Key quotes from Part I of More Than Allegory

Photo by Bernardo Kastrup, hereby released into the public domain.

To give you a taste of the messages in Part I of my newly released book More Than Allegory, I've collected below some key passages lifted right out of the book. I hope you find these insightful and enjoyable!
Never before in history has a civilization been so desperately devoid of context and perspective. Who are we? Where do we come from? Where should we go? What’s the point of it all? We feel lost because we are unable to take seriously the maps that could give us directions. We can no longer take myths seriously because, after all, they are only myths. (p. 14) 
Our mind needs a code to translate consensus images into thoughts and feelings. Without it, there would be no bridge or commerce between outer and inner realms. … The translation code takes the form of a mental narrative we tell ourselves; a story that implies particular correspondences between outer images and inner feelings and ideas. The translation code is thus a myth. (p. 17) 
A deprived myth is not the same as an absence of myth. A deprived myth is one that favors narrow and lame interpretations of consensus reality, [making] life in the world seem futile and claustrophobic. But it is a myth nonetheless, because it entails an interpretation. Today, we don’t live in a mythless society. Our condition is much more tragic: we live in a society dominated by increasingly deprived myths. (pp. 19-20) 
A religious myth … is a story capable of lifting the experience of being from the confines of time, space, randomness and blind automatism. … In a life informed by a religious myth, nothing is ‘just so.’ Everything has a reason for being and a purpose to fulfill. Everything belongs in a bigger and timeless context. (pp. 23-24) 
Religious myths are much disregarded and belittled today. … Perhaps as a desperate, instinctive effort to compensate for this unnatural state of affairs, scientific myth-making is on the rise, as the latest multiverse cosmologies illustrate. But that’s a lame form of mythologizing: science’s blind devotion to the gods of chance and automatism condemns its myths to hollowness. (pp. 24-25) 
Science, as the exclusive domain of men in the nineteenth century, incorporated in its very fabric the adolescent male’s need to look tough. … The result is that contemporary science cannot acknowledge even the possibility of meaning and purpose … for real men and tough chicks face bleak facts. This isn’t skepticism but cynicism: an arbitrary commitment to the impossibility of something. (p. 26) 
Both cynicism and fundamentalism blind us to the full breadth and depth of religious myths. Consequently, we’ve lost our ability to experience the comprehensive way in which transcendence can envelop our entire existence. We now desperately lack context, perspective and purpose. (p. 27) 
The world as the mental activity of a deity that becomes lucid within its own imagination certainly isn’t a view you would expect to arise by mere coincidence all over the world. ... Somehow, peoples separated by half the circumference of the globe and thousands of years have, through their religious myths, arrived at specific, refined, surprisingly similar cosmologies. (p. 33) 
Religious myths are powerless if they aren’t seen as true. But unlike traditional cultures, we subject our mythical intuitions to the scrutiny of reason. Therefore, if our lives are to be colored by religious myths again, it is imperative that we rationally understand how and why they can be true. (p. 34) 
Underlying our contemporary attitude toward religious myths is the hidden but far-reaching assumption that all relevant truths about reality can be directly captured by the intellect in the form of language constructs. In other words, we take it for granted that, if something is true, then it can be said. … Yet, there is no reason to believe that language is sufficient to capture all relevant truths. (pp. 38-40) 
The depth, breadth and flexibility of the ancient obfuscated mind may represent a huge and untapped potential in every human being; a resource anchored much closer to the primordial truths of nature … than the later-evolved intellect. … Could we ease our modern anxieties and rediscover the meaning of life by tapping into this ancient umbilical-chord that keeps us connected to the ground of existence? (pp. 43-44) 
The evocative power and remarkable sophistication of so many traditional religious myths can only be attributed to their origin in the obfuscated mind, which intuits aspects of reality unreachable by the intellect. These myths weren’t thought through deliberately, but sensed. (pp. 44-45) 
To restore meaning to our lives, we must develop a close relationship with the transcendent truths symbolically unveiled by the obfuscated mind in the form of religious myths. … Establishing communication between the self-reflective intellect and our obfuscated mythical cognition can help us ease our modern anxieties. (p. 45) 
Many religious myths reflect a culture’s intuitive apprehension of transcendent aspects of reality. They aren’t merely roundabout ways to refer to something literal, but the most direct and accurate utterance of transcendent truths. A religious myth is symbolic—never literal— because it emerges from the obfuscated mind. (p. 46)
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The symbolic religious myths produced by the obfuscated mind aren’t merely roundabout ways to refer to something literal, but the only pointers we have to a form of salvation. They aren’t less precise and redundant alternatives to literal explanations, but the only fair way to capture and communicate the transcendent aspects of reality. (p. 46) 
I thus propose that, if a religious myth resonates deeply with your inner intuitions and survives a reasonably critical assessment of its depth, then you should emotionally—though not intellectually—take it onboard as if it were literally true. … There is no better description of transcendent truths than the religious myth that resonates with your heart. (pp. 46-47) 
Because an intellectual inaccuracy is unavoidable whether we emotionally take the symbolism of religious myths literally or dismiss them, the lesser inaccuracy is the logical way to go. Transcendent truths cannot be grasped directly and explicitly, so rejecting religious myths for the sake of a non-existing literal alternative is simply irrational. (pp. 48-49) 
