[ 4/August/21 – “Awakening reveals that there is no personal self, and that everything is myself….”]
Interesting how different our interpretations of such events can be.
For me an analogy is watching the sunrise. Experiencing the play of colors, the change of temperature, the change in the activity of life around me, can be spectacular and beautiful; and a set of experiences in itself; yet the rational part of me knows that I am on the thin crust of a ball of mostly molten rock, spinning around a large gravitationally powered nuclear furnace of hydrogen that is our sun, and that the entire solar system is revolving around our local galaxy (the milky way) and that the local galaxy is spinning in a local group of galaxies. So what seems like the sun rising is really me spinning, but the dance of spins is vastly more complex tracing out spirals in many more dimensions. I am also usually conscious that our sensory systems are tuned to only a tiny part of the vast electromagnetic spectrum of energies coursing around us, and that our subconscious brains assemble that tiny fragment of information into the model that we get to experience as reality.
All of that is kind of easy in a sense, one can see it, can picture it, can spin balls on strings to see a model of it happening.
When we start to think about consciousness it is vastly more complex and difficult, because of the multiple dimensions of pattern that cannot be “seen” that are necessary to make a reasonable model of what is actually going on.
The evolution of life is not simple.
Life is not simple.
The simplest cell on the planet has hundreds of times more molecules in it than there are people on the planet.
Life is complex in ways that have taken me decades of hard work to gain a reasonable basic model of the major classes of systems present. And life seems to be complex in ways that will be eternally beyond the ability of any computational entity to model accurately in detail. It seems to contain multiple classes of fundamental uncertainty and fundamental unknowability; yet at the same time it has sufficient regularity at multiple levels that it can sustain pattern at each of those levels. It is truly mind bogglingly fascinating.
Building the beginnings of an understanding of the emergence of the experience of being, of being an embodied consciousness in a brain in a body in a universe, is not easy.
It seems beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that what we experience as reality cannot be, it must be a vastly simplified model of whatever reality actually is, that is created within our brains by various sets of subconscious processes. The needs of our ancestors to be aware of reality in near real time to survive tend to keep both awareness and model constrained within fairly tight limits most of the time, and sometimes both can breach those limits – for many different classes of reasons. Provided that there are no prowling tigers or bands of slavers waiting to take advantage of us in our seeming catatonic states as we are lost in our vastly expanded internal worlds, then the experiences can be extremely interesting.
At some level, most seem to get some awareness of the fundamental role of cooperation in the emergence of complex life. Some call it love. A systems geek like me simply calls it recursive cooperation. And it seems to me to be the same thing. The complexity that is us can only emerge in fundamentally cooperative systems, and contrary to popular economic and political dogma, competition tends to destroy both complexity and freedom, and drive systems to some set of minima on the locally available complexity landscape.
So yes, they are very “interesting” and profound experiences, and I doubt very much that any explanation that is more than 50 years old captures much of the systemic underpinnings of what is actually going on – they are all much like primitive cultures looking at sunrises and worshiping “Ra”.
I don’t do worship, and I do do profound appreciation of complexity and uncertainty in a reality that seems to be sufficiently complex that it can eternally provide surprise and interest.
Crazy thing is, I have had experiences that I could describe in almost identical terms.
And the “feeling” of vastness is real, and I think I understand the general class of systems that deliver that experience.
And yes – it does seem probable beyond any shadow of reasonable doubt that the experience is created within and by the brain, as trained by culture and experience and as tuned by evolution over vast “landscapes” of ancestral time and experience.
And I get that such an explanation must seem improbable to anyone without the “geek” experiences and “geek” abilities to do math near instantaneously that I happened to be born with – so no credit to me in any way, just blind chance of evolutionary probability functions of distributions of genes in populations that led to me having the brain I have. Some small credit to me perhaps in some of the choices I have made to put that brain to some uses over others, and even there, the shear volume of experiences I have had that seem so improbable in the common cultural stories sometimes makes me wonder – until I do the math, and see that they are not really all that improbable (on average over time).
So yeah – I get that diversity exists, and respect is required, and all explanations seem very probably to be essentially “useful approximations in context” at multiple levels. And it seems very probable that all any of us can do is use the tools we have available to build the understandings that we have.
In a sense it is exactly as you describe Judi.
If you have ever played with a modern high end VR (Virtual Reality) system, it is a very good analogy.
When using a modern VR system your eyes, ears and sense of touch on you hands are all being fed information designed to convince you that you are in the “Virtual” world. Some even have smell, but I have not yet had the opportunity to give one of those a try.
