Best Possible World: Gateway to the Millennium and Eschaton



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'Mereological Considerations in Vasubandhu's "Proof of Idealism"' by Matthew Kapstein, University of Chicago, for the Studies in Yogacara Buddhism seminar of the American Academy of Religion (1998):
Vasubandhu, the founder of Buddhist philosophical idealism, has been the object of considerable philological research since the latter part of the 19th century. Historical data alone justify the efforts that have been made, for, with the translation of his works into Chinese, Tibetan and not a few other languages, Vasubandhu's thought became, from about the 6th century onwards, a dominant force in central and east Asian intellectual life.
It is instructive to ponder the considerations which led Aristotle to shun idealism in favor of his continuity-theory, and which led Vasubandhu to make just the opposite move. For the Stagirite, the notion that a body might be "nothing but an appearance" is patently absurd, and is tantamount to maintaining that ". . . its constituents are nothings, .. . . it might both come-to-be out of nothings and exist as a composite of nothings." If we agree that this is not possibly correct, and reject atomism at the same time, then we have no choice but to seek, with Aristotle, an alternative theory of matter.
Vasubandhu, on the other hand, aims to demonstrate that the atomic theory is both false and necessary: ". . . atomic distinctions must be supposed; and there can be no simple atom." Wherefore, matter is naught but ideal. Vasubandhu, if he is to make his case, must demonstrate the truth of the premises of a simple modus tollens argument: (1) If material things exist independently of the perceptions in which they are given, then they must be atomic in composition. (2) But they cannot be atomic in composition. Therefore, (3) material things do not exist independently of the perceptions in which they are given.

[12/12]


My contention in these pages is that anti-reductionism entails idealism. The arguments of Vasubandhu appear to be supporting this view. But let's continue:
At this writing, I am not at all certain that Vasubandhu's four counterexamples can be made to do the work demanded of them, i.e. demonstrate that, on the assumption that matter is real, atomism necessarily follows. They do, however, underscore several of the difficulties which must be resolved by the continuity-theory, if it is to be made capable of fully expressing our commonplace intuitions with respect to parts and wholes.
Vasubandhu sought to prove idealism by demonstrating, like Kant, that our concept of composite material wholes necessarily entails there being simple, atomic substances; and that atomism is false. In so doing, he, no less than the latter, underestimated the potential strengths of the continuity-theory, and of the point-particle theory. It may be asked: would even a fully successful argument of this type be sufficient to demonstrate the truth of idealism?
It looks like I have to bone up on my Yogacara. I'll be using materials from the above mentioned seminar.
I should have been investigating eastern idealism before this. I was not aware of the analytic aspect of that tradition. As a coherentist, I am not keen on the analytical; however, putting an analytical nail in the coffin of materialism may prove very useful.
A major issue with Buddhism will be the reality of persons. I am not an absolutist about souls. They exist in God's 'memory'. We'll see how that works out with our Buddhist buddhies.
'External Objects Do Not Exist' by Dan Lusthaus, Florida State University (1997):
Maatra ("only"), according to this interpretation, acts as an approving affirmation of mind as the true reality. However, the Yogacarin writings themselves argue something very different. Consciousness (vijñaana) is not the ultimate reality or solution, but rather the root problem. This problem emerges in ordinary mental operations, and it can only be solved by bringing those operations to an end.
Sounds like eschatology. Perhaps there are two minds: mundane and not so mundane.
That the term vijñapti-maatra has been valorised while no one would dream of valorizing the other -maatra compounds is perhaps a testament to the pernicious persistence of bhaavaasava, the compulsion to assert something existent to which one can cling. That is one of two extremes from which the middle way is designed to steer us (nihilism is the other). Yogacara is deeply concerned about the human propensity to posit things we can appropriate.
Yogacara tends to be misinterpreted as a form of metaphysical idealism primarily because its teachings are taken to be ontological propositions rather than epistemological warnings about karmic problems. The Yogacara focus on cognition and consciousness grew out of its analysis of karma, and not for the sake of metaphysical speculation. Two things should be clarified in order to explain why Yogacara is not metaphysical idealism: 1. The meaning of the word "idealism" and 2. an important difference between the way Indian and Western philosophers do philosophy.
OK, let's get down to business:
Tellingly no Indian Yogacara text ever claims that the world is created by mind. What they do claim is that we mistake our projected interpretations of the world for the world itself, i.e., we take our own mental constructions to be the world.
Are my buddhies drawing a line in the sand? Didn't someone already say, 'A world is a world is a world.' Is there some other world that I missed? If I were to save the world, which world would I be saving? I can only do one. Is the world an illusion? Of course, but it sure as heck ain't our illusion. It is God's. Only a slight emendation. Of course, we are God's helpers: like the elves at Christmas.
The arguments Yogacara deploys frequently resemble those made by epistemological idealists. Recognizing those affinities Western scholars early in the twentieth century compared Yogacara to Kant, and more recently scholars have begun to think that Husserl's phenomenology comes even closer.
But there are also important differences between those Western philosophers and Yogacara. The three most important are: Kant and Husserl play down notions of causality, while Yogacara developed complex systematic causal theories it deemed to be of the greatest importance; there is no counterpart to either karma or enlightenment in the Western theories, while these are the very raison d'être for all Yogacara theory and practice; finally, the Western philosophies are designed to afford the best possible access to an ontological realm (at least sufficient to acknowledge its existence), while Yogacara is critical of that motive in all its manifestations.
'Yogacara Buddhism in China' by CHEN-KUO LIN:
Unhappy about some scholars, 'mainly from the Anglo-Saxon cultural sphere', having challenged the Yogacara 'idealist' ontology of 'nothing but cognition', in his paper entitled 'On the Problem of the External world in Ch'eng wei shih lun', Lambert Schmithausen vigorously argued that 'the existence of "extra-mental" material (or other) entities' is rejected not only as objects of cognition but also as such without any qualification. Although he might not have the final word, Schmithausen's paper can be seen as one of the most significant responses to the dispute initiated by Alex Wayman in the 1970s and espoused by many scholars since, including Dan Lusthaus, who strongly challenged a non-idealist interpretation.
[...] As expected, a sort of anti-idealist stance is clearly demonstrable in Lusthaus' hermeneutics.
Yes, all this is just a bit confusing! Back to you, Dan:
In contrast to the cognitive karmic dimension, Buddhism considered material elements karmically neutral. The problem with material things is not their materiality, but the psychology of appropriation - desiring, grasping, clinging, attachment - that permeates our ideas and perceptions of such things. It is not the materiality of gold that leads to problems, but rather our ideas about the value of gold and the attitudes and actions we engage in as a result of those ideas.
The mind doesn't create the physical world, but it produces the interpretative categories through which we know and classify the physical world, and it does this so seamlessly that we mistake our interpretations for the world itself. Those interpretations, which are projections of our desires and anxieties, become obstructions preventing us from seeing what is actually the case. In simple terms we are blinded by our own self-interests, our own prejudices (which means what is already prejudged), our desires. Unenlightened cognition is an appropriative act. Yogacara does not speak about subjects and objects; instead it analyzes perception in terms of graspers and what is grasped.
This sounds like a preachy version of Kant. How 'bout that Noumena? The Noumena is the Unconscious. No? Let's not complicate things. Dan does not say what the world is, all by its lonesome. Someone terribly more crass than myself might say, 'Put up or shut up, Dan!'
'Conceptions of the Absolute in Mahayana Buddhism and Shinran' by John Paraskevopoulos:
In closing, I would like to reiterate the great importance of an adequate and satisfying conception of the Absolute as being indispensable to the Buddhist path. In a climate of increasing scepticism and reductionism, especially in certain Buddhist scholarly circles in the West, it is imperative that one does not lose sight of the fact that without such concepts as Dharmakaya, Suchness, Nirvana, Sunyata etc. being grounded in a true and existing reality which both transcends and suffuses all things, Buddhism is left without any foundations and stands on nothing, thereby losing all sapiential and soteriological efficacy. In the attempt by some to make Buddhism more fashionable by denying that it has anything much in common with views of ultimate reality in other spiritual traditions, it does itself a great disservice in failing to recognise clear parallels where they exist - parallels, indeed, which should not surprise anyone. To speak of all these terms to describe the Absolute as ‘symbolic’ in an attempt to somehow downgrade the reality of the ultimate object of aspiration is sheer folly - of what exactly are they symbols ? To be sure, these terms do not exhaust the fathomless depth of the reality to which they refer but, on the other hand, neither are they empty symbols created by us in order to fulfill some kind of nostalgic and delusory quest for the Infinite which has no basis in the true nature of things. A spiritual path which cannot offer any deliverance from that which is finite, imperfect and illusory, to that which affords eternal blessedness and liberation from suffering and the painful clutches of samsaric existence, is simply not worthy of the name.
Soteriological? Now we're talking! Yes, those reductionists are wont to run roughshod over almost everything. But what can they do about those atoms? Those atoms are tough titties.
'The Theory of Evolutionary Process as a Unifying Paradigm' by Frank Barr, MD
As Alfred North Whitehead (1929) has facetiously pointed out: "Scientists, animated by the purpose of proving they are purposeless, constitute an interesting subject for study."
Nirvana and Samsara Are Not the Same: Adi Da Samraj
But both of these great conceptions have frequently been reduced to popular ideas or beliefs and conventional ideals of the beginner's mind and the earlier stages of life. Indeed, the larger tradition of the Mahayana was specifically oriented toward this popular reductionism, because it intended to be a popular religion rather than a "hard school" reserved exclusively for those who were capable of the most mature and advanced kind of practice. It is this aspect of the Mahayana that represents a tendency to decline from the original attitude of the Buddhist tradition, and it is this will to popularize Buddhist institutions that is the seed of the false views or conventional reductionism I have just described. Indeed, the pressures created by the needs of a popular institutional system are what have created the greatest problems for all esoteric and Transcendentalist traditions. The will to "save" everyone (or to reduce the profound disciplines and intuitions of the Way of Truth to a path that is acceptable even to those who have neither the time nor the inclination to submit themselves to the Truth) is the cause of all the most devastating compromises in philosophy. Of course, the intention to serve and Help others also has undeniable merit, and so all Teachers and traditions must struggle to serve humanity and yet retain the authenticity of confinement to Truth.
Is Universalism that bad?


