the conduct would be, even of any omniscient being governing no more than one poor solar system for only a million years or so? How much less if, being also omnipotent, he be thereby freed from all experience, all desire, all intention! Since God, in His essential character of Ens necessarium, is a disembodied spirit, and since there is strong reason to hold that what we call consciousness is either merely the general sensation of the brain or some part of it, or at all events some visceral or bodily sensation, God probably has no consciousness.[next]
If you can reflect properly about this story of what happened when father and son met, you can understand the need not to be attached to your relatives and dear ones of this life when you try to practice a pure Dharma. If you really want to help your relatives, dear ones, and friends, you will transcend the home and enter homelessness, abandoning concern for greatness in this life and even the perfect successes of the life-cycle. Abiding in pure ethical conduct, you must apply yourself to practice the path in solitary places, and you will feel a firm certitude about the keys of the preparations, practices, and applications of the stages of the path to enlightenment.— Tse Chokling Yongdzin Yeshe Gyaltsin (Thurman 1995, 83)
This ‘firm certitude’ is a pragmatic decisiveness, not a dogmatic certainty on doctrinal matters, which would be just another sort of attachment. One's own feelings, down to the most primordial, are signs along the path, signs which must be left behind even as they guide one's progress. This is implicit in guidance going back at least to the Vedas:
Unerring in his discrimination, sovereign of his senses and passions, free from the clamor of likes and dislikes, he leads a simple, self-reliant life based on meditation, controlling his speech, body and mind.
Free from self-will, aggressiveness, arrogance, anger, and the lust to possess people or things, he is at peace with himself and others and enters into the unitive state.— Bhagavad-Gita 18:51-53 (Easwaran)
Even a temporary, tactical withdrawal from external engagements can be a way of ‘centering,’ of eliminating distractions, the better to clarify vision. To eliminate the noise is to enhance the signal, the better to hear the turning sign.
If Jesus came with a ‘sword’ that divides people from their families, it was for the sake of cutting off habitual attachments that hinder the process of healing and ‘making the two one.’ As for the squabbles over property and privilege which often arise within families, he wanted nothing to do with adjudicating those:
A [person said] to him: ‘Tell my brothers that they have to divide my father's possessions with me.’ He said to him: ‘Man, who has made me a divider?’ He turned to his disciples (and) said to them: ‘I am not a divider, am I?’— Thomas 72 (5G)
The path of the bodhisattva also requires home-leaving, although it renounces a personal ‘salvation’ in order to save all sentient beings; indeed the compassion embodied in the bodhisattva vow requires detachment from social obligations.
It is not that buddha ancestors lacked family obligations and attachments, but they abandoned them. It is not that buddha ancestors were not bound by relationships, but they let them go. Even if you are bound by relationships, you cannot keep them. If you do not throw away family obligations and attachments, the family obligations and attachments will throw you. If you want to cherish the family obligations and attachments, then cherish them. To cherish the family obligations and attachments means to be free from them.[next]— Dogen, ‘Gyoji’ (Tanahashi 2000, 150; a different translation in Kim 1975, 20)
Meaning never settles down into a single residence.But the stream of consciousness does “settle down” temporarily, as William James observed:— Mark Turner (1996, 106)
As we take, in fact, a general view of the wonderful stream of our consciousness, what strikes us first is this different pace of its parts. Like a bird's life, it seems to be made of an alternation of flights and perchings. The rhythm of language expresses this, where every thought is expressed in a sentence, and every sentence closed by a period. The resting-places are usually occupied by sensorial imaginations of some sort, whose peculiarity is that they can be held before the mind for an indefinite time, and contemplated without changing; the places of flight are filled with thoughts of relations, static or dynamic, that for the most part obtain between the matters contemplated in the periods of comparative rest.Let us call the resting-places the 'substantive parts,' and the places of flight the 'transitive parts,' of the stream of thought. It then appears that the main end of our thinking is at all times the attainment of some other substantive part than the one from which we have just been dislodged. And we may say that the main use of the transitive parts is to lead us from one substantive conclusion to another.— James 1890, v.1 p.243
Compare this poem from The Books of Bokonon:
Tiger got to hunt,
Bird got to fly;
Man got to sit and wonder, Why, why, why?
