Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tao cannot be mocked - II

I Tragedy
It seems that the dramatists of classical Greece and possibly their audiences and the philosophers who throve in that culture believed that an action occurring in one generation could set a context or set a process going which would determine the shape of personal history for a long time to come.
The story of the House of Atreus in myth and drama is a case in point. The initial murder of Chrysippus by his stepbrother Atreus stars a sequence in which the wife of Atreus is seduced by Atreus‘ brother Thyestes, and in the ensuing feud between the brothers, Atreus kills and cooks his brother‘s son, serving him to his father in a monstrous meal. These events led in the next generation to the sacrifice of Iphigenia by her father, Agamemnon, another son of Thyestes, and so on to the murder of Agamemnon by his wife, Clytemnestra, and her paramour, Aegisthus, brother of Agamemnon and son of Thyestes.
In the next generation, Orestes and Electra, the son and daughter of Agamemnon, avenge their father‘s murder by killing Clytemnestra, an act of matricide for which the Furies chase and haunt Orestes until Athena intervenes, establishing the court of the Areopagus and trying Orestes before that court, finally dismissing the cases. It required the intervention of a goddess to conclude the sequence or anangke, or necessity, whereby each killing led irresistibly to the next.
The Greek idea of necessary sequence was, of course, not unique. What is interesting is the Greeks seem to have thought of anangke as totally impersonal theme in the structure of the human world. It was as if, from the initial act onwards, dice were loaded against the participants. The theme, as it worked itself out, used human emotions and motives as its means, but the theme itself (we would vulgarly call it a “force”) was thought to be impersonal, beyond and greater than gods and persons, a bias or warp in the structure of the universe.
Such ideas occur at other times and in other cultures. The Hindu idea of karma is similar and differs from anangke only in the characteristically Hindu elaboration which includes both “good” and “bad” karma and carries recipes for the “burning up” of bad karma.
I myself encountered a similar belief among the Iatmul of New Guinea. The Iatmul shamans claimed that they could see a person‘s ngglambi as a black cloud or aura surrounding him or her. The Iatmul are a sorcery-ridden people and it was quite clear that nnglambi followed the pathway of sorcery. A might sin against B, thus incurring the black cloud. B might pay a sorcerer to avenge the first sin, and nnglambi would the surround both B and the sorcerer. In any case, it was expected that the person with black nnglambi would encounter tragedy – perhaps his own death, perhaps that of a relative, for ngglambi is contagious – and the tragedy would probably be brought about by sorcery. Ngglambi, like anangke, worked through human agencies.
The present question, however, does not concern the detailed nature of anangke, ngglambi, karma, and other similar conceptions that human individuals attribute to the larger system. The question is simply: What are the characteristics of those mental subsystems called individuals, arising from their aggregation in larger systems also having mental characteristics, that are likely to be expressed by generating such mythologies (true or false) as those of anangke, etc.? This is a question of a different order, not to be answered by reification of the larger mental system nor by simply evoking motives of the participant individuals.
A piece of an answer can be tentatively offered, if only to show the reader the direction of our inquiry.
Anangke, karma, and ngglambi are reified abstractions, the last being the most concretely imagined, so that the shamans even “see” it. The others are less reified and are perceptible only in their supposed effects, above all in the myths – the quasi-miraculous tales that exemplify the workings of the principle.
Now, it is well known in human interaction that individual beliefs become self-validating, both directly, by “suggestion,” so that the believer tends to see or hear or taste that which he believes; or indirectly, so that the belief may validate itself by shaping the actions of the believers in a way which brings to pass that which they believe, hope, or fear may be the case. Then let me chalk up as a characteristic of human individuals a potential for pathology arising our of the fact that they are of a flexible and viscous nature. They clot together to create aggregates which become the embodiment of themes of which the individuals themselves are or may be unconscious.
In terms of such a hypothesis, anangke and karma are particular epiphenomena brought about by the clustering of flexible subsystems.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

the Tao of programming: The Silent Void

Geoffrey James, 1987
Book 1 - The Silent Void

Thus spake the master programmer:

"When you have learned to snatch the error code from the trap frame, it will be time for you to leave."


Something mysterious is formed, born in the silent void. Waiting alone and unmoving, it is at once still and yet in constant motion. It is the source of all programs. I do not know its name, so I will call it the Tao of Programming.

If the Tao is great, then the operating system is great. If the operating system is great, then the compiler is great. If the compiler is great, then the application is great. The user is pleased and there exists harmony in the world.

The Tao of Programming flows far away and returns on the wind of morning.


The Tao gave birth to machine language. Machine language gave birth to the assembler.

The assembler gave birth to the compiler. Now there are ten thousand languages.

Each language has its purpose, however humble. Each language expresses the Yin and Yang of software.
Each language has its place within the Tao.

But do not program in COBOL if you can avoid it.


In the beginning was the Tao. The Tao gave birth to Space and Time. Therefore Space and Time are Yin and Yang of programming.

Programmers that do not comprehend the Tao are always running out of time and space for their programs. Programmers that comprehend the Tao always have enough time and space to accomplish their goals.

How could it be otherwise?