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12/4/02

East is East & West is West



[(12/17) This started out to be a contrast of the prophetic vs. pantheist traditions, but I was soon distracted with the metaphysics of existence, until the last paragraphs. My plan this morning is to again take up this contrast, but now in the context of Creation, on the next page.]
And now the twain will meet. (And once again, as you see, I ran out of parchment.)
Yes, I have given lip service to the immaterialism of the East, but the next step is, as usual, well past due. Not being under the Inquisitional pall that has dogged the prophetic West, the East is more like a Rorschach inkblot. You cannot peer into that multifaceted pattern without catching at least a glimpse of your own reflection. I am making no claims as to objectivity, that is not my shtick, anyhow. Objectivity is not the Eastern shtick, either.
The linking of the immaterialism of East & West will finally push immaterialism over the top, and it may happen in our lifetimes. It will also be the death of that Inquisitional step-child, fundamentalism, scourge of the prophetic tradition.
It is true that reductionists of various shades have found comfort in the metaphysics of the East, but, trust me, we immaterialists will be finding ammunition. The East was way ahead of the West in deconstructing God and Self. And that is always a useful exercise in anti-absolutism. But unlike our materialists, they long ago moved beyond reductive nihilism. Those moves will be most instructive to us postmoderns.
Does the East have anything to learn from the West, besides building bombs? Yes, they will be learning about the Second Coming and the BPW, yes, and Singularity. And it may go easier for them, not being trapped in orthodoxy to our extent.
'Buddhist reductionism' -- Mark Siderits (1997):
There has been much recent discussion concerning the relation between Parfit's Reductionism and the view of persons to be found in early Buddhism and Abhidharma. Some have claimed that Parfit is wrong to see in the Buddhist position an important anticipation of his own view-since the Buddhist view is not, as he supposes, Reductionist, but rather Eliminativist. Others suggest that while certain of the Abhidharma schools might have held a Reductionist position, early Buddhism may defensibly be interpreted as Non-Reductionist in character.
Parfit distinguishes between two versions of Non-Reductionism: the view that persons are separately existing entities (such as Cartesian Egos) and the view that while we are not separately existing entities, the existence of a person involves a further fact, over and above the "more particular facts" of the existence of a brain and body and the occurrence of a series of interrelated physical and psychological events.
I think we can settle these disputes by realizing that we exist in the mind of God and vice versa. But what about atheists, animals and atoms? How do they exist? Parasitically. Parasitism is the whole game: nothing is exempt. It is not fair to say that people are a cancer on the world. With monism there is a coherent spectrum, and perhaps a Wilberian spectrum of consciousness, too. Nothing is subtractable from or addable to the singular BPW, and everything in its own time and place, including revolution. Just as we become God, so does God become us. The singular cosmic cycle is one big revolution. Am I a singularity nut? No, just a monist nut. Am I opposed to diversity and ultraterrestrial civilizations? What is ultimately coherent is what we get. That's all. The only thing missing are the square circles. However, it may be possible to square the circle using the Monster group, along with a non-standard analysis of some kind. Never say Never.
Personal identity, like a flame, is a process. We can relight the candle at any time, especially when we realize that both candle and flame are figments of the cosmic imagination. And we can always play it again, Sam. You and I could be instant replays. Everything is play and replay. Does that violate singularity? The exceptions prove the rule. Past, present and future, memory and anticipation are not as distinct as we pluralists sometimes like to think.
The doctrine of the two truths distinguishes between what is called conventional truth and ultimate truth. [...] This device allows us to resolve the seeming contradictions in Nagasena's position. When he claims that adult and infant are neither the same person nor distinct persons, he is stating what he takes to be an ultimate truth. Since persons are conceptual fictions, any claim concerning the identity over time of a person must be ultimately false. His assertion that adult and infant are the same person he takes to be only conventionally true.
No. This is not coherent. Persons and concepts of persons are not distinct. The world is a fiction. It is literally a cosmic narrative. The ontic and epistemic are no more distinct that the analytic and synthetic. Holism is the only game in town.
Distinctions are fictions. They are useful pedagogical devices. Just don't take them too seriously. Should we take the world seriously. Yes, some of the time, because it's the only one we'll every really get.
------------------------------
But let's go back to Vasubandhu with Matthew, and some free association. It does not make much sense to say that a perceived object is composed of invisible atoms. A silver atom does not conduct electricity, but silver does. A chariot is more than the sum of its parts. Each part of a chariot has an irreducibly functional existence. Can we distinguish between the chariot and our concepts of it? How? But what about the Earth's molten iron core? Or that distant supernova? The fact is that the iron came from a supernova: one logically entails the other. But does logic exist apart from reason? But what about simple causality? Causality is contextual to a high degree. So is existence. Does anyone claim that relational contexts are mind independent?
But surely there are unobserved supernovas and planets. Yes, but only as a logical background to the actuality of our experience. That which is superfluous to experience is as inconceivable as a square circle, and with no more claim to existence. The larger context is the Best Possible World. The BPW and idealism are mutually dependent. Anything else is inchoate. Contexts cannot be inchoate. Existence is relational, but the whole of it is all or nothing. Existence is complete. Existence and meaning are practically synonymous and they share a thoroughly holistic nature.
A question in my mind concerns the decentralization of causation. Coherence and the Principle of Sufficient Reason might seem to invoke a single source of causation. With the Big Bang theory there is a single cause, everything else is mechanics. Can we invoke some of that mechanics and not conflict with the PSR? In our case it is an idealized mechanics that facilitates the equitable distribution of agency throughout Creation. This has to do with the idea of the level playing field amongst the creatures, where the action is metabolically constrained. What is the nature of those constraints in the case of immaterialism? Can we substitute logic for physics, or is there even a difference? Can we not invoke logic in the manner that Physics invokes mathematics?
Also at our disposal are memory and habit to serve as constraints. And, of course, there are atoms, which exist in the appropriate circumstances. But atoms are no longer the sole, or even the primary mediators of action, even in the inorganic realm. Nature is replete with habitual, cyclical processes in which the creatures participate.
How does non-atomic water learn how to behave? Who takes it to school, and where? But first, let it be noted that we do not have an atomic theory of water. Starting from quantum physics, no one has derived the vital bulk properties of water. Non-physicists would be shocked to find out how irreducible are virtually all the physical processes in the world. They all come under the rubric of 'phenomenology'. 95% of physics is not derived from basic principles. Actually make that 99.9%. Even at the level of elementary particles, 95% of the 'Physics' is phenomenological, and that's being conservative. It takes the most powerful computers in the world hours to make even crude estimates of one quark hitting another. And as for 'string theory', we don't even have the algorithms to put into the computers. Has any one ever wondered how the heck the particles know how to behave? Is there an even bigger computer in heaven? The whole idea of materialism and reductionism is so absurd, it is easily the biggest put-on in history. It is a conspiracy so vast and effective that only God could have pulled it off, thank you. If you think I'm kidding, well, ask your neighborhood physicist. We need some fresh ideas.
Back to water. If quarks don't explain water, then what does? The story starts with God dreaming about going for a swim. Is this being too crude? In the not so long-run, it will provide a more robust understanding of water than quarks can ever hope to. God likes the concept of water. So let's work it into history, and see how our characters respond. Shall we say that the creatures go with the flow?
But wait, how is God able to dream without a brain? I could ask you how you are able to dream with a brain, but I'm too nice of a guy to ask rhetorical questions. The point is that since we have not the slightest idea of the nature of the causal relation between mind and matter, it is totally arbitrary to suppose that one is logically prior to the other. But regardless of the logical precedence, the main problem of explaining the world comes with having to explain self-organization. Am I being biased in suggesting that the concept and functions of selves is much more amenable to the realm of mind than it is too matter?
But why should brains exist if they are not necessary for experience? What does the PSR say about this? Any 3-D game requires 3-D objects of various kinds. Animated sensory agents would be essential for most such purposes. Having sensory organs that are correlated with sensory capacities would seem pretty reasonable. Does that mean that God had to sit down and design eyes and ears? I would doubt it. God just imagines the main contexts and then lets the protagonists work out their own optimizations. It is self-selection, operating at the level of the self, not the DNA. That is what we are here for. The chemistry would work itself out later. Even Darwin would not feel terribly slighted. Continuity of forms is a major aspect of coherence.

