The World Knot

Welcome to the blog.

The main topic here is metaphysics. Metaphysics is a muddle in western academia. Over the centuries the problems of philosophy have been tangled into a knot of such complexity that they may seem intractable. The essays here are an attempt to show that they are not, and that all that would be necessary for their solution is a rigorous simplification of the issues and a rough understanding of the perennial philosophy.

Despite some critical comments the blog is not ‘anti-academic’. Quite the reverse. There is hardly an idea mentioned here that has not been pinched from some academic or other. It is against over-complication of the issues for the sake of sophistry and the dire treatment of metaphysics and religion by a large part of the professional academic community. It is for the idea that most people could sort out the issues once they have been grasped in a simple way.

There are very few topics that are not relevant to metaphysics and vice versa, and so there will also be discussions of mathematics, psychology, physics, biology, music and other things.

The writings here should be systematic regardless of the topic. This may not be the case but it is the intention.

The pages are more like essays than posts, are usually longer, and the topics covered are not linked to the tag cloud. Have fun, and please report mistakes.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Something and Nothing

The problem that led me into Buddhism was the metaphysical dilemma that arises when we ask whether the universe began with something or nothing. Paul Davies writes about this problem at length in his book The Mind of God, and gets nowhere with it. Most philosophers, scientists and theologians struggle with it in vain.  This would be because they do not see how to ‘sublate’ this distinction and thus overcome the dilemma.  So we see physicists arguing for ex nihilo creation as if it were a sensible idea, and others arguing for the eternal existence of matter on the same basis.  It is always found, however, that neither idea is sensible, and this would be why the dilemma is still a very real one for modern science and western academic philosophy.

Accordingly, when first delving into Buddhism I scoured the sutras for clear metaphysical clues on such problems. I found very few. They are there of course, but well hidden.  I did find one very relevant passage, however, and we see in it the solution for the Something-Nothing problem. Not a clear and transparent clue, maybe, but at least a discussion of the problem and the suggestion of an available solution.  Here is what the Buddha has to say to his audience of monks.  ‘Demons’ here would be mental disturbances, and not little men with horns!

Further, in his cultivation of samadi which, as a result of his pointed concentration of mind, can no more be troubled by demons, if the practiser looks exhaustively into the origins of living beings and begins to differentiate between views when contemplating the continuous subtle disturbance in this clear state, he will fall into error because of the following four confused views about the undying heaven.

i. As he investigates the origin of transformation, he may call changing that which varies, unchanging that which continues, born that which is visible, annihilated that which is no more seen, increasing that which preserves its nature in the process of transformation, decreasing that whose nature is interrupted in the changing process, existing that which is created, and non-existent that which disappears; this is the result of his differentiation of the eight states seen as he contemplates the manifestations of the fourth aggregate. If seekers of the truth call on him for instruction, he will declare: ‘I now both live and die, both exist and do not, both increase and decrease,’ thus talking wildly to mislead them.

ii. As the practiser looks exhaustively into his mind, he finds that each thought ceases to exist in a flash and concludes that they are non-existent. If people ask for instruction, his answer consists of the one word “Nothing,” beyond which he says nothing else

iii. As the practiser looks exhaustively into his mind, he sees the rise of his thoughts and concludes that they exist. If people ask for instruction, his answer will consist of the one word “Something,” beyond which he says nothing else.

iv. The practiser sees both existence and non-existence and finds that such states are so complicated that they confuse him. If people ask for instruction, he will say: “The existing comprises the non-existent but the non-existent does not comprise the existing,” is such a perfunctory manner as to prevent exhaustive enquiries.

By so discriminating he causes confusion and so falls into heresy which screens his Boddhi nature. The above pertains to the fifth state of heterodox discrimination (samskara) which postulates confused views about the undying.

Sakyamuni Buddha, The Surangama Sutra, Trans. Lu K’uan Yu, B. I. Publications, New Delhi, 1966 (p. 222)

The ensuing quote from Chuang-Tsu is typical. Funny, confusing, seemingly disordered, self-deprecating, rigorous, full of meaning and in complete agreement with the Buddha.

Now I am going to tell you something. I don’t know what heading it comes under, and whether or not it is relevant here, but it must be relevant at some point. It is not anything new, but I would like to say it.

There is a beginning. There is no beginning of the beginning. There is no beginning of that no beginning of beginning. There is something. There is nothing. There is something before the beginning of something and nothing, and something before that. Suddenly there is something and nothing, I still don’t really know which is something and which nothing. Now, I’ve just said something, but I don’t really know whether I’ve said anything or not.

     Chuang-Tsu, Inner Chapters, Trans. Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, Amber Lotus Publishing 2000

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Does Philosophy Solve any Problems?

This question is asked a lot these days. If we were to ask it of a philosopher in what is usually defined as the ‘western’ tradition of thought then the answer would be no, it does not. Centuries of scholarly endeavour has failed to produce a consensus on any important problem. Apparently logical analysis does not reveal a theory that works. Every theory has been tested and does not pass the tests. No progress has been made since Plato. The area of study seems to doomed to failure, since every possible metaphysical theory is found to be logically indefensible.