The wise programmer is told about Tao and follows it. The average programmer is told about Tao and searches for it. The foolish programmer is told about Tao and laughs at it.

If it were not for laughter, there would be no Tao.

The highest sounds are hardest to hear. Going forward is a way to retreat. Great talent shows itself late in life. Even a perfect program still has bugs.

the nature of ordinary Tao
After discussing the models for a system description to mind and consciousness, Tart deepens the ordinary consciousness state which produces the ordinary consensus reality:

The Nature of Ordinary Consciousness

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.
For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro' narrow chinks of his cavern.

William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

The prejudice that our ordinary state of consciousness is natural or given is a major obstacle to understanding the nature of the mind and states of consciousness. Our perceptions of the world, others, and ourselves, as well as our reactions to (consciousness of) them, are semi-arbitrary constructions. Although these constructions must have a minimal match to physical reality to allow survival, most of our lives are spent in consensus reality, that specially tailored and selectively perceived segment of reality constructed from the spectrum of human potential. We are simultaneously the beneficiaries and the victims of our culture. Seeing thins according to consensus reality is good for holding a culture together, but a major obstacle to personal and scientific understanding of the mind.
A culture can be seen as a group which has selected certain human potentials as good and developed them, and rejected others as bad. Internally this means that certain possible experiences are encouraged and others suppressed to construct a "normal" state of consciousness that is effective in and helps define the culture's particular consensus reality. The process of enculturation begins in infancy, and by middle childhood the individual has a basic membership in consensus reality. Possibilities are partially shaped by the enculturation that has already occurred. By adulthood the individual enjoys maximum benefits from membership, but he is now maximally bound within this consensus reality. A person's "simple" perception of the world and of others is actually a complex process controlled by many implicit factors.
One of the greatest problems in studying consciousness and altered states of consciousness is an implicit prejudice that tends to make us distort all sorts of information about states of consciousness. When you know you have a prejudice you are not completely caught by it, for you can question whether the bias is really useful and possibly try to change it or compensate for it. But when a prejudice is implicit it controls you without your knowledge and you have little chance to do anything about it.
The prejudice discussed in this chapter is the belief that our ordinary state of consciousness is somehow natural. It is a very deep-seated and implicit prejudice. I hope in this chapter to convince you intellectually that it is not true. Intellectual conviction is a limited thing, however, and to know the relativity and arbitrariness of your ordinary state of consciousness on a deeper level is a much more difficult task.
Consciousness, not our sense organs, is really our "organ" of perception, and one way to begin to see the arbitrariness of our consciousness is to apply the assumption that ordinary consciousness is somehow natural or given to a perceptual situation.
This is done in Figure:
A man is looking at a cat and believing that the image of the real cat enters his eye and is, in effect, faithfully reproduced on a screen in his mind, so that he sees the cat as it is. This naive view of perception was rejected long ago by psychologists, who have collected immense amounts of evidence to show that it is a ridiculously oversimplified, misleading, and just plain wrong view of perception. Interestingly, these same psychologists seldom apply their understanding of the complexity of perception to their own lives, and the person in the street does so even less.
While there are a great many simple perceptions we can very well agree on, there are many others, especially the more important ones in human life, on which there is really little agreement. I would be that almost all adult, non-institutionalized humans in our society would agree that this object in your hand is called a book, but as we define more complex things the bet gets riskier. If you go to a courtroom trial and listen to the testimony of several eyewitnesses, all of whom presumably has basically the same stimuli reaching their receptors, you may hear several different versions of reality. Or, if you discuss the meaning of current events with your acquaintances, you will find that there are many other points of view besides your own. Most of our interest is directed by complex, multifaceted social reality of this sort.
Most of us deal with this disagreement by simply assuming that those who disagree with us are wrong, that our own perceptions and consciousness are the standard of normality and rightness, and that other people cannot observe or think well and/or are lying, evil, or mentally ill.
Consciousness, then, including perception, feeling, thinking, and acting, is a semi-arbitrary construction. I emphasize semi-arbitrary because I make the assumption, common to our culture that there are some fixed rules governing physical reality whose violation produces inevitable consequences. If someone walks off the edge of a tall cliff, I believe he will fall to the bottom and probably be killed, regardless of his beliefs about cliffs, gravity, or life and death. Thus people in cultures whose belief systems do not, to a fair degree, match physical reality, are not likely to survive long enough to argue with us. But once the minimal degree of coincidence with physical reality necessary to enable physical survival has been attained, the perception/consciousness of an action in the complex social reality that then exists may be very arbitrary indeed.
We must face the fact, now amply documented by the scientific evidence presented in any elementary psychology textbook, that perception can be highly selective. Simple images of things out there are not clearly projected onto a mental screen, where we simply see them as they are. The act of perceiving is a highly complex, automated construction. It is a selective category system, a decision-making system, preprogrammed with criteria of what is important to perceive. It frequently totally ignores things it has not been preprogrammed to believe are important.
Figure shows a person with a set of categories programmed in his mind, a selection of implicit criteria to recognize things that are "important." When stimulated by one of these things he is preprogrammed to perceive, he readily responds to it. More precisely, rather than saying he responds to it which implies a good deal of directness in perception, we might say that it triggers a representation of itself in his mind, and he then responds to that representation. As long as it is a good representation of the actual stimulus object, he has a fairly accurate perception. Since he tends to pay more attention to the representations of things he sees than to the things themselves, however, he may think he perceives a stimulus object clearly when actually he is perceiving an incorrect representation.
This is where perception begins to be distorted by the perceiver's training and needs. Eskimos have been trained to distinguish seven or more kinds of snow. We do not see these different kinds of snow, even though they exist, for we do not need to make these distinctions. To us it is all snow. Our one internal representation of snow is triggered indiscriminately by any kind of actual snow. Similarly, for the paranoid person who needs to believe that others are responsible for his troubles, representations of threatening actions are easily triggered by all sorts of behaviors on the part of others.
What happens when we are faced by the unknown, by things we have not been trained to see?
The figure, using the same kind of analogy as the previous figure, depicts this. We may not see the stimulus at all: the information passes right through the mind without leaving a trace. Or we may see a distorted representation of the stimulus: some of the few features it has in common with known stimuli trigger representations of the known features, and that is what we perceive. We "sophisticated" Westerners do not believe in angels. If we actually confronted one, we might not be able to see it correctly. The triangle in its hands is a familiar figure, however, so we might perceive the triangle readily. In fact, we might see little but the triangle—maybe a triangle in the hands of a sweet old lady wearing a white robe
Don Juan, the Yaqui man of knowledge, puts it quite succinctly: "I think you are only alert about things you know".
I mentioned above the curious fact about psychologists, who know about the complexities of perception, almost never seem to apply this information to their own perceptions. Even though they study the often large and obvious distortions in other people's perceptions, they maintain an image of themselves as realistic perceivers. Some psychologists even argue that perception is actually quite realistic. But what does "realistic" mean?
We like to believe that it means perception of the real world, the physical world. But the world we spend most of our time perceiving is not just any segment of the physical world, but a highly socialized part of the physical world that has been built into cities, automobiles, television sets. So our perception may indeed be realistic, but it is so only with respect to a very tailored segment of reality, a consensus reality, a small selection of things we have agreed are "real" and "important." thus, within our particular cultural framework, we can easily set up what seem to be excellent scientific experiments that will show that our perceptions are indeed realistic, in the sense that we agree with each other on these selected items from our consensus reality.
This is a way of saying that our perceptions are highly selective and filtered, that there is a major subsystem of consciousness, Input-Processing discussed at length later, that filters the outside world for us. If two people have similar filtering systems, as, for example, if they are from the same culture, they can agree on many things. But again, as Don Juan says, "I think you are only alert about things you know." If we want to develop a science to study consciousness, and want that science to go beyond our own cultural limitations, we must begin by recognizing the limitations and arbitrariness of much of our ordinary state of consciousness.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

