Pragmatism, applications, and the meaning of life

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When talking to people about my ideas and writings, be them friends, radio hosts, or event managers prior to a talk, I often hear the following question at the end of the conversation: 'OK, but now, how can people apply all this in practice?' In the beginning, the question struck me as very reasonable and legitimate, so I felt a little guilty and embarrassed for having to think about the answer. But as I stepped back to ponder about the motivations behind the question, a whole new avenue of insight regarding our culture opened up before me. To anticipate the conclusion of this article, and without for a moment meaning to blame or criticise anyone who has ever asked me this, I think the question reflects a generalized state of psychic imbalance in our culture; so generalized that it comes across not only as perfectly normal, but appropriate and even smart.

Ultimately, all human reality is an internal phenomenon unfolding in mind. Even if there were indeed an outside world independent of mind, all of our experiences of that world would still be entirely in mind. Without the dynamics of mind, the whole universe might as well not exist. Therefore, any interaction we may have with the 'outside world' in the form of pragmatic applications or actions ultimately only has any meaning insofar as it translates back into something unfolding in mind. For instance, as a technology marketer, if I apply a new marketing technique that leads to more revenues for my company, such result will have human reality only insofar as it is experienced in my and other people's minds. At the end of the day, it all comes back to an internal phenomenon in the medium of mind. The 'outside world' is just an intermediary step; a means to an end. Only the internal reality of mind can confer any meaning to human life.

Now, my work is an expedition into the land of understanding, whether valid or not. It seeks to address the question: 'What the heck is going on?' And understanding is already an internal reality; a gestalt unfolding in the human psyche, not in the so-called 'outside world.' As such, my own journey, which I invite others to join through my writings and talks, is already a journey in mind. It requires no 'applications' for it is not a means to an end, but addresses the end-goal directly. It enriches life (or so I hope) not in a round-about, indirect way, but by nurturing the very matrix of life itself: the psyche. Asking about the 'applications' of what I do is akin to asking how to get the bus home when you are already at home. Why did you get an education? To be able to work. Why do you work? To make money. Why do you want to make money? To buy things. Why do you want to buy things? To live and be able to have certain experiences. Yes, exactly! At the end of the day, it's all about experience; that is, what unfolds in mind. Everything else are means to arriving at experiences. And since understanding is a primary experience that frames, shapes, and colors most – if not all – other experiences, why wonder about its applications as far as people's actions in the world 'outside?' We're already dealing with the core issue; already sitting comfortably on the couch at home. So why ask about the bus?

Even after reading the above, I bet you still feel that something is off with my argument; that everything should have some kind of concrete, pragmatic application in order to have any value or meaning. There is a kind of uneasiness associated to embarking on an intellectual journey when the journey's guide tells you upfront that he doesn't care at all whether the journey will have any practical application. But fear not, you aren't alone in this feeling. It is shared by our entire Western culture; a culture that has now infected the entire world, the East included, like a virus.

The problem is that we, Westerners, project all meaning onto the outside. We stopped living the inner-life of human beings and begun living the 'outer life' of things and mechanisms. The answers to all why's must lie somewhere without and never within. I even dare venture an explanation for how this came to pass: Because of Western materialism, we believe we are finite beings who will, unavoidably, eventually cease to exist. Only the 'outside world' will endure and have continuity. As I argue in my fourth book, which I am now writing, this is nothing but a fairytale. But fairytale or not, it causes us to project all the meaning of life onto the 'outside world,' for only things that endure can have any significance. The world within, though remaining the only carrier of reality we can ever know, is seen as ephemeral and, therefore, meaningless. Such is the unsustainable imbalance of our way to relate to life. We emptied ourselves of all meaning and placed it all outside. Yet, even that 'outside world' is, ultimately, an abstraction of mind; an abstraction of the world within.

When people talk to me about my ideas and their own philosophical speculations, I sense that, intuitively and deep inside, they know that life, ultimately, is a journey in mind and nowhere else. They know that what we are talking about is already it; it's already all that matters. But towards the end of the conversation, when the enchantment of the discussion wanes and concedes ground to the analytical ego, they seek the reassurance the ego requires in terms of finding 'practical applications.' It is as though they needed to cover that ground for completeness sake, even though their intuitive minds know that everything of real importance has already been covered. They need to tick the box, like a compulsion or obsession that endures despite lacking any substance.

Life is a laboratory for exploration along only two paths: feeling (as in love and fear) and understanding. Nothing else exists but as evocative devices; 'tricks' to evoke feeling and understanding. All meaning resides in the emotions and comprehension unfolding within. While I, as a human being, also walk the path of feeling like the rest of us, my writing focuses on the path of understanding. Are there practical applications for my philosophy? Probably there are many. However, in my current phase, I can't care to elaborate on them, because I see them as means to an end that I am already tackling directly. So if you are looking for recipes, techniques, and other pragmatic procedures to apply to the world 'outside,' I am not your man. But if you think the world can only change when human beings make peace with, and nurture, their feelings while advancing their understanding of self and reality, then let's have a beer.

Copyright © 2012 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. Interesting post; at one time I too would have been inclined to agree; but I rode that philosophical arc to the full swing of its pendulum. Now, I find it ironic that your response to the question, "accusing" the question of arising from the "virus" of Western dualism, is also steeped in Western bias.

