Monday, July 25, 2016

Where the buck stops (again)

All and everything you have ever experienced has been made of consciousness.

This isn't something you have to take my word for. It's not some philosophy I'm trying to hawk.

You may object that I haven't defined the word "consciousness" -- and it's true, I haven't. That's because I want you to examine your experience of the world and discover its meaning for yourself. Pick any sound or sensation and really try to intuit what I might mean when I say that it's "made of consciousness." Experience it directly, without thoughts as intermediaries, until you see.

Now do this with another sensory or mental phenomenon. One by one, each element of your field of experience falls to this investigation.

If you manage to pay close enough attention without getting distracted, you may begin to sense that this consciousness stuff is miraculous. It's somehow all there is, in which case it couldn't have been created by something else.

It goes deeper. Consciousness takes on a certain configuration you call "memory," from which you infer there must have been a past. It takes on a form you call "anticipation," and you believe there's a future. It takes on the form called "reasoning" and you infer that something called "time" must exist -- though you've never experienced any such thing. Without past or future, when could consciousness have been caused?

What you used to think of as an external, physical reality, is now seen to be nothing more than consciousness. What's more, there's no longer a separate "you": that feeling of being a separate self is also nothing more than consciousness. So it's all just consciousness experiencing itself.

At some point it might occur to you: "hey wait a minute, how do I know that this isn't all a trick, caused by a real, physical brain?" A perfectly valid concern, I think you'll agree.

What happens next depends on your ability to keep up this nonconceptual analysis. Either you'll get tangled up (probably without realizing it) in hypothesis, speculation, and imagination about whether there's a magical "real world out there" that's by definition perfectly inaccessible to us; or you'll experience that entire mental process as being made of... you guessed it: consciousness.

In one case, you'll fall back into the drama of being an isolated individual, fighting his way through time in a strange and fundamentally "other" universe. In the other, you finally bear witness to the infinite majestic, marvelous, glorious miracle of life!, existence!, consciousness!

Again, the point is not to adopt a new philosophy, or to abandon your old one. If you're a materialist, keep being a materialist. The point is to spend enough time in this mode where all of existence is insubstantial, timeless, and self-less. Or rather, to spend enough time noticing that this is how it's always been for you. If your certainty in some "other" reality that's causing this one evaporates as a side-effect, that's fine too.

What does it mean to feel alive? It means that the poignancy, the vibrancy of this substanceless substance is not being ignored, not being hindered, not being explained away as a mere consequence of something else (neurotransmitters?). If feeling totally alive is what you want, maybe it's time to start paying attention to this unique substance of life in all its infinite glorious expressions.

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