Thursday, February 21, 2008


Thinking about the concept of universal oneness- first, I have to admit that I'm far from averse to the idea. In my opinion, there are plenty of solid, logical arguments which point that way, including scientific ones. Even Carl Sagan, at the beginning of his 'Cosmos' series, says something to the fact that 'we are the universe looking at itself'....admittedly, not sure to what degree he was trying to sound poetic. Plus, I cut my Eastern philosophical teeth on Alan Watts, so I have a certain...bias.

I suppose this puts the antinatalist argument in a different context; but after just a little consideration, it's pretty obvious that things don't really change that much. Indeed, boundaries between material entities and personalities may lose their integrity upon minute examination. We are more whirlpools in the stream than rocks, and even rocks eventually re-join the flow. But does this philosophy negate the reality of suffering, like some suggest?
Here's the Buddhist take on it...

"Mere suffering exists, no sufferer is found.
The deeds are, but no doer of the deeds is there.
Nibbana [Nirvana] is, but not the man that enters it.
The path is, but no traveller on it is seen,"

From the text, Visuddhimagga IVI, verse 90

So, instead of an actual, autonomous entity bearing the suffering, the suffering is simply a detail bound up in the universe, and manifested in the illusory 'world of appearances'. One of the necessary consequences of flux, perhaps. There are lots of ways to frame it, actually...Eastern religious/philosophical thought is rich and varied.

Let's go with the idea...what are we left with? A world with suffering as one of its basic components. But surely, at least as far as we can see, the suffering isn't spread out evenly throughout the universal matrix. No one would equate the suffering of a horse with that of a piece of granite. It seems that complexity has a lot to do with the depth of suffering experienced in any particular...what? Clump in the existential fabric? Node in the universal thought complex? Knot in the gut of the Atman? Whatever. Nevertheless, suffering still exists, and seems to manifest itself more acutely in fish than rocks, in dogs than fish, and in humans most of all. There's some speculation in this view, admittedly, but I don't think it's overly unreasonable speculation.

According to this view, then, my suffering is actually the universe's suffering. When I hurt, it's creation itself that pays the price. In this vein, some have argued that life is still worthwhile, because if it wasn't, the universe would surely end it all...tie a superstring to a tree made of virtual particles, and hang itself. Suicide on a cosmic scale.

Well...consider the evidence: personal suicides on the increase. Rampant depression. War. Aids. Ebola. And how many times has the human race itself been cast in the role of a cancer on the skin of the world? What if the emergence of advanced intelligence was the beginning of the fashioning of a weapon designed for self destruction...if not universal, at least on a planetary scale?

Of course, all this is just a bit of mind-fucking. Who the hell knows what the ultimate state of things really is? We move within our limits. We think within the grooves evolution has carved out for us, and try to be consistent inside that framework. But, in the end, all the re-defining and paradigm shifting still doesn't change the fact that life sucks (at least for many, many people), and then you die (and that applies to ALL of us!). And while I feel very sorry for the terrible lives that some folks endure, I've never felt a tad of regret for anybody who never existed.

Atman Project

I saw a shadow, and I named it.
I challenged chaos, and I tamed it.
I built a kingdom, and I claimed it.
It fell to ruin, and I blamed it.


TGGP said...

War/violence are on the decline. I point to two possible reasons here. Suicide is a relatively high cause of death because the old common causes have been so minimized. In more miserable societies (as evidenced by how people vote with their feet) suicide is less common. Diseases are nowhere near as bad as they once were. Regarding depression, I'll defer to the good doctor Dalrymple. I suppose there is rampant ADD too and other disorders created by shrinks.

The universe doesn't seem like one to me, though Hopefully Anonymous could put that idea much better. There is a sizable amount of information in the universe, and that requires at least binary bits.

your host said...

Here's some suicide stats, tggp... ...interestingly, the higher numbers seem to polarize at the ends of the spectrum; somewhat, anyhow. At the low end, you've got the folks who see how much life sucks on a daily basis, up close and personal. At the upper end (we're talking economic class here, I suppose) you've got the folks with some leisure time to consider life's baser ramifications. Not sure where I'm going with this; just a thought.

Assuming you're correct about the irreducible components of information, I'd still argue that you only require binary coding, and not binarily distiguishable entites. Consider semaphore; either by lantern-on/off, or by use of flags-relative positioning. You could even work with the binary substratum of existing node relative to non-existant node (entities/spaces between entities).

Anonymous said...

Hi, Im from Melbourne Australia.
I cut my teeth on Alan Watts too.
He wrote the foreword to the first edition of this book which is about the Indivisible Oneness of Reality.


Plus related references on the Indivisible Oneness of Reality.


Plus a related reference on politics and culture based on the that fact of prior unity---as distinct from our current politics and "culture" which is based on the rigid separation and objectification of everyone and everything.


your host said...

I absolutely love the guy,anon. His takes on relativity, and the illusory nature of the personality, still influence my thinking greatly. I used to listen to him lecture a couple nights a week on KPFK, the Pacifica station in Los Angeles (old tapes, of course). Glad to know he still has fans.

Anonymous said...

We actually don't know what any other species/being suffers. We assume that we suffer worst of all...but that sounds like more humancentrism to me.

Spend some time at a factory farm, and tell me that those beings don't suffer as much as we do, or more. Watch the body language of a cow who knows that her latest calf is about to be taken away, or the little duck who hears the familiar voice of the person who shoves food down its throat till it vomits.

Spend some time at a vivisection laboratory, where every time a caged animal hears a footfall it doesn't know whether it is its tormentor, a passer-by, or someone with a meal.

The abstract thought which we insist only we have, I have observed evidence in other species. But that's a discussion we can't have, so long as we are at the center of our own eyeballs, and other species are relegated to the periphery.