    //Ultimately, all human reality is an internal phenomenon unfolding in mind. Even if there were indeed an outside world independent of mind, all of our experiences of that world would still be entirely in mind.//

    Yes and no. Reality is more nuanced than that. When someone asks: "'OK, but now, how can people apply all this in practice?'", dismissing it as Western-based self-delusion is a sure way to relegate yourself and your writings to prompt irrelevance. It's one thing when you are a little plump, young, comfortably ensconced in the lap of Western culture with its digital conveniences, but quite another when you are homeless, have no blog, are in the Congo, in Syria, or trapped in poverty during a Detroit winter with no way to pay for needed medicine, healthcare or heat. The reality you seem to be describing is one we left behind (given my current understanding of the universe) on the day we were born. The one that we as humans live in doesn't care, in the least, whether we "think positive" or think anything at all. Once you're dead, the world may be gone for *you*, but not for the rest of us.

    Unless you can do a better job answering that question, I'm afraid your offer of beer is going to be met with the commensurate question: "Who's paying?"

    //Because of Western materialism, we believe we are finite beings who will, unavoidably, eventually cease to exist. Only the 'outside world' will endure and have continuity. As I argue in my fourth book, which I am now writing, this is nothing but a fairytale.//

    No, this isn't true. That kind of western dualism, in fact, represents a tiny minority. Regardless of the western science's philosophical underpinnings, the vast majority of western inhabitants believe in a dualism in which there is a someplace called "here" and another someplace that is called "there", or "Heaven", or "Hell", or some other "thereness" ruled over by a God, Gods or that generic substitute -- higher power.

    While we're human, telling ourselves that there's no reality outside our experience is to deny the very thing that makes this "plane of existence" (if that's what you want to call it) so challenging (if not frightening). Whether it's illusion or not, we're in it and live by its terms. Magical thinking won't cut it. For all intents and purposes: We are finite beings who age, grow sick, are subject to accident and indifference, in a world (a material world) which will indifferently go whether you live or die in the next minute.

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    1. I find it hard to comment appropriately on what you say, because you aren't really arguing your case, but venting your bitterness and frustration with, I sense, your own philosophical conclusions. You also misrepresent what I wrote. I talked of no illusion, but of the reality of experience; which is undeniable if anything ever was. I talked of no magical thinking whatsoever; where did you get that from anyway? All I said was that the only reality that really counts is the reality of experience, which I fully stand by because it seems to me to be an eminently reasonable assertion. After all, whatever nobody has ever experienced cannot possibly matter, can it? My assertions, I believe, hold regardless of ontological questions like whether realism or idealism is true. That's why I used the expression '_human_ reality,' as opposed to simply 'reality.'

      >> at one time I too would have been inclined to agree; but I rode that philosophical arc to the full swing of its pendulum.

      The hubris here is palpable but, unfortunately, it means absolutely nothing as far as an argument against my point.

      >> Now, I find it ironic that your response to the question, "accusing" the question of arising from the "virus" of Western dualism, is also steeped in Western bias.

      Care to explain why this is so? As it is, this is merely an arbitrary statement that I don't recognize at all.

      >> dismissing it as Western-based self-delusion is a sure way to relegate yourself and your writings to prompt irrelevance.

      I didn't relegate to self-delusion all attempts to find practical applications for ideas. Practical applications keep the 'world' going. I have dedicated most of my life to practical applications, developing technology and science, and then marketing them. My life is a monument to practical applicability and pragmatism. However, to expect EVERYTHING to have a practical application in the 'outside world' represents, in my view, psychic imbalance. Why I think that is the case is precisely what I argue in the post. Unfortunately, you made not attempt to defeat my argument on a logical basis.

      Regarding my relegating myself to irrelevance, I respect that as your opinion. I do take the liberty to disagree with it, however. If I become irrelevant to you, that would be a pity; but I would be in peace with that. I have no illusions that I can communicate in a way that resonates with everyone. Nor am I trying. My only criterion is to be always authentic and honest with what I really think and feel, and try to communicate that as well as I can.

      >> Regardless of the western science's philosophical underpinnings, the vast majority of western inhabitants believe in a dualism

      Religious belief is not internalized belief of the kind that unconsciously determines how we relate to life. Many believe in the reality of the soul and eternal life in heaven, yet will endure the most horrific medical treatments to prolongue life for a few more weeks; or plunge into agony at the loss of loved ones. You are mixing up egoic beliefs with unconscious drives. We know, from depth psychology, that these are entirely different things.

      I am surprised by the tone of your comment. Somehow, what I wrote did reach you deeply, just in an unexpected way, I guess. But that's your own trip, not mine.

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    2. Re-reading your post, I guess I now understand what you meant when you said that my position is itself steeped in Western culture. You probably explained it here:

      "It's one thing when you are a little plump, young, comfortably ensconced in the lap of Western culture with its digital conveniences, but quite another when you are homeless, have no blog, are in the Congo, in Syria, or trapped in poverty during a Detroit winter with no way to pay for needed medicine, healthcare or heat. The reality you seem to be describing is one we left behind (given my current understanding of the universe) on the day we were born. The one that we as humans live in doesn't care, in the least, whether we "think positive" or think anything at all. Once you're dead, the world may be gone for *you*, but not for the rest of us."

      You seem to be making of my post a lot, but a whole LOT more than what it actually says. Maybe you've commented on your hallucination of what I said; not on what I actually said. For instance, your inference that I somehow suggested that 'positive thinking' changes reality is entirely hallucinated. If anything, I have been very vocal against the idea that egoic fantasies can change reality at will, even under idealism. I've written about this in books and articles.

      Nor am I denying the importance of practical action to improve the world we live in. Yet, that practical action is only meaningful when it is experienced by conscious human beings. If you do something to help the Congolese or the Syrians, but your actions are not experienced by anyone, you might as well have done nothing. My point is that the only reality that counts is that which is experienced. The suffering of the Congolese and the Syrians is experienced, so it counts.

      I never made a blanket statement against all forms of pragmatism. My statement was that there is more to the value of ideas than just their potential practical applications. And there are very valuable ideas that have NO practical application in the 'outside world,' but are very valuable because they enrich experience in some DIRECT way. And, at the end of the day, all that matters is experience.