If we ask a philosopher in what we usually call the ‘eastern’ tradition of thought then the answer may vary. Philosophy of the academic or scholastic kind, as opposed to the Socratic kind, cannot prove what is true about Reality. Reality might not obey the rules. Aristotle warns us of this. So perhaps the final answer would be no, it does not solve problems. Philosophy would be cartography, not actual exploration.

Bu this is a rather mystical view, and it is asking more of philosophy than we ask of physics. In physics we solve problems by creating theories, and over time the best theory emerges. In metaphysics we can do the same. Then the answer would be yes, it does.

A number of philosophers have explained how to solve philosophical problems. The solution would be to assume that all of the theories that do not work are wrong, that this is the reason why they do not work, and then to reject them. Simple.

That is to say, the solution would be to assume that western thinkers have got their calculations exactly right, spot on, but that they are not seeing the solution because they are excluding one theory from their consideration, one that they can never consider. This has to be excluded because it is mysticism, specifically nondualism, the very philosophical theory that western thinkers must reject in order to qualify for the geographical adjective. If they were to start investigating the philosophy of the Upanishads as a serious proposition then they would become no different from eastern thinkers. Because of this, all self-professed western-style thinkers must think that philosophy does not solve any problems. They must reject any solution offered by eastern thinkers prior to analysis simply in order to distinguish themselves as members of the opposite club.

The Buddhist sage Noble Nagarjuna logically proves that analysis can solve all philosophical problems in a text called The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way. in philosophy it has been found impossible to falsify his logical result and centuries of subsequent analysis have proved it over and over again.

His result: All positive metaphysical theories are logically indefensible.

This functions as a solution, and not a barrier to knowledge, because all we would now need to do for a solution is to infer from this logical result that all such theories are false. This leaves only one theory remaining, and this would be the solution for philosophy. This would be the only solution that western educated thinkers consistently refuse to consider, and this refusal is what distinguishes the members of the tradition. In this tradition the idea that philosophical problems can be solved would have to be deemed heretical. It seems almost obvious that the solution must lie elsewhere.

Regardless of its truth or accuracy as a description of Reality, in logic Nagarjuna’s view would work and this prevents us from simply assuming that philosophy solves no problems. Supporters of Nagarjuna would say that solving problems is the only task that philosophical analysis is for and that it is the perfect tool for the job.

The trouble is, of course, that nobody is going to believe that there might be a solution for philosophy until they’ve understood for themselves how it would work, and this would require knowing a fair bit about the problems of philosophy, while a person who believes that philosophy does not solve problems is unlikely to want to put in the work. The solution would be bound to seem ad hoc unless we have clearly seen the problem.

So, we must carry on as ever, with one tradition failing to make any progress and yet, nevertheless, refusing to think outside the box, and the other tradition having had it all done and dusted for a couple of thousand years or more but unable to find a way to explain the solution to anyone who doesn’t actually want to listen, and why would anyone want to listen when they already think they know that philosophy does not solve any problems? Pessimism is always an enemy of progress.

All this talk of ‘eastern’ and ‘western’ philosophy is misleading but convenient. Really there is just good thinking and not so good thinking. But ‘eastern’ and ‘western’ are a useful shorthand. We are in a situation where one of the two main tradition of philosophy cannot solve any problems but claims to know, we know not how, that any solution offered by the other tradition is wrong, while the other tradition insists that it can explain all these problems if only the other tradition would listen, and has a vast literature doing just this.  Yet both traditions are in complete agreement on the logical calculations, down to the last letter, and differ only on their interpretation of the result. They even agree that the western interpretation does not work. As usual for human society, there’s no making it up.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Mathematics, Theism, Psychology and Logic: Examining a Shared Problem

It is fortunate that metaphysics requires little mathematics. What it does require would be crucial, indispensable, but the boundary between the two lies deep in the foundations of mathematics where the main issues can usually be stated in elementary arithmetical terms.

Many decades ago the author defied all expectation and passed his mathematics ‘O’ level exam, and it remains his highest qualification in this arcane art. By a fabulous piece of good fortune he sat it in the year that the examination Board introduced simple set theory into the curriculum. The examiners were not quite sure how it would go down so played it safe, and the exam was a doddle. A few Venn diagrams to sketch and hardly any calculations. And yet, this turns out to be exactly what is required for metaphysics.

If we cannot understand the basic principles of set theory then we cannot understand the basic problems of metaphysics. They would be different ways of thinking about the same logical issues. When a metaphysician looks at a logical problem it comes with external referents attached: Something-Nothing, Mind-Matter and so on, When a mathematician looks at such problems the logic is freed from any contingent meaning and the problem is reduced to its simplest and most general logical form: Zero- One, One-Two and so on. In either language we can ask: Which came first? What comes before number and quantity? Can Zero exist without One, or One without Zero?

