Apparitions, ghosts, and mediumistic communications

I have recently been asked by several people about my views on so-called apparitions, ghosts, and spirit communications through mediums. This is certainly a fascinating subject, so I think it is worthwhile to discuss how I map all this onto my philosophical views. I will organize the discussion below into five parts: a summary of my general philosophical views as they apply to this subject; what I think is true regarding the many theories advanced by those interested in the subject; what I think is not true; my own interpretation of the evidence; and then some final commentary.

My general philosophical views

As most of you know, I hold an Idealist stance: I believe the most logical and parsimonious interpretation of reality is that all of nature is in mind, including the human body; mind itself being the sole irreducible ontological primitive. I have argued elsewhere why I think there is sufficient empirical evidence to discard the notion that the brain somehow generates mind. As such, the dissolution of the body represents merely the dissolution of an image in mind, not of mind itself. Further, it is my position that space-time is a phenomenon of mind. Life in space-time, as such, is a kind of collective, consensus dream that multiple differentiated segments of the broader fabric of mind – that is, multiple individual conscious beings – partake in jointly, somewhat like in the movie Inception.

To me, the human body-brain system is the image of the process by means of which an individual conscious being partakes in the collective dream of space-time. Think of it in terms of some analogies: The image of the process of combustion is fire; the image of the process of blood coagulation is a clot; the image of the process of sudden high-energy electrical discharge is lightning. In an analogous way, I think of a live organic body as the image of the process of an individual consciousness partaking in the collective dream of space-time.

What I do believe regarding apparitions and mediumistic communication

Clearly, I believe that mind itself persists upon physical death. I also believe it is possible that some form of individualized mind, as a differentiated segment of the broader fabric, persists upon physical death as well. Since mind, as argued above, is not generated by the brain, the dissolution of the brain does not imply the end of mind. The dead body is merely an image of something a particular segment of mind has stopped doing, which persists as an 'echo' in other segments of mind, as I discussed here. Given all this, it is fair to say that I am a proponent of the hypothesis commonly referred to as 'survival.'

Now, the most parsimonious notion is that there is only one, continuous fabric of mind, which differentiates itself so to create the appearance of individuality. I once tried to illustrate this with a topological  metaphor, which you can find here. This avoids the inelegant, unreasonable, and inflationary notion that mind arose irreducibly countless times in nature. In this context, all differentiated segments of the fabric of mind – each one corresponding to an individual conscious being – are fundamentally one; in the same way that all the waves of an ocean are fundamentally one ocean in movement. This entails a complete interconnectedness at the most fundamental level of reality. It is thus conceivable that, through the broader fabric of mind that unites them, an individual consciousness that is no longer associated with a body (that is, a deceased person) can resonate in some way with another individual mind that is alive in space-time. Michael Larkin illustrated this cogently here. To put it in simpler and more direct terms, I believe it to be conceivable that the consciousness of a 'dead person' can, in some form, communicate with the consciousness of someone alive. This can be called mediumism and, as such, I grant potential validity to mediumism.

What I do not believe regarding apparitions and mediumistic communication

I do not think that the consciousness of a dead person can inhabit or otherwise interact physically within space-time, even if temporarily, as in the traditional conception of ghosts. The reasons for this are various. First, as I said above, I think the partaking of consciousness in space-time is a process that has an image; an image which we call a physical body. To expect consciousness to partake in space-time without a correlated physical body is like expecting combustion without fire; or coagulation without clots. The body simply is the image of the partaking. Second, the idea that there is a more subtle but fully-functional 'copy' of a physical body (that is, a ghost) that survives death and can pop into, and interact physically within, space-time seems to render the physical body entirely redundant. If we fundamentally are immortal ghosts that can watch sunsets, push tables around, and communicate in regular language, all without a biological body, then why the heck do we have a body to begin with? The notion that nature would come up with such unfathomably contrived redundancy seems illogical and beyond inelegant to me.