Tiger got to sleep,
Bird got to land;
Man got to tell himself he understand.— Kurt Vonnegut Jr. (1963, 182)
Yes, we all have to rest from the quest now and then, but the point of being on the human path is not to arrive somewhere (or ‘be somebody’), but to ‘become passers-by,’ as Jesus puts it so concisely in Thomas 42. According to Patterson (1993, 128-33) the Coptic saying could also be translated ‘Be itinerant,’ or even ‘Come into being as you pass away’ – or as Dogen might put it, “Embrace impermanence (and go beyond it).” Impermanence of things is the other side of the continuity of time. Clinging to things, or to the idea of a permanent self, is a betrayal of semiosis, the process of meaning.
Is it self-deception for a person to tell himself he understand? Maybe not, if he senses that understanding is as fleeting as flight, like a monkey's grasp of a branch in its course through the canopy. The best he can do is to carry on in the belief that what he tells himself is true enough to guide the next move. Perhaps the ‘unitive state’ of the Bhagavad-Gita and the ‘repose’ of the Gospel of Thomas point in the same direction as Peirce's ‘fixation of belief’:
And what, then, is belief? It is the demi-cadence which closes a musical phrase in the symphony of our intellectual life. … As it appeases the irritation of doubt, which is the motive for thinking, thought relaxes, and comes to rest for a moment when belief is reached. But, since belief is a rule for action, the application of which involves further doubt and further thought, at the same time that it is a stopping-place, it is also a new starting-place for thought.— Peirce (EP1:129)
(The content of) a revelation offers us a new resting place; the process of semiosis moves on. The hesitancy to ‘believe’, often condemned in the Qur'án, is the refusal to move on by carrying the revelation into practice.
When you think you've arrived at a permanent understanding, it's probably a sign that your understanding has temporarily shut down. If it's a decision you've arrived at, though, it might mean something – if you venture forth and act on it. Clinging to certainty means immunity to revelation, just as death means immunity to experience. The living are homeless by nature, the same nature that brings them back home in the end. [next]
By progressively learning to let go of these tendencies to grasp, one can begin to appreciate that all phenomena are free of any absolute ground and that such ‘groundlessness’ (sunyata) is the very fabric of dependent co-origination.… Groundlessness, then, is to be found not in some far off, philosophically abstruse analysis but in everyday experience. Indeed, groundlessness is revealed in cognition as ‘common sense,’ that is, in knowing how to negotiate our way through a world that is not fixed and pregiven but that is continually shaped by the types of actions in which we engage.Thus to ‘leave the world’ is to realize that your actions, like those of all sentient beings, are part of the never-ending process of making the world what it will be. ‘Groundlessness’ (or ‘emptiness’ as it is sometimes translated) is the cognitive cognate of homelessness in the social realm; and homelessness is the pervasive freedom we find when we break out of the prison of our own habits, when the subject leaves the illusory home of selfhood.— Varela, Thompson and Rosch (1991, 144)
The realization of emptiness (“enlightenment”) translates into sociological terms as de-reification – ‘reification’ meaning the habit of perceiving the social institutions and roles of everyday life as if they were ‘natural things’ rather than human constructions (see Berger and Luckmann 1966, 89-92). It is normal for human individuals and societies to see the world this way – after all, humans are “born into a world they never made.” It's easy to blame everything on “the government” or some other looming entity. But until they outgrow this reification habit, people are unable to take responsibility for making their world the way it is. [next]
Each of us inevitable,[next]
Each of us limitless – each of us with his or her right upon the earth,
Each of us allow'd the eternal purports of the earth,
Each of us here as divinely as any is here.— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, Book VI
Once the whole is divided, the parts need names. There are already enough names. One must know when to stop.Ego is always wanting to ‘make a difference.’ But there are differences enough already. Maybe one should make a connection instead. [next]— Tao Te Ching 32 (Feng/English)
(1) <He saw> a Samaritan carrying a lamb as he was going to Judea. (2) He said to his disciples, “That person is carrying the lamb around.”The text of the first part of this saying seems to be garbled; the 5G translation has the man ‘hanging around’ the lamb, ‘stalking’ it rather than carrying it. But the conclusion is a straightforward warning against allowing yourself to be incorporated, swallowed up in another entity in which your awareness does not count and to which it does not contribute. You can avoid this by finding ‘a place for rest,’ a place called the ‘kingdom of heaven’ in other sayings. Yet the path to this place passes through suffering, striving, persecution and deprivation:
(3) They said to him, “Then he may kill it and eat it.”