You will need your intellect to grant itself rational permission to step out of the way and make space for your wiser obfuscated mind to co-direct your relationship with reality. My attempt so far in this book has been to help you grant yourself this permission, allowing religious myths to color your emotional life without excessive intellectual judgment. (p. 49) 
Plausibility is key for the images used in any religious myth. And plausibility changes with the zeitgeist and the views of a culture. For the Uitoto, the idea of trees growing out of divine saliva is entirely plausible. For our culture, obviously it isn’t. Plausibility is important because it allows the intellect to relax in the possibility of truth. (p. 49) 
We need modern formulations of religious myths; formulations that use plausible contemporary images, more amenable to intellectual tolerance. … We need new images, new representations consistent with our contemporary knowledge and intellectual ethos. This is what I will attempt to achieve in Part III of this book. (p. 50) 
It is conceivable that the comparative study of religion … could help us recognize true religious myths by identifying the symbolic patterns typical of genuine intuitive insight. … However, as long as academia—plagued as it is by the deprived myth of materialism—insists on rejecting even the possibility of transcendence, the burden will remain on each of us individually. (p. 54) 
Consensus reality may be a form of symbolic language attempting to point at something else. This ‘something else’ may be trying to reach out to us by appealing to our interpretative capacities. It may be posing the question: ‘Here is consensus reality, the best representation of myself that I can produce. Can you figure out what it really means?’ … We may be nature’s best shot at coming up with the answer. (p. 59) 
Much of what we refer to as ‘the human condition’ is itself a deprived myth that, if abandoned, opens space for a spontaneous reconciliation with timelessness and boundlessness. In this particular sense, the traditions of myth and no-myth ultimately lead to the same destination through different roads. (p. 65) 
Both Advaita Vedanta (no-myth) and Christianity (myth) help ease suffering by enabling one to drop one’s futile struggle against reality. Advaita does this by dis-identification with the ego. Christianity, by surrender to a higher power. Indeed, this parallel goes beyond Advaita and Christianity alone. (p. 68) 
[The] uniquely human capacity [for self-reflection] seems intimately tied to our tendency to think of ourselves as discrete entities. … At the very moment that we become able to ‘stand outside’ our own thoughts and emotions, we also become able to ‘stand outside’ the rest of nature. … Whatever evolutionary pressure pushed [humanity] towards self-reflection also rendered it vulnerable to the myth of separateness. (p. 70) 
A potential pitfall of the no-myth traditions [such as Advaita] is the temptation to throw away the baby with the bath water: to reject, along with the myth of separateness, the value of self-reflection for interpreting the phenomenal world, simply because they seem to come together. (p. 70) 
Because we cannot derive meaning from the outer realm without interpreting it, by rejecting interpretative effort the no-myth traditions [such as Advaita] may also mislead us towards the conclusion that consensus reality is meaningless. (p. 70) 
The transcendent truth may only be able to express itself through the illusions it generates. ... If consensus reality is indeed an illusion, why does the illusion look and feel like this, instead of something else? What does this—in all its details and nuances—say about the fundamental nature of whatever is generating the illusion? (p. 71) 
A potential pitfall of the no-myth traditions [such as Advaita] is the failure to see that not only may illusions carry symbolic truth, they may embody the only possible expression of transcendence. Those who fail to realize this close their eyes to the clues that nature so laboriously makes available to us. (p. 72) 
The true value of self-reflection is not in answering, but in asking. … By progressively refining the way the riddle is posed—that is, the way the questions are asked—the intellect can nudge and guide the obfuscated mind toward increasingly more insightful answers. … The limitation of the obfuscated mind is that, because it lacks self-reflection, it simply doesn’t occur to it to ask the questions. (p. 74) 
Since answers to the ultimate questions of life and reality are always intrinsically transcendent, the only way to reduce their obfuscation is to frame them in the form of a religious myth. … Our myth-making capacity may be our key role in the dance of existence. (p. 76) 
Each time I went to a church and watched the faithful in prayer, I caught myself wondering how the Christian myth could have such a strong hold in the souls of so many otherwise rational people. … To simply dismiss the whole thing by labeling it ‘delusion’ would be—or so I felt—a lazy and unsatisfying way out. It would represent a puerile refusal to acknowledge an undeniable and rather remarkable psychosocial fact. (p. 79) 
My gaze got caught by the large crucifix above the golden shrine of the Three Kings. There was the figure of a man, nailed to a cross, in a dramatic depiction of great human sacrifice. At once something flipped inside me, like a sudden shift of perspective: I had gotten it. …That sudden epiphany confirmed the validity of the Christian myth to me and, simultaneously, shredded it to pieces. (pp. 79-80) 
I could only characterize this experience as serendipitous grace. Other than to say that the religious myth—by pointing—somehow helps create the conditions for the experience, I don’t know how or why it actually happens. I only know that it happens. [And when it does], the religious myth dissolves itself like clouds dissolve as they surrender their rain. (p. 81) 
A religious myth can create the conditions for a direct experience of a transcendent reality. If and when the experience actually happens, the myth dissolves itself. But once the experience is over, the religious myth remains an important link—a reminder—between ordinary life and transcendence. (p. 82) 
The very existence of religious myths reflects humankind’s archetypal quest for liberation. Yet, because of the elusive nature of truth, the successful truth-seeker needs to negotiate his or her way through a vast tangle of subtlety, nuance, self-deception and paradox. (p. 84)