Based on a similar rationale, I do not think that disembodied consciousnesses (that is, 'discarnate spirits', 'dead people,' whatever term you prefer) can think or communicate in language. Language represents a very particular, linear way to organize the flow of thoughts; that is, the flow of the oscillations of mind. When mind organizes itself so as to think in language, I believe the image of such organization is what we call a human brain. Note that I am not as much saying that 'a human brain is necessary for language' (though that is a useful metaphor) as I am saying that, when mind organizes itself to flow according to the modality we call language, the result of that organization is what we call a human brain. Do you see the subtle difference?

Therefore, if an individual consciousness is not organized in the form of a human brain, I do not think that its thoughts (that is, its oscillations) can be articulated in language form. By definition, a disembodied consciousness is not organized in that way, so I do not think that it can communicate in language either. Nor does it need language to convey meaning, since locality constraints are more-than-likely not in effect in the after-death state, as I discussed here.

The phenomenology reports of some very observant and thoughtful people who claim to have had contact with disembodied consciousnesses (like dead relatives or friends) seem quite consistent with the view I expressed above. Consider, for instance, Anita Moorjani's very observant and precise commentary on her Near-Death Experience below:

At the 30:48-minute mark she says: "I encountered my [deceased] father..." At first sight, many people would think of this as a meeting with the 'ghost' of a dead person. But then she immediately goes on to qualify that encounter as something much more like what I am describing above: "...because it was as though I became his essence; I understood him." Clearly, she didn't meet a ghost inhabiting space-time; she became the essence of her father, in the way differentiated consciousnesses can 'tap' into each other's oscillations through the broad fabric of mind. Such encounter does not take place in space-time; it does not take place within the consensus dream we call physical reality.

At the 43:06-minute mark she goes on to say: "It's interesting because there is no language, you don't speak. It's like you just understand; there's just the knowledge." Again, this is consistent with my postulate above that a disembodied consciousness will not 'think' in language form, but communicate by a direct, largely unfiltered sharing of mental contents. Overall, Anita's description of her NDE seems to be entirely and precisely consistent with my philosophical positions on the nature of reality.

My interpretation of the evidence

A source often cited for evidence regarding the reality of apparitions and survival is Erlendur Haraldsson, an Icelandic academic who has investigated cases of apparitions and communications with the dead for over 40 years now. Haraldsson has amassed a file with thousands of reports of such cases, and publishes extensively. Although, taken individually, each of Haraldsson's cases is nothing more than anecdotal evidence (as he acklowledges), taken together they are very indicative of a real phenomenon taking place.

Haraldsson published a book this year, called The Departed Among the Living, which provides a comprehensive overview of his life's work in the field. It is, one could say, Haraldsson's most definitive pronouncement on the matter thus far. The book is bursting full of testimonies of people who appeared to have seen, heard, felt, or otherwise perceived ghosts of the departed. Most of the cases occurred when the witnesses were awake and performing daily routines, so many of the apparitions are very suggestive of ghosts interacting physically within space-time, even if temporarily. What do I make of this, given what I said above?

Well, as it turns out, Haraldsson himself has already worded my own views on the subject in a very cogent way. I will take the liberty to quote a passage below under non-commercial, fair educational use provisions. The passage is the very opening of Chapter 10, titled Who or What is the Source of the Apparitional Experience? Therefore, there is no sense in which this quote can be taken out of context. The emphasis is mine:
We have mentioned two possible explanations for apparitions. Either encounters with the dead are created by the minds of the perceivers, or the dead are making us aware of them by creating a sensory image in the mind of living observers ... If the latter theory/explanation is true, ... it is easiest to imagine that the deceased person creates a perception in the mind of the perceiver. We find a similar phenomenon in hypnotism ... the perception can be so real that the perceiver experiences it as an outer physical stimulus ... There can hence only be a cognitive or telepathic connection between the living and the dead. The deceased moulds [sic] the perception in the mind of the living person. It appears that such a perception can range from sensing an invisible presence ... to the perception of an outer physical reality just as with any other sensory perception we know of.
Clearly, Haraldsson is not granting reality to quasi-material, ghost-like bodies inhabiting and interacting in space-time. He is stating that the apparition events occur in the mind of the perceivers, not in the so-called 'outer world' of consensus space-time. In other words, the apparitions are not part of the collective dream of consensus reality. Indeed, Haraldsson cannot escape this conclusion, for his files contain cases that directly contradict the ghost interpretation of apparitions: cases where the dead appear as a photograph on a wall (case no. 5033), or as a ball of fire (case no. 7003), or even as a floating jacket without a body (case no. 2210). Naturally, as a scientist, he will not selectively ignore evidence that does not conform to a particular interpretation of the data; he will, instead, seek the most economical interpretation that fits all validated data.