Two books, one recent and one long famous, usefully illustrate the relationship between metaphysics and mathematics. The first would be The World According to Quantum Mechanics by the physicist Ulrich Mohrhoff. Almost the whole of this book is incomprehensible to me. It is a text book covering the mathematics of quantum mechanics explaining how all the parts fit together with occasional fun tests to which I cannot even understand the explanations of the answers let alone the questions. Yet there is the odd remark here and there, and one chapter in particular, where the language becomes more simple. These are the thoughts of the author most relevant to metaphysics, and they can be understood with little reference to anything but the most basic arithmetic. Such thoughts must nearly always focus on the basic principles of set theory for these form the foundation of mathematics, the structure of thought that we uncover when we reduce mathematics to its most basic logical and numerical operations. Here we are almost in metaphysics and are already in psychology.

The second would be Das Kontinuum by the physicist, philosopher and mathematician Hermann Weyl. Again, most of this book is incomprehensible to me and would be to most people. Yet the pattern is the same. There are passages, and one chapter in particular, where things become, if not simpler, much more general, and that therefore require little more of the reader that than the simplest set theory. This is where the discussions gets down to basics and address the metaphysical implications of the mathematics. These two books appear to be in complete agreement as to the nature and meaning of what these implications are, and thus about the nature of reality.

In metaphysics set theory could be called ‘category theory’ and it would be all about the categories of thought. Suppose we were to take all the ideas in our mind, every single one of them without exception, and put them into one category called the ‘set of all ideas’. No problem, one might think. In fact it would be impossible. The ‘set of all ideas’ is itself an idea. In mathematics this problem is called ‘Russell’s Paradox’ since it stopped in its tracks Russell’s ten year attempt to ‘axiomatise’ set theory.

Such a simple problem, and yet one that causes important and difficult problems in mathematics, psychology, theism, consciousness studies, metaphysics, logic and, as some physicists would see it, theoretical physics. Paul Davies’ Mind of God is all about this problem. It is a problem of self-reference. The most general set has to contain itself, in which case it is not a set but a more complicated idea. Simple stuff but not trivial. If the set of all ideas cannot be an idea, then would this be a proof that the origin of the intellect cannot ever be an idea? Kant thought so, and the Buddha insists on it.

All this is not even up to the level of my long-forgotten set-theoretical examination questions. Yet it is profound and important. Kant’s solution to this problem was to adopt as an axiom for psychology a phenomenon that is not an instance of a category. This would be a phenomenon that we cannot think or imagine, but, rather, what would be required in order for us to think or imagine in the first place. He proposes that this is the proper subject for any rational psychology, thus for any theory of the mind.

In mathematics Russell’s problem is solved by George Spencer Brown, at one time a colleague of Russell, and in just the same way. In his Laws of Form he describes a calculus (a formal system of sets) which is axiomatised on a phenomenon that cannot be categorised.

In metaphysics this would be same solution as is given by the Buddhist philosopher-sage Noble Nagarjuna in his Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, where he logically refutes all other metaphysical theories. In the Tao Te Ching we find Lao Tsu proposing that in no case can we categorise the world as a whole as this or that. Hence Russell’s Paradox would not arise for their view.

In this way a little set theory can reveal that an effective solution for Russell’s problem as it appears in metaphysics, psychology and mathematics would be to assume that the origin of everything is a phenomenon that is not available to our minds as an idea. It could never be an idea since it would be their origin and environment. This approach would also be very much required by physics if it is ever to explain why it cannot describe the world completely.

The whole debate between religion and science, to the extent that it is about reason and logic, may come down to how we go about solving this simple problem of set theory. It is this problem that creates the gap that some people would put God in. It appears in many guises. The Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity will seem incoherent unless we solve it. The doctrine of Divine Simplicity would be a solution. The transcendence of dualism in philosophy would be impossible without a solution, since the only solution would be to abandon dualism. Unless it is solved metaphysics is a dead end, and then consciousness studies would have to see consciousness as some sort of conjuring trick. Set-theory would have no fundamental axiom. Cosmology would be the search for a theory to describe a clearly impossible event. The problem could hardly be more important or interesting.

Yet simple. This is typical. All the most important questions are simple. Unfortunately it can take a lot of time and effort to realise this, which makes them not so simple after all. We can, if the Buddha is to be believed, verify his solution for the ‘set of all ideas’ in our own experience. But this would not usually be an easy way to do it. In set theory it is not so hard, and Russell was happy with Brown’s simple solution. He failed to see that is also the solution given by the perennial philosophy, or ‘mysticism’ in my terminology, but he did see that the solution works in logic.

It works everywhere. If this is not strong evidence for the truth of the Upanishadic view of Reality that can be accepted by doubters then I doubt if there is any, unless it is a miracle on the road to Damascus.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Sages and Scientists: A Symposium on Science and Consiousness

Here is a shortened cut of the “Science and Consciousness” panel held in the first evening of the “Sages and Scientists ’14″ Symposium, which took place in Carlsbad, California, in August of 2014. The participants in the panel, sitting from left to right, were:

Neil Theise (
Stuart Hameroff (…).
Rudy Tanzi (…).
Henry Stapp (
Bernardo Kastrup (
Menas Kafatos (…).
Erhard Seiler (…).
Leonard Mlodinow (…).
Michael Shermer (…).