(4) He said to them, “He will not eat it while it is alive, but only after he has killed it and it has become a carcass.”
(5) They said, “Otherwise he cannot do it.”
(6) He said to them, “So also with you, seek for yourselves a place for rest, or you might become a carcass and be eaten.”— Thomas 60 (NHS)
Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor, for yours is heaven’s kingdom.”— Thomas 54 (NHS)
Jesus said, “Blessed is the person who has labored and has found life.”— Thomas 58 (NHS)
(1) Jesus said, “Blessed are you when you are hated and persecuted, (2) and no place will be found, wherever you have been persecuted.”— Thomas 68 (NHS)
(1)Jesus said, “Blessed are they who have been persecuted in their hearts: they are the ones who have truly come to know the Father. (2) Blessed are they who are hungry, that the stomach of the person in want may be filled.”Rest comes at the end, even as the end, of suffering and strife, not in the comforts of home. But having left your home-self behind, it does not feel right to say that you have chosen your present path; you might say instead that you've been chosen.— Thomas 69 (NHS)
Jesus said, ‘Blessings on those who are alone and chosen, for you will find the kingdom. For you have come from it, and you will return there again.’(The Coptic word for alone here is a transliteration of the Greek μοναχος; yet the you in the second part of the saying is plural.)— Thomas 49 (Meyer)
Jesus says: ‘If they say to you: “Where do you come from?” (then) say to them: “We have come from the light, the place where the light has come into being by itself, has established [itself] and has appeared in their image.” If they say to you: “Is it you?” (then) say: “We are his children, and we are the elect of the living Father.” If they ask you: “What is the sign of your Father among you?” (then) say to them: “It is movement and repose.”’Some editors have suggested that ἀναπαυσις (repose) should be read as ἀναστασις (resurrection). DeConick (2007a, 180) identifies this saying as an ‘accretion’ which weaves together ‘old Jewish ideas and Hermetic traditions.’ It is a curious saying in several ways. First, it incorporates a doubled 2nd-person point of view: Jesus directly addresses one group (the ‘elect’) to advise them what to say in reply to another group's questions. Next, it seems odd that the light ‘has appeared in their image’ when we would expect either ‘your image’ (2nd person) or perhaps ‘its own image’ (3rd person singular). There is no ‘they’ in place for ‘their’ to refer back to, except the ‘other’ group, those who have asked ‘Where do you come from?’; and only as a last resort should we dismiss this oddity as a grammatical slip-up in the text.— Thomas 50 (5G)
Besides, we can't be too sure about the point of view from which the “quoted” statements are supposed to be spoken, since the quotation marks are supplied by the translators (they were not in current use when the manuscript of Thomas was written). We could read the sentence ‘We have come from the light … ’ as spoken from Jesus' own point of view, so that the actual words to be addressed by the ‘elect’ to the questioners are given indirectly rather than directly. In that case ‘We’ would include Jesus himself, and ‘their’ would naturally refer to the questioning group. Does this make sense? It could, if ‘the light’ is the root reality of all beings (or is all sentient beings, as Dogen said of the buddha-nature). Then the ‘elect’ (the itinerant home-leavers) would be those who have realized their true nature, and all who do so ‘will become one and the same’ (Thomas 4), all ‘the sons of the living father’ (Thomas 3) – like Jesus himself. So this reading would be fully consistent with the integrity of this Gospel.