In all fairness, Haraldsson does go on to discuss what he calls the "third explanation": that, and I quote, "the deceased person creates or materializes in some inexplicable way a physical form." (p. 69) But he quickly concedes that his entire set of data provides no support for this alternative, and that one has to go back to the 19th or early 20th centuries to find case reports that suggest it. He acknowledges that "such material phenomenon have [sic] rarely been seen around mediums since then." (p. 69) Candidly, he also acknowledges that reports from this early era are difficult to consider valid, because "later some unscrupulous men managed to produce what appeared to be similar perceptions with tricks alone." (p. 69) My own view is that, if one needs to go back to the turn of the 20th century to find evidence supportive of a certain interpretation of a phenomenon that is supposedly happening all the time, then one simply does not have a case for such an interpretation.

Here is what I think is going on in authentic cases of apparitions and mediumistic communications, where the information conveyed is verified to be veridical: There is indeed a contact with a disembodied consciousness, but not a manifestation of that disembodied consciousness as a ghost in consensus space-time. The communication happens as a resonance of thought through the very medium of mind, the most fundamental level of reality. It takes place outside of space-time and is not in the form of language. Instead, it is in the form of a direct sharing of pure subjective ideas and feelings, as Anita Moorjani described in the video above. It is only after the communication that the perceiver's consciousness retroactively translates the subjective meaning perceived into a storyline and images that make some sense according to ordinary concepts and language. This can take place, for instance, as an overlay of the image of a dead person onto the actual physical scenery, or as a semi-automatic wording of an otherwise wordless intuition or feeling. In both cases, in my view, it is the perceiver's mind that architects the storyline, while the underlying meaning, or impression, or intuition may indeed be an authentic, veridical communication.

That the unconscious mind can seamlessly and autonomously convert pure meaning into recognizable and concrete images and words is well-established in depth-psychology since the time of Freud and Jung. Such process is entirely transparent to egoic awareness, which thinks that the images, words, and storylines created are literally true, in the sense of being actual physical stimuli. To say that the psychologists who came up with such notions are unaware of how concretely the phenomenon is experienced is naive: Jung himself used to 'see' and 'hear' an autonomous psychic complex of his unconscious mind, which manifested to his ego as a winged being ('Philemon') who used to 'walk' with him in his garden while they 'talked.' (See Jung's biography Memories, Dreams, Reflections). Yet, despite his own dramatic experiences with apparitions and communications with the dead (one of which Haraldsson makes a point of recounting in his book), Jung did not think those apparitions where actual ghostly manifestations in consensus space-time.

I think that any valid communication with a disembodied consciousness must necessarily entail a subtle (perhaps practically imperceptible) shift in the state of consciousness of the witness, which renders her more open to psychic influences. In other words, it is the embodied consciousness that must temporarily and partially free itself from the locality constraints of space-time so to gain access to a frame of reality that allows for the communication. It is us, metaphorically speaking, that 'need to go to the dead;' not the dead to us. They cannot 'come to us' without our (unconscious) cooperation because being in space-time entails taking upon ourselves a number of constraints and 'filters' that insulate us from the broader reality of mind. It's like putting on blinders. We isolated ourselves in the process of partaking in the consensus dream, so we cannot expect those who left the dream to come to us on their own (unless, of course, they rejoin the dream, a process that has the image we call 'birth'). Expecting otherwise is, in my view, as unreasonable as someone who puts on earplugs and proceeds to complain to his wife that he cannot hear what she says. "Dear, would you please speak up? I can't hear you!"