the Tao of the Self

René Magritte, Presence of Mind, 1960
Oil on canvas, Museum Ludwig, Cologne
The I of the Storm

What Do We Mean by "Self"?

At every moment of our lives there is something going on, some experience. We see, hear, smell, taste, touch, think. We can be pleased, angry, afraid, tired, perplexed, interested, agonizingly selfconscious, or absorbed in a pursuit. I can feel that I am being overwhelmed by my own emotions, that I have greater worth when praised by another, that I am destroyed by a loss. What is this self, this ego-center, that appears and disappears, that seems so constant yet so fragile, so familiar and yet so elusive?
We are caught in a contradiction. On the one hand, even a cursory attention to experience shows us that our experience is always changing and, furthermore, is always dependent on a particular situation. To be human, indeed to be living, is always to be in a situation, a context, a world. We have no experience of anything that is permanent and independent of these situations. Yet most of us are convinced of our identities: we have a personality, memories and recollections, and plans and anticipations, which seem to come together in a coherent point of view, a center from which we survey the world, the ground on which we stand. How could such a point of view be possible if it were not rooted in a single, independent, truly existing self or ego?
This question is the meeting ground of everything in this book: cognitive science, philosophy, and the meditative tradition of mindfulness/ awareness. We wish to make a sweeping claim: all of the reflective traditions in human history-philosophy, science, psychoanalysis, religion, meditation-have challenged the naive sense of self. No tradition has ever claimed to discover an independent, fixed, or unitary self within the world of experience. Let us give the voice for this to David Hume's famous passage: "For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe anything but the perception." Such an insight directly contradicts our ongoing sense of self.
It is this contradiction, the incommensurability of the outcome of reflection and experience, that has provoked us on the journey in this book. We believe that many non-Western (even contemplative) traditions, and all Western traditions, deal with this contradiction simply by turning away from it, refusing to confront it, a withdrawal that can take one of two forms. The usual way is simply to ignore it. Hume, for example, unable to find the self as he reflected in his study, chose to withdraw and immerse himself in a game of backgammon; he resigned himself to the separation of life and reflection. Jean-Paul Sartre expresses this by saying that we are "condemned" to a belief in the self. The second tactic is to postulate a transcendental self that can never be known to experience, such as the atman of the Upanishads or the transcendental ego of Kant. (Noncontemplative traditions, of course, can just not notice the contradiction-for example, self-concept theory in psychology.) The major-and perhaps only tradition that we know that directly confronts this contradiction and that has spoken to it for a long time arose from the practice of mindfulness/awareness meditation.
We have already described mindfulness/awareness practice as a gradual development of the ability to be present with one's mind and body not only in formal meditation but in the experiences of everyday life. Beginning meditators are usually amazed at the tumultuous activity of their mind as perceptions, thoughts, feelings, desires, fears, and every other kind of mental content pursue each other endlessly like a cat chasing its tail. As the meditators develop some stability of mindfulness/awareness so that they have periods when they are not constantly (to use traditional images) sucked into the whirlpool or thrown from a horse, they begin to have insight into what the mind, as it is experienced, is really like. Experiences, they notice, are impermanent. This is not just the leaves-fall, maidens-wither, and kings-are-forgotten type of impermance (traditionally called gross impermance) with which all people are hauntingly familiar but a personal penetrating impermanence of the activity of the mind itself. Moment by moment new experiences happen and are gone. It is a rapidly shifting stream of momentary mental occurrences. Furthermore, the shiftiness includes the perceiver as much as the perceptions. There is no experiencer, just as Hume noticed, who remains constant to receive experiences, no landing platform for experience. This actual experiential sense of no one home is called selflessness or egolessness. Moment by moment the meditator also sees the mind pulling away from its sense of impermance and lack of self, sees it grasping experiences as though they were permanent, commenting on experiences as though there were a constant perceiver to comment, seeking any mental entertainment that will disrupt mindfulness, and restlessly fleeing to the next preoccupation, all with a sense of constant struggle. This undercurrent of restlessness, grasping, anxiety, and unsatisfactoriness that pervades experience is called Dukkha, usually translated as suffering. Suffering arises quite naturally and then grows as the mind seeks to avoid its natural grounding in impermanence and lack of self.