Moderator: Deepak Chopra (



Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Iggy Pop and the Music Biz: How to Get In and How to Get Out

A few days ago and quite by chance, as I idly flicked through the TV channels, I arrived on the BBC right at the beginning of the annual John Peel lecture, given this year by Iggy Pop. I was spellbound. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen on the TV for years.

in case there’s anybody who doesn’t know, John Peel (Blessed be His Name) is the God of British Music Radio. Iggy Pop everybody knows. He currently does a weekly show for BBC Radio 6.

Not everyone is interested in the music business but Iggy’s talk ranged a lot wider than this and it’s a great performance. His advice for young musicians entering the music biz includes the line, ‘always maintain a spiritual exit’.

I thought it was worth re-promoting since I nearly missed it. These old pros, the ones that survive, pick up a lot of wisdom along with the bruises. It’s here…

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

The Doctrine of Divine Simplicity and The Problem of Attributes


In ‘western’ or dualistic philosophies the problem of attributes arises and is intractable. It is one of many such ‘barriers to knowledge’ collectively known as the ‘problems of philosophy’. Here is Colin McGinn wrestling with this problem as a teenager from his (very readable) book The Making of a Philosopher (2002).

…[P]icture me sitting on a bench staring at a British mailbox on a blustery spring day in Blackpool. I had just been reading about the questions of substance and qualities, and was suitably transfixed. Is an object the sum of its qualities or does it have an existence that is some way goes beyond its qualities? The mailbox had a variety of qualities – it was red, cylindrical, metal, etc. – but it seemed to be more than just the collection of these; it was a thing, a “substance,” that had these qualities. But what was this substance that had those qualities? Did it lie behind them in some way, supporting them like the foundation of a house? If so, what was this underlying thing like – what qualities did it have? If it had some qualities, wouldn’t there be the same problem again, since it would also have to be distinct from these qualities? But if it had no qualities, what kind of thing could it be? How could these be something that had no qualities? So maybe we should say that there is nothing more to a mailbox than the qualities it manifests. And yet how can an object be just a set of abstract qualities? Isn’t it more solid and concrete than that? … I had a vague mental image of a grey amorphous something that constituted the underlying mailbox, to which its various manifest qualities mysteriously were attached… Yet as soon as I replaced this fuzzy image with the qualities by themselves, trying to think of the mailbox as just a “bundle of qualities,” the object itself seemed to disappear.

Here we see one of the fundamental problems with materialism and other such forms of realism, which is the reification of objects on the basis of their phenomenal attributes. When one looks, there is no object there. If the attributes are real then the object must be unreal. This logical and empirical problem is insurmountable once such a reification has occurred. Mysticism solves this problem as it does all metaphysical problems, by refusing to reify anything at all. It makes the claim that experience shows that objects and subjects, and all the products of division and separation, are not metaphysical absolutes but emergent, evolved, epiphenomenal, illusory, not really real.

The monotheistic religions seem at first to be cut off from this solution since there is a tendency to reify God and to define Him in terms of His attributes. If we follow McGinn’s thinking, then this reification of God’s attributes entails the de-reification of God. It is the same problem as afflicts materialism, albeit that it is not so troublesome in philosophy and physics where God can be denied, and where the problem can be more easily stated in terms of English letterboxes. It can be overcome within theism, however, as long as we do not mind our theism becoming consistent with mysticism and the perennial philosophy. Many Christians and Muslims would be horrified at the idea that the seemingly heretical doctrine taught by the mystics might be a correct description of the world and the correct interpretation of the scriptures, but it is not very difficult to make a case and when it comes down to brass tacks the logic of the situation forces us to consider this possibility.

For a solution to the problem of attributes we would have to return to a classical definition of God. This definition would be a great deal more sophisticated than most modern ideas, many of which make easy prey for critics, so easy that they might be called straw-men. A more sophisticated idea of God allows us to consider ideas from Christian mysticism, Buddhism and Sufism, which are at the limit atheistic but which nevertheless find the idea of God perfectly acceptable. We can see the way they overlap in the doctrine of ‘Divine Simplicity’. In the final analysis the problem of attributes can be solved in only one way, and this is by assuming that attributes do not adhere to an object but are what an object actually is. An object would then be no more than its phenomenal attributes. This would be why McGinn can find no more than this, that there is no more. The object is a conceptual imputation. We see the attributes and assume an underlying carrier that binds them together. This gives us an idea we call ‘Matter’. Matter, however, is not something that can be identified, observed, verified or found by any means. All we could ever find is phenomenal attributes. For physics this is all there ever is and ever can be. But for physics the logical relationship between these attributes and whatever it is that they are attributes of is incoherent. A fundamental dualism of object and attribute prevents us from making sense of objects or ever finding one.

In theology this problem may be sidestepped if we endorse the doctrine of Divine Simplicity. Then we will have available to us the solution given in mysticism. It would be phrased in theistic terms but this would be a subtle theism and its terms would represent classical concepts and not one of the naïve ideas about God that abound these days and that are so popular with debunkers. Here is the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Divine Simplicity. It seems to me that in this context the term ‘God’ might be replaced by the ‘Real’ or by Plotinus’ ‘First’, which he describes as a ‘Simplex’. We must now think of the whole of the phenomenal world as an attribute of God, thus by reduction identical with God, such that dualism of any kind would be false. All would be a unity, and all division would be conceptual.