Some further commentary

When discussing the potential validity of a reality that transcends the physical, scientists and philosophers are often restricted to evidence in the form of phenomenological reports. In other words, they have to rely on what people say. In such cases, it is a sound practice not to patronize the witness. After all, it is the witness who is in the best position to describe what she witnessed, not the researcher who is interviewing her. Fundamentalist materialist scientists often commit the fallacy of thinking they know better than the witness what was actually witnessed; which is, of course, preposterous.

But it is also a naive fallacy to believe the witness to be in the best position to interpret what was witnessed. Interpretation requires a capability to model, something that depends on a deep understanding of science and philosophy. It is unreasonable to expect ordinary witnesses to do that. The problem is that witnesses often pass interpretation for observation. For instance, when a witness says "I've seen a ghost!" that is already an interpretation. It is up to judicious researchers to look past the haze of interpretations and extract from the witness what was actually observed (for instance: "What I've actually seen was a very realistic image that corresponds precisely to the looks of a dead relative of mine"). It is also up to qualified people to then interpret those observations according to a broader and logical framework.

When communications with apparitions are validated as far as the veracity of the information received, some argue that the simplest explanation is simply to take everything at face value: that is, that ghosts are real. For instance, imagine that someone reports to have heard the ghost of her dead mom tell her where some lost keys were. Imagine also that, thereafter, the lost keys are found exactly where described by the supposed ghost. Then, some people claim that the simplest explanation is simply to acknowledge the reality of mom's ghost (It knew where the keys were!).

The notion that the simplest explanation of a phenomenon is what it appears to be at face value is preposterous; it entails an embrace of intellectual laziness and lousiness. If such notion were valid, we would still believe that the sun orbits the Earth; after all, every human being on the planet will see that as the face-value explanation for the day-and-night cycles we all witness every day. Take that for consensus!

You see, it is true that the simplest explanation is preferred in science. But what constitutes the simplest explanation has nothing to do with what the phenomenon appears to be at face value, or even with what relates best to familiar concepts and notions. The idea of a ghost interacting in space-time sounds very familiar, for it is a verbatim copy of another very familiar notion: people and their behavior. Yet that has nothing to do with simplicity in the way it is meant in science and philosophy.

The simplest explanation is that which requires the lowest possible number of new ontological assumptions, while still explaining the observations. Postulating autonomous ghosts in space-time requires a mind-boggling number of new ontological assumptions: some kind of matter that can't be detected by normal means; some kind of energy that can't be detected by normal means; some kind of biology that is unknown; contrived laws of organization that are yet unknown; means of interaction with regular matter that can't be detected by normal means; etc. It is ludicrous to claim this as the 'simplest' explanation for apparitions.

Yet, none of the power and meaning of apparitions or mediumistic communications is lost if the explanatory framework proposed above is correct. Consciousness and individuality still survive death; communications with the deceased are still possible; information can still be validly received and verified. These are the key elements of meaning for those inspired by cases of apparitions and mediumistic communications in their spiritual journeys. And they are all not only preserved, but validated through a logical and internally-consistent explanatory framework that does not need to invoke ghosts interacting physically in space-time.

Transcending Our Brain Created Reality

Medieval illustration of transcendence.

An article I wrote for New Dawn Magazine, published in print a few weeks ago, is now freely available online thanks to the kindness of David Jones, the magazine's editor. I'd like to make it this week's blog post, since I believe the message in it is quite important. Below, you will find the first paragraph of the article and a link to the full text on New Dawn's website. Enjoy!

The study of non-ordinary states of consciousness is quickly becoming an established area of scientific and philosophical inquiry. Yet, all the enthusiasm about finding out what these non-ordinary states are somehow obfuscates much bigger, important, and urgent questions: What as-of-yet unknown aspects of reality do they give us access to? And what significance do those hold for the human adventure in space-time?

Continue reading on New Dawn's website...

The Great Cosmic Split: A myth

What follows below is a myth, a story; not a philosophy, a model, or a theory. I share this myth here for the cultivation of what William Blake once called "The Divine Imagination." May the Divine Imagination not be forgotten in this age of misguided pragmatism and cynicism.