      I confess to be confused with your comment. I guess you projected onto my post ideas that you had yourself but eventually discarded as naive. But in that process, you lost from sight what I actually wrote and could only see your own projections.

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    3. Hi Bernardo, I'm certainly not bitter or frustrated, though I can understand how you might read that tone into the text of the response. I'm just not pulling any punches. I write strongly worded dissent because I respect you, admire your writing and want to challenge you in order to get at what you're really thinking; and I've enjoyed your clarifications.

      //Religious belief is not internalized belief of the kind that unconsciously determines how we relate to life. Many believe in the reality of the soul and eternal life in heaven, yet will endure the most horrific medical treatments to prolongue life for a few more weeks...//

      Excellent point.

      //the reality of experience; which is undeniable if anything ever was. I talked of no magical thinking whatsoever; where did you get that from anyway?//

      From the specific thrust of your argument:

      "I think the question is absurd and reveals a generalized state of psychic imbalance in our culture; so generalized that it comes across not only as perfectly normal, but appropriate and even smart."

      My own view is that individuals who ask this question: 'OK, but now, how can people apply all this in practice?', are asking something very important and real (and this is the central objection I had to your post); and simply writing it off as a psychic imbalance could, to turn the tables a bit, come off as pompous and aloof (though neither may be true). Calling the question "absurd" flatly argues that the pragmatic and practical needs behind the question are, in some sense, irrelevant or illusory. I think that any philosophy (which is what you seem to be presenting) that can't answer this question, isn't very useful (or possibly even worth having). One needs to live in the world as it is. Otherwise, why live in it?

      //I talked of no illusion, but of the reality of experience//

      Yes, but if the "reality of experience" trumps the question "...how can people apply all this in practice?", then it invites the question of relevance and magical thinking. For some, the "reality of experience" is the reality implied by the question.

      //You seem to be making of my post a lot, but a whole LOT more than what it actually says. //

      Yes. Naturally.

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    4. Hi Patrick,

      >> My own view is that individuals who ask this question: 'OK, but now, how can people apply all this in practice?', are asking something very important and real (and this is the central objection I had to your post); and simply writing it off as a psychic imbalance could, to turn the tables a bit, come off as pompous and aloof (though neither may be true). Calling the question "absurd" flatly argues that the pragmatic and practical needs behind the question are, in some sense, irrelevant or illusory. I think that any philosophy (which is what you seem to be presenting) that can't answer this question, isn't very useful (or possibly even worth having). One needs to live in the world as it is. Otherwise, why live in it? <<

      I understand what you are saying. But I will stick to my guns here. When one is talking about the fundamental nature of reality, of the self, and of the relationship between the two, one is talking about the most fundamental aspects of existence and inner life. To then follow up such a discussion with 'yeah, but how can I apply it in practice?' is not only massively anti-climatic, but seems to completely miss the significance of the entire topic. It's akin to closing a discussion about the future of the human species with 'yeah, but what will we have for dinner tonight?' It's like a conditioned cultural reflex.

      I do think it is unbalanced to expect EVERYTHING, every idea or concept, to have a practical application in the 'outside world.' But if you define 'practical application' as an enrichment of experience, then yeah, the question is then entirely valid. In my post, however, I defined 'practical application' as an action in the 'outside world.'

      All this said, maybe my language was sharper than it ordinarily would be required. But then again, sometimes a little exaggeration is important for effect.

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    5. Thanks Bernardo; and fair enough.

      Now to put myself in your shoes. Question: "How can people apply all this in practice?"

      That's a hard and knotty question but I wouldn't say that it's absurd. I think you arrived at a better answer in your last reponse: "...if you define 'practical application' as an enrichment of experience, then yeah, the question is then entirely valid." I'm guessing that for many individuals, the pursuit of the material is precisely that -- an enrichment of experience. The difference, perhaps, is in whether they recognize it as such?

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    6. Yes, the pursuit of the material is, in my view, nothing but an enrichment of experience through projection. But it is not the ONLY way to enrich experience. In my view, it's a loss when all other, more direct ways to enrich experience become invisible to our culture because of the glare of the 'practical.'

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  2. Bernardo,

    PGillespie's response to the point that you are making in your speculations above brought a smile of recognition, or better said, in the spirit of your presentation's underlying theme, I RE-EXPERIENCED my own EXPERIENCE of the conundrum that Bernardo finds himself in regard to "How do I answer this post by PGillespie and does he have a question for me to answer? Or did he get my point? Or is playing to the crowd? Or, gee I must have hit a raw nerve in this guy?

    This same perplexing moment has occured countless times over the years for me. Usually as an invited Guest Lecturer at a University and speaking at Professional Conferances.

    Invariably a student or colleague interjects and proceeds to 'hold court' for 2 minutes or more. The conundrum is amplified if person(s) appeared angry or bored during lecture.How could they not be "grateful, entranced" by my "pearls of wisdom"? ;>)?

    Through trial and error, I now intervene after several minutes of monologue.

    First I ask "Do you have a question?".

    Second, "Please mirror back to me in 90 seconds or less, what you heard as my primary objectives that I stated at the beginning this session. You have a handout that I gave you.

    Third, if a they gave coherent answer to the first two questions, than what did they wish to ask, clarify, or counter in this regard.

    Otherwise, I had no way to respond coherently when presented with incongruent anger and irrelevant conclusions. The rant typically shifts in tone into an imperial sigh,bored disdain and droning or scolding me (The World?) for 2 minutes and never asking a question or refuting a point.

    The majority of my practice is spent in clinical contact with people as a psychotherapist. I am trained to see and empathically deal with defenses such as projection, splitting, narcissistic injury and more.