[12/14]


Despite the lack of any known causal or logical connection between mind and brain, neuroscientists do find a high degree of correlation between the two realms. How do we explain such correlation if it is not causal?
The materialists go about explaining everything from the bottom up. They have no other choice. Materialism is simply the rule of atoms. We immaterialists have more choice. With our panpsychism, we can invoke upward and downward causation. With only one direction of causation permitted to the materialists, they can explain only half of the world, and it is the half that, by definition, is unobservable. What a shame!
Mind-body correlation is simple for us immaterialists. On the 'zeroth approximation' it's all in the mind: the cosmic mind, that is. But for the benefit of the creatures we need higher levels complexity. On the first level, we invoke bodies to be the foci of individual creaturely minds. One body, one mind. The body could be marionette, or a computer sprite that we move around on the world stage by remote control, but that would be artificial and clumsy. Consider the concept of natural continuity and integration of mind and matter. This is the only reasonable way to proceed with Creation. How much of the design work does God have to do? I think, not much.
Obviously mind is a powerful organizer. It can organize upwardly and downwardly. Upwardly through voluntary cooperation, downwardly by individual will-power. We can profitably remain agnostic about the pre-creational state of the cosmic mind, particularly as to the degree of its integration. In other words, the primordial level of entropy remains indeterminate. Primordial self-organization could have taken many forms and operated on many levels before the BPW began to take shape. This multi-level action would proceed into the domain of Creation proper, involving the BPW. The cooling down of the mental entropy leading to multifaceted symmetry breaking would have occurred on many levels, with just the minimum necessary coordination from on high. There would always be an ecology of mind. The symmetry breaking represents the formation of the interdependent ecological niches. There would, in effect be a self-speciation of mind, with the attendant bodily forms being gradually optimized through habituation. The potency of an evolutionary-style chain-of-being would play a major role in coordinating this process. It is through this back door that Darwinism enters the picture. The molecular details of the genetics can work itself out in the fullness of time. Very likely the Genome projects are, in a quantum-like or even alchemical fashion, forcing the molecular arrangements into their definite states, as we speak. If this sounds too teleological, well, that is the whole point of the Eschaton, so we had better get used to it.
During this whole ecological self-organizing process the integration of body and mind proceeds by all means on all levels. A seamless integration that we call Nature is the result. The further we probe the brain, the greater the resolution that we will find. But what will that prove? Not much.

[12/15]


Evolution is a great and compelling story. But is it the whole story? On its own terms, yes, it is. Do we have reason to suspect those terms? Our primary reason for suspicion has to do with the existence and nature of the mind. There are significant aspects of the mind which seem superfluous to the scheme of evolution. But if mind does seem profligate, we readily acknowledge that it is not evolution's only seeming profligacy. There being no objective measure of profligacy, we are left with anecdotes.
The primary feature of the mind is its organizational ability. This is also, of course, the primary feature of evolution. The issue of the completeness of Darwinian evolution obviously hinges upon its capacity to account for the natural order, not just in its details, but in toto. The Darwinists are comforted by the lack of any organizational measure. Natural selection could well suffice. Surely it accounts for some of the order, so why not all of it? Why drag in other speculative causes? Where is the compulsion to do so?
What is the rationale to consider alternatives to Darwin? The human mind is naturally speculative, why thwart it? Yet there is palpable resistance to such speculation. There is certainly no institutional support for the sort of fundamental speculation you see on these pages. And one does not have to be a brain surgeon to understand why.
Civilization has always been a precarious balance of competing forces, as is all of nature. Just ask Darwin. New ideas can and have disrupted that balance. Ask any scientist, politician or theologian. In fact, the outstanding standoff, the one that actually defines modernity, is the balance between science and religion. That armistice is based on one speculative metaphysical idea: the Cartesian dichotomy of mind and matter.
It is true that many scientists and philosophers are being paid to nibble around the edges of that dichotomy. The result of all that nibbling seems only to have been a reinforcement of Descartes' original intuition. Not too surprising considering the sponsors. Nonetheless, the apparent intractability of the Cartesian gap is a thorn in the side of evolution. A thorn not diminished by time.
The amazing and accelerating progress being made in molecular genetics across the entire spectrum of evolution, is serving to highlight the Cartesian gap in our understanding of the natural order. There has also been considerable progress in neuroscience, but none that speaks directly to the Gap. There has been comparable progress in Artificial Intelligence, but that too has provoked no new insights into the Gap. There is no discernable research program that directly addresses the issue. No such program has even been suggested that has been endorsed by anyone beyond its original proponent. Behaviorism and functionalism are the apparent exceptions, but the wide consensus is that they are failed stratagems aimed primarily at ignoring the problem.
David Chalmers' characterization of this Gap as the toughest intellectual challenge ever, has been widely touted. No one has offered a cogent demurral of this characterization.
At some point we will give up nibbling at this problem. There are already clear signs of fatigue on the part of even the most conscientious nibblers. If nibbling won't suffice, there is but one reasonable alternative. Swallow the problem whole. Such a strategy can only be based on an essentially non-reductive metaphysic. But what is that?
There is plenty of talk these days of emergence. What is that? It is non-reductive metaphysics. If it is the answer, what sort of answer is it? The basic issue is whether the term 'non-reductive naturalism' is oxymoronic or not. Is it fair to say that modernity hangs in this balance? Almost certainly.
By definition, emergence cannot be explained from the bottom up. It is non-reductive. But what would a natural explanation look like? There seems only to be the hope that a lot of little gaps will add up to the big Gap. Voila, the big Gap is reduced to little gaps, and modern life proceeds: business almost as usual.
There is a slight problem. No one agrees on how even to begin to carve up the mind. The mind has no agreed upon joints or seams. This fact does not bode well for naturalism. How do we begin to explain the mind if we cannot begin to analyze it. If nibbling doesn't work, people will try gobbling. But there is no evidence that anyone has even gotten their teeth into the problem. Non-reductive naturalism appears to be a non-starter, when it comes to dealing with the problem it is intended to solve. If nature tolerates one indigestible entity, the next entity in line will be the whole mind.
But wait. Is there not clear evidence that mind evolved? Yes, as long as we don't make the additional Cartesian assumption that all other animals are insentient. There is no clear reason for assuming that the snail's mind is not some fraction of ours. So there! We just have to figure out which fraction it is. And there's the rub. How can we speak intelligently of any scheme of fractionation without penetrating the mind in question? And, yet, even with all the benefits of language, to what extent can we penetrate our own individual minds or those of our closest acquaintances? We have another non-starter.
[I have a theory that snails are smarter than humans. Snails exist almost entirely in their collective unconscious, which ought to be rather more capacious than our individual consciousness. QED.]
Anyone for brain surgery? That is where we are with neuroscience: reasonably sophisticated brain maps, correlated with a spectrum of subjective experience. Those brush strokes are so broad that we cannot even distinguish between the connectionist and computationalist aspects of the mind, except to realize that neither model nor any combination of them is making sense or even getting us to square one with natural intelligence. Is there some new breakthrough model out there just waiting to be discovered? If it is non-computational, non-connectionist, non-reductive, non-local, non-verbal, non-mechanical, etc., aren't we running out of possible metaphors? This is why, in our desperation, would-be cognitivists turn to the strangeness of the Quantum in what appears to many as a last resort of naturalistic(?) speculation. But the Quantum is a decidedly mixed bag for naturalists. Its paradoxical reliance on observational processes and openness to unobservable processes renders it rife for dualistic speculation. But that is why it is so attractive to its proponents.
I'm not suggesting that naturalistic research be terminated. The naturalists should be given more than enough rope to hang themselves. We non-naturalists can afford to be generous in that regard. History indicates that research programs almost always implode from within (pleonastically?). What I am suggesting is that, Golly, maybe we should think about alternatives to naturalism. And, Gosh, what might those be? Let me think. Non-naturalism? How about something with a bit more of a ring to it?
But never mind. Heck, I kinda like being the only (Is it a fact?) non-naturalist speculator on the Web. It's a conversation piece at cocktail parties or a great pick-up line. And enough of this frivolity!