The "story time" video below tells the complete myth of the "Great Cosmic Split," in case you prefer to hear it instead of reading. The text that follows, however, does contain more substance.

At the beginning of time the cosmos was subject to a split: a deep slice across the core of existence. The universe became then divided into two very different halfs: the Physical Realm and the Mythical Realm. All the meaning of existence went into the Mythical Realm, while the Physical Realm retained all form.

In the Physical Realm the unfolding of existence became governed by laws of cause and effect, or 'causality.' These causal laws are blind, mechanical automatisms; there is no meaning in them. They operate based purely on relationships of form: Given the right configuration of circumstances, the laws kick in and certain events are automatically triggered regardless of their meaning. In the Mythical Realm, on the other hand, the unfolding of existence became governed by associations of meaning, instead of form. These associations are not mechanical, blind, or automatic, but link events with related meaning through corresponding evocations of emotion.

Some examples may help elucidate the above: In the Physical Realm events are governed by chains of causality. For instance, if you jump off a building (the cause) you will fall (the effect). Chains of causality operate dispassionately and purely according to form: You will fall because the configuration of circumstances is such that there is nothing stopping the law of gravity from pulling you down. You will fall whether you want to fall or not; whether the fall makes you scared or not; whether you are desperate or enthusiastic about life; whether the fall holds any significance for you or not. You will fall simply because there is a blind, mechanistic law whereby mass attracts mass at a distance.

In the Mythical Realm, on the other hand, events are governed by chains of associated meanings. For instance, if you see a baby crying, it may evoke in you the feeling of pain; this feeling, in turn, may unfold into the image of a medical doctor wearing a white jacket and approaching you with a flask of healing medicine; the image of the doctor may then evoke a soothing feeling that, in turn, may unfold into the image of your sitting at the edge of a beautiful waterfall, surrounded by the trees, immediately after having drunk from the flask; and so on, with endless associations of meaning leading to the unfolding of rich, fairytale-like mythologies that, in the Mythical Realm, are entirely and palpably real. Note that there is no relationship of formal cause-and-effect in the way events unfold there; only associations of meaning operating through evocations of emotion. The Mythical Realm is akin to dreams: it does not obey physics, reason, or logic. In a sense, meaning associations are the 'physics' of the Mythical Realm, while the evocation of affections is its 'logic.' Yet, both the Physical and the Mythical Realms are equally real and palpable. There is absolutely no sense in which any of the two Realms is any more or less abstract, 'gaseous,' ethereal, or concrete than the other.

Note how symmetrical and complementary these realms are. In the Physical Realm events unfold mechanically, according to form; in the Mythical Realm events unfold affectively, according to meaning. From the point-of-view of the Physical Realm, the Mythical Realm is absurd and illogical: there is no consistency of form in the way events unfold. From the point-of-view of the Mythical Realm, the Physical Realm is dead and vacuous: there is no significance in the way events mechanically cause other events. But there is a yet stronger relationship between these two realms; a historical secret that has been carefully guarded since the dawn of time.

And here it is: Every chain of causality in the Physical Realm has a twin chain of meaning in the Mythical Realm, like the two sides of the same coin. In other words, there is a chain of meaning in the Mythical Realm that corresponds closely, according to a certain 'translation function,' to each chain of causality in the Physical Realm. This correspondence between chains of causality and chains of meaning is not accidental; it is absolutely necessary for the flow of existence. Indeed, chains of causality cannot unfold without a form of input from the corresponding chain of meaning. Analogously, chains of meaning cannot unfold without a form of input from the corresponding chain of causality. No one chain can kick-start the process of unfolding without the other; they form what Douglas Hofstadter called a 'tangled hierarchy.'

Now you may be thinking: "Nonsense. The physical world is causally-closed; that is, it can run itself like a clock without any influence from other realms." In fact, that is not quite true. The laws of physics define merely envelops of probability about what events can, and are likely to, occur. But there are no laws in physics determining what specific event actually occurs. This is a mystery called the "collapse of the wave function." And this is where the input from the Mythical Realm enters the Physical: it is the evocation of a particular meaning in the corresponding chain of meaning that allows and chooses one specific event to materialize in the chain of causality. Without that input of meaning, nothing would ever materialize and unfold in the Physical Realm; it would forever remain a cloud of abstract possibilities.