GUEST ESSAY: Interpreting Objects

By Ben Iscatus

(This is a guest essay submitted to the Metaphysical Speculations Discussion Forum, reviewed, commented on and approved for publication by Forum members. The opinions expressed in the essay are those of its author.)

Photo by Bernardo Kastrup of original artwork.

The publication of More Than Allegory (MTA) gives us new permission to see the objects apparently out there in the World as sacraments, in the sense that Romantic poets understood them — signs of God's inward grace, expressions of ideas in the mind of God, symbols which we might interpret in poetry or art. Mountains, streams, oceans, waterfalls, sunsets... The inner voice of the 'Other' in MTA (p. 215) suggests, for instance, that "the sun represents an outpouring of universal love, the mental energy that moves the world."

Or, to be darker, MTA encourages us to look at things in Jungian terms — that is, as expressions of the personal unconscious or the collective unconscious (which Bernardo calls Mind-at-Large), presented as objects of perception outside ourselves because they cannot be encompassed within our circumscribed minds, or because they are willfully ignored by us.

We should therefore be able to have a stab at interpreting our internally obfuscated issues, including what we are in denial of, by considering which objects in the world are becoming more numerous and then reflecting on them.

Looking around me, one thing I have noticed a huge increase in, is dogs. Dogs, you say? Are you serious? OK, so they're living objects. In the part of the world where I live (the UK), where people used to own one dog, they now own three. What is it, I ask myself, that dogs represent about what we lack in life? It's not hard to interpret, is it? For one thing, DOG is a palindrome of GOD, so for English speakers, there is an immediate clue. Dogs give us unconditional love, so we probably lack love in our lives.

So if dogs worship us, who or what do we worship? Err... cars? Cars are certainly on the increase — there are forecast to be 2 billion in use by the 2030s. We have cars for convenience of travel, to get us to work and to shop. But what else do they say about us, that we don't openly admit to? That we like to insulate ourselves from other humans (less public transport) behind toughened glass and steel, perhaps; that we're not very fond of interacting with strangers? Is all this mobility causing us to lose our sense of community?

It seems the rich surfeit of technological objects entering our lives might well reveal a creeping spiritual impoverishment. The twin camel humps of materialism and consumerism, our modern myths, may be too bloated to pass through the eye of the heavenly needle.

Let us explore this further. Take the increase in plastic waste. There will apparently be more plastic waste in the oceans than fish by 2050.

Now this is also easy to interpret — one of the synonyms for plastic is "trashy," and waste is trash too. So the plastic waste is telling us that our consumerist lifestyle is, doubly, well... you get the idea. The fact that it is hidden from us in the sea like our sewage is obviously meaningful, too.

What about aircraft? They're on the increase: there are constantly airliners flying overhead. Where is everyone going? On holiday? Happy days! But what does that tell us about putting down roots? What does it tell us about why we can't be satisfied with our local environment, where we live?

Television sets are on the increase, too. People often have them in the living room, their kitchen and their bedroom. My mother-in-law watches wildlife programmes on TV, but fails to see the goldfinches and blue tits in the garden; she can't hear the thrush outside in the beech tree. When it's suggested that she turn off the TV and sit in the window seat, her eyes glaze over.

Smartphones, too. Even people in abject poverty seem to be able to get hold of them. What do smartphones do? Ostensibly, they keep us in touch, offer entertainment, ease communication. But what do they reveal about us? As with TVs, we stare into a screen. Imagine a cartoon, where a man is staring at his smartphone, telling a friend that UFOs have been spotted in the area, while UFOs are actually at that very moment passing over his head.

Here is a poem I wrote that explores this issue:

The Funny Bird

‘Wow, look mum, there’s a funny bird!’
he shouted, so she must have heard;
she’s texting someone, head bowed down,
he turns around to see her frown —
and as he does the bird takes off,
its call like laughter seems to scoff
at dissonant and beeping tones
emerging from his mum’s new phone.
He points at it above his head,
displaying yellows greens and reds…
his mum makes one last finger push
and only then tells him to Shush!
The funny bird has jetted west,
where probably it’s got a nest,
perhaps a hole in some dead tree,
a secret curiosity;
but that won’t ever matter now,
the lesson has been learned that Wow!
is not applicable to birds,
they’re not the stuff of lyric words —
from this day forth they’re background noise
and Not! to be admired by boys.