[12/16]


East & West? This was supposed to be the topic.
I have remarked previously on the seeming unfairness of the prophetic tradition. Prior to the advent of the electronic media, prophecy was a decidedly local phenomenon. 'Accidents', speaking colloquially, of birth and history would be paramount in determining who had access to what traditions. However, given Universalism, these 'accidents' are rectified in the end.
One of these 'accidents' was the compartmentalization of the prophetic and pantheist or immaterialist traditions. Had there not been this compartmentalization, there would not have been the opportunity for a dramatic convergence of the theist and pantheist traditions, attendant upon the exhaustion of materialism: a dramatic turn toward theistic idealism providing an intellectual revolution that would be integral to a messianic or parousiac event. The working out of the mutual completion of those two traditions would be nearly universally accessible in real time. Everyone could participate in one manner or another.
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12/13/02

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11/15/02

Creation & Maya

[A brief summary appears at the end of the page.]
I have previously broached the subject of Creation on several occasions. Here I hope to look at it particularly from the contrasting views of the prophetic and pantheist, or Eastern and Western, traditions.
My second favorite Creation story is that of Vishnu dreaming up the world. This has always made a lot more sense to me than the various other creation stories that generally depict God as an artisan rather than as author or inventor. A typical example is the story in Genesis of God creating Adam out of clay. I recall that there are two separate creation stories in Genesis, and the one referenced is the second, and perhaps earlier one. But probably the most 'primitive' of known stories, and my all-time favorite, is from the Australian aborigines where there is simply a reference to the primordial 'dreamtime'. I don't recall that there was any specification of a particular dreamer. The implication is that it was all beings. This is even closer to my immaterialist, participatory view of the matter. Obviously I will need to brush up on my Creation stories, and I like to think that able assistance will be on the way, once Google wakes up and smells the BPW, but I may just be dreaming!
Several things need remarking. Hinduism is generally regarded as atheistic, so the popular myth above that casts the Vishnu as Creator confirms the pluralist tolerance of the East. Nonetheless, it is peculiar how the contrasting stories of dreamer vs. artisan so clearly demarcate the monism and dualism of the East and West respectively. Hopefully we can eventually get a handle on which came first: the metaphysical ethos or the creation narratives. I wouldn't put is past the Creator to have planted the respective narrative seeds, just with the immanent dramatic convergence of the parousia in mind. Or it could be that the Aborigines have been the most conserving of the one aboriginally planted story, out of Africa: the rest being various ad hoc emendations. Further historical research is clearly indicated.
With these preliminaries behind us, it's time to Google on Creation (12,000,000 hits). I guess we'll have to be a bit more specific:
Aboriginal Dreamtime (4,500 hits). Vishnu’s dream (23 hits). (The more orthodox Hindu view of the origin of the world is maya or illusion (48,000 hits)).
Hinduism by Joseph Campbell:
Hence, we are all one in Vishnu: manifestations, inflections, of this dreaming power of Vishnu; broken images of himself rippling on the spontaneously active surface of his subtle mind stuff. Moreover, this sleeping god's divine dream of the universe is pictured in Indian art as a great lotus plant growing from his navel. The idea is that the dream unfolds like a glorious flower, and that this flower is the energy-or, as the Indians say. the shakti or goddess-of the god.

[12/18]