    PGillespie, is being a Human Being who is responding to his own inner path that seem fraught with more than a few axes to grind.

    My reading of his post is "What did he seem to get from your speculations. He is bringing things into his post that are tangential, unrelated,and even seems to agree with you but the agreement lacks nuance and depth.

    On the other hand, PGillespie is just like me. I have done, and continue to do what he seems to be doing. Ranting my own monadic rants, missing the point, grinding axes. I know these things. I have done them more often than I am aware of doing them,


    Bernardo, it is 2012 and I really do wish that aliens will land on the White House lawn on December 21st. (irony please). It's not the outer event that I crave,aliens on the White House lawn in Reality would be a singularity of cataclysmic proportioons for all Mankind. But it's really not the event I crave per se'. I want to EXPERIENCE what that catyclismic event would FEEL like to me and to you and ad infinatum.....

    Jung did it in 1913 and it's chronicled in The Red Book. He EXPERIENCED the Collective Horror of Epic Proportion in the precognitive state of his Active Imagination, his shamanic descent is Jung EXPERIENCING the Two World Wars over the next 4 decades that were unfolding in front of him in 1913.

    The baseline for eveyone is not the events, it's the EXPERIENCE I have of the events. We feel events individually and collectively, miraculously self reflective primates. I am an EXPERIENCE JUNKIE!


    Rick


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    1. We both know I need not reply with words but just the tacit recognition implied by silence. But since the rest of the world may construe a lack of response here as a sign that I might be ignoring your message, here you are. :-)
      PS: There are syncronicities in your message. But let's save it for later!

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  3. "While I, as a human being, also walk the path of feeling like the rest of us, my writing focuses on the path of understanding."

    I can go along with to a certain extent, but can you really separate the two paths in a meaningful sense? Here's what I mean.

    In your search for understanding, why do you choose to focus on certain topics rather than others? It's because those subjects have *meaning* for you, right? They *feel* important.

    So your understanding is tightly focused on whatever subjects or slants evoke a certain feeling in you, and in that respect, isn't feeling more fundamental than what you're calling understanding? And ultimately, isn't it inseparable from it?

    Whatever your answer may be, I appreciate the emphasis you often place on the emotional life, as suggested by:

    "We stopped living the inner-life of human beings and begun living the 'outer life' of things and mechanisms."

    A huge part of my own development was my experience in Arthur Janov's primal therapy. For me, it was a re-introduction to my own feelings--learning to cry when I feel sad, to express rage when that's appropriate, and not to run from my fear but to acknowledge and experience it, so that I don't (as they say) "act it out."

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    1. Yes, I put it in an over-simplistic way. Perhaps a better metaphor would be to say the path of the 'heart' and the path of the 'intellect'? Maybe not. In a way, understanding is a type of feeling too. That's why I tried to explain more by writing 'like love and fear' in between paratheses to specify what kinds of feeling I meant by 'feeling.' I guess I am dancing around words here, but hopefully you have an intuition of what I meant. There are two key 'streams' of life, so to speak. They aren't really separated, but they can be identified. One has more to do with understanding things in a rather intellectual way, and it requires a certain 'stepping out' of it. The other has more to do with feeling things in an emotional way, and it requires a certain immersion into it. While I recognize that I have both, like every human being, I sort of emphasize the former in my style of writing. I guess poets emphasize the latter.

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    2. Idries Shah used to talk a lot about heart understanding and head understanding. The latter is ultimately unsatisfying, like trying to eat a delicious meal that only exists as an illustration in a glossy magazine. Oh, you can do it maybe with pure mathematics, but not much else. Heart understanding, on the other hand, is like eating the meal and gaining actual nutrition from it.

      In this sense, I'm an experience junkie; I think we all are. There's no doubt that external artifacts like my computer can greatly facilitate my search for my next fix, and there are some writers, of whom you are one, Bernardo, who can often provide it. It's definitely a pity if someone's life circumstances mean that they can't indulge their thirst to the same extent I can, and I fully applaud practical applications that, in the end, provide them with the means to do that. Roll on the end to poverty, so that people have at least some leisure time and the means to explore what their heart really desires; which might be difficult if the main worry is where the next meal is coming from.

      But you aren't, as you've indicated, denigrating external application, and having the very experience of appreciating experience and wanting others to do so too is a strong motivation to develop such applications, not for what they are in themselves, but for the way that they can open up opportunities for others to share in the joy. That's what, for example, education is all about. It enhances one's external opportunities, but that is meaningless if taking advantage of those doesn't lead to internal exploration. What doth it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and all that.

      The main force of what you say in your initial post is just so obviously true, that I can't see how it can be gainsaid. I've probably thought along similar lines myself, but you've articulated it particularly well.

      Michael Larkin

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    3. Thanks, Michael. What you say reminded me strongly of an essay I wrote a while back...
      http://www.bernardokastrup.com/2011/05/some-thoughts-on-education.html
      We think alike.

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  4. I've heard Alan Watts remark before that meditation is the one thing you can do that has no practical value, and that's the entire point.

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    1. Nice reference, yes... :-) Watts was fantastic.

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    2. Although my understanding is that this is no longer true. Researchers *have* found practical cognitive and generally health-related value to meditation; although some might argue, I suppose, that such benefits aren't strictly "practical".

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    3. Bernardo's article here touches on a conversation I hear frequently in the larger community of spiritual seekers. It usually breaks down along the lines of "cultivating inner knowledge" versus "self help." Lots of people engage in various spiritual practices because they think they will get something out of it, like peace of mind and happiness. So, there are various activities you can engage in, like meditation, if your approach to spirituality is the same approach you would take if you were trying to loose weight. If you want to meditate so that you can have better health, that's fine. But that isn't that same as cultivating understanding.