So maybe we don't like the real world as it is now, or expect it to be spiced up and interpreted for us. Maybe we've become intellectually and perceptually lazy, thanks to ever-more glitzy technological manipulation of images.

Carbon dioxide is on the increase — now above 400 parts per million in the air we breathe. This is the insidious, invisible side of fossil fuel use. CO2 is not normally considered an object, it is not available to sense perception, but it is detectable by our technology, and its effects are certainly detectable to our senses: bleaching coral reefs, death on the beaches, and global climate change. But carbon dioxide as an issue is still obfuscated, because most of us either deny it is a problem or, even if we accept it, still continue to act as if it is not. That's a matter for the experts, we think! It's still too big and difficult an object (or objective) for us as individuals to take onboard.

People, of course, are also on the increase. Now why is God (Mind-at-Large) producing so many self-reflective humans, too many for a finite planet? Why is wildlife, the beautiful sacramental expression of God in action, correspondingly decreasing with many species rapidly going extinct? This is much harder to interpret, because we would have to see ourselves as objects rather than subjects. And therein, I think, lies the problem. We can't justifiably see ourselves as objects! We know, as men, that it is unacceptable to see women as sex objects, for instance. And to see others of a different race or culture as if they were objects, not human beings, is always wrong. It's been tried, of course: Hitler's death camps and eugenics policies were monstrous examples of that. All wars are testaments to that: the enemy is objectified as inhuman.

When Mind-at-Large circumscribes itself, self-reflective beings with limited perspectives are born. This is Bernardo's insight. We nevertheless remain very much part of Mind-at-Large, as whirlpools remain part of the river (to use Bernardo's analogy). Mind-at-Large is the Big Subjective, and we are small subjects, not objects. Whenever we attempt to manipulate ourselves as objects in our own drama, there are dire consequences: whirlpools get sucked down the drain.

Having learned this, we find ourselves unable to deal with the issue of overpopulation. The Chinese one-child policy led to unnatural sibling-free children and too many old people for them to support when they came of working age. Contraception is not always culturally acceptable, and in a long, active sex-life, will not always be available. Other policies of population control risk treating people as objects: abortions, letting people die, restricting their rights, withholding medical treatment... and choosing who lives and who dies.

Is this an inherent flaw in Mind-at-Large which cannot be fixed, or is it a consequence of what MTA calls our deprived modern myths?

Our culture now, since the advent of science fiction, has dreamed of traveling to the stars. This, we think, would solve the problem of overpopulation. And stars as objects do, in a sense, seem to be increasing in number: our telescopes reveal more galaxies all the time, getting ever closer to those that first formed after emerging from the 'Big Bang'. But because we only see them as "out there," their vast numbers make us feel smaller and more insignificant inside.

Our culture sees the planets, or wandering stars, as literally dead — not as gods of the Roman pantheon or as astrological principles ruling our lives. We no longer see the fixed stars and constellations as representations of mythical Greek heroes. Stars as objects have no transcendent truth for us: they are literal balls of gas, distant suns. As such, they must remain literally out of our reach. That is what the stars are saying to us now: our bottom-dwelling myths have confined us to a small planet in a vast cosmos. In this context of belief in only literal truths and literal objects, Mind-at-Large is powerless to grant us our wishes of salvation in the heavens.

Copyright © 2016 by Ben Iscatus. Published with permission.

GUEST ESSAY: Metaphysics from Beginning to End - The Perennial View

By Peter Jones

(This is a guest essay submitted to the Metaphysical Speculations Discussion Forum, reviewed, commented on and approved for publication by Forum members. The opinions expressed in the essay are those of its author.)

Photo by Bernardo Kastrup, hereby released into the public domain.