The tension between the ongoing sense of self in ordinary experience and the failure to find that self in reflection is of central importance in Buddhism-the origin of human suffering is just this tendency to grasp onto and build a sense of self, an ego, where there is none. As meditators catch glimpses of impermanence, selflessness, and suffering (known as the three marks of existence) and some inkling that the pervasiveness of suffering (known as the First Noble Truth) may have its origin in their own self-grasping (known as the Second Noble Truth), they may develop some real motivation and urgency to persevere in their investigation of mind. They try to develop a strong and stable insight and inquisitiveness into the moment to moment arising of mind. They are encouraged to investigate: How does this moment arise? What are its conditions? What is the nature of "my" reactivity to it? Where does the experience of "I" occur?
The search for how the self arises is thus a way of asking, "What and where is mind?" in a direct and personal way. The initial spirit of inquisitiveness in these questions is actually not unlike Descartes's Meditations, though this statement might surprise some people since Descartes has received such bad press these days. Descartes's initial decision to rely not on the word of the Church fathers but rather on what his own mind could discern in reflection obviously partakes of the spirit of self-reliant investigation, as does phenomenology. Descartes, however, stopped short: His famous"l think, I am" simply leaves untouched the nature of the "I" that thinks. True, Descartes did infer that the "I" is fundamentally a thinking thing, but here he went too far: the only certainty that "I am" carries is that of being a thought. If Descartes had been fully rigorous, mindful, and attentive, he would not have jumped to the conclusion that I am a thinking thing (res cogitans); rather he would have kept his attention on the very process of mind itself.
In mindfulness/awareness practice, the awareness of thinking, emotions, and bodily sensations becomes quite pronounced in the basic restlessness that we normally experience. To penetrate that experience, to discern what it is and how it arises, some types of mindfulness meditation direct the meditator to attend to experience as precisely and dispassionately as possible. It is only through a pragmatic, open-ended reflection that we can examine systematically and directly this restlessness that we usually ignore. As the contents of experience arise-discursive thoughts, emotional tonalities, bodily sensations-the meditator is attentive not by becoming concerned with the contents of the thoughts or with the sense of I thinking but rather by simply noting "thinking" and directing his attention to the never-ceasing process of that experience.
Just as the mindfulness meditator is amazed to discover how mindless he is in daily life, so the first insights of the meditator who begins to question the self are normally not egolessness but the discovery of total egomania. Constantly one thinks, feels, and acts as though one had a self to protect and preserve. The slightest encroachment on the self's territory (a splinter in the finger, a noisy neighbor) arouses fear and anger. The slightest hope of self-enhancement (gain, praise, fame, pleasure) arouses greed and grasping. Any hint that a situation is irrelevant to the self (waiting for a bus, meditating) arouses boredom. Such impulses are instinctual, automatic, pervasive, and powerful. They are completely taken for granted in daily life. The impulses are certainly there, constantly occurring, yet in the light of the questioning meditator, do they make any sense? What kind of self does he think he has to warrant such attitudes?
The Tibetan teacher Tsultrim Gyatso puts the dilemma this way:
To have any meaning such a self has to be lasting, for if it perished every moment one would not be so concerned about what was going to happen to it the next moment; it would not be one's "self" anymore. Again it has to be single. If one had no separate identity why should one worry about what happened to one's "self" any more than one worried about anyone else's? It has to be independent or there would be no sense in saying "I did this" or "1 have that." If one had no independent existence there would be no-one to claim the actions and experiences as its own . . . We all act as if we had lasting, separate, and independent selves that it is our constant preoccupation to protect and foster. It is an unthinking habit that most of us would normally be most unlikely to question or explain. However, all our suffering is associated with this pre-occupation. All loss and gain, pleasure and pain arise because we identify so closely with this vague feeling of selfness that we have. We are so emotionally involved with and attached to this "self" that we take it for granted .... The meditator does not speculate about this "self." He does not have theories about whether it does or does not exist. Instead he just trains himself to watch . . . how his mind clings to the idea of self and "mine" and how all his sufferings arise from this attachment. At the same time he looks carefully for that self. He tries to isolate it from all his other experiences. Since it is the culprit as far as all his suffering is concerned, he wants to find it and identify it. The irony is that however much he tries, he does not find anything that corresponds to the self.
If there is no experienced self, then how is it that we think there is? What is the origin of our self-serving habits? What is it in experience that we take for a self?