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  5. Bernardo, I understand your reaction against practical applications of your philosophy, if you view ‘practical’ as material, ie “how can this understanding make my physical life better”. However, if I were asking you this question I would pose the question as how can this knowledge further my spiritual progress or help me further the spiritual progress of others. This is how I evaluate all information; I am not interested in any philosophical arguments that do not have some practical application. And again, just to be clear here, I define practical as helping to develop spiritually.

    It is fine to be a philosopher exploring ideas for the sake of it, in the same way that an artist creates paintings. We enjoy looking at these creations, they inspire us, and everyone can get something different from the experience. Any form of creation is very beneficial, it is what consciousness does. I wonder whether you think of what you are doing as creation? Are you not creating metaphors to help clarify our consciousness?

    Would this sum up what you are trying to get across? – “people ask ‘what is the point of the journey’, missing the fact that the journey is the point of life”.

    If the only thing that exists is consciousness, would it not be fair to say that the only ‘point’ of consciousness is to increase the quality of consciousness? Here ‘quality’ is something that needs definition, but hopefully you get my point. If the purpose is to increase the quality of consciousness, any new knowledge should increase the quality of consciousness. If everyone’s quality of consciousness increased, even by a small amount, the physical world would be radically changed. When asked what is the practical application would this not be a valid answer?


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    1. Hi Stewart,

      >> if you view ‘practical’ as material, ie “how can this understanding make my physical life better”. <<

      Yes, that's how I defined it.

      >> However, if I were asking you this question I would pose the question as how can this knowledge further my spiritual progress or help me further the spiritual progress of others. <<

      Leaving the definition of the tricky word 'spiritual' aside, yes, any philosophy should be able to do that if it has any value. So I hope my philosophy helps people in that way. In my post, I didn't consider this a 'practical application,' though, because my definition of a 'practical application' was something physical happening in the 'outside world.'

      >> I wonder whether you think of what you are doing as creation? Are you not creating metaphors to help clarify our consciousness? <<

      Maybe, though I hesitate about the word 'creation.' It may be too strong a word... maybe the word 'realization' is better because it's more ambiguous... :-)

      >> Would this sum up what you are trying to get across? – “people ask ‘what is the point of the journey’, missing the fact that the journey is the point of life”. <<

      Not sure if I would sum it up that way. Maybe I would just say: the point of what I am trying to do is to figure out what is going on... just that. :-)

      >> If the only thing that exists is consciousness, would it not be fair to say that the only ‘point’ of consciousness is to increase the quality of consciousness? <<

      Yes!

      >> When asked what is the practical application would this not be a valid answer? <<

      If you define practical in this way, surely yes! In the post, I defined 'practical application' as some action in the physical world.

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    2. Thanks for the reply Bernardo. I find it interesting that you define practical in such a dualist way :-) One definition of practical is "adapted or designed for actual use; useful:". If knowledge isn't useful than I suggest it isn't knowledge. But I don't want to get bogged down in semantics.

      Wouldn't you agree that improving consciousness has an effect in the physical world? So improving the quality of our consciousness has a indirect practical effect. I think you're selling yourself short here, you are having an impact on the physical world.

      Most questions that people ask don't make sense. I think sometimes we need to see past the questions and see what people are really asking. It's fine if you don't want to focus on the practical applications, there are plenty of people who do that. But to suggest that the question is absurd seems like a trivial semantic point and doesn't address the deeper question.

      An artist would not deconstruct their work, they will not tell you what you are supposed to get from it, and that is fine, they want everyone to get what they need to get. But they wouldn't ever say that questions are meaningless.

      btw, thanks for stimulating my mind with this question today :-)


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    3. The question of dualism is a difficult one that is hard to ever win. :-) Yes, I used a dualist metaphor so I could relate it to how people are thinking when they ask me how they can apply my stuff 'in practice.' The context here is that I am asked this by e.g. conference organizers, where the attendance is looking for techniques to be more creative, or more effective at work, etc. But in trying to speak their language, I incur into dualism, which, as you know, I don't subscribe to. Everything is mind.

      But mind can act through outward projections and through inward introspection. Both are indeed mind, but they represent different processes of mind. In that sense, there is a dualism within mind itself, which we confuse with a literal dualism between matter and spirit. My point, thus, is that my work is rather focused on inward introspection, as opposed to outward projection. My work is not about techniques, but about insight. My hope with the article, and with the somewhat exaggerated characterization of the question as 'absurd,' was precisely to raise awareness of this dualism of mind, so people don't forget that such a thing as inward introspection also has tremendous, and more direct, value. Not all value resides in outward projection.

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    4. >> so people don't forget that such a thing as inward introspection also has tremendous, and more direct, value

      I think this is what people are asking of you. What is this value? That would certainly be my question.

      My initial reaction to most of philosophy is "so what", for example, idealism, "so what", what does it mean to me, the physical world still seems to be out there, I am still (usually) restricted by the idea of physical materialism. I'm not saying that I don't get anything of value from these ideas, I do (otherwise I wouldn't be here), I'm just saying that asking what the value of something is is a valid question. It's a question I ask myself about every new area of knowledge I come across.

      Delete
    5. >> I think this is what people are asking of you. What is this value? That would certainly be my question. <<

      Yes, I never denied this subjective value, much to the contrary. My post was about applications in the 'outside world,' like how to make more money, be more popular with women/men, etc.

      Still, I don't feel I have to spoon-feed everyone when it comes to figuring out whether there is subjective value in someone's philosophy... ;-) Subjective value is a personal thing. I share ideas for what they are worth... people have to figure out by themselves what, if any, subjective value it has to them. For instance:

      >> what does it mean to me <<

      is a question that only the 'me' can answer.

