Peeking behind the doors
VANCOUVER ISLAND, CANADA – Over the years I’ve developed a hypothesis that suggests that when a complex question is asked and when, despite its constant analysis, its intense investigation, and its constant consideration by intelligent people, no real answer presents itself…the question itself is probably what’s at fault.
Douglas Adams hilariously made a similar point when he had the greatest computer ever developed in the universe analyse, compute, and come up with the ultimate answer to the question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. You know…the big one…the meaning of life. The computer’s answer after millennia of analysis was obvious. Forty two. You see, the question had not been formed in such a way as to elicit a coherent answer. Once the question was clear, the answer would be forthcoming in comparably short order. (Of course, Bob Dylan had already reasonably formulated the question years earlier: How many roads must a man walk down? But that’s another story).
One of the most baffling and contentious issues with which one, in his or her more philosophical and internally analytic moments, must grapple is the question of perception and consciousness. This struggle raises other important and ancillary issues, including their persistence, genesis, and value. Assuming that Socrates’ observation was correct (usually a safe assumption) that an unexamined life isn’t worth living, it’s perhaps worth it to take time occasionally to examine those issues. It’s worth looking at just what we mean when we blithely toss out words like consciousness, perception, personality, or self.
We all live in our own box that keeps our “selves” isolated from other similar selves. We can do some rudimentary communication…we are able to send and receive simple, although not particularly clear or articulate, messages from one box to another; sometimes they are even vaguely understood and even replied to. We congratulate ourselves on this and call it communication; some of us even make a living trying to do that with increasing degrees of clarity and understanding. As “communicators” we delude ourselves into believing that there exists a real possibility of sharing the deepest and most complex and profound thoughts that occur within one of those isolated cranial boxes. Our understanding of others, or our explanation of ourselves to others, is a pale shadow, analogous to Plato’s Analogy of the Cave, of the depth and complexity of the actual thought processes that we are attempting to communicate.
The key is that inside each of those boxes dwells something that we describe as a personality or a self. But more significantly, each one of us in our little box is under the impression that we have a fairly clear understanding of the world our physical beings – our boxes – inhabit. We know what we see and hear. As human beings, that makes up the bulk of our understanding of the physical makeup of the world. We also smell, touch, and taste; these senses combine with our primary ones of sight and hearing to create what we take to be a relatively accurate representation of the universe, or at least our section of it.
This much we know. Much of what comes we also know. But much is the beginning of speculation on the subject of individuality, personality, self, perception, and consciousness. I expect this introspection as well as a degree of extrospection to last a lifetime. So I will start at this point and ask some questions having to do with our understanding of the physical makeup of the universe, as understood through the senses upon which we rely for our understanding of the physical realm we inhabit.
We know, for example, that although we instinctively feel that our eyesight gives us a realistic picture of that which is before our eyes, we actually only see within a limited range of light frequencies known as the visible spectrum. Other frequencies that are simply beyond the abilities of our evolved light detection organs, our eyes, to perceive, range as far as low level infrared (perceivable as heat), beyond high frequency radio waves, imperceptible to our eyes. We are only sensually aware of a small percentage of the information that surrounds us and describes the world in ways to which we are entirely oblivious.
Aldous Huxley described the mind in its everyday state as acting as a “reducing valve”; among its primary functions is to diminish and restrict the volume of information and detail of the world our brains would have to analyse from moment to moment. We have evolved to require a miniscule portion of all the information that is out there in the physical universe; evolution’s function is to ensure the propagation of any given gene and, by extension, the species to which that gene belongs. The result is that much of the functionality of our brains, and their emergent entities, our minds, are presented for analysis and consideration only with that data which is necessary for survival and competition with others of our species. In fact, even our limited senses provide our brains with many times more information than is necessary for those evolutionary purposes; Huxley’s reducing valve works hard to prevent information beyond that which is necessary for life from reaching any cognitive part of our brain and therefore, in our daily lives, cannot really be said to be present in our minds.
To put it succinctly, as Shakespeare did in Hamlet….
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.
What we grasp is the merest tip of the iceberg of the reality we inhabit. In fact, what we take to be reality is merely an analogue….the way our brain arranges what it takes in so that it can be dealt with.
So when we ask “What is the nature of reality?” “What is the meaning of life?” or “Is there an afterlife?” it appears that we are basing the questions on far, far too little experience of the phenomena of which we desire information.
The second question, the one regarding the meaning of life is, I’m afraid meaningless….just as Douglas Adams satirically pointed out. For linguistic philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, the question would be no more than gibberish. The nature of reality is an area we are constantly studying and developing mathematical models to answer. Whether the universe is constituted in such a way as to be amenable to a mathematical description is very doubtful, but we expand our understanding incrementally each time a new and successful model is developed.
But the third question, the question of an afterlife is already pretty well answered. Time is our way of ordering our view of the universe (space/time) as Einstein postulated. Most theoretical physicists agree that the notion of linear time – birth, life, death – is illusory. That time doesn’t flow or pass. Time is the universe of space time occupies the eternal “now” just as space and all that it contains is the eternal “all”.
This concept is where science meets mysticism, but it is interesting to note that most mystic traditions from that of the Hopi Indians to Zen Buddhism express this notion in a variety of ways. It can never be explained in clear human language; language requires a linear view of time to be meaningful; nevertheless mystics, ascetics, serious experimenters with hallucinogens and theoretical physicists have all glimpsed the ineffable unity of space and time. It cannot be expressed in any human language (hence the apparent riddles that typify Zen philosophy), but it can be glimpsed through different means. Rational logic in the form of mathematics can give an academic stance from which to experience the eternal “now” theoretically. Changes in brain chemistry as the result of asceticism, meditation or the short cut of hallucinogenic substances can give a sense of the grandeur, the wonder and the utter indescribable difference of the deeper eternal reality that underlies our everyday sense of the world.
I am going to have two bouts of surgery within the next month or two. One, I have dealt with frequently in the past; shoulder work. This time they are going to replace my much travelled left shoulder join with a custom built model that should outlast the planet. The second is a little dodgier. It’s going to be an attempt to remove a cancerous tumour. That one could kill me on the table, it could prove ineffective, leaving me to shuffle off this mortal coil when I get up, or it could be entirely successful in catching every cancerous little cell in the vicinity.
In any case, I have chosen to examine my understanding of the unity of space/time and the eternal “now” through whatever is the most effective means for me. I (as those of you who know me are aware, am no ascetic. I hate to eat dinner without a martini…starvation and self-flagellation ain’t my style). Mathematics? I can barely calculate a 15% tip, so I give 20%.
No, It’s going to be hallucinogens. I have a doctor who will accompany me during any high-dose expeditions I take and be on hand with a jolt of Thorazine should it be needed. A cold beer other wise. All I need to do is nail down a supply of trustworthy and stable LSD 25 and start the explorations.
Should this work out as I expect it might, I have a written will that will include that at the point where I will not recover and that dying is inevitable, I am to be injected with 1000 micrograms of LSD and after an hour, life support is to be terminated. I believe that I will enter the eternal“now” having been prepared for the transition and will, in fact, have some experience with it beforehand.
That’s my current plan, but first I need to find some reliable source of the drug. I am in touch with The Albert Hoffman Foundation….the foundation created by the Swiss scientist who first synthesised LSD25 and is dedicated to the type of research I am interested in …research into the capabilities of the drug to aid the human mind to transcend the everyday reality we live in. I will see whether they are willing to help. Failing that, I will find my own source and track my experiences.
Another great adventure and one I am looking forward to with great anticipation and some excitement.
I welcome your input. And acid if you know where to get the genuine article!