According to the classical theism of Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas and their adherents, God is radically unlike creatures in that he is devoid of any complexity or composition, whether physical or metaphysical. Besides lacking spatial and temporal parts, God is free of matter/form composition, potency/act composition, and existence/essence composition. There is also no real distinction between God as subject of his attributes and his attributes. God is thus in a sense requiring clarification identical to each of his attributes, which implies that each attribute is identical to every other one. God is omniscient, then, not in virtue of instantiating or exemplifying omniscience — which would imply a real distinction between God and the property of omniscience — but by being omniscience. And the same holds for each of the divine omni-attributes: God is what he has. As identical to each of his attributes, God is identical to his nature. And since his nature or essence is identical to his existence, God is identical to his existence. This is the doctrine of divine simplicity (DDS). It is represented not only in classical Christian theology, but also in Jewish, Greek, and Islamic thought. It is to be understood as an affirmation of God’s absolute transcendence of creatures. God is not only radically non-anthropomorphic, but radically non-creaturomorphic, not only in respect of the properties he possesses, but in his manner of possessing them. God, we could say, differs in his very ontology from any and all created beings.

Despite many years studying comparative religion this idea of God and his attributes escaped me until last week. This may be because I find theology an impossible field of study. It is not only that it is complicated, but I find that logic immediately leads me to the idea that the thing I am supposed to be studying does not exist in the way that theology usually assumes. But Divine Simplicity is an idea that transcends theology. It can exist and function without need for the word ‘God’. This word would become optional, as we see from the wisdom traditions and the perennial philosophy. Here the principle of non-duality takes us beyond theism and there is no attempt at the reification of phenomena.

The idea of Divine Simplicity in Christianity suggests that it is possible to move from an exoteric version of this religion with its objectification of God and the world, back to a more classical notion that is ambiguous on God’s existence, and from there onwards to mysticism, without the need for a great deal of mental gymnastics. Divine Simplicity is such a profound idea that much can be learnt from an analysis of what it claims whatever one believes about God, and it quickly becomes apparent that the God it endorses, since it is ontologically unique and transcends existence, would make a very promising ontological primitive for a theory of everything.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 18 Comments

On Time and Doing Our Epistemic Duty: The Philosopher and the Wolf by Mark Rowlands


Philosophers often consider that actions that are immoral are the result of a failure of duty on the part of their perpetrators. There would be two kinds of duty involved. Here is Mark Rowlands on this topic from his book The Philosopher and the Wolf. He is speaking in part about some highly unpleasant, extensive and frankly barbaric laboratory experiments on dogs carried out by three Harvard psychologists involving electric shocks and deliberately induced panic, pain and suffering.

On the one hand, there is a failure to do ones moral duty. The particular duty in question is to protect those who are defenceless against those who deem them inferior and therefore expendable. If this is not a basic moral obligation, it is difficult to imagine what it is.

There is, however, another kind of duty involved: something that philosophers call epistemic duty. This is the duty to subject one’s beliefs to the appropriate amount of critical scrutiny: to examine whether they are warranted by the available evidence and to at least attempt to ascertain whether or not there exists any countervailing evidence. Today we have scant regard for epistemic duty: so sparingly is it honoured that most people would not even regard it as a duty (and this, itself, is a failure of epistemic duty).

… Whenever we look closely at evil, in its various forms and guises, we will always find staring back at us failure of epistemic duty and failure of moral duty. Evil that is the result of explicit intentions to cause pain and suffering, and to enjoy doing so, is a rare exception.

Rowlands’ book is an interesting mixture of philosophical chat alongside instructions on how to rear and live with a wolf. Well, you never know, it might come in handy. The psychology of wolves and humans is compared and not always favourably. The philosophy is good and not stuffy although of course most readers will want to argue, and there is a very good discussion of time couched in psychological terms which compares the extended time of humans, created out of memories and anticipations, hopes, regrets and fantasies, for which the moment has no depth or meaning in itself, and that of his wolf, which resides almost entirely in the richness of the moment. Some years ago I read a study of feral children who grow up in the wild with no ‘civilising’ influences, and it was striking that those who are later re-integrated with human society invariably express a great sadness at having been torn from a vivid and vibrant life lived in the ‘now’, moment by moment, to be saddled with the dissipating distractions of the past and the present. Rowland discusses this difference of perception at some length and in an interesting way.

I found it an enjoyable book and I think any philosophically inclined animal lover would like it. The philosophy and psychology is not trite or simply derivative, there is some substance and insight to it, and the animal training advice seems spot on. From the perspective of anyone who wants the academic and scientific world to wake up and see what is right under their noses, the insanity and utter implausibility of the currently orthodox world-view and its disastrous consequences, it may be the short note on epistemic duty quoted above that will seem the most important passage.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

In Praise of Woo


There is a story that Socrates used to visit the markets regularly. When asked why he does so he replies that it is because he enjoys looking at all the things he can do without. This seems eminently sensible. Materialism in any form does not seem nearly so sensible.