knowledge of Tao

After the first experiences with hallucinogens and the first explanations about his experiences Don Juan start to introduce to Castaneda a contextual model of reference of his world: the search for knowledge and their natural enemies.
Saturday, {Sunday?} 8 April 1962
In our conversations, don Juan consistently used or referred to the phrase “man of knowledge”, but never explained what he meant by it. I asked him about it.
A man of knowledge is one who has followed truthfully the hardships of learning,” he said.
A man who has, without rushing or without faltering, gone as far as he can in unravelling the secrets of power and knowledge.”
“Can anyone be a man of knowledge?”
No, not anyone.
“Then what must a man do to become a man of knowledge?”
He must challenge and defeat his four natural enemies.
“Will he be a man of knowledge after defeating these four enemies?”
“Yes. A man can call himself a man of knowledge only if he is capable of defeating all four of them.”
“Then, can anybody who defeats these enemies be a man of knowledge?”
Anybody who defeats them becomes a man of knowledge.
“But are there any special requirements a man must fulfill before fighting with these enemies?”
“No. Anyone can try to become a man of knowledge; very few men actually succeed, but that is only natural. The enemies a man encounters on the path of learning to become a man of knowledge are truly formidable; most men succumb to them.”
“What kind of enemies are they, don Juan?”
He refused to talk about the enemies. He said it would be a long time before the subject would make any sense to me. I tried to keep the topic alive and asked him if he thought I could become a man of knowledge. He said no man could possibly tell that for sure. But I insisted on knowing if there were any clues he could use to determine whether or not I had a chance of becoming a man of knowledge. He said it would depend on my battle against the four enemies—whether I could defeat them or would be defeated by them—but it was impossible to foretell the outcome of that fight.
I asked him if he could use witchcraft or divination to see the outcome of the battle. He flatly stated that the result of the struggle could not be foreseen by any means, because becoming a man of knowledge was a temporary thing. When I asked him to explain this point, he replied:
“To be a man of knowledge has no permanence. One is never a man of knowledge, not really. Rather, one becomes a man of knowledge for a very brief instant, after defeating the four natural enemies.”
“You must tell me, don Juan, what kind of enemies they are.”
He did not answer. I insisted again, but he dropped the subject and started to talk about something else.