And what do we make of ‘movement and repose’ as ‘the sign of your Father among you?’ This double ‘sign’ could intimate the dynamic stability (or metastability) of organisms who must keep on changing in order to persist as entities. This brings us back to the interplay of openness and closure in complex systems (Chapter 10, the motility of energy-seeking coupled with the perpetual quest for equilibrium. Indeed, ‘coming into being by itself’ sounds like autopoiesis and self-organization; and the singular ‘light’ appearing ‘in their image’ (plural modifier of singular noun) could be a grammatical icon of differentiation as the origin of plurality. If we read this ancient text as a precursor of 21st-century science, the implication is that scientific theories and scriptures alike are recursors of ancient core intimologies. They hold the mirror up to human nature as a reflection of a deeper nature … so the twinning of the 2nd-person point of view is also appropriate here. [next]
Science is a way of trying not to fool yourself. The first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.[next]— Richard Feynman (from lecture given at the Galileo Symposium in Italy, 1964).
In Buddhism we find a tension between enlightenment conceived as a state attained only with great effort, and enlightenment conceived as realization of that Buddha-nature which you already are. Dogen both resolved and maintained this tension by assuring us that practice is enlightenment. In Christianity there is a similar tension between one's own efforts and ‘God's grace,’ where the relationship between the two seems to be a reinforcing loop (as in the economy of perception, where your income depends on the attention you pay):
Jesus said, ‘Whoever has something in his hand will receive more, and whoever has nothing will be deprived of even the little he has.’Parallels in other gospels include Matthew 13:12, 25:29; Mark 4:25; Luke 8:18, 29:26. Thomas 88 carries this pattern forward to the next turn of the semiotic wheel:— Thomas 41 (Lambdin)
Jesus said, ‘The messengers [or ‘angels’] and the prophets will come to you and give you what is yours. You, in turn, give them what you have, and say to yourselves, “When will they come and take what is theirs?”’Suppose you recognize prophets or angels or genuine teachers by hearing from them what you recognize as rendering your own experience meaningful, in some way that you hadn't realized before. Perhaps they offer a larger context for the signs you embody. What do you do then? The ethos of conversation (of turning and returning the sign) obligates you to reciprocate in some way, either to the individuals who have ‘given you what is yours,’ or to the community. All you have to give back is an interpretant of whatever message you have received, which will serve as a sign to others of what is theirs. One transmission triggers another which is a further development of the first. Whoever receives it may or may not call the current sender a ‘prophet’ or ‘guru’ or ‘master’; what matters is the interpretant sign which is the next iteration of the meaning cycle. Even a prophet can only provide a sign to those who ‘have ears to hear’ – how can he give what nobody takes? If the taking up of the ‘transmission’ is not immediate – and every process takes some time – the utterer of the sign may well wonder when it will be heard. And perhaps, in order to pass it on, you need to do more than ask when a hearing ear will come to you: perhaps you need to go to them just as the angels have ‘come to you.’— Thomas 88 (Meyer)
The ‘angels’ or messengers (in Greek, áγγελοι) may not be prophets in the sense authorized by religious convention, or you may not recognize them as such. But they are partners with you in a give-and-take (dialogue) relationship, and whoever will take up the task of carrying it forward must be thereby receiving what belongs to them, and uttering in their turn the signs of what belongs to the next generation – or to the ‘prophets’ themselves. Valantasis (1997, 168-9) suggests that seekers of self-knowledge ‘surpass the knowledge even of angels and prophets … The seekers, that is, find the angels and prophets lacking their full knowledge, but fully deserving of and entitled to having the fullness that the seekers have, and the seekers are eager to reciprocate.’
Deconick (2007a, 255) takes Logion 88 to be an accretion referring to the mundane question of whether itinerant preachers should be economically self-supporting (like Paul) or supported by the community. But this does not preclude a reference to semiotic and spiritual economy, lending more lasting urgency to the question at the end: “When will they come and take what is theirs?” [next]
The thalamocortical system is a close to isochronic sphere that synchronously relates the sensory-referred properties of the external world to internally generated motivations and memories. This temporally coherent event that binds, in the time domain, the fractured components of external and internal reality into a single construct is what we call the ‘self.’— Llinás (2001, 126, italics in original)
Another possibility is a dialogue between the two hemispheres of the brain. The left hemisphere, being specialized for language, plays the lead in this dialogue insofar as it is verbal, but the right hemisphere contributes a reality check.