      >> I'm just saying that asking what the value of something is is a valid question. <<

      Yes, I never denied that. My post was about applications in the ;outside world'...

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  6. 'I'm just saying that asking what the value of something is is a valid question. It's a question I ask myself about every new area of knowledge I come across.'

    Ah, exactly! If someone were to construct, e.g., a richly illustrated picture of what heaven is like, I would ask what the value of that picture is, or 'how can people apply all this in practice?' And I would expect my question to be understood to mean: 'OK, you've pontificated. Now what can anyone do with what you have said? You have given me nothing with which I might continue to think about heaven-ness.'

    And at last my point: I sense in questions like 'how can people apply it?' an accusation that what 'you' said has left 'me' cold: I am not only not persuaded by its truth, I am not even intrigued by it, for it makes no connection with any ontology I know, and so I can do nothing with it. (The other thing I sense in this question is an admission along these lines: 'I have not understood a word you said, and I am just asking a stock question to mask this fact.)

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    1. >> OK, you've pontificated. <<

      I ain't pontificating... ;-) I'm just sharing hypotheses and ideas. Alan Watts used to say that he wasn't selling anything, that he was an entertainer; that people should look upon his talks and books in the same way that they look upon a musician giving a concert. I make his words my own. I'm just sharing ideas for what they are worth, like a musician shares his music.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=82OpDZ9tAho

      >> I have not understood a word you said, and I am just asking a stock question to mask this fact <<

      Hhmm... this could be the case sometimes indeed......

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  7. Based on your feedback, I removed the word 'absurd' from the post. I agree it was too sharp a word. And it was unnecessary to the point anyway.

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    1. Glad to hear it. Thinking it was unnecessary was my thought also.

      Moreso, projecting meaning onto the "outside world" is a somewhat different issue (and perhaps problem) than questions pertaining to relevance or "the practical". I think the original post wrongly conflated the two (or waasn't clear enough to prevent the same), though when I initially responded I wasn't sure how to frame that obvervation.

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  8. Bernardo, I'm definitely up for that beer you mention (except for the fact that I can't stand beer!). For me, the kind of ideas you explore are intrinsically valuable. Matters of truth and meaning are intrinsically important. Characterizing them as mere means to a more concrete end profoundly misses the point.

    I started out my adult life wanting to do something much like what you do. But events intervened and I ended up having a career as a spiritual teacher, teaching people with almost no interest in issues and ideas like the ones you explore. With few exceptions, they would find your writings too abstract, too intellectual, too impractical. I often feel like I live on a different planet from my audience.

    As a result--I'll be honest--I have accumulated a fair amount of resentment over the demand for practicality. Yet I have also had to stretch to make peace with whatever truth is in that demand, and I do believe there is truth in it (though not only truth!).

    What I have learned is that "practicality" comes in different forms. One form, as you mention, is practical results on the physical level. But a second form is wisdom for living, and people are intensely interested in that second form.

    This wisdom can be as abstract as one's emotional orientation to God, physical events, past and future, other people, and oneself. Our emotional orientation toward those things defines our lives, and that orientation is all about the meaning we assign to them. That meaning is usually not articulated, but it can be articulated and it can be changed. The result is a different emotional orientation to life, a practical result that trumps any mere physical results.

    Most people, as I'm sure you well know, will have a hard time getting their emotional teeth into your worldview. However, my experience is that if you can bring it down to its implications for one's emotional orientation toward that list I gave in the previous paragraph, suddenly people will become intensely interested in ideas--as ideas. Indeed, what I find is that when I go the next step and give them practical exercises for applying those ideas on a more inward/experiential, or even behavioral level, their interest level actually goes down (which to me betrays a hypocrisy in the message "give us the practical"). It's at its peak when we are talking about pure ideas.

    My experience is that this form of practicality could be utilized far more in circles that explore the intersection between the intellectual/scientific and the spiritual. For instance, when people talk about the practical benefits of the survival of consciousness, they generally don't seem to realize that a consciousness that is more than the body, that is possibly even eternal, possesses far more stature and worth in the big picture, and we are consumed every moment with questions of our stature and worth. Change the answers to those questions, and you change our emotional orientation toward ourselves. And at the same time, you change our emotional orientation toward others, because our feelings toward them are based on our assessment of their worth.

    My point is that you could basically say, "I'm not interested in material practicality," but then add, "But I believe that these ideas are practical in the fullest sense of the word. Our experience is largely composed of the meanings we assign to reality, God, the past, the future, physical events, other people, and ourselves. And the worldview I am arguing for allows us to assign a very different meaning to every one of those things, and thus dramatically change our experience. Here, let me show you how..."

    Now it may be that in your books you already do that, or that you aren't interested in doing that. But your post touched on something I've been wrestling with for 30 years and I couldn't help offering what's come out of that.

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    1. Robert,

      I wholeheartedly agree with the thrust of your post. "practicality" in htis sense means an interior movement in how Human Beings "see and live in the world". A movement or , as Gebser writing his great 20th century tome in which he hypothesis the "unfolding" of the modes of Human Consciousness as it "freshly emerged as (barely) self reflective from Nature ...or Gebser's term "Ever Present Origin and unfolded into the Archiac, Mythical, Magical and present day Rational/Newtonian Mode. Gebser points toward the unfolding of a new mode. It may currently be happening but is still unseen by most human beings. Some humans are EXPERIENCING this new mode.L

      anguage limits us to our current mode and the next mode may/will require a change from noun based English,for example. English is great for naming,measuring, conceptualizing and passing on culture and writing sacred texts that metaphorically point toward the ineffable. But even quantum phycists are falling into process forms of language to describe the quantum world.