An analogous dependence plays on the other side of the divide. As mentioned earlier, after the cosmic split all form has ended up in the Physical Realm. Without form to evoke emotion and meaning, no meaning associations can unfold in the Mythical Realm. In the example above, the crying baby, the doctor in a white jacket, the flask of medicine, and the waterfall were all images derived from the forms that unfold in the Physical Realm. Those images are necessary to evoke the corresponding affective states of meaning. Without images, no chain of meaning could ever unfold; the whole thing would grind to a halt. This is where the input from the Physical Realm enters the Mythical Realm.

The Physical and Mythical Realms are locked in a dance of co-dependence across a tangled hierarchy. The Physical feeds the forms required to evoke meaning in the Mythical. The Mythical, in turn, feeds the meaning required to collapse probabilities into matter and energy in the Physical, thereby creating new forms. And so the dance of existence unfolds, like the intertwined snakes of the caduceus, the double helix of DNA, or the Ayahuasca vine.

Ayahuasca vine
DNA double-helix

Living beings exist in both Physical and Mythical Realms simultaneously. Life is a bridge. The part of us that inhabits the Physical Realm has historically received the label "body." The part of us that inhabits the Mythical Realm has historically received the label "soul." These are just labels, and no meaning should be read into them other than what is described in this myth. The aspects of your life that relate to the Mythical are your emotions, dreams, creativity, intuition, heart-felt fantasies, and yes, even your very use of language. After all, what is language but a chain of evocative symbols associated to each other by meaning? Language is Mythical. Similarly, the aspects of your life that relate to the Physical are your sensations; the forms they create in your awareness; the consistency with which these forms are associated through cause-and-effect; your ability to model, explain, and predict their behavior; etc. Science is Physical when done, yet Mythical when communicated through language.

Body and soul are equally real and concrete. Attributions of 'gaseous' or ethereal qualities to the soul derive from historical misunderstandings about the nature of reality. Body and soul also correspond in form. After all, the soul imports forms from the body, while the body imports meaning from the soul. Soul and body are integral parts of one single system. You are both simultaneously; right now. Your soul isn't a separate entity with a separate consciousness; it is you in the same way that the multiple split-off personalities of a patient with Dissociative Identity Disorder are, despite their assertions to the contrary, the same person. You aren't a soul having a bodily experience any more than you are a body having a soul experience. The illusion of an asymmetry biased towards the Physical arises only from the amnesia and dissociation resulting from the split across Realms. As I write this, my soul is living her life in the Mythical Realm in as real and concrete a manner as my ego lives his life in the Physical Realm right now. My soul is also under the illusion that life is biased, but towards the Mythical! During our nightly dreams we can experience more of the world of the soul. Studying her dreams is the art of the seeker in search of her soul.

The life of your soul in the Mythical is constantly influencing your body's journey in the Physical through a steady input stream of meaning. When that influence is particularly noticed, due perhaps to sharpened sensitivity, one speaks of uncanny syncronicities. Similarly, your body is right now influencing your soul's journey in the Mythical through a constant output stream of images (forms). When those images, for whatever reason, begin to dry up, the influx of meaning from the Mythical is consequently reduced and one then speaks of loss of soul. To cultivate the life of the soul, one should pay attention to the images one provides to it; not only visuals, but 'images' of all sense categories: beautiful landscapes, uplifting music, enriching philosophy, etc. Images are the sustenance of the soul. Like fertilizer, with the right images added in one can later harvest a wealth of meaning. A meaningful life, in turn, is more conducive to unfolding into rich images, closing a positive and constructive feedback loop. But beware: negative feedback loops also lurk in the depths of the psyche, and I personally know only too well about them.

Indeed, since the chain of causality unfolds intrinsically in lock-step with the chain of meaning, one has two levers to influence the course of one's life: through influencing the chain of causality and through influencing the chain of meaning. Our culture is myopically obsessed with only one of these levers: the chain of causality. By thinking exclusively in terms of cause-and-effect, we prune our own freedom in half. We enter into a desert of images, which stunts the growth of the tree of meaning in the Mythical, thereby throwing our entire culture into a downward spiral of psychic misery. We're handicapped.