If consciousness is an illusion of some sort, the epiphenomenal steam from the whistle of a steam-driven train in Ryle’s suicidal metaphor, then so are the contents of consciousness. In this case materialism is false. All scientific data would be illusory. It is ironic. After all, if consciousness is an illusion then nothing really exists, just as the Buddhist sage Nagarjuna goes to so much trouble to logically prove in the second century. On the hand, looking on the brighter side, if consciousness is not an illusion then materialism is false.

This illustrates the muddle that ensues when we do not make a clear distinction between what philosophers of the school of Chalmers and Dennett would call ‘consciousness’, and what a mystic might call ‘pure’ or ‘pristine’ awareness. If we fail to make this distinction then terminological, conceptual and logical chaos ineluctably ensues. We will not have the language or concepts that would be required for a coherent and comprehensible explanation of consciousness. We are left with a permanent gap in our theories that prevents us from completing them, a missing ingredient, and no general solution for metaphysics.

The ‘easy’ problem of consciousness, the filling in of all the details, may be an infinite and endlessly complex task, and probably an increasingly dull one. The ‘hard’ problem is finite and simple. The solution would be to suppose that ‘awareness’ is fundamental and then reserve the term ‘consciousness’ for whatever this awareness is aware of. What it is aware of may be defined as Maya, the phenomenal world, and counter-posed to this our little ‘self’, constructed like a bower-bird’s nest out of a hustle and bustle of thoughts, images, perceptions, sensations, hopes, fears, dreams and desires. Awareness can be none of these things so must be prior.

Using this trinitarian terminology the missing ingredient in the problem of consciousness would be ‘awareness’. We would draw a clear distinction between the contents of consciousness, that of which we are aware, all that moves and changes, all that could ever be an object for intentional consciousness or a subject counter-posed to it, and the simple fact of awareness. As well as ‘I think’ there would be ‘I Am’.

This simple fact is so completely simple that it defies intellectual analysis. As a consequence it is easily overlooked in any strictly scholastic philosophy. The definition ‘strictly scholastic’ would actually demand that we overlook it. We must talk of awareness in terms of ‘woo’, as if the whole idea is ridiculous, and ignore the vast and global literature of the one and only discipline that empirically studies the relationship between intentional or temporal consciousness and awareness.

In any strictly scholastic philosophy we certainly cannot consider the idea that when we attempt to reduce the world to the subjective or the objective, as we have been trying to do for thousands of years now, we are creating a problem that has no solution other than to stop trying to do it. We would be doomed to a lifetime of not being able to quite pin down what we are talking about when we say ‘consciousness’.

Explanations are categorical, dualistic. We explain one thing in terms of another. Explanations reside in the world of Yin and Yang, of dualism and relativity. In order to bring an explanation to an end, to reduce this two-valued logical system to its foundation, we would require three terms, one of which must transcend the dualism of the system.  This allows a final reduction. Fortunately, all formal axiomatic systems of explanation require at least one undefined term, and so we can kill two birds with one stone by making this meta-systematic third term our initial axiom. ‘Tao’ would be a traditional place-holder.

This is the solution for consciousness and origins in my opinion. The whole of it. It is mysticism. It is not ‘woo’. It is merely a more subtle and sophisticated idea than those who believe it is ‘woo’ can currently imagine in their wildest dreams. It would embarrass a materialist to learn what the use of this dismissive terminology gives away to anyone conversant with the literature of mysticism or who has some empirical knowledge of the origin and functioning of consciousness, as would the large number of people who fall into one or both of these categories.

Woo is the secret of the universe. Until we see this we will be trapped in intellectual and perceptual chains, fearful of death and ultimate meaninglessness, unable to describe Nature except as incomprehensible to us, doomed to be forever banging our heads against a thousand metaphysical dilemmas. The evidence for the truth of this is there for anyone to see.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 22 Comments

On Death and Consciousness

Here are some remarks on death and consciousness.  I am a big fan of Erwin Schrodinger so he gets the limelight, but he says nothing different from the others.  The joy of mysticism is that everybody agrees on the main points.  This is the benefit of empiricism as compared with speculation. Anyway, perhaps these words give us some reason to be cheerful, and even as a sceptic we might hope that there is some truth in them.


“How does the idea of plurality (so emphatically opposed by the Upanishad writers) arise at all? Consciousness finds itself intimately connected with, and dependent on, the physical state of a limited region of matter, the body… Now, there is a great plurality of similar bodies. Hence the pluralisation of consciousness or minds seems a very suggestive hypothesis. Probably all simple ingenious people, as well as the great majority of western philosophers, have accepted it.

It leads almost immediately to the invention of souls, as many as there are bodies, and to the question whether they are mortal as the body is or whether they are immortal and capable of existing by themselves. The former alternative is distasteful, while the latter frankly forgets, ignores, or disowns the facts upon which the plurality hypothesis rests. Much sillier questions have been asked: Do animals also have souls? It has even been questioned whether women, or only men, have souls.

Such consequences, even if only tentative, must make us suspicious of the plurality hypothesis, which is common to all official western creeds. Are we not inclining to much greater nonsense if in discarding their gross superstitions, we retain their naïve idea of plurality of souls, but “remedy” it be declaring the souls to be perishable, to be annihilated with the respective bodies?