      As Human Beings we contain all modes from the Light of the Ever-Present Origin to the Archaic clan based identity, to the Mythical, a mode that we continue to dream in.And the Magical where we again access dream and hypnogogic states and creative states in meditation and in our various forms of art and Otherworld 'visions'and in our ability to EXPERIENCE infinite and novel altered and visionary states.

      Thomas Kuhn's term, paradigm shift, is applicable. Human Beings must undergo a radica hsift in the fundamental way in which a Human Being EXPERIENCES being alive and self aware. It seems to be happening now and we are embeded in it but the 'cultural reality tunnel' cannot integrate these changes,without a new "language based on Being processes culture cannot integrate the shift on a larger scale and thus it is, for most Humans, "off the radar". Believe me (or not...I could be lying ;>)) there are many who FEEL and wordlessly EXPERIENCE this unfolding new mode of fundamentally what it is like to be a Human Being.

      I say this cautiously adding the caveat,if we don't destroy the earth first and thus ourselves before it is fully integrated.

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    2. Robert,

      I truly appreciate your comment, feedback, and advice.

      >> What I have learned is that "practicality" comes in different forms. One form, as you mention, is practical results on the physical level. But a second form is wisdom for living, and people are intensely interested in that second form. <<

      Yes. The intent of my post was to say that value is not restricted to the first form of practicality you mention, but that there is also enormous, and more direct, value in what you refer to as the second form of practicality.

      >> This wisdom can be as abstract as one's emotional orientation to God, physical events, past and future, other people, and oneself. Our emotional orientation toward those things defines our lives, and that orientation is all about the meaning we assign to them. That meaning is usually not articulated, but it can be articulated and it can be changed. The result is a different emotional orientation to life, a practical result that trumps any mere physical results. <<

      YES! I agree completely. I tried to capture of what you said above in this passage of my post:

      "Everything else are means to arriving at experiences. And since understanding is a primary experience that frames, shapes, and colors most – if not all – other experiences, why wonder about its applications as far as people's actions in the world 'outside?'"

      But you put it in a much more cogent and palpable way than I did. I hope everyone who reads the post reads your comment.

      >> My point is that you could basically say, "I'm not interested in material practicality," but then add, "But I believe that these ideas are practical in the fullest sense of the word. Our experience is largely composed of the meanings we assign to reality, God, the past, the future, physical events, other people, and ourselves. And the worldview I am arguing for allows us to assign a very different meaning to every one of those things, and thus dramatically change our experience. Here, let me show you how..." <<

      I consider this excellent advice, which I take in open-heartedly and gratefully. I'll apply this in practice (pun intended) at the first opportunity I get.

      Thank you.

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    3. >> Human Beings must undergo a radica hsift in the fundamental way in which a Human Being EXPERIENCES being alive and self aware. It seems to be happening now and we are embeded in it but the 'cultural reality tunnel' cannot integrate these changes,without a new "language based on Being. <<

      The unfathomable challenge of developing a new language for the 'aperspectival' world... a language not dependent on subject/object, verb/noum, I/you, and past/future dualities...

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    4. OK, I'll continue to be the dissident voice. Bernardo, even in all your responses, you still haven't been able to answer the question that irritated you so much: "'OK, but now, how can people apply all this in practice?'" You've gotten a number of responses assuring you that it's OK that you can't answer the question, or that you can massage the meaning of "practical", but nothing that explicitly answers the question.

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    5. Oh yes [smiling] I saw your final paragraph. You mean the one where, in summary, you tried to get your cake and eat it too. You said that there are "probably" practical applications, but you didn't care to elaborate them; but, anyways, you weren't offering recipes, techniques or pragmatic "procedures (though not that you couldn't) but that nevertheless (and practically speaking of course) your suggestions might nevertheless bring about world change. Quite a summation! You don't mind if I elbow you a little?

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    6. I don't mind at all, but you seem to be missing the point of the post entirely... you're claiming that I haven't yet articulated the practical application of my philosophy in the physical, 'outside' world, while the point of the article is to argue why I don't think that is necessary or even important. :-)

      I'd be happy to articulate the 'applications' of my philosophy under the framework that Robert laid out:

      "I'm not interested in material practicality," but then add, "But I believe that these ideas are practical in the fullest sense of the word. Our experience is largely composed of the meanings we assign to reality, God, the past, the future, physical events, other people, and ourselves. And the worldview I am arguing for allows us to assign a very different meaning to every one of those things, and thus dramatically change our experience. Here, let me show you how..."

      I can certainly fill in pages after that final "how." I won't due it here because that's not the appropriate space and neither is that the point of the post. An articulation like this requires the context of what my philosophy actually is, before I start talking about how it changes one's inner life.

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    7. //I don't mind at all, but you seem to be missing the point of the post entirely... you're claiming that I haven't yet articulated the practical application of my philosophy in the physical, 'outside' world, while the point of the article is to argue why I don't think that is necessary or even important. :-)//

      True, but you've written a good deal since your post; and your endorsement of Robert's quote is contradictory. "I'm not interested in material practicality...but I believe that these ideas are practical in the fullest sense of the word."

      The fullest sense of the word includes the following:

      1. Of or pertaining to practice or action.
      [1913 Webster]

      2. Capable of being turned to use or account; useful, in
      distinction from ideal or theoretical; as, practical
      chemistry. "Man's practical understanding." --South. "For
      all practical purposes." --Macaulay.
      [1913 Webster]

      3. Evincing practice or skill; capable of applying knowledge
      to some useful end; as, a practical man; a practical mind.
      [1913 Webster]

      4. Derived from practice; as, practical skill.
      [1913 Webster]

      The full sense of the word includes "material practicality". So, what this tells me is that you want your cake and you want to eat it too (in the sense that your follow up comments undercut the assertions of your original post). I don't mind. I'm just pointing out how I read you so far.