Our culture's myopia has other surprising consequences: since we only acknowledge the chain of causality, we've developed an arbitrarily restrictive logic whereby only one answer can be true at a time; a kind of mutual-exclusivity. Allow me to explain this with an example: A patient goes to a Chinese traditional medicine practice. There, the Chinese practitioner diagnoses her condition as a blockage of the Qi energy flowing in her body. The diagnosis is explained through elaborate, rich, and evocative images of energy lines, flows, congested junctures, etc. The images make the human body seem to light up with meaning. Later on, the same patient goes to a conventional doctor, who diagnoses her problem as a straight-forward, and very physical, backbone misalignment. The patient then thinks: "Either the Chinese practitioner is right, or my doctor is. Both cannot be simultaneously right, since there can be only one explanation for my condition. It's either Qi blockages or backbone misalignment!" This is a very logical line of thought in our culture; who would dare question it?

Yet it is wrong. The notion of mutual-exclusivity is arbitrary. The video below explains an alternative logic that does not entail mutual-exclusivity of explanations (keep watching past the introduction to computer architecture). The backbone misalignment may indeed be the way the chain of causality is unfolding, but let us not forget that there is necessarily an equivalent symbolic unfolding in the corresponding chain of meaning. There has to be a meaning behind the backbone misalignment, or it wouldn't have occurred. The unfolding of the chain of meaning can be understood and interacted with through images; Qi is one such image, or symbol. Many other images or symbols could be used to evoke similar meanings: Tao, cosmic energy, prana, etc.; or even 'loss of soul.' What matters is not the image per se (that is, it's not the form), but the feeling it evokes; there lies its true meaning.

This way, it may very well be the case that both the Chinese practitioner and the conventional doctor are simultaneously correct; they are simply talking about different chains: the former about the chain of meaning and the latter about the chain of causality. Influencing either chain will inevitably translate into a different unfolding of the other, and a potential cure to the diagnosed condition, since the chains are in lock-step. The more consistent with the laws of physics our actions in the Physical Realm are, the more effectively they will influence the chain of causality and change our lives. Similarly, the more evocative and meaningful our myths and imagery in the Mythical Realm are, the more effectively they will influence the chain of meaning and change our lives. Reason without myth, or myth without reason, leaves half the job undone.

It is ludicrous to believe that, because a very physical explanation has been found for a phenomenon, the earlier symbolic or mythological explanation is somehow invalidated. Both the chain of causality and the chain of meaning are always at play in a co-dependent manner; one cannot unfold without the other. As such, the Physical explanation merely complements the Mythical explanation. Traditional cultures around the world, in their many myths, have been biased towards the evocative symbolisms of the chain of meaning: Shamans talk about forest spirits and ancestors, pagans talk about Earth energies, etc. Modernity, however, has brought this one-sidedness all the way to the other extreme: we now only acknowledge the chain of causality. Both cultural approaches are imbalanced and miss the broader point. The meaning associations of the Mythical Realm – the world of myths and symbols – is no less, but also no more, real and concrete than the mechanical cause-and-effect relationships of the Physical Realm. Human beings span across both Realms. To live our lives to the fullest, we must acknowledge and embrace as real both the meanings of symbols and the forms of matter. Form and meaning.

This has been a myth; one which I hope will contribute to the cultivation of the Divine Imagination and to the fertilization of the Mythical Realm for the growth of the soul. May its images accelerate the unfolding of rich chains of meaning that find their way back into our empirical lives in the physical world. "But is this myth actually true?" I hear you ask. I can only answer this: probably not in the logical, causal sense prevailing in the Physical Realm! But then again, that's not the point, is it?

