Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Resting concepts

Are concepts required for meaning and intention?

Thoughts seem to be what guide our understanding and behavior. For example, suppose you see a truck barreling at me. You think "there's a truck barreling at me!" (meaning) and "I better get out of the way!" (intention).

Two questions worth investigating are:

(1) Just how much thought is required in such a situation? Certainly not the full verbal manifestations given above. Does the concept "truck" need to be formed?

(2) What about for less reactive situations, where deeper thought seems to be required?

Is a conceptual overlay of reality necessary for survival (or for thriving)?

You know the computer in front of you exists "in reality," right? And yet, you cannot be sure that you are not living in a simulation (a la The Matrix) or an elaborate dream. How do you reconcile the two?

Is it possible to have a conventional belief in physical reality without having an absolute belief? Given that you can't be sure of the existence of a physical reality, wouldn't it make sense to remain agnostic about such a thing? Or would that somehow impede your ability to act normally? Could there be any benefits to such a strange personal philosophy?

If you were willing to give up conceptual overlays, how would you even do that?

It's pretty hard to figure out on your own. A few brilliant people seem to figure it out. Most brilliant people end up ensnared much more deeply than when they started. Trying to think your way out of concepts is like trying to fight your way out of quicksand.

Here's a brief outline of how it might be done.

First, where does the visual experience of dreams take place? Is that mental screen the same as or different from the one where the image of physical reality resides?

What about the other senses? Can you find a sense in which they take place on "mental screens"? How are these screens oriented with respect to each other? They don't seem to intersect. In fact, they don't seem to occupy physical space at all, so the concept of "orientation" doesn't make sense.

Now notice that thoughts, memories, emotions, and everything else we think of as "mind" takes place on a screen as well. Does this screen have special privilege over the other 5?

These six "screens" seem to be subdivisions of a larger "space" in which all perceptions arise. If you had another physical sense (say, echolocation, like bats), another such screen would appear. And just like smells are never confused for sights (unless you're a synesthete), the perceptions on this new screen would be distinct from those in all the rest. Is there any limit to the kinds of perceptions that could arise?

What are the characteristics of this "space"? It seems cognizant, or in other words, it illuminates perceptions. It is the perceiving quality itself. But characteristics belong to the realm of perceptions, not to the space itself. This space has no characteristics of its own.

This space is the nature of mind, sometimes called an "empty cognizance." If you could find a way to rest in the nature of mind, instead of on particular phenomena, you might find a way to rest the conceptual overlay.

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