This metaphysical essay is a summary of the issues it addresses and not an attempt to properly explain or even attract the reader to the philosophy it endorses. Metaphysics is condensed into four short propositions and if the general discussion were omitted to leave just these propositions and their definitions the substance of it would be unchanged. The discussion is explanatory and hopefully lends the propositions plausibility but is not structural.  The idea is to condense and simplify and has more to do with setting the agenda for a discussion than holding one.
The reason for this approach is simply that few people adopt it. A sceptical philosopher approaching these issues from the outside looking for an easy and quick way to grasp what mysticism or ‘Perennialism’ says about the world that might be relevant to them has little chance of success without years of work. The chances of stumbling across a comprehensible summary of the issues is negligible. The summaries are there if we know what to look for but if we know what to look for we probably have no need of them.    
The four propositions presented could hardly be made simpler yet each can stand considerable study, while the fourth takes us beyond study entirely.  The difficulty of the claims they make may seem to be intellectual and to some extent it is, but the real difficulty would be their profundity and the problem of having to work so close to edge of reason.  We do not stray beyond the edge here but stop just short in order that the issues may be judged by logic and reason and any discussion remains within bounds of what these days is commonly called, for reasons that are not clear to me, ‘rational’ philosophy. The best way to read it might be to leave aside any attempt to reach an understanding of the implications and ramifications of what is being said and to address the issues as they are here, briefly and in isolation, not extending the analysis beyond that undertaken in the essay, since the only important issue would be the truth or falsity of the propositions. If they are true then metaphysics is easy to solve and we can make sense of the Buddha’s dismissal of metaphysics as a waste of our time. If we are a monk seeking enlightenment confident of the possibility of ‘salvation’ and knowledge then this would be an efficient approach. If we are a rational philosopher who has no intention whatsoever of believing any such nonsense then a study of metaphysics would be utterly vital. There would be no other way to clarify the philosophical and scientific implications of the teachings of the enlightened masters.   
I believe that any attempt to properly connect Science and Religion and make them relevant to one another must depend on Metaphysics. When Whitehead characterises commonplace Christianity as ‘a religion in search of a metaphysic’ he states a vast problem that renders Religion incomprehensible and irrelevant to Science. It need not be a vast problem but it will remain one for as long as Science goes on believing that Religion means commonplace Christianity and is thus still in search of a metaphysical basis. For this reason I would lay the blame for the war between Science and Religion on Philosophy as practiced in the Academy, which has not done its sums, leaving the combatants with no means of settling their differences but also unable to do each other much damage.  Religion is not in search of a metaphysic even if some forms of it are, but its logical scheme is not often explained in a way that a strictly discursive or ‘scholastic’ philosopher visiting the Land of Woo would be likely to comprehend. There may be a good reason for this and such an explanation may be impossible, but here is another attempt.   
More than anything the essay is intended to counter the astonishing view expressed in the short preface to the Blackwell Guide to Metaphysics, (2002 edition, Ed. Richard M Gale), which includes this remark. 
It is not an accident that none of the included essays attempt to say what metaphysics is, to describe the methods for doing it and the rules or criteria for assessing the success of a metaphysical theory. For all such metaphilosophical attempts have failed miserably.
Poor workmen blame their tools. This essay would not fit into any such guide and rejects point-blank this undemonstrable and pessimistic characterisation of metaphysics.  The guide describes the metaphysics of the Academy and does us a service by making clear just what a mess it is in but it makes no criticism of metaphysics as practiced beyond the Academy. Like commonplace Christianity the Academy is in search of a metaphysic. The Perennial Philosophy is not in search of a metaphysic. It sorted out metaphysics long ago.


Metaphysics is usually considered to be an immensely complex area of study as well as being dull and pointless. Yet it is the study of first principles and these cannot be complicated. It is not even clear that there can be more than one of them. Metaphysics is the study of the world by ‘reduction’ or at the most general level where ‘reduction’ clearly implies a progressive shedding of complexity. Accordingly, we would not expect metaphysics to be complicated, just conceptually and psychologically difficult. Metaphysical questions are usually capable of being understood by anyone over the age of twelve and if the professionals make the subject impossibly complex then this cannot be because they are on the right track.      
The proposal here would be that metaphysics is profoundly simple when examined at the level of first principles, the level at which it must be examined, just as we would expect, and, further, that at this level it can be solved with a single sword-stroke. The problem is only that making sense of the solution would be a very different matter and could take a lifetime or more.  Worse, if it is correct then to understand it fully would be to understand Reality and Existence fully, and this could never be done by studying theories and logical schematics. This difficulty need not be an obstacle to us in formal metaphysics, however, since once we have defined our terms we are concerned only with analysis. Few people understand E=Mcand fewer still the phenomena to which these letters refer but we do not doubt that it is a correct theory and safe prediction. Comprehension and plausibility could ever only follow from an unpacking of the simple global view presented here into a more complex and developed theory capable of addressing the details and of showing itself to be capable of dealing with them.  The details, however, are not where any solution to metaphysics will lie.  A solution must be general, global, resting on principles that can be applied wherever and whenever we meet a metaphysical problem, and it must be very simple.
The approach we are taking here avoids the chaos into which metaphysics usually descends when it begins by examining particular philosophical problems prior to gaining a clear overview of the field.  The biggest mistake that can be made in metaphysics, it seems to me, would be to attempt to solve its problems one at a time.  This would be to miss the whole point of the game. Metaphysics is the board-room of knowledge where total breadth of vision is not optional. To deal with the details of the puzzle we must be able to see the picture on the box and cutting it up into fragments before studying it as a whole would be an odd thing to do. Metaphysics is the search for a general theory or ‘theory of everything’ and for this we must fly high above the landscape of knowledge looking down at the grand picture, always remembering that we are still in it. 
Anyone who has spent half an hour wrestling with a few metaphysical dilemmas will have gone some way towards verifying the situation in which metaphysicians invariably find themselves.  The situation is this. If we were to make a list of metaphysical problems it could be arranged in a binary form as two columns where every theory in the left-hand column would be paired with a counter-theory in the right-hand column.  Note that none of these would be ‘theories’ in the scientific sense of this word, just isolated conjectures on local problems. These contradictory and complementary pairs would include all the famous ‘isms’ such as Materialism-Idealism, Internalism-Externalism, Theism-Atheism, Freewill-Determinism, Dualism-Monism and so forth,  and then One-Many, Mind-Matter and so on, and any other contrasted pairs of metaphysical views such as the view by which space-time must be either a continuum or a series of points, the view by which the space-time world must be real or unreal, the view by which the ‘self’ is either real or unreal, the view by which ethics are either subjective or objective and so forth. These would be the well-known horns of the many ancient and venerable dilemmas that it is the task of metaphysics to resolve.   
This list of paired metaphysical conjectures would be a long one but we would not need to examine it closely for a global solution. It is well-known that that none of these pairs of counterposed conjectures work. This would be the motive for logical positivism, mysterianism, dialethism and various other arguments for abandoning metaphysics as hopeless. It would be the reason why our dogmatically anti-esoteric academic philosophy makes no progress from century to century and why nobody expects it to do so, for the undecidability of all these pairs of selective conclusions is the entire excuse.  Anyone who pursues a metaphysical question with a little perseverance is certain to end up facing an impossible choice between two demonstrably absurd theories.  For many questions this problem arises as soon as we ask it. 
Let us not ignore this well-known fact as is the inexplicable practice in professional philosophy but take it on board.  By doing so we can massively simplify the issues.  Presented here are four propositions which are global, truly metaphysical, and that condense a great many issues and claims into very few words. They take us from the beginning to the end of metaphysics. The end of metaphysics would be mysticism, where analysis and theory must turn to empiricism, experiment and practice, but we need not go beyond formal or speculative metaphysics in order to judge the plausibility and significance of these statements or judge whether they would work as a solution for metaphysics, subject to an investigation of their wider implications.

Proposition 1:  The Universe is reasonable

Definitions: As this is a metaphysical discussion the term ‘Universe’ would mean ‘Reality’, ‘Cosmos’ or ‘Everything’ such that there would be no plural.  The term ‘reasonable’ here would mean that a true explanation of the universe would be consistent with Aristotle’s ‘laws of thought’ and rules for the dialectic, thus with the way human beings usually think.       
Discussion:  This proposition states that a true description of the universe would not require a modification to the laws of the dialectical logic described by Aristotle nor ask us to abandon our usual way of thinking. There would be no true contradictions. The universe would not be paradoxical, logically absurd or terminally incomprehensible. Omniscience, were we ever to achieve it, would not cause us cognitive dissonance. The universe would make sense in principle even if it might be extremely difficult to make sense of it.    
We can read P1 as an axiom or a factual claim. Usually philosophers adopt this ‘reasonableness’ proposition as a necessary starting assumption for analysis and then go on to assume, in addition, that it must forever remain no more than an assumption.  We must start in the same way but we need not go on to make the second assumption.  We can interpret P1 as a theoretical axiom, a basis for a methodology or as a statement of intent, but it is on our list of factual propositions because it can be withdrawn as an axiom and established as an analytical result from a study of the other three propositions. 
One reason for beginning with P1 would be to make it clear that the approach we are taking to metaphysics here is essentially rational and grounded in reason. It leads us to the view of the Upanishads, the Buddha and Lao Tsu, admittedly, this cannot be helped, but it makes no ‘appeal to mysticism’, miracles or necessary ignorance along the way, or to any privileged knowledge. Our four propositions are strictly metaphysical. The common idea that there is some fatal inconsistency between logic and mysticism such that any ‘rational’ philosophy must exclude the possibility that the Perennial Philosophy is true is a hang-over from the past and cannot be justified by any evidence or sound argument. In this internet age, with so many fabulous explanatory texts available on demand, it can reasonably be called a beginner’s mistake.  The correct approach would be to logically prove that a rational thinker must reject this philosophy, and to succeed in this project we would have to falsify one or more of the propositions listed here. There would be no other way to do it. The idea that the Perennial Philosophy, which here would be synonymous with ‘mysticism’ and ‘nondualism’, presents a woolly doctrine that is not a clear target for analysis is sustainable only if we do not do the analysis.      
Proving that Buddhism, Taoism and so forth are a lot of nonsense is just the sort of thing most of us would assume that professional philosophers get paid for doing. After all, they usually express strong views on these matters.  This is na├»ve. On average it appears that they very rarely think about these issues, preferring to endorse a communal fantasy as to what lies beyond the walls of the Academy. Colin McGinn’s book The Making of a Philosopher, in which he charts his intellectual development from teenager to tenured professor, offers us a useful and entertaining introduction to philosophy and I often recommend it, especially to young people. I do so sincerely here. I envy his communication skills and organised mind. It is also a very good illustration of what happens when we buy into the modern philosophy department’s idea of what constitutes intellectual development.  The tenured professor can no more solve a problem than the teenager, lost in a world where everybody believes that metaphysics is incomprehensible and that mysticism is nonsense. There is no proof of this or any discussion. It is simply assumed, as is the common practice, that the wise men and sages who created the vast literature of mysticism were liars and fools not worth studying or even mentioning.  It does not seem to occur to the inhabitants of the ivory towers that these two beliefs might be causally connected. For the sake of human society and what remains of life on Earth, and hopefully before it is too late, I would challenge professional philosophy to stop relying on entrenched opinions and hearsay and do the sums.  This alone could change the world for the better.  
We come to our second proposition. This would be the big one. It encapsulates the whole of metaphysics. For me it would be the most important statement that can be made in formal metaphysics and the most helpful for any understanding of it.

Proposition 2 - All positive metaphysical positions are logically indefensible

Definitions: The word ‘All’ here makes this a global proposition. It is an unequivocal statement about one entire class of metaphysical positions and takes no prisoners. A ‘positive’ position would be any one of the two extreme position we might take up on any metaphysical question, thus all of the ‘theories’ in the two columns we spoke of earlier. Synonyms would be ‘partial’, ‘extreme’ or ‘selective’.  A metaphysical ‘position’ would be our position on any metaphysical question. ‘Logically indefensible’ would mean capable of being reduced to absurdity in the Aristotelian dialectic by a demonstration that it gives rise to a self-contradiction.  Synonyms would be ‘unreasonable’ and ‘logically absurd’.  In ordinary conversation just ‘absurd’.      
Discussion: Kant states equivalently, with no proviso, ‘All selective conclusions about the world as a whole are undecidable’.  Why is this? It could only be because P2 stands up to analysis and must be true, unfalsifiable or both. There could be no other reason. Kant considers it demonstrably true. It follows that metaphysical dilemmas must always take the form of the question, ‘Would two plus two equal three or five’.  All we can say is ‘no’ and this solves the problem. Francis Bradley states, ‘Metaphysics does not endorse a positive result’ and feels no need to equivocate.  As an Absolute Idealist this would be his solution and explanation for philosophy and not in any sense a problem.  If he is correct then as formulated by the philosophy department metaphysical problems are intractable and will remain so forever.  The only approach it never adopts is that of taking the Buddha and Lao Tsu seriously and so it condemns itself for all eternity to the Sisyphusian task of trying to decide whether 3 or 5 would be the best solution for 2+2.  After two millennia of trying and failing it ought to be obvious that there must be another option and that our questions must embody a category-error. 
P2 was logically proved by the Buddhist philosopher-monk Nagarjuna in the second century CE for his exegesis of the Buddha’s cosmological scheme, placing Buddhist metaphysics on an explicable and unshakeable logical foundation. It is proved less formally by Bradley in his 1897 essay Appearance and Reality The stagnation of philosophy within the Academy would be incontrovertible evidence that whatever the success of their proofs their common conclusion is correct.  
With P2 we have identified the problem of metaphysics and can now solve it.

Proposition 3 - A neutral metaphysical position is logically defensible

Definitions: A ‘neutral’ metaphysical position would be a rejection of all positive positions. It represents a ‘Middle Way’ solution for the countless undecidable questions that arise when we do not reject all such positions. ‘Logically defensible’ would mean irrefutable in the dialectic and in accordance with the ‘laws of thought’. ‘Reasonable’ would be a synonym. It would be important to note that a neutral metaphysical position is defined here as a logical phenomenon and that as such it would belong fully in metaphysics as a testable theory, for this would be the whole point of it.  Although directly associated with the terms ‘Middle Way’, ‘Nondualism’, ‘Mysticism’ and ‘Perennial Philosophy’ these would refer to a doctrine that encompasses a great deal more than formal metaphysics lying largely outside the scope of a metaphysical essay.
Discussion: The idea of calling the metaphysical scheme of nondualism ‘neutral’ may be the only novelty in this discussion. The only other philosophical use of it I have noticed is by Charles Peirce and he uses it to mean something quite different.  Here it indicates that wherever a metaphysical theory or conjecture has a contradictory and complementary counter-theory we would reject both for a neutral position.  It would be a global application of compatibilism, a reconciliation of opposites and an un-breaking of symmetries. We would follow Lao Tsu, for whom the universe cannot be described as this or that in any respect.  
A neutral position has an explanatory reach that extends beyond properties and attributes, divisions and distinctions, describing a world that would extend not just beyond our physical senses but beyond the reach of our intellect.  Kant, exploring this idea in respect of psychology, concludes that that basis for our intellect must be a phenomenon that is ‘not an instance of a category’, thus a unity free of division and distinction. Plotinus calls this a ‘Simplex’. Peirce calls it the ‘First’.  Kant proposes that this phenomena would be the ‘proper subject for a rational psychology’.  Mysticism claims that it would be the proper subject for a rational psychology, ontology, epistemology and theoretical physics.  
P3 is perhaps the most complex on the list because establishing its truth would require a study of Aristotle’s logic, about which there is much confusion in philosophy.  There is insufficient space here to discuss this. The crucial point for now would be that a neutral metaphysical position would state there is no such thing as a true contradiction and no formal contradiction would arise for a true description of the world.  Contradictions would certainly seem to arise, and this would be why metaphysics must look beyond appearances in order to see past them.     
Metaphysics is the attempt to construct a systematic fundamental theory and anyone who examines the foundations of mathematics, psychology, physics, consciousness or indeed anything at all will sooner or later end up facing the same set of metaphysical problems. In the professional academic world, where the solution we are exploring here would normally be off-limits, there is as yet no fundamental theory of anything at all. There never can be one unless it is the one presented here since problems of self-reference will prevent the success of any competing theory.  It would be these ancient and perennial problems of self-reference that a neutral metaphysical position uniquely allows us to overcome.   
A systematic theory requires an initial axiom on which the structure can rest and from which the truth and falsity of the theorems in the system can be derived. The axiom I would choose is Proposition 4.