If you would like to read some more about the ideas behind this myth, I recommend three works to get you started:

Of The Universe And Loops

By Michael Larkin

(This is a guest essay. Michael did a beautiful job framing the ideas in a previous post of mine, "Mind as a hyper-dimensional membrane," in a poetic story form that can be much more appealing and understandable to many readers. This has emerged from a long discussion thread in a forum, which you can find here. I am glad to herewith open the precedent of publishing high-quality, original content in this blog that is not of my own authorship.)

Moebius strip, a one-sided loop. Source: Wikipedia.

I am one of the Cosmic Wanderers: I have observed many different universes, and am here to tell you the story of yours.

Think of it as an infinitely thin, infinitely flexible membrane that extends further than can ever be imagined. Picture yourself as that membrane at rest – perfectly flat, unperturbed: like being in a deep, dreamless sleep. At some minimum possible level, you are aware, but do not stir. All the potential that you have to be and to do (when you are awake) is there, but dormant.

The universe is never completely like that. Think more appropriately of yourself as being mostly in a dream state: you are more active, and I can see undulating patterns in the-membrane-that-is-you dance and interact in fascinating ways. You have been dreaming for countless eons. You have yet to fully awaken, but interestingly, I spy that some regions of your surface have formed into patterns that are like intricate standing waves that loop back on themselves, and have become aware that they are aware.

The awareness of which they are aware is of course that of the whole membrane-that-is-you, but each is limited in how much of your potential to be and to do it can activate. Some loops can activate more than others, be awake more than others, each according to its particular configuration, and how it perceives its environment.

Each is connected through the membrane to all other loops. It is easy for each to resonate with others at certain frequencies, and thus they can perceive and communicate amongst themselves, albeit often in distorted ways. It is harder for them to perceive or communicate at other frequencies, but some can do so.

Most loops imagine themselves to be separate entities, not realising that they are connected by the common ground, the-membrane-of-all-potential that is you. They are interacting in countless ways, thinking they are trying to achieve all sorts of things, but in the end, these are their distorted attempts to achieve your global awakening. The less the distortion, the better the attempts; the more subtle and intricate their folds, the more they can activate of your potential.

Gradually, ever so gradually, more and more of your potential is being realised, even though loops can sometimes, through misconceived attempts, become less subtle, less evolved. At some point, inevitably, you will be completely awake, completely activated potential. But not yet.

So now, my dear loop, I see you have questions:

What determines what is possible? Only that is possible which is inherent in the potential of the whole membrane. That potential always was and always will be. Only upon full awakening, upon universal awareness of awareness, will it be fully activated. How awesome that will be! It is even awesome to contemplate, as I know you do, what as-yet-unrealised potential there might be.

Will I be annihilated upon full activation of the membrane’s potential? No. You will be part of the fully actualised potential, in full and undistorted communication with all the other activated parts of that potential. There will be no part of which that can’t be said. You will have a genuine individuality of configuration, as will all the other parts, and you will all comprise an integrated whole that cannot dispense with you without being less than it is.

It is a very rough metaphor, but think of how a protein is formed in a cell. It is produced as a string of amino acids that spontaneously folds, and the folds may fold again and those yet again – primary, secondary, tertiary, quaternary – producing a complicated three-dimensional structure that is the active protein. The universal membrane is already partially folded in places, which generates higher degrees of self-awareness. Eventually, the membrane will be completely folded, completely self-aware, completely active and awake.

How do the undulations and patterns that are not yet self-aware loops manifest themselves? In ways that are typically predictable and repetitive. You think of some of the most basic of them as fundamental particles and forces. You don’t yet know what they all are, nor all of their possible interactions.

At what point do patterns within the membrane become awake, that is, able to form a loop intricate enough to be self-aware? Remember, I said that only the membrane at complete rest is pure awareness. Where oscillations and patterns arise, however elementary, there is more than that, if not yet self-awareness. There is a gradient of awareness, until at some point, localised self-awareness is possible.

How close is this story to the truth? As close as you can currently comprehend; by no means completely accurate, but still useful. Think of a fuzzy image of something in a microscope or telescope. You get the general idea of its shape even at the lower resolutions. As the resolution gets better, you can discern more. As you evolve, you become like an instrument able to resolve more and more detail.

Copyright © 2012 by Michael Larkin. Published with permission.