Sunday, 15 April 1962
As I was getting ready to leave, I decided to ask him once more about the enemies of a man of knowledge. I argued that I could not return for some time, and it would be a good idea to write down what he had to say and then think about it while I was away.
He hesitated for a while, but then began to talk.
“When a man starts to learn, he is never clear about his objectives. His purpose is faulty; his intent is vague. He hopes for rewards that will never materialize, for he knows nothing of the hardships of learning.
“He slowly begins to learn—bit by bit at first, then in big chunks. And his thoughts soon clash. What he learns is never what he pictured, or imagined, and so he begins to be afraid. Learning is never what one expects. Every step of learning is a new task, and the fear the man is experiencing begins to mount mercilessly, unyieldingly. His purpose becomes a battlefield.
And thus he has tumbled upon the first of his natural enemies: Fear! A terrible enemy— treacherous, and difficult to overcome. It remains concealed at every turn of the way, prowling, waiting. And if the man, terrified in its presence, runs away, his enemy will have put an end to his quest.”
“What will happen to the man if he runs away in fear?”
“Nothing happens to him except that he will never learn. He will never become a man of knowledge. He will perhaps be a bully or a harmless, scared man; at any rate, he will be a defeated man. His first enemy will have put an end to his cravings.”
“And what can he do to overcome fear?”
“The answer is very simple. He must not run away. He must defy his fear, and in spite of it he must take the next step in learning, and the next, and the next. He must be fully afraid, and yet he must not stop. That is the rule! And a moment will come when his first enemy retreats. The man begins to feel sure of himself. His intent becomes stronger. Learning is no longer a terrifying task.
“When this joyful moment comes, the man can say without hesitation that he has defeated his first natural enemy.”
“Does it happen at once, don Juan, or little by little?”
“It happens little by little, and yet the fear is vanquished suddenly and fast.”
“But won’t the man be afraid again if something new happens to him?”
“No. Once a man has vanquished fear, he is free from it for the rest of his life because, instead of fear, he has acquired clarity—a clarity of mind which erases fear. By then a man knows his desires; he knows how to satisfy those desires. He can anticipate the new steps of learning, and a sharp clarity surrounds everything. The man feels that nothing is concealed.
And thus he has encountered his second enemy: Clarity! That clarity of mind, which is so hard to obtain, dispels fear, but also blinds.
“It forces the man never to doubt himself. It gives him the assurance he can do anything he pleases, for he sees clearly into everything. And he is courageous because he is clear, and he stops at nothing because he is clear. But all that is a mistake; it is like something incomplete. If the man yields to this make-believe power, he has succumbed to his second enemy and will fumble with learning. He will rush when he should be patient, or he will be patient when he should rush. And he will fumble with learning until he winds up incapable of learning anything more.”
“What becomes of a man who is defeated in that way, don Juan? Does he die as a result?”
“No, he doesn’t die. His second enemy has just stopped him cold from trying to become a man of knowledge; instead, the man may turn into a buoyant warrior, or a clown. Yet the clarity for which he has paid so dearly will never change to darkness and fear again. He will be clear as long as he lives, but he will no longer learn, or yearn for, anything.”
“But what does he have to do to avoid being defeated?”
“He must do what he did with fear: he must defy his clarity and use it only to see, and wait patiently and measure carefully before taking new steps; he must think, above all, that his clarity is almost a mistake. And a moment will come when he will understand that his clarity was only a point before his eyes. And thus he will have overcome his second enemy, and will arrive at a position where nothing can harm him any more. This will not be a mistake. It will not be only a point before his eyes. It will be true power. “He will know at this point that the power he has been pursuing for so long is finally his. He can do with it whatever he pleases. His ally is at his command. His wish is the rule. He sees all that is around him. But he has also come across his third enemy: Power!
“Power is the strongest of all enemies. And naturally the easiest thing to do is to give in; after all, the man is truly invincible. He commands; he begins by taking calculated risks, and ends in making rules, because he is a master.
“A man at this stage hardly notices his third enemy closing in on him. And suddenly, without knowing, he will certainly have lost the battle. His enemy will have turned him into a cruel, capricious man.”
“Will he lose his power?”
“No, he will never lose his clarity or his power.”
“What then will distinguish him from a man of knowledge?
“A man who is defeated by power dies without really knowing how to handle it. Power is only a burden upon his fate. Such a man has no command over himself, and cannot tell when or how to use his power.”
Is the defeat by any of these enemies a final defeat?
Of course it is final. Once one of these enemies overpowers a man there is nothing he can do.
“Is it possible, for instance, that the man who is defeated by power may see his error and mend his ways?”
“No. Once a man gives in he is through.
“But what if he is temporarily blinded by power, and then refuses it?”
“That means his battle is still on. That means he is still trying to become a man of knowledge. A man is defeated only when he no longer tries, and abandons himself.”
“But then, don Juan, it is possible that a man may abandon himself to fear for years, but finally conquer it.”
“No, that is not true. If he gives in to fear he will never conquer it, because he will shy away from learning and never try again. But if he tries to learn for years in the midst of his fear, he will eventually conquer it because he will never have really abandoned himself to it.”
“How can he defeat his third enemy, don Juan?”
“He has to defy it, deliberately. He has to come to realize the power he has seemingly conquered is in reality never his. He must keep himself in line at all times, handling carefully and faithfully all that he has learned. If he can see that clarity and power, without his control over himself, are worse than mistakes, he will reach a point where everything is held in check. He will know then when and how to use his power. And thus he will have defeated his third enemy.
 “The man will he, by then, at the end of his journey of learning, and almost without warning he will come upon the last of his enemies: Old age! This enemy is the cruelest of all, the one he won’t be able to defeat completely, but only fight away.
 “This is the time when a man has no more fears, no more impatient clarity of mind—a time when all his power is in check, but also the time when he has an unyielding desire to rest. If he gives in totally to his desire to lie down and forget, if he soothes himself in tiredness, he will have lost his last round, and his enemy will cut him down into a feeble old creature. His desire to retreat will overrule all his clarity, his power, and his knowledge.
But if the man sloughs off his tiredness, and lives his fate through, he can then be called a man of knowledge, if only for the brief moment when he succeeds in fighting off his last, invincible enemy. That moment of clarity, power, and knowledge is enough.”