The only possible alternative is simply to keep the immediate experience that consciousness is a singular of which the plural is unknown; that there is only one thing and that, what seems to be a plurality, is merely a series of different aspects of this one thing, produced by a deception (the Indian MAYA); the same illusion is produced in a gallery of mirrors, and in the same way Gaurisankar and Mt. Everest turned out to be the same peak, seen from different valleys.

“Yet each of us has the undisputable impression that the sum total of his own experience and memory forms a unit, quite distinct from that of any other person. He refers to it as “I”. What is this “I”?

If you analyse it closely, you will, I think, find that it is just a little bit more than a collection of single data (experiences and memories), namely, the canvas upon which they are collected. And you will, on close introspection, find that what you really mean by “I,” is that ground-stuff on which they are collected. You may come to a distant country, lose sight of all your friends, may all but forget them; you acquire new friends, you share life with them as intensely as you ever did with your old ones. Less and less important will become the fact that, while living your new life, you still recollect the old one. “The youth that I was,” you may come to speak of him in the third person; indeed, the protagonist of the novel you are reading is probably nearer to your heart, certainly more intensely alive and better known to you. Yet there has been no intermediate break, no death. And even if a skilled hypnotist succeeded in blotting out entirely all your earlier reminiscences, you would not find that he had killed you. In no case is there a loss of personal existence to deplore.

Nor will there ever be.”

Erwin Schrödinger, The I That Is God 

 “To consider that after the death of the body the spirit perishes is like imagining that a bird in a cage will be destroyed if the cage is broken, though the bird has nothing to fear from the destruction of the cage. Our body is like the cage, and the spirit like the bird. We see that without the cage this bird flies in the world of sleep; therefore, if the cage becomes broken, the bird will continue and exist. Its feelings will be even more powerful, its perceptions greater, and its happiness increased.”

Adu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions

 “The disciples said to Jesus, “Tell us how our end will be.” Jesus said, “Have you discovered, then, the beginning, that you look for the end? For where the beginning is, there will the end be. Blessed is he who will take his place in the beginning; he will know the end and will not experience death.”

Gospel of Thomas, V18

“He who has come to understand this world shall discover (only) a corpse, and whoever has discovered a corpse shall transcend this world.”

Jesus, Gospel of Thomas, V. 56

 “Cast off completely your head and skin. Thoroughly withdraw from distinctions of light and shadow. Where the ten thousand changes do not reach is the foundation that even a thousand sages cannot transmit”

Zen Master Hongzhi, Cultivating the Empty Field

 “From the point of view of a mystic, however, what left the body was the person. This body was not the person. This body was a mask which covered that person. When this mask is cast off, that visible person becomes invisible. Not he, himself, but only the mask has been thrown away. He is what he already was. If death comes, it is the removing of the mask.

From The Message through Inayat Khan, adapted from talks given in the early 1900′s,

 “Samsara – our conditioned existence in the perpetual cycle of habitual tendencies – and nirvana – genuine freedom from such an existence – are nothing but different manifestations of a basic continuum. So this continuity of consciousness is always present.”

Tenzin Gyatso, The Dalai Lama, The Little Book of Buddhism, Compiled and edited Renuka Singh

 “The path of those behind the veil is not to communicate with fairies nor even with God; it is to communicate with one’s deepest innermost self, as if one were blowing one’s inner spark into a divine fire. But one does not stop there, he goes still further. He then remains in a state of repose, and that repose can be brought about by a certain way of sitting and breathing and also by a certain attitude of mind. Then he begins to become conscious of that part of his being which is not the physical body, but which is above it. The more he becomes conscious of this, the more he begins to realize the truth of the life hereafter. Then it is no longer a matter of his imagination or of his belief; it is his actual realization of the experience that is independent of physical life.”

From The Message through Inayat Khan, Adapted from talks given in the early 1900′s.

 “The prime characteristic of cosmic consciousness is a consciousness of the cosmos, that is, of the life and order of the universe. Along with the consciousness of the cosmos there occurs an intellectual enlightenment which alone would place the individual on a new plane of existence – would make him almost a member of a new species. To this is added a state of moral exaltation, an indescribable feeling of elevation, elation, and joyousness, and a quickening of the moral sense, which is fully as striking, and more important than is the enhanced intellectual power. With these come what may be called a sense of immortality, a consciousness of eternal life, not a conviction that he shall have this, but the consciousness that he has it already.”

R. M. Bucke, Cosmic Consciousness: a study in the evolution of human Mind (1901)

“Jesus said this: “Today, when you look upon your appearance, you rejoice. However, when you shall look upon your image, which came into being at your origin, which neither dies, nor does it now appear, how will you bear up under it then?”

Gospel of Thomas, V. 88

 “Hence this life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but is, in a certain sense, the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance. This, as we know, is what the Brahmins express in that sacred, mystic formula which is yet really so simple and so clear: Tat tvam asi, this is you. Or, again, in such words as “I am in the east and the west, I am below and above, I am this whole world.”