The thing about using one of them is, that they seem real.
In the same sense that what we experience as reality seems real, they are real.
The thing that points to is that what we experience as reality is never reality itself, it cannot be if you think about it closely enough.
What we experience as reality is our own internally generated VR model of whatever reality actually is.
Evolution has had to produce brains that fit in bodies that work fast enough to survive, and within the available energy budgets that are there when we are at our hungriest (in times of famine – all too common in our evolutionary past). Those are very strict constraints.
We have vast sets of evidence that reality is far more complex than such a set of constraints could possibly model accurately, so what we get to experience must be a vast simplification of whatever reality actually is.
As we progress to higher levels of awareness, that applies as much to our models of ourselves and others as it does to our models of the wider reality.
They are all necessarily models.
When you do the numbers on what is there, they are vast and beyond numerical computation in anything approximating real time; so there have to be multiple levels of “shortcuts” to give us something useful in some useful timeframe.
It is in a sense very much an extension of Plato’s allegory of the shadows on the cave wall, just a much more detailed and believable one – one that is extremely real when you are in it.
So the experience of self can be exactly as you describe.
The experiences of dreaming are what they are, as are various other classes of “mind expanding” experiences.
And it does seem that this ability to create such a detailed VR system is an attribute of a highly evolved vertebrate brain.
Our brains are so mind numbingly complex.
There are so many different levels of computational processes going on, starting within our primary sensory systems, starting at the molecular level, and going all the way up to whole of brain systems, that it is really hard to build a useful representation of the many different types of systems present that allow us to have these experiences that we do, and I am an autistic geek who made the conscious choice over 50 years ago to become sufficient of a generalist that I would be able to do just that, and in the last decade I seem to have achieved something remarkably close to it.
I have no chance of communicating anything more than a “child’s sketch” of the “picture” that is in my brain; the bandwidth of words is too slow, and the “picture” is constantly evolving. Should I manage to live for a billion years I expect the picture would still be evolving; the reality does in fact seem to be that complex.
So I am not claiming any sort of final or perfect knowledge of anything.
I am in a very real sense even more conscious of the uncertainties and unknowables present than many who are completely certain of some “Truth” they hold.
For me the entire notion of “Truth” became a simplistic idea that we have to start with, but need to give up once we are able to deal with sufficient levels of complexity that we can deal with multiple levels of fundamental uncertainty and unknowability, several decades ago.
I no longer have truth.
What I have is useful approximations appropriate to context; and I am clear that the complexity is such that is all I can ever have.
Reality is always what it is when it is it, and I can only ever have some form of shadow of that as my conscious experience.
And I am part of that reality, part consistent pattern, part fundamental uncertainty, part multiple levels of random search across the spaces of available possibilities (as we all seem to be in various levels of senses, however we individually experience and interpret that).
I find the details of that structure fascinating.
And by definition I can only ever glimpse the tiniest fraction of the whole, and the beauty present in the molecular and mathematical systems that seem to be clearly present at the various levels of us is profound.
The multiple levels of processes present in evolution are profound.
The fundamental systemic reality seems to be that complexity can only emerge in cooperative contexts, not in competitive ones, and popular dogma has it that evolution is all about competition, and that just could not be more wrong.
So it is hard for me, trying to create sets of words that “paint” some sort of “picture” that gives a “glimpse” of something that I see; all the while knowing that it is necessarily impossible to convey even 1% of what is present for me, and hoping that in doing so I do more good than harm.
[Followed by 6/8/21]
To me it seems very probable that yes, there is only one reality, and we are in it, part of it, but the tricky bit is that we have no direct access to experiencing it.
It seems that all we can experience is the subconsciously created model of it.
It is kind of like our being is like a plate of pancakes.
Every pancake in the stack is a complex computational system.
Each one is directly connected to the ones above and below.
Consciously – we are the top pancake in the stack. We are only connected to the model of reality that is our experiential awareness (the next pancake down).
And it is more complex than that, because some pancakes connect to others more distant in the stack in some contexts – but it gives a general sort of picture.
So there is certainly a sense in which I agree with you that we are reality. However, while we are each in our own personal virtual realities, we appear to also embedded in the wider “objective reality” (whatever that actually is).
We do seem to have degrees of influence over both sets of realities, and we do conversely seem to be influenced by both sets of realities. So we have freedom, and it is not absolute, and we have influence, and it is not absolute. That seems to be the nature of the reality we find ourselves in. It demands and allows influence all levels.