Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Waking up

There's no way to prove that the universe wasn't created Last Thursday. Taken to its logical conclusion, there's no way to disprove that it wasn't created in this very moment. What might you do with such useless information?

For one, you might start investigating your own experience, and discover that you've never actually experienced the passage of time. It's simply always now, with a past and future being inferred by memories and anticipation.

This may be easy to understand, but it is hard to grok. Doing so typically requires sitting on a cushion doing nothing for long stretches of time. What happens when you grok it?

You begin to see how you construct the sense of time. You also see how you construct a sense of self, solidity, and pretty much everything else that constitutes reality as you know it.

But if the self is a construction, then what is this "you" that is doing the constructing? And more curiously: could you construct things differently? Are there any constraints that require you to construct time, space, and a self as you know them? If not, what happens when you do construct them differently, or not at all*?

These are empirical questions. And try as you may, you cannot satisfactorily answer them by looking at the evidence around you. For if the above turns out to be true, all of that evidence is also of your construction. Instead, you'd have to venture to the place "before" you began constructing it all.

There are ancient myths suggesting that god created the universe, birthed himself into it, and then erased all memory of having done so. The game wouldn't be much fun otherwise. But slowly god is arousing from an eons-long slumber and remembering. In a sense, all you're ever doing is trying out various strategies to wake up.

* Perhaps you've even tried this before, and then constructed something you called "psychedelics" to cover your own tracks and explain it away.

Back to the drawing board

The other day a friend and I were talking about Last Thursdayism -- the hypothesis, impossible to disprove, that the universe sprang into existence last Thursday. You may think you have memories (and mementos) from before last Thursday, but those artifacts were of course manufactured.

Taken to its logical conclusion, you get "this moment-ism." It is equally impossible to disprove, but we have an even stronger intuitive notion that it's false. But of course this intuition, too, cannot constitute evidence of its falsity.

So we're left with this unprovable (and awfully unnatural) hypothesis which seems to have no practical use. What's the point?

One thing it can do is draw attention to the possibility that there are "facts" about your reality that are not as easily provable as you (very strongly) think. A small result of this realization might be that you drop some assumptions about other people's intentions. A bigger result is that you discover that you're painting all of reality out of nothing. You might catch yourself red-handed, in the act.

This hypothesis is of course absurd, which is why most of us will never spend the time engaged in a practice that might demonstrate it to us, full in the face. Then again, we might catch glimpses of it in non-ordinary experiences (dreams, psychedelic states) and start wondering....