The brain's overall executive plan runs as follows. The left hemisphere is the primary controlling hemisphere. It enlists the aid of the right hemisphere for various tasks. The right hemisphere contains a large, topographic representation system, including episodic memories and current real-time representations of the body and its surrounding space. A primary task of the right hemisphere is also to simulate other minds. However, these representations are also used for other purposes: finding one's way about, storing important information in memory, and assessing the plausibility of certain events.This would suggest that the right hemisphere plays the critical role as a check on the confabulatory creativity of the left. Hirstein (170) also quotes Deglin and Kinsbourne: ‘the right hemisphere seems incapable of the willing suspension of disbelief’ – which is necessary for engagement with an imaginative story. [next]— Hirstein (2005, 169)
On top of that, the experience of conscious will, and the ‘autobiographical’ memory which extends self-consciousness in time as a sense of identity (Wegner 2002), form the basis of self-control, of morality and the sense of responsibility as well.
But this leads to a new problem: how to get self-consciousness to quit obstructing the spontaneous creative flow. It's always nagging, interfering, trying to take over – like all those tyrants in myth, legend, fantasy and history who want to Rule the World. The Buddhist way is to realize that the self is just another product of conditions, it's nothing substantial, it's “empty.”
Like the concept of zero in mathematics, the idea of a self is useful, so long as you don't mistake it for a thing.The theistic way is to idealize the benevolence and mastery of the conscious self (see Wegner 2002, Chapter 4, on the ‘ideal agent’), project it onto a transcendent Other, and surrender oneself to its Lordship. In practice, both ways often depend on some exercise of authority, which can become problematic if attention is distracted to the authority figures.— M.C. Bateson (1994, 66)
If we are aware of the way the Buddha uses words, we will not be caught by any of his words. The teacher is important, the director of the practice center is important, but if the idea of being important becomes an obstacle for the teaching and the practice, then the meaning will be lost.[next]— Thich Nhat Hanh (1992, 70)
went over to the robe and bowl and tried to pick them up, but he could not move them. Then he called to me, “Workman, I’ve come for the teaching, not for the robe!”[next]I then came out and sat on a boulder. Hui-ming bowed and said, “Please explain the teaching to me, Workman.”I said, “Since you have come for the teaching, you should shut out all objects and not conceive a single thought; then I will expound the teaching for you.”Hui-ming was silent for a long while. I said, “When you do not think of good and do not think of bad, what is your original face?”tr. Cleary (1998)
The distinction between the inner and the outer worlds antedates Time. I do not mean by the inner world that human consciousness which Baldwin and Royce have lately so forcibly reminded us is a social development and therefore very recent, only now in fact in process of taking a shape which has not yet been attained. The inner world that I mean is something very primitive. The original quality in itself with its immediate unity belonged to that inner world, a world of possibilities, Plato's world. The accidental reaction awoke it into a consciousness of duality, of struggle and therefore of antagonism between an inner and an outer. Thus, the inner world was first, and its unity comes from that firstness. The outer world was second. The social world was logically developed out of those two and the physiological structure of man was brought to forms adapted to that development.Peirce is here proposing a co-evolution of ‘the social world’ and the physical form of humanity – a more daring and comprehensive hypothesis than the co-evolution of language and brain as advanced by Deacon (1997), for instance. The logical development of the social world is the continuing evolution of Thought in the Peircean sense, of Thirdness mediating between the Firstness and Secondness which it involves, for ‘everything is involved which can be evolved’ (CP 4.86). Insofar as humanity is engaged in learning from experience, it continues to evolve through collective pursuit of the truth we hope to arrive at consensually.— NEM 4, 141 (probably 1898)
This ultimate destiny of opinion is quite independent of how you, I, or any man may persist in thinking. It is thought, but it is not my thought or yours, but is the thought that will conquer. It is this that every student hopes for. It is the Truth; and the reality of this truth lies, not at all in its being thought, but in the compulsion with which every thinker will be made to bow to it, a compulsion which constitutes it to be exterior to his thought. If this hope is altogether vain, if there is no such compulsion, or externality, then there is no true Knowledge at all and reasoning is altogether idle. If the hope is destined only partially to be realized, then there is an approximate reality and truth, which is not exact.MS 735, “The Theory of Reasoning,” undated (quoted in Kaag 2014, Kindle Locations 2034-2036)
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