The following are extended excerpts taken from seven sources on the maya & illusion list. These are mostly for my own record. Following the excerpts will be a discussion of them. You are invited to skip ahead several screens to the discussion, and then refer back to the excerpts as appropriate.
Maya- The Grand Illusion:
Maya or illusion is a very potent instrument of the Divine Prakriti, the Primal Nature. Through the force of illusion, It holds the beings under its sway.
The beings under illusion cannot see the Invisible God and so they cannot correctly comprehend Him. They cannot see Him in all and all in Him.
It is possible to overcome the influence maya by following the teachings of Lord Krishna taught to Arjuna in the middle of the battle field. By following the Gita, one can develop stability of the mind, through the control of the senses and desires; become a humble devotee of God,
MAYA AND ILLUSION -- Swami Vivekananda
Much later on, in one of the latest Upanishads, we find the word Maya reappearing, but this time, a transformation has taken place in it, and a mass of new meaning has attached itself to the word. Theories had been propounded and repeated, others had been taken up, until at last the idea of Maya became fixed. We read in the Shvetashvatara Upanishad, "Know nature to be Maya and the Ruler of this Maya is the Lord Himself." Coming to our philosophers, we find that this word Maya has been manipulated in various fashions, until we come to the great Shankaracharya [Sankara (c.700-750 CE)]. The theory of Maya was manipulated a little by the Buddhists too, but in the hands of the Buddhists it became very much like what is called Idealism, and that is the meaning that is now generally given to the word Maya. When the Hindu says the world is Maya, at once people get the idea that the world is an illusion. This interpretation has some basis, as coming through the Buddhistic philosophers, because there was one section of philosophers who did not believe in the external world at all. But the Maya of the Vedanta, in its last developed form, is neither Idealism nor Realism, nor is it a theory. It is a simple statement of facts--what we are and what we see around us.
Thus we find that Maya is not a theory for the explanation of the world; it is simply a statement of facts as they exist, that the very basis of our being is contradiction, that wherever there is good, there must also be evil, and wherever there is evil, there must be some good, wherever there is life, death must follow as its shadow, and everyone who smiles will have to weep, and vice versa. Nor can this state of things be remedied.
Thus the Vedanta philosophy is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. It voices both these views and takes things as they are. It admits that this world is a mixture of good and evil, happiness and misery, and that to increase the one, one must of necessity increase the other. There will never be a perfectly good or bad world, because the very idea is a contradiction in terms.
Attempts have been made in Germany to build a system of philosophy on the basis that the Infinite has become the finite. Such attempts are also made in England. And the analysis of the position of these philosophers is this, that the Infinite is trying to express itself in this universe, and that there will come a time when the Infinite will succeed in doing so. It is all very well, and we have used the words Infinite and manifestation and expression, and so on, but philosophers naturally ask for a logical fundamental basis for the statement that the finite can fully express the Infinite. The Absolute and the Infinite can become this universe only by limitation. Everything must be limited that comes through the senses, or through the mind, or through the intellect; and for the limited to be the unlimited is simply absurd, and can never be. The Vedanta, on the other hand, says that it is true that the Absolute or the Infinite is trying to express itself in the finite, but there will come a time when it will find that it is impossible, and it will then have to beat a retreat, and this beating a retreat means renunciation which is the real beginning of religion. Nowadays it is very hard even to talk of renunciation. It was said of me in America that I was a man who came out of a land that had been dead and buried for five thousand years, and talked of renunciation. So says, perhaps, the English philosopher. Yet it is true that that is the only path to religion. Renounce and give up. What did Christ say? "He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." Again and again did he preach renunciation as the only way to perfection. There comes a time when the mind awakes from this long and dreary dream....
We see, then, that beyond this Maya the Vedantic philosophers find something which is not bound by Maya; and if we can get there, we shall not be bound by Maya. This idea is in some form or other the common property of all religions. But, with the Vedanta, it is only the beginning of religion and not the end. The idea of a Personal God, the Ruler and Creator of this universe, as He has been styled, the Ruler of Maya, or nature, is not the end of these Vedantic ideas; it is only the beginning.
http://www.totallyok.com/secret/056r.htm:
Sankara says with senses there is no possibility to know whether the thing confronting you is real or unreal. And if there is no possibility to know whether it is real or unreal, Sankara calls it MAYA: it is illusion. Illusion doesn't mean unreal. Illusion means an impossibility to decide whether it is real or unreal -- remember this.
In Western languages MAYA has been translated very wrongly, and it gives the feeling in Western terms that "illusion" means "unreal." It does not! "Illusion" means the inability to decide whether the thing is real or unreal. This confusion is MAYA.
Try to understand this: I may dream in the night that I have become a butterfly, and I cannot decide in that dream whether this is real or unreal. In the morning I may be puzzled like Chuang Tzu whether instead the butterfly may have been dreaming. These are two dreams, and there is no way to compare which is real and which is unreal.
But Chuang Tzu is missing one thing -- the dreamer. He is thinking only of dreams, comparing dreams and missing the dreamer -- the one who dreams that Chuang Tzu has become a butterfly, the one who is thinking that it may be quite the reverse: that the butterfly is dreaming that she has become Chuang Tzu. Who is this observer? Who was asleep and is now awake? You may be unreal, you may be a dream to me, but "I" cannot be a dream to myself, because even for a dream to exist a real dreamer is needed. Even for a false dream a real dreamer is needed. Even a dream cannot exist without a real dreamer. So forget dream. This technique says forget dream. The whole world is illusion, you are not. So don't go after the world, there is no possibility to gain certainty there. And now this appears to be proven even by scientific research.
If the whole world is unreal, then there is no shelter in it. Then you are moving after, following shadows, and wasting time and life and energy. Then move inwards. One thing is certain: "I am." Even if the whole world is illusory, one thing is certain: there is someone who knows this is illusory. The knowledge may be illusory, the known may be illusory, but the knower cannot be. This is the only certainty, the only rock on which you can stand.