      My position is that it's a mistake to parse practicality the way you do (or to divorce your philosophy from the so-called "material" world); but I'm willing to be persuaded. As it is, your post strikes me as being primarily apologetic and you seem unwilling to concede the very question you dismissed. Again, that's just how I'm reading you.

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    8. Now, in my perception, you're hairsplitting and nitpicking. I think it's abundantly clear what Robert meant, and how I am using his statement. There is abundant context to make its meaning unambiguous. So I don't think this particular thread with you is going anywhere productive now.

      Regarding your 'willing to be persuaded' about the applicability of my philosophy, that's great. But it's imperative that first you know my philosophy! It cannot be compressed into one post or a few comments. I think most people who know my philosophy won't need to ask the question of 'applicability.' Maybe you wanna give it a go?

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    9. You're being very forbearing, Bernard. I suspect Mr. Gillespie's block is that he doesn't appear to appreciate the incalculable worth of experience, of coming to know/understand through experience. Hence the nitpicking: the arguing at the level of head understanding, being fascinated with the pictures of food and arguing that you've called a parsnip a carrot. So what? What do things like parsnips and carrots actually taste like? "He who tastes, knows", as the Sufis have it.

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    10. Hey Michael. :-)
      I think Patrick (Gillespie) likes a sharp, prickly debate. Quite frankly, I enjoy that too... :-) But we haven't been able to get a good one going here. Maybe next time.
      Cheers, Bernardo.

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    11. I've now read your post on Education, Bernardo, and yes, we're on the same wavelength. It's funny, but my education at Catholic primary and secondary schools signally failed to satisfy my propensity for "interior" investigation--despite the emphasis on religion. A much more helpful aspect of my pre-university education was in science; materialists may not realise that analytical training can be applied to spiritual questions.

      I'm not suggesting that one can, through analysis, arrive at incontrovertible proofs of the existence of God or whatever. But it can help in examining experience (internal) and evidence (external) for plausible meaning, and in coming up with some kind of explanatory framework that ties everything together. One can spot where the holes and inconsistencies are, and hold off settling on any framework that doesn't hang together well.

      I find your Idealism framework pretty good: it has a lot of internal consistency, and plausibly fills in a few holes, at least for the time being. But beyond that, it’s interesting that someone else seems to be approaching things in a similar way to me. However, I don’t think such as we are limited to “external” objects of study, nor to slavish acceptance of current scientific paradigms, but also try to honour the importance of personal experience.

      The interior journey matters more than anything else. It’s vital to be as principled as one can, and not be afraid of rejecting hypotheses that don’t stand up. I suppose it involves, for me, the interplay of head and heart, but the primary driver is heart; head isn’t allowed to completely bulldoze the interior landscape. It’s a useful ally, not a dictator, as it seems to be for many reductionists; but the irony is, the impulse to let it rule originates internally, and that alienates them from the core of their own being.

      I’m not entirely speculating; I had my own spell as a reductionist, and a lot of that was to do with my disappointment with, and rebellion against, the failure of Catholic indoctrination to fulfil my interior drive to understand all of reality. I think I detect this also in a lot of reductionists. Their rejection of even such basics as consciousness and free will, their insistence that the very essence of their being is but an illusion, may at bottom be a way of evading the pain that comes from acknowledging one doesn’t know the truth, and having to embark on an internal crusade to come to know. It’s just so easy to elevate what is essentially metaphysical belief in the primacy of externality to the status of knowledge, largely bolstered by the admitted success of technology.

      Of course, some religionists do a similar thing: they elevate a metaphysical belief in sometimes absurd doctrines to the status of known external reality. In the end, it’s all about the need to know, which every one of us experiences. To try to come to know requires a great deal of effort, and one isn’t guaranteed success; one may have to spend all one’s life in the limbo of agnosticism. One of the few things I know for sure is that I know hardly anything for sure. I can understand the temptation to pretend belief is knowledge rather than treating it as hypothesis, something that one must be ready at any time to reject or amend. But that, in the end, is the scientific approach to reality.

      Michael Larkin

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    12. Insightful, Michael. An article by its own merit...

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    13. Yeah, great post Michael, (and Bernardo!) What I like about the general thrust here is that we don't 'know' what Mind is in itself- by that I mean awareness itself. The Head, especially, rails at this fact, and grasps at the 'practical' as a way to defend its tendency towards the concrete (and a nod here to the comments on how the structure of our language at present upholds that). The Heart feels, (not simple emotion) but intuition, and Love is primary here. In Tibetan traditions, the heart is considered the seat of mind, not the head. (They also have a strong 'mind only' or chittamantra philosophy- and as a culture they sure didn't put much attention to the 'practical'- they didn't even use the wheel!)

      I think that as a society, for us to survive is to see and understand the primacy, and the indestructibility, of Mind- that the journey is the goal, and the Practical (head) joins with Love (heart) to advance our level of consciousness so we can continue to evolve. I'll put a plug in here for hallucinogens- they are a sure fire way for any Reductionist to get a very swift and convincing kick in the pants- and without risk to the basically sane (see the Johns Hopkins study on magic mushrooms- totally recommended). Why? At this point, we need some extra fire-power- the Forces of Philosophy in themselves are a bit abstract for most, and apparently we're running out of time in regards to this ecosystem. Plus, Heart leads best- and if Mind is Heart as the Tibetans say, we need to get in there. As far as philosophy goes, this blog is one of the only ones I find worthwhile.

      So, mediate, take hallucinogens conservatively, and read philosophy that leads away from the Reductionistic. Thanks Bernardo!

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