Thus you can throw yourself flat on the ground, stretched out upon Mother Earth, with the certain conviction that you are one with her and she with you. You are as firmly established, as invulnerable, as she – indeed, a thousand times firmer and more invulnerable. As surely as she will engulf you tomorrow, so surely will she bring you forth anew to new striving and suffering. And not merely, “some day”: now, today, every day she is bringing you forth, not once, but thousands upon thousands of times, just as every day she engulfs you a thousand times over. For eternally and always there is only one now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end.”

Erwin Schrödinger, The Mystic Vision, In Ken Wilbur, Quantum Questions

 “Oh boy! Oh boy!” cried the monk-on-probation who had just cracked the Zen Master’s favourite (and valuable) drinking cup.

The frightened youngster went to the Zen Master and asked, “Why must there be death?” The Master answered, “Death is natural. It comes to all persons and things. We should not greet it with fear or meet death with anger. Why do you ask?” “Because, Master, death has come upon your cup.”

Zen Fables For Today

“For this is my word of promise, that he who loves me shall not perish.”

Krishna, Bhagavad Gita

 “We actually do not die. At death, we are merely kept inert for some time, just as during sleep. At night we sleep, and all our activities stop, but as soon as we arise, our memory immediately returns, and we think, “Oh, where am I? What do I have to do?” This is called suptotthita-nyãya. Suppose we die. “Die” means that we become inert for some time and then again begin our activities. This takes place life after life, according to our karma, or activities, and svabhãva, or nature by association. Now, in the human life, if we prepare ourselves by beginning the activity of our spiritual life, we return to our real life and attain perfection. Otherwise, according to our karma, svabhãva, prakriti and so on, our varieties of life and activity continue, and so also do our birth and death.

…The (Krisna) consciousness movement wants to stop koti-janma, repeated birth and death. In one birth, one should rectify everything and come to permanent life. This is Krisna consciousness.

A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupãda, Purports – Srimad Bhaghavatam, Tenth Canto, Part Three

“Never suppose that it is useless to prepare yourself to die at any time. For even if we live for many more years, we can never be totally ready to confront this passage. However, it is otherwise with fully awakened beings.”

The Dalai Lama, Reflections from the Journey of Life

“Ibrahim ibn Adham was seated on his throne in the Great Hall of his palace. Gathered around him were his ministers and slaves. Suddenly a fearsome figure strode into the hall, straight up to the throne.

‘What do you want?’ demanded Ibrahim ibn Adham.

‘I have just arrived at this caravanserai [caravan inn],’ replied the man.

You must be mad,’ shouted Ibrahim. ‘This is not a caravanserai. It’s my palace.’

‘And who owned this palace before you did?’ asked the man.

‘My father.’

‘And before him?’

‘My grandfather.’

‘And before him?’


‘And before him?’

‘So-and-so’s father.’

‘And where are they all now?’

‘They are all gone,’ relied Ibrahim. ‘They are dead.’

‘Then is this not a caravanserai, where people come and go?’

As soon as the stranger had said these words he vanished. Ibrahim realized he had received a visit from Kidhir, the immortal guide of the Sufis.

John Baldock, The Essence of Sufism

 “The reason why our sentient, percipient, and thinking ego is met nowhere within our scientific world picture can be easily indicated in seven words: because it is itself that world picture. It is identical with the whole and therefore cannot be contained in it as part of it. But of course, here we knock against the arithmetical paradox; there appears to be a great multitude of these conscious egos, the world, however, is only one. This comes from the fashion in which the world-concept produces itself. The several domains of “private” consciousness overlap. The region common to us all where they all overlap is the construct of the “real world around us.” With all that an uncomfortable feeling remains, prompting such questions as; is my world really the same as yours? Is there one real world to be distinguished from its pictures introjected by way of perception into every one of us? And if so, are these pictures like unto the real world or is the latter, the world “in itself,” perhaps very different from the one we perceive?

Such questions are ingenious, but, in my opinion, very apt to confuse the issue. They have no adequate answers. They are all, or lead to, antimonies springing from the one source, which I called the arithmetical paradox; the many conscious egos from whose mental experiences the one world is concocted.

… There are two way out of the number paradox, both appearing rather lunatic from the point of view of present scientific thought (based on ancient Greek thought and thus thoroughly “Western”). One way out is the multiplication of the world in Leibnitz’s fearful doctrine of monads: every monad to be a world by itself, no communication between them; the monad “has no windows,” it is “incommunicado.” That they all agree with each other is called “pre-established harmony”.

… There is obviously only one alternative, namely the unification of minds or consciousnesses. Their multiplicity is only apparent, in truth, there is only one mind. This is the doctrine of the Upanishads. And not only the Upanishads. The mystically experienced union with God regularly entails this attitude unless it is opposed by strong existing prejudices;…”

 Erwin Schrödinger, The Oneness of Mind


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 7 Comments

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Missing Ingredient: A Philosophical Fantasy

Phew.  I’ve just finished the Sherlock Holmes story from which I posted some extracts earlier. I wrote myself into a corner and had a tough job getting out again.  It’s too long and I suspect it gets a bit tedious here and there, but it was fun to write.  Holmes turns his attention to the problem of consciousness and makes some progress.  Unfortunately the formatting, which follows the newspaper style of the original stories, could not be carried over into wordpress.   The full story is here…

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment