Sam HarrisI must admit to not being very familiar with Sam Harris’ work: to me he’s been primarily a member of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism: Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and that other one…  However in the video here he expresses a couple of interesting views, one about the irreducible subjectivity of consciousness, the other about the illusory nature of the self. His most recent book – first chapter here – apparently seeks to reinterpret spirituality for atheists; he seems basically to be a rationalist Buddhist (there is of course no contradiction involved in becoming a Buddhist while remaining an atheist).

It’s a slight surprise to find an atheist champion who does not want to do away with subjectivity. Harris accepts that there is an interior subjective experience which cannot simply be reduced to its objective, material correlates: he likens the two aspects to two faces of a coin. If you like, you can restrict yourself to talking about one face of the coin, but you can’t go on to say that the other doesn’t really exist, or that features of the heads side are really just features of the tails side seen from another angle.  So far as it goes, this is all very sensible, and I think the majority of people would go along with it quite a way. What’s a little odd is that Harris seems content to rest there: it’s just a feature of the world that it has these two aspects, end of story. Most of us still want some explanation; if not a reduction then at least some metaphysics which allows us to go on calling ourselves monists in a respectable manner.

Harris’ second point is also one that many others would agree with, but not me. The self, he says, is an illusion: there is no consistent core which amounts to a self. In these arguments I feel the sceptics are often guilty of knocking down straw men: they set up a ridiculous version of the self and demolish that without considering more reasonable ideas. So, they deny that that there is any specific part of the brain that can be identified with the self, they deny the existence of a Cartesian Theatre, or they deny any unchanging core. But whoever said the self had to be unchanging or simple?

Actually, we can give a pretty good account of the self without ever going beyond common sense. Human beings are animals, which means I’m a big live lump of meat which has a recognisable identity at the simple physical and biological level: to deny that takes a more radical kind of metaphysical scepticism than most would be willing to go in for.  The behaviour of that ape-like lump of meat is also governed by a reasonably consistent set of memories and beliefs. That’s all we need for a self, no mystery here, folks, move along please.

Now of course my memories and my beliefs change, as does the size and shape of the beast they inhabit. At 56 I’m not the same as I was at 6.  But so what? Rivers, as Heraclitus reminds us, never contain exactly the same water at two different moments: they rise and fall, they meander and change course. We don’t have big difficulties over believing in rivers, though, or even in the Nile or the Amazon in particular. There may be doubts about what to treat as the true origin of the Nile, but people don’t go round saying it’s an illusion (unless they’ve gone in for some of that more radical metaphysics). On this, I think Dennett’s conception of the self as a centre of narrative gravity is closer to the truth than most, though he has, unfairly, I think, been criticised for equivocating over its reality.

Frequently what people really want to deny is not the self so much as the soul. Often they also want to deny that there is a special inward dimension: but as we’ve seen, Harris affirms that. He seems instead almost to be denying the qualic sense of self I suggested a while back. Curiously, he thinks that we can in fact, overcome the illusion of selfhood: in certain exalted states he thinks we can transcend ourselves and see the world as it really is.

This is strange, because you would expect the illusion of self to stem from something fundamental about conscious experience (some terrible bottleneck, some inherent limitation), not from small, adjustable details of chemistry. Can selfhood really be a mental disease caused by an ayahuasca deficiency? Harris asserts that in these exalted states we’re seeing the world as it truly is, but wouldn’t that be the best state for us to stay in? You’d think we would have evolved that way if seeing reality just needed some small tweaks to the brain.

It does look to me as if Harris’ thinking has been conditioned a little too much by Buddhism.  He speaks with great respect of the rational basis of Buddhism, pointing out that it requires you to believe its tenets merely because they can be shown to be true, whereas Christianity seems to require as an arbitrarily specified condition of salvation your belief in things that are acknowledged to be incredible. I have a lot of sympathy for that point of view; but the snag is that if you rely on reasoning your reasoning has to be watertight: and, at the risk of giving offence, Buddhism’s isn’t.

Buddhism tells us that the world is in constant change; that change inevitably involves pain, and that to avoid the pain we should avoid the world. As it happens, it adds, the mutable world and the selves we think inhabit it are mere illusions, so if we can dispel those illusions we’re good.

But that’s a bit of a one-sided outlook, surely? Change can also involve pleasure, and in most of our lives there’s probably a neutral to positive balance; so surely it makes more sense to engage and try to improve that balance than opt out? Moreover, should we seek to avoid pain? Perhaps we ought to endure it, or even seek it out? Of course, people do avoid pain, but why should we give priority to the human aversion to pain and ignore the equally strong human aversion to non-existence? And what does it mean to call the whole world an illusion: isn’t an illusion precisely something that isn’t really part of the world? Everything we see is smoke and mirrors, very well, but aren’t smoke and mirrors (and indeed, tears, as Virgil reminds us) things?

A sceptical friend once suggested to me that all the major religions were made up by frustrated old men, often monks: the one thing they all agree on is that being a contemplative like them is just so much more worthwhile than you’d think at first sight, and that the cheerful ordinary life they missed out on is really completely worthless if not sinful. That’s not altogether accurate – Taoism, for example, praises ordinary life (albeit with a bit of a smirk on its lips);  but it does seem to me that Buddhism is keener to be done with the world than reason alone can justify.

It must be said that Harris’ point of view is refreshingly sophisticated and nuanced in comparison to the Dawkinsian weltanschauung; he seems to have the rare but valuable ability to apply his critical faculties to his own beliefs as well as other people’s. I really should read some of his books.

 

18 Comments

  1. 1. Ian Wardell says:

    “At 56 I’m not the same as I was at 6”.

    As usual these discussions fail to distinguish between 2 types of change — namely alterational change and existential change.

    Consider a table. We could paint it a different colour. That’s alterational change. It’s the same table, but has been altered slightly. But now consider destroying a table, and putting in it’s place a table looking identical. That’s existential change.

    So what type of change do you mean? If you are not the same self does this mean you are *literally* a different self? Or are you the same self but with differing properties?

    Reading on it’s clear with the reference to rivers you have in mind the former. But then your position is identical to Sam’s on the issue of the self. It’s just that you are both defining “self” in differing ways.

    And your positions are profoundly removed from a commonsensical notion of what a self is — namely we are literally the same selves from birth to death. What I would be interested in is if you have any actual arguments against such a commonsensical notion of the self?

  2. 2. Eric Thomson says:

    “Most of us still want some explanation; if not a reduction then at least some metaphysics which allows us to go on calling ourselves monists in a respectable manner.”

    Or at least dualists. 🙂

  3. 3. Ian Wardell says:

    We all tend to be instinctively dualists. We need reasons to suppose dualism isn’t true.

    I’m a monist, but a mental monist or idealist rather than a materialist.

  4. 4. VicP says:

    My take from Harris, the word illusion carries the negative connotation because religion has hijacked the self “illusion” with the third person figure. Albeit religions carry negatives, they are mainly social phenomena which bind (stabilize)the social group and morals, which we also take as negatives in a freedom loving society. One can argue there is no Great Britain, United States, Jewish Homeland, Catholic Church etc; but each reality is also enforced by a system of laws. Like the Jews crossing the Sinai carrying the Ark Of The Covenant, Indiana Jones couldn’t get at it because it was surrounded by a system of beams and traps or represented as something at our core.

    “Loss of Self” yields a more true reality but once again religious leaders and political leaders create theses realities with religious doctrine and political ideologies.

    Science likewise is a form of third person transcendence based in the language of mathematica, empiricism etc. It also requires group acceptance to become scientific truth.

  5. 5. Peter says:

    Ian,

    No, I mean it’s the same river with different properties, so I mean the latter not the former. Perhaps the analogy isn’t as clear as I hoped.

  6. 6. Sergio Graziosi says:

    On Harris in general: I just can’t seem to make up my mind. First, we share a lot: we are both biologists (by training), I was a very committed martial artist, he still is (I think), this obviously facilitates an interest in Easter philosophies/religions, etc. He also tries as hard as possible to make his ideas easy to understand: as a philosopher, he is obviously trying to avoid obscure jargon and over-complex argument. This should make his style particularly welcome to me (in my tiny bubble, this ‘keep it simple’ effort is paramount), but interestingly, frequently backfires (for me): I find myself dismissing significant parts of his arguments as “oversimplifications” or “popularisations”. But hey, he’s trying to find a really hard compromise (I’m sure most of us here, and Peter in particular, know by direct experience how difficult it is), so I guess we should be even more charitable than with other philosophers…

    Ian and Peter: on “illusion”, “identity” and the “self”. I can’t help myself, apologies for intruding, but you are flirting with a problem that can’t be tackled without first clarifying where you stand in epistemological terms: what makes a fact a fact? What makes a statement objectively true?

    Once you clarify that, you can say if something is an illusion, as in: this “statement/fact/perception” looks/feels/appears to be “true” (as per your def.) but in fact it isn’t.

    My own position is some form of weak objectivity/materialism.
    Apologies for the length, but please bare with me because it is relevant here.
    I start from the assumption that there is one and only one reality out there, but also observe that cognition is inherently imperfect, as it can only operate on symbols that represent such reality. Hence, every statement relies on some approximation and no statement of fact that is specifically about reality can be 100% accurate. However, once you move from manipulating symbols about the world and on to manipulating symbols that refer to other symbols, you are abstracting away the original source of error, and thus can find propositions that are true or false in objective terms (examples below).
    The key point here is that one can use second-order thought (reasoning about beliefs, in this case) to establish a few important points:
    1) no statement about reality is entirely true: “the earth is spherical” is only approximately true.
    2) however, two different statements about the same physical reality can be more or less true, compared to each other. “The earth is flat” is less true than “the earth is spherical”.

    The next step in this journey is about purpose: any belief can (and should be) judged in the light of its (utilitarian) raison d’être. For practical purposes, believing that a river remains the same river even if its course is marginally changed, and if it’s made of different water, is an entirely justified belief. First, it is already abstract, as it refers to the “river” definition; second, it allows geographical navigation and communication: it’s a perfectly fit-for-purpose belief. The same applies to the self: believing that 40YO me is the same self as the 10YO me, is, depending on context, entirely justified.

    Now, this leads me to the final side of the argument, with echoes to the recent discussion with Mark O’Brien: it has to do with conflicting intuitions. On one side, you will find people that want “objective facts” to have simple, unequivocal and indisputable definitions, for this lot, “the self” is usually an illusion, because there is no way to define it in a simple and indisputable way (for example, almost all of the molecules we are made of will change over time, our genetic code is not fixed either, and if you clone me, the new person would still not be me, etc.).

    On the other hand, people like me, that are happy to put a lot of complexity inside the very idea of “objective truth”, find no problem with the self:
    – Yes, defining “the self” precisely is impossible, defining it in “good enough” terms isn’t. This applies to all claims about reality, even defining the river is difficult if you look close enough.
    – The practical definitions of self (this particular lump of meat) are perfectly fit for purpose: they allow and empower social interactions and much more.
    – The same definition is pointless when one tries to scientifically reduce consciousness into smaller pieces. At some stage we’ll be looking close enough, and find even the boundaries of the (hypothetical) structures that support the “perception of self” to be impossible to define in perfect detail. Once again, this is the direct result of the epistemological stance and not a problem at all. On this, see also the previous discussion on structural qualia, one can read it in the same terms: if you reduce qualia scientifically, and look close enough, the very idea of “ineffable and indivisible qualia” will at some stage stop making sense.

    The validity of ideas/belief always depends on their purpose.

    In conclusion: scientifically reducing something to understand it better eventually generates the temptation to conclude “this something is an illusion” (cfr quantum theory and our idea that objects are solid), one needs to realise this annoying regularity, move on, and stop worrying about the obvious. In particular lines of enquiry, stating that the self is an illusion is entirely accurate, but the self is still a valid concept to guide us through life.

    For more details see:
    – This series of posts on knowledge limitations.
    – The tl;dr summary.
    – A more rigorous (I hope!) discussion on the inadequacy of symbols when applied to reality, with the distinction of applying them to already existing concepts.

    PS: Peter, I rely on you to keep me in-line. Do let me know if I should post shorter comments and/or avoid linking to my own lucubrations.

  7. 7. Scott Bakker says:

    I actually have several Buddhists following TPB who are entirely on board with eliminativism–I’ve been nothing but impressed by the capacity of Buddhism to happily saunter where other faiths fear to tread.

    I agree with you regarding the self, Peter, though my reasoning would likely strike you as upside down! The notion of recouping subjectivity while acknowledging the illusory nature of the self has become a popular notion in some circles (my latest post is on this very topic). It’s all part of trying to square our prescientific lore with cognitive science, of finding someway of conceding something to the alien on the autopsy table, while defending some kind of tradition-salvaging core. Short of being substantial selves, how can we have things like responsibility, agency, and so on? Well, luckily, we happen to be these ‘subjects,’ which though not selves, do pretty much everything we want selves to do (such as affirm that we’re more than the alien on the autopsy table!)

    Like you, I find it suspiciously convenient. Step 1) Divide individual into self and subject. Step 2) Throw self to neurobiological wolves. Step 3) Run like hell with subject. But as you allude, what motivates the division? Why not simply adopt, as Dennett does, a *deflationary* notion of selfhood?

    The reason, I would argue, is that the closer you look at ‘centres of narrative gravity’ the more apparent it becomes that you’re looking at something quite alien, and that Dennett isn’t so much deflating the self as he’s eliminating it, and just keeping the billboard for PR purposes. Dennett, after all, seems to be on board with much of what Metzinger says regarding the self (the same way he’s on board with Wegner regarding free will).

    Division, in other words, is a more robust strategy than deflation for conserving traditional ‘knowledge’ in the face of the information tsunami coming out of cognitive science.

  8. 8. Vicente says:

    Peter,

    Buddhism tells us that the world is in constant change; that change inevitably involves pain, and that to avoid the pain we should avoid the world

    I am not a buddhist but I’m afraid I have to say this statement is pretty unfair, not to say utterly false.

    what about:

    Buddhism tells us that the world is in constant change; we tend to cling to things and wish they are permament, thus that change inevitably involves pain, and that to avoid the pain we should avoid to cling to things and people and should love the world with generosity.

  9. 9. Sci says:

    @Vicente:

    Good point. Western understanding of Eastern thought is rife with caricature. Hard to know where the caricature ends and the reality begins.

    That said:

    “Can selfhood really be a mental disease caused by an ayahuasca deficiency?”

    Hilarious!

  10. 10. Peter says:

    Sergio,

    I have no problem with longer comments. There’s a danger that people only read the first couple of sentences, but that’s up to you to judge! If you link back to your own site too often Akismet will start identifying your comments as spam, so just bear that in mind.

    On that subject, we have been suffering a wave of comment spam recently: I contacted Akismet and they did what they could but it wan’t a complete solution. At the moment I’m inclined to persist and hope the flow dies down, but I might have to consider capcha or something else if it gets worse.

    Scott,

    Dennett isn’t so much deflating the self as he’s eliminating it, and just keeping the billboard for PR purposes

    Heh!

    Vicente,

    Yes, I expect my careless formulation doesn’t do justice to Buddhism, although I think yours is possibly too kind? Is it really loving the world more generously – or dismissing it as a dangerous distraction?

    I think Harris is quite right to give Buddhism credit for being the most rational of religions. I might think there are one or two flaws in its arguments, but in the case of Christianity I don’t even really get what the basic propositions are meant to be. How is it that Christ’s death leads to the forgiveness of sins, exactly? I know there is plenty of theology about this, several major kinds of answer, and so on; it just doesn’t seem the kind of thing that could ever make sense.

    I hope I’m not repelling whole swathes of religious readers with these frank and cursory remarks: I do have a great respect for religious thought in general.

  11. 11. Sergio Graziosi says:

    Peter,

    There’s a danger that people only read the first couple of sentences, but that’s up to you to judge!

    Yes, of course. I like to pretend that I don’t need to reach that particular demographic ;-).
    I was trying to make a serious point, though: I don’t find the real/illusion dichotomy useful, and assert that the same concept can be seen as real or illusory depending on the domain of enquiry and on the level of detail that we are considering. It’s a simple way to look at things that trivialises a lot of otherwise arduous problems.
    It does feel a little bit like cheating, though, as it dissolves so many debates in one move… Makes me hope that people will show where I’ve got it wrong!

    On the other hand, if I’m not badly wrong, the consequences for the problems on consciousness reach far and wide, that’s why I’m commenting here.

  12. 12. Ian Wardell says:

    Sergio Graziosi
    “Ian and Peter: on “illusion”, “identity” and the “self”. I can’t help myself, apologies for intruding, but you are flirting with a problem that can’t be tackled without first clarifying where you stand in epistemological terms: what makes a fact a fact? What makes a statement objectively true?

    Once you clarify that, you can say if something is an illusion, as in: this “statement/fact/perception” looks/feels/appears to be “true” (as per your def.) but in fact it isn’t”.

    This is simply nonsense. A self either is an illusion, or it is not. This “what makes a fact a fact” is the stereotypical tactic of people on the Internet to go off on a tangent.

  13. 13. Ian Wardell says:

    Sergio Graziosi
    “I don’t find the real/illusion dichotomy useful”

    So you don’t care if the self is real or is a mere illusion? If the self is an illusion then we are effectively “dying” every infinitesimal fraction of a second. Our fear of death is thereby wholly misplaced because nothing endures. There is no *you* to die.

    The question of whether the self is illusory or is real is one of the most important questions that we human beings can ask ourselves. If we subscribe to any materialist based metaphysic, then we will be obliged to conclude the self is illusory i.e there is a *sense* of self, but this sense corresponds to no real self. This can be seen most clearly in teleportation/replica thought experiments.

  14. 14. Sergio Graziosi says:

    Ian:
    thanks for coming back to me, I trust you can believe me when I say that I need feedback precisely because I don’t want to “go off on a tangent”.

    So you don’t care if the self is real or is a mere illusion?

    On the contrary, I do care. But I’ve come to the conclusion that:
    1. To find an answer, you need to answer “what makes a fact a fact?” first. Failing to do so makes any answer you may find completely devoid of meaning. In fact, most people implicitly do answer the second question, and most disagreements can be understood by recognising the differences on how people answer it. The subordinate conclusion is:
    1.a. It’s a good idea to start by clarifying “what makes a fact a fact” in our own humble opinion (!). If we all do that, we can make our debates more fruitful. So that’s what I’ve done (above), I started by providing my own answer.
    2. I note that my own answer makes the “if the self is real or is a mere illusion?” question suspiciously easy to answer.

    Specifically:
    I. under a strict empirical and reductionist approach, “the self” is guaranteed to dissolve (unless the approach will fail), precisely because this approach will require to dissect what generates the concept of the self into smaller parts: that is what the approach requires to do.
    II. However, we can also conclude that “the *sense* of self” is real and has a fundamental and understandable (biological) function in our lives. When the scope is “biological function of complete organisms” the idea of separate selves that interact with each other is extremely valuable and entirely appropriate. [BTW: does anyone see the parallel with how Dennett looks at free will?]

    Therefore, I am saying that,
    [premise 1] “truth claims” always depend on a reference system, and
    [premise 2] when the reference system is physical reality, then
    [Conclusion A] “truth” in the scientific domain (claims about physical reality) is not binary, one can only think in “degrees of truthness” terms.
    [Conclusion B] in the scientific domain, and at the appropriate level of reductionist detail, the self will need to be considered an illusion, but this is a result of how you are investigating reality and has no weight on other domains.
    [Conclusion C] Accepting that the self isn’t a true something in reductionist terms doesn’t require me to try living my life while negating that I exist as an individual. More, I realise that the reductionist approach does not provide an answer to the question we are all interested in. Looking at the “how to live our lives” domain, it then becomes quite clear that the self exists, because we experience “the *sense* of self” (cogito ergo sum, anyone?).

    As I’ve said, it all becomes trivially obvious, and therefore suspicious.

    Let’s suppose that we will get a fairly complete reductionist account: it will tell us, “our sense of self is made up by this system that interacts with that other component, that sends and output to,…” describing it as a bunch of functions, mechanisms and interactions that generate a concept/feeling. People with thus start crying “the self is an illusion, this is scientific fact” and I’m arguing that doing so is an error that stems from not understanding the limits of cognition as in “what is knowable, how we get to know something and what makes knowledge generalisable or not”).

    In short: trying to understand if the self is real or not by looking at what reductive science tells us is like saying “this tap water is not really water because it contains other stuff besides H20″. It’s just silly, once you understand the epistemological limits of science.

  15. 15. Vicente says:

    Peter, thorny issues bluntly brought are always welcome !

    The philosophical differences between buddhism and christianism are huge.

    Buddhism is axiomatic and empirical (could have been developed by Spinoza), it’s a very simple 3 premisses system:

    1. Suffering exists
    2. It is possible cease suffer
    3. A method to cease suffer is available.

    Now go and test the method and check by yourself if it works.

    Christianity origins are administrative. Jesus teachings should have started an oriental religion, but St. Paul came and created the most powerful multinational corporation ever.

    Having said this, I find that, in best practice, forgetting liturgic aspects, they share a very important point, which is: forget about yourself and care for others welfare, and this will bring you true happiness.

    In neurological terms it means that you have to stop being human. You have to rewire your brain and become part of a new species, canceling most of your genetic heritage. Then, the world is not a distraction any more, your new brain is focused and happy. But to achive that, maybe you have to be a hermit for a while, like an athlete that trains before a competition. It is not to dismiss the world, it’s to get aside for a while, in order to prepare and to come back ready for it.

    Sorry for the sermon….

  16. 16. ihtio says:

    Peter,
    unfortunately you yourself have attacked a straw man instead of Buddhism. You write: “Buddhism tells us that the world is in constant change; that change inevitably involves pain, and that to avoid the pain we should avoid the world.” In Buddhism pain is mostly due to clinging to impermanent things, not to the raw fact that they are always changing. Avoiding the world as a means to avoiding the pain? That is antinatalism all right, but it has little to do with Buddhism.
    You can read about Dukkha on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dukkha
    As some people here commented Buddhism provides means for the cessation (or the minimization) of suffering, but they are far from “avoiding the world”.

    I am interested in the problem of self as well. In fact, I did write a blog post about the topic, maybe it will be of interest to some of you. In the post I propose to regard self as a complex self-organizing system submerged in the mind.
    http://observingideas.wordpress.com/2014/09/17/the-i-an-illusion-or-a-complex-dynamical-system/

  17. 17. Matt Campbell says:

    Interesting.  Well, I think it starts with deciding whether that which we call consciousness is measurable in the scientific sense.  Descartes said it best all those yrs. ago when he said things like physics were measurable and verifiable and so could be validated independent of which observer is doing the observing.  Then there are matters that can’t be typified that way and so aren’t fit subjects for science — at least not until a way to measure and verify consistently such matters is devised.  But you have to be right abt the nature of something in the first place; ppl seeking to measure consciousness believe consciousness is produced from things that are measurable and thus ought to be measurable, too.  I differ in that I think what we call measurable phenomena arise from consciousness and not the other way around.

    I feel the same abt what we call spatial dimensions; broader dimensions are not built up from narrower ones, but lower ones exist b/c higher ones do.  This is b/c lower dims. can’t possibly be enumerated enough to produce the next higher one.  The 1st dim., length, is infinitely long but has no width.  Thus starting in dim. 1, one can never create a 2-dim. world since lacking a 2nd dim., another infinitely long line can’t be placed next to the first such line.  But even if it could, an inf. no. of lines laid parallel to ea. other would never produce the dim. of width since they have no width themselves.  However the degree to which a material, measurable thing may have some kind of interface with that which gave rise to it may be measurable itself.  To analogize, rust arises from a mix of oxygen, water, and iron.  Rust forms on Fe, evincing diff. properties than Fe.  Thus they return diff. results when measured/observed but one (rust) arose from the others together, none of which had the exact same properties as the rust they formed.  The “interface” betw. the rusted Fe atoms and non-rusted ones is found at the points where the electron-stripping (oxidation process) is occurring.  How fast the stripping is happening is measurable as a process by discovering the rate at which Fe atoms are getting stripped.  So maybe the same kind of thing is measurable in the context of consciousness, but consciousness itself is probably be definition beyond our scientific standards — at least as long as they are defined as the currently are, the same way a 2-dim. entity can’t measure 3-dim. things except as far as they interface with the 2nd dim.

    I also think we are “counting” the physical universe wrong.  We think there are 4 dims. for certain: length, width, height, time. (I exclude the concept of a point, which’d be “dimension zero”, since it cannot be measured as by def’n, it occupies no space).  And as I said, it’s typically believed that length gives rise to length-width, and length-width to length-width-height, and that to the same plus time (dim. 4), these all making up the universe.  The speculation is that dim. 5 is made up of an infinite array of 4-dim’l universes, and the 6th an inf. array of 5-dim. universes, etc.  I think the causative chain goes in the other direction (as I said above), but that the first 3 dims. are not discrete dims. at all.  However, I think together they comprise just one dim.  This is b/c nothing can exist in dim. 1 or dim. 2 since it’d have no material existence w/out height, and dims. are not abstractions; they’re properties of reality itself.  So l/w/h is IMO, dim. 1.  Dim. 2 is time, as w/out time (i.e., discrete causation), nothing in the first dim. (l/w/h) could even exist, or to put it another way, be part of reality.  As for dim. 3, that’d be consciousness, from which arises the other (or, “lower”) 2 dims. of time and space.  (To say they’re “lower” is arbitrary and not to say one’s “better” than the other.  It simply posits a causative chain.)  Everyone loves Cliff’s notes vers. of anything, so here’s what I don’t think is right in terms of the  dimensional typification of reality:

    Length->width->height->time->…

    And here’s what I think is the right ver. of it:

    Consciousness->time->space (l/w/h)

    What might be the causative agent of consciousness (dim. 4), couldn’t say.  Maybe it’s caffeine,  Caffeine and chocolate.  Caffeine and dark chocolate truffles. 🙂  As for just *how* consciousness causes the lower 2 dims. to exist, I can’t say, since gee… I have no way to measure it scientifically, which is to say, w/out merely speculating with assertions that lack evidence.

    Back to square 1.

  18. 18. George says:

    Hmm, some thoughts:

    Much of this seems to be talking of a “3rd person self”, as defined by scientific observation and so on, when most people identify with a sense of self from a “1st person” perspective – which isn’t their body, thoughts, environment as such, but more an “idea they have of the themselves”, a persistent “mental object”.

    Now, that mental object may include ideas about being-a-body or other concepts, and the ideas in this mental object may or may not be consistent with 3rd person observation, for a limited time or all time. What is important is that this “self”, being merely a thought, is an illusion. It is an imagining of what one is, and it can be recognised and dissolved as such.

    Pain arises when we confuse this thought with being “us”, because if it contains ideas such as “being young and pretty”, then when the image in the mirror starts to change over time, there will be a sense of discontinuity and loss at the divergence. If we recognise this “thought-self” for what it is, however, then it ceases to be the benchmark by which our experiences are judged, and so eliminates the cause of suffering.

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