This technique says look at the world: it is a dream, illusory, and nothing is as it appears. It is just a rainbow. Go deep in this feeling. You will be thrown to yourself. With that coming to one's own self, you come to a certain truth, to something which is indubitable, which is absolute.
Maya:
Thus the world of experience the world of discernment is an illusion. For nothing in it has a real or separate existence in its own right. Ultimately there is something behind the world that cannot be perceived by the eyes or the senses. It is knowledge and discernment of its elements that generates maya the world of illusion. Of course this illusion itself comprises also the perceiver which makes things even more difficult. For the perceiver has to - not only free themselves from the illusion of the world that appears to be around them but also from the illusion of the existence of themselves as separate egos -individuals. This is compounded by the fact that even the desire to free them selves of this illusion becomes part of the illusion. The need to achieve to grasp at understanding the problem is also maya.
Maya:
Maya (Sanskrit: "wizardry," or "illusion") is a fundamental concept in Hindu philosophy, notably, in the Advaita (Non-dualist) school of the orthodox system of Vedanta.
Maya denotes the power of wizardry with which a God can make human beings believe in what turns out to be an illusion; by extension it later came to mean the powerful force that creates the cosmic illusion that the phenomenal world is real.
Maya, as per Hindu thought, is illusion, and what mankind understands to be reality is in fact the dream of Brahma. Brahma is the creator and great magician who dreams the universe into being. The dream itself is maintained by Vishnu, the Preserver, who uses maya to spin the complex web that we know as reality.
It is not that the world itself is an illusion, only our perception of it. Whereas we suppose the universe to be made up of a multitude of objects, structures and events, the theory of maya asserts that all things are one. Rational categories are mere fabrications of the human mind and have no ultimate reality
Advaita & The Bhagavad Gita -- SWAMI B.V. TRIPURARI:
Sankara differs principally from the other schools of Vedanta in that he does not acknowledge the ultimacy of the personhood of Godhead. For Sankara, all is one, and there is no difference. The individual soul is illusory, as is the appearance of God, and the world. Although speaking of a personal God (isvara) and soul (jivatma), Advaita Vedanta in the final analysis denies the existence of both of these truths at the 'paramarthik' (ultimate) level of reality. According to advaita, the material world is also unreal. It exists only as a dream of the imaginary jiva, who can realize that he himself does not exist as an individual or as anything definable (neti neti) by meditating on the illusion of a personal God (isvara, Krsna). As silly as this sounds, Sankara has amassed considerable logic and scriptural references to support his conception. However, unless one has heard at least his basic logic and scriptural twist before hand, it is impossible to arrive at his conclusion from straight forward reading of the Bhagavad Gita. An unbiased reading of the Gita leaves one with God, soul, and real material world, with devotion as the means to liberated life, and the liberated expression of that life.
At times Sankara associates maya with a power of Brahman, by which he makes the rope of the undivided reality appear as the snake of the manifold world. Brahman is said to engage is this magical act for the purpose of creation, thereby making himself available for the salvation of his devotees.
It should be obvious that Sankara's explanation of maya creates further problems. To whom or what does Brahman present the illusion of maya? Furthermore, if Brahman is simplisticly one, as defined by Sankara, how can an illusion which is by definition different from Brahman in nature exist at all? If there is no other, as per Sankara, how can Vedic revelation such as the Gita have any meaning, when it presupposes a difference between seeker and that which is sought?
Sankara's explanation of this sutra is his own invention and it departs radically from the text of Badarayana's, in which there is absolutely no mention of anything remotely resembling the notion of a two tier Brahman in the entire treatise. Here Sankara is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt of attaching his own doctrine to the Vedanta Sutra in order to make the sutras themselves, Vedanta, appear compatible with his own doctrine of advaita!
Concept of "Maya": Vedantic and Shaivistic points of view by Prof. K. N. Dhar
In the earlier Vedas-the first book of Humanity-'Maya' has been used in the sense of supernatural or extraordinary prowess attributed to the pantheon of gods. In more ancient Vedic hymns it is praised as 'world sustaining power'. But the later Vedic literature comprising the upanishadic lore, it began to convey the sense of illusion, though in subdued tones. So, this philosophic content relating to this word, had already been spelt out in the time of Upanishads. The later philosophic treatises in the classical age of Sanskrit must have taken a cue from the meaning attached to this word in the Upanishads and have remarkably kept its intonation in tact.
The logical Realism (Nyaya) of Gautama a virtual reaction against Buddhist scepticism has no concern for this word 'Maya', but substitutes it with the appellations Doubt (Sanshaya), fallacy (Hetuvabhasa) and Error (Mithya Jnana). To speak precisely, doubt is wavering knowledge, Fallacy is inconclusive knowledge and Error is defective knowledge. All these three attributeo of knowledge definitely provide the base on which the superstructure of 'Maya' was installed later on.
As regards Maya, Shankar's [Sankara's] premise is that it is an antithesis of Brahma because of being inextricably connected with the world (Jagat). Brahma is real (Satyam) while world is transitory or unreal (Mithya). It is definitely part and parcel of Brahma-the very basis of creation. As nothing can be created out of a vacuum, in the same way Brahma being the only eternal entity, the world does emerge out of it only. At this stage Ignorance (Avidya) intervenes to confuse the human mind and intellect by mistaking the Finite form of Brahma with its Infinite form. Therefore, ignorance is the progenitor of Maya (Illusion), unreal seeming as real. "Since Maya is deceptive in character, it is called 'Avidya' or false knowledge, it is not mere absence of apprehension but positive error." Toys and pots made of clay, though bearing different names and shapes from each other, are nothing but clay; similarly this 'Maya' through 'Avidya' gives rise to plurality without scanning the inherent unity. When Brahma projects itself into myriad forms and names, or transforms itself into the world; this kind of activity inherently of Brahma is called Ishwara with relation to the world and the power to procreate is alluded to as Prakriti. (Ishwarsya MayaShaktih Prakriti). Therefore Maya is the energy of Ishwara, His inherent force by which He transforms the potential into the actual world." It has no separate identity, it is in Ishwara as heat in fire. Maya through the machinations of false knowledge (Avidya) or erroneous perception (Mithya Jnana) exhibits its modus operandi (Vyapara) in two ways of concealment (Avarna) and misrepresentation (Viksepa). It hides the truth and at the same time mis-represents it.