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tao cannot be mocked - I

Be not deceive; God cannot be mocked.
(Gal. 6:7) 

The Unmocked God

What has been said so far can be read as argument or evidence for the reality of very large mental systems, systems of ecological size and larger, within which the mentality of the single human being is a subsystem. These large mental systems are characterized by, among other things, constraints on the transmission of information between their parts. Indeed, we can argue from the circumstance that some information should not reach some locations in large, organized systems to assert the real nature of these systems – to assert the existence of that whole whose integrity would be threatened by inappropriate communication. By the word “real” in this context, I mean simply that it is necessary for explanation to think in terms of organizations of this size, attributing to these systems the characteristics of mental process.
But it is one thing to claim that this is necessary and not surprising and quite another to go on to say, however vaguely, what sort of mind such a vast organization might be. What characteristics would such minds expectably show? Are they, perhaps, the sort of thing that men have called gods?
The great theistic religions of the world have ascribed many sorts of mentality to the highest gods, but almost invariably their characteristics have been derived from human models. Gods have been variously imagined as loving, vengeful, capricious, long-suffering, patient, impatient, cunning, incorruptible, bribable, childish, elderly, masculine, feminine, sexy, sexless, and so on.
What mental characteristics are to be expected in any large mental system or mind, the basic premises of whose character shall coincide with what we claim to know of cybernetics and systems theory? Starting from these premises, we surely cannot arrive at a lineal, billiard-ball materialism. But what sort of religion we shall develop is not clear. Will the vast organized system have free will? Is the “God” capable of humor? Deceit? Error? Mental pathology? Can such a God perceive beauty? Or ugliness? What events or circumstances can impinge upon this God’s sense organs ? Are there indeed organs of sense in such a system? And limitations of threshold? And attention? Is such a God capable of failure? Frustration? And, finally, consciousness?
The great historical religions of the world have either answered such questions without pausing to note that these are questions that permit more than one answer, or they have obscured the matter under a mass of dogma and devotion. To ask such questions may indeed disturb faith, so that the questions themselves might seem to define a region where angels would appropriately fear to tread.
Two things, however, are clear about any religion that might derive from cybernetics and system theory, ecology and natural history. First, that in the asking of questions, there will be no limit to our hubris; and second, that there shall always be humility in our acceptance of answers. In these two characteristics we shall be in sharp contrast with most of the religions of the world. They show little humility in their espousal of answers but great fear about what questions the will ask.
If we can show that a recognition of a certain unity in the total fabric is a recurrent characteristic, it is possible that some of the most disparate epistemologies that human culture has generated may give clues as to how we should proceed.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tao fashion in Rome

mental Tao, conservative and radical

Bruce Torrence, Courtyard at Pena Palace 2, Panoramic Photograph, 2011

Continuing the description of the mind and consciousness, Tart discusses the basics of the issue by defining three central terms - awareness, consciousness and mind - and describes two radically different models for these three sets of complex structures. In the first, the only permissible by the classical sciences - such as neuroscience - the three terms are emerging products of brain functions, influenced by a fixed external objective physical reality. In the second, one of them - awareness - is considered "external" to brain functions, and the external physical reality is no longer regarded as "fixed" but as a recursive circular relationship between brain functions and the "outside."
In these two models focus the two radically different visions between Western science and - for example - Eastern traditions, each with its own "experimental" evidences. In the first, mind and consciousness are currently regarded as complex emerging structures of the brain, nervous system and body; in the second there is one quality that - in part - is independent of the body, and therefore can not be explained in physical/chemical-neurological terms, a real "embodiment of mind". The two models are completely incompatible with each other: for Western science the existence of a mental trait that comes from '"outside" of the brain is an absurdity, as well as to the traditional oriental science - based on individual experience - the belief that basic awareness comes from brain activity.
Conservative and Radical Views of the Mind

An almost universal theory in Western scientific circles, sunk to the level of an implicit belief and thus controlling us effectively, is that awareness is a product of brain functioning. No brain functioning — no awareness, no consciousness. This is the conservative view of the mind. It is dangerous as an implicit belief for two reasons. First, many experiences in various altered states of consciousness are inconsistent with this theory, but implicit faith in the conservative view makes us liable to distort our perception of these phenomena. Second, parapsychological data suggest that awareness is at least partially outside brain functioning, a condition that leads to very different views of human nature. The radical view of the mind sees awareness as this something extra and postulates that physical reality can sometimes be directly affected by our belief systems. We must be open minded about the radical view to guard against maintaining too narrow and too culturally conditioned a view of the mind.
Although in general speech we tend to use the terms awareness and consciousness to mean basically the same thing, I use them here with somewhat different meanings. Awareness refers to the basic knowledge that something is happening, to perceiving or feeling or cognizing in its simplest form. Consciousness generally refers to awareness in a much more complex way; consciousness is awareness as modulated by the structure of the mind. Mind refers to the totality of both inferable and potentially experiencable phenomena of which awareness and consciousness are components. These are not precise definitions because the three key words — awareness, consciousness, and mind — are not simple things. But they are realities, and we must deal with them whether or not we can give them precise logical definitions. Since logic is only one product of the total functioning of the mind, it is no wonder that we cannot arrive at a logical definition of the mind or consciousness or awareness. The part cannot define the whole.
Awareness and consciousness, then, can be seen as parts of a continuum. I would use the word awareness to describe, for instance, my simple perception of the sound of a bird outside my window as I write. I would use the word consciousness to indicate the complex of operations that recognizes the sound as a bird call, that identifies the species of bird, and that takes account of the fact that the sound is coming in through my open window. So consciousness refers to a rather complex system that includes awareness as one of its basic ingredients, but is more complex than simple awareness itself. Few psychologists today would argue with the statement that consciousness is awareness resulting from the brain's functioning. But if you ask what is the basic nature of awareness, the simple basic behind the more complex entity consciousness, you meet the common assumption in Western culture generally and scientific culture in particular that awareness is a "product" of the brain. When psychology was fond of chemical analogies, awareness was thought of as a sort of "secretion" by the brain.
I believe that seeing consciousness as a function of the brain is sound, but I think that explicitly or implicitly assuming that awareness is only a function of the brain, as accepted as that theory is, can be a hindrance, for two reasons.
First, as psychology deals more and more with the phenomena of altered states of consciousness, it will more and more have to deal with phenomena that do not fit well in a conceptual scheme that says awareness is only a product of the brain. Experiences of apparently paranormal abilities like telepathy, of feeling that one's mind leaves one's body, of mystical union with aspects of the universe outside oneself, of supernormal knowledge directly given in altered states, fit more comfortably into schemes that do not assume that awareness is only a function of the brain. I have nothing against competent attempts to fit such phenomena into our dominant Western scientific framework, but the attempts I have seen so far have been most inadequate and seem to work mainly by ignoring major aspects of these altered states phenomena. Thus the assumption that awareness is only a function of the brain, especially as it becomes implicit, tends to distort our view of real phenomena that happen in altered states. We dismiss their possible reality a priori. We cannot build a science when we start with such a selected view of the data.
The second reason for questioning this assumption is the existence of first-class scientific data to suggest that awareness may be something other than a product of the brain. I refer to excellent evidence of parapsychological phenomena like telepathy, evidence that shows that the mind can sometimes function in ways that are "impossible" in terms of our current, physical view of the world. "Impossible" means only that these phenomena are paraconceptual, that our conceptual schemes are inadequate because they exclude this part of reality. These same conceptual schemes underlie the belief that awareness is only a product of the brain, and if we question these conceptual schemes we question that assumption
This view that awareness is only a function of the brain — the conservative or physicalistic view of the mind — is diagrammed in Figure:

The brain (and nervous system and body) are depicted as a structure that has hardware qualities on the one hand and software qualities on the other. The hardware qualities are those inherent in the physical makeup of the brain itself, as dictated by the physical laws that govern reality. This dictation of limitation is shown as a one-way arrow from the physical world to the brain. The software qualities are the programmable aspects of the brain, the capacities for recording data and building up perception, evaluation, and action patterns in accordance with programming instructions given by the culture. The arrows of influence are two-way here, for even though the programming is largely done by the culture to the individual, occasionally the individual modifies some aspects of the culture. Awareness is shown as an emergent quality of the brain, and so awareness is ultimately limited by the hardware and by particular software programs of the brain. Consciousness is the individual's experience of awareness diffused through a tiny fraction of the structure of the brain and nervous system.
The radical view of the mind is diagrammed in Figure:

Two changes have been made to incorporate the radical view. First, awareness is shown as something that comes from outside the structure of the physical brain, as well as something influenced by the structure of the brain (thus giving consciousness) and the cultural programming. In religious terms, this is the idea of a soul or life/mind principle that uses (and is used by) the body. This is a most unpopular idea in scientific circles, but, as I have argued elsewhere, there is enough scientific evidence that consciousness is capable of temporarily existing in a way that seems independent of the physical body to warrant giving the idea serious consideration and doing some research on it.
The second change incorporated in the radical view is shown by the two-way arrow from the physical world to the hardware structure of the brain. The idea, held in many spiritual systems of thought that have dealt with altered states of consciousness, is that physical reality is not a completely fixed entity, but something that may actually be shaped in some fundamental manner by the individual's beliefs about it. I am not speaking here simply of perceptions of reality, but of the actual structure of reality. Pearce, for example, describes an experience as a youth where he accidentally entered an altered state of consciousness in which he knew he was impervious to pain or injury. In front of witnesses he ground out the tips of glowing cigarettes on his cheeks, palms, and eyelids. He felt no pain, and there was no sign of physical injury. The conventional view can easily account for the lack of pain: by control of the structures involved in sensing pain (nerve tracts and certain brain areas), pain would not be perceived. But a glowing cigarette tip has a temperature of about 1400F, and his skin should have been severely burned, despite his state of consciousness. From the radical point of view, his beliefs about reality in the altered state actually altered the nature of physical reality.
To argue for or against the radical view of the mind would take a book in itself, and this is not the one. I want to emphasize that the radical view of the mind, in various forms, is often reported as an experience from altered state of consciousness. If we are going to study states of consciousness adequately, we hall have to confront the radical view, not automatically dismiss it as an illusion or a product of inferior brain functioning, but take it as data. I would personally prefer not to: I do not like the radical view that our belief systems may actually alter the nature of reality even though I can comfortably accept parapsychological data that show that reality is more complex than our current physical world-view believes. But we should stay open to that view and make a decision for or against its probability on scientific grounds, not simply because we have been trained to believe that there is an ultimate, immutable physical reality. Don Juan put it pithily: "To believe that the world is only as you think it is stupid"
I sympathize with reader who finds himself rejecting the radical view of the mind. I suggest, however, that he honestly ask himself, "Have I rejected this view as a result of careful and extensive study of the evidence for and against it, or because I have been trained to do so and rewarded by social approval for doing so?"