Non-discrimination (Aviveka) has been explained by its commentator KshemaRaja as follows: "Paramartha Svarupasya Aprathana Svabhavah." The nature of non-projection of the highest form of Truth.
This would clearly denote that the stage of non-projecting or non-extending of the supreme spirit is 'Maya'. In other words, it would connote the inability of the supreme consciousness (Samvit) to transfer its consciousness to the objects around. This kind of non-perception and subsequent non-identification between the self (Atman) and the objects (Padartha) will precisely convey the purport of Maya in shaivistic thought: shaivism has treated maya as shakti (Energy), even the primeval Energy or Nature (Mula Prakriti). It is identical with the immanent form of Shiva; His transcendental form is unaffected by it.
This very approach of shaivas marks their fundamental difference with the vedantists. The shaivas take Maya as an inevitable aspect of Shiva when releasing His shakti (Energy) from His fountain-head. Even though He is universe incarnate (Vishvarupa), yet He feels the urgency of creating a universe, so that His shakti (Energy) can have full play. This Maya is called a veritable screen which conceals the real form of things (Tirodhanankari) deluding us into believing the multiform of universe, which in essence is uniform. The moment, the realizer through his perceptive cognition (jnana), takes the blue (neela) and the yellow (peela) as one, and only one entity, the Maya stops her machinations. Therefore shaivas treat Maya as not as unreal but momentary. As against it, the vedantists proclaim that Maya is unreal (Ayathartha), coinciding squarely with their thesis that universe is unreal (Jagat Mithya). Shaiva scholars are at pains to argue that this whole creation is a reflection (Abhasa) of the Super-self which is real, omnipotent and self-dependent (Svatantra): therefore, the relation between the world of appearance ( Vishvamaya ) and that of Transcendence (Vishvoteerna) is that of the reflected object and the reflector. If the reflector is real, how can an object, its reflection, be unreal; since the reflected object has no separate entity from its reflector. Hence Maya has to fulfill her role in transmuting transcendence into immanence. It is thus a veritable hide and seek between the primoridal and subliminal aspects of the same force which is Shiva. Vedantins taking Maya as a perennial deluding force, treat this world as unreal, illusory, but shaivas do not subscribe to this view. As argued earlier, they take this world as real-an image of superconsciousness (Chaitaynam) which to all intents and purposes is self-dependence (Svatantrva) incarnate. Hence shaivas invoke Maya as the progenitor of the world of objects as a whole (Sakala Janani), or as Casual Matrix (Amba). The attitude of shaivas towards the concept of Maya is positive, affirmative in the sense that as long as the equation between shiva and shakti is disturbed, it has to be there. As against this, the vedantins treat Maya as negation of vidya (Avidya).
Shaivas contend that a realizer can attain emancipation while living (Jivanmuktavastha) in this world, that is when his coalition (Jnana) is complete and does not waver in seeming diversity around him, he can attain bliss of unity, being in perfect health, mentally as well as physically. The line of thinking adopted by vedantins is that life being false needs to be abjured, while shaivas treat enjoying life (Bhoga) as a preamble to meaningful renunciation (Yoga). In this context Abbinavagupta has asserted emphatically that this world is essentially Truth. Therefore, in vedantic school of philosophy we come across with a galaxy of ascetics having renounced all earthly concerns (Sanyasins), but in shaivism we are confronted with spiritual guides (Acharyas) who have owned life and also have risen above it; with them matter is as important as the spirit.
Hence the conception of Maya as outlined by the vedantists is above the average quotient of intelligence possessed by an ordinary man. Shaivism, on the other band, has given a straight and simple definition of Maya, in consonance with the average intelligence obtaining in an ordinary mortal.
Even though vedantins and shaivas are at variance with regard to the conception of Maya, yet their destination is same-ennobling human intellect and awakening human spirit. This is exactly the rhythmic jingle of the heart-beats of Indian mind from times immemorial.
Discussion of the previous seven sets of excepts:
Toward the end of the last set of excerpts, Prof. Dhar states that the more pessimistic, vedantist view of maya is reserved for the intellectuals, while the more optimistic, shaivist view is more suitable for the masses. A similar polarity is often noted and even touted in the West, as between the atheist intellectuals and the theistic masses. There is a twist however. The secular intellectuals in the West tend to be positive about human nature, while the sectarians see human nature, when not imbued with divine grace, in negative terms. Science, of course, provides no rationale for any value judgment concerning human nature.
The original meaning of maya was 'magic'. It referred to the magical act of creation on the part of one or more deities. As in the West, and with the disenchantment of the world generally, magic became synonymous with illusion. There are many holding the view that theism is the last modern remnant of this atavistic strain of primitive animism. On that same scientistic view, the pantheism of the East is less objectionable in that it does not personify its metaphysics. As a practical matter, however, theism has been rather more hospitable to science than has pantheism.
The modernists who look upon theism as irrational are making the large and unjustified assumption that intelligence is reducible. They are betting the world on Artificial Intelligence. Implicitly they endorse a Transhuman, i.e. non-human, future. Oh, there may be some token humans, but their fate will be in the hands of the self-reproducing, self-evolving robots.
They may be right. However, the combined postmodernist and fundamentalist reactions to the cyborg futurism are holding those scientistic ambitions in check. And, perhaps more to the point, the diminishing returns in the AI arena are instilling a greater sense of caution in the materialist rank and file. Finally it is the bare facts of non-reductionist life that are giving pause to the overweening reductionists.
It is finally on the issue of reduction that theism, pantheism and materialism confront each other over Creation. Only theism offers El Camino Real. Correction: there are no longer any reductionists [an exception]; it is the question of emergence that has come to the fore. Stated most bluntly: is naturalistic emergence an oxymoron? Can emergence replace Creation? Can emergence replace the 'sky hook', the downward causation, the teleology that is explicit in Creation?
On the issue of emergence, it appears that the pantheists and postmodernists side with the naturalists in their non-reductive materialism.
Naturalists believe that emergence is entirely spontaneous. From the view of complexity theory there are 'attractors' that pull errant system trajectories into their domains under specified conditions of instability, as the system hunts for a new 'dissipative structure' one step further removed from the primordial chaos. Presumably there exist a non-denumerable infinity of such attractors and structures. Evolution is the random, stepwise selection of some finite sequence of these potential structures.

[12/19]


It appears that Hinduism has been set aside temporarily in deference to complexity theory and dissipative structures (5,000 hits). But prepare again for a lengthy set of excerpts, mainly for my own benefit. Once again you are invited to skip ahead to the comments.
'Existence Itself: Towards the Phenomenology of Massive Dissipative/Replicative Structures' by David M. Keirsey. I also excerpt from another page of David's.
There are very few scientists that would admit to being reductionists, but we all are, to a large degree, inheritors of Newton's brilliant mistake [Rosen 91]. But, besides lamenting the sins of reductionism [Rosen 91], [Goodwin 96], [Oyama 86] and pointing out its weaknesses, there needs to be a methodology for going beyond the criticism and helping to generate new ways of understanding and building conceptual models which include the both the characterization of context and the "system" of complex phenomena.
There are many ways to define the word "complexity"[5]. And there many connotations of the word "complexity" deriving from the work trying to answer some basic scientific questions, such as computational complexity, algorithmic information complexity, logical depth [6], thermodynamic depth[7], and effective complexity [4]. All of these usage's are valid and useful for understanding nature, but these usage's of the word "complexity" are sophisticated in ways that are difficult to directly relate to naturally occurring "entities" such as elementary particles, atoms, molecules, cells, and organisms as we know them in the world.
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