Proposition 4: The Universe is a Unity  

Definitions:  It would not be possible to define the term ‘unity’ in a positive way since any such definition would have to be a denial of unity.  Such a definition would have to identify attributes and properties that this unity either has or does not have in order to speak of it, while a unity must be defined as having all properties and no properties, a perfect balance of opposites. It would be for this reason that for Lao Tsu the Tao ‘that is eternal’ cannot be spoken.  This would be a definition and not an appeal to ignorance. There would be two ways of conceiving or speaking of this phenomenon in respect of each potential attribute and also globally in respect having or not-having attributes, neither of which would ever be strictly correct.  A ‘Necker cube’ may be a rough sort of analogy, or perhaps an electron, albeit there can be no accurate analogy.  This would be an implication of the Yin-Yang symbol -- the two faces of a mountain, one in light and one in shadow, neither of which is the mountain -- and this implication would extend to all  attributes we might try to assign this unity such as temporality, freewill, extension, personality, existence or being.  This problem emerges in western philosophy as the ‘problem of attributes’, since a phenomenon that ‘has’ attributes obviously does not have them.  This paradox is clearly explained by McGinn, who struggled with it as teenager, in his aforementioned book.  A unity would be a fabulously subtle phenomenon in discursive philosophy, inconceivable and unspeakable. It would not even be correct to call it an undefined term since negatively it can be defined with great precision. It would not be this as opposed to that in any case. It would be the phenomenon that Kant believed to be the proper subject for rational psychology, a phenomenon that is not and cannot be an instance of a category of thought. Here we see that while metaphysics may be simplified beyond a certain point its simplicity becomes its principle difficulty. We are asked to look beyond intellect and analysis to being and identity.  
Discussion: A unity would not be a numerical ‘one’ although it would in a sense be ‘One’. The term advaita (not-two) as used for nondual interpretation of the Upanishads can be seen to deliberately avoid endorsing a numerical property. A unity may be defined negatively by denying it partial properties or divisions but even this approach can lead to misunderstandings. When we are told that a phenomenon is not ‘A’ we might assume that in this case it must be ‘not-A’ instead. This is how our minds work. Yet the assumption that the two horns of a metaphysical dilemma would exhaust the possibilities is a  demonstrable misuse of logic leading to the stagnation of academic philosophy and to the amazing sight of otherwise reasonable and intelligent scientists arguing at length for ex nihilo creation on the grounds that if there was not originally ‘Something’ then…. We have nowhere else to go but chaos and confusion once we reject the unity of the universe and take up extreme positions on this kind of question. Unless we assume that the universe is a unity the problems of metaphysics cannot make sense and must remain intractable. The evidence is there in the writings of every published philosopher. If there is only one truth then there is only way to solve metaphysics.   
A neutral metaphysical position, which denies the ultimate or metaphysical reality of all division, distinction and differentiation at a final level of reduction, would depend on an axiom of unity.  From this axiom we can derive the principle of nonduality, the principle on which rests the philosophical structure of Middle Way Buddhism and the entire philosophical plausibility of the phenomenon we call ‘mysticism’. If the universe is not a unity then the knowledge claimed by the mystics would be demonstrably impossible. How could Lao Tsu learn of the origin of the universe from looking inside himself otherwise? If metaphysics is the study of first principles then it must surely be the study of this one. If, as philosophers, we are not able to falsify this axiom and accompanying principle then we are not able to make a serious objection to the Perennial Philosophy and can have little reason to suppose it is false, for this axiom encapsulates the entire doctrine by implication insofar as it pertains to formal metaphysics.      
We arrived at P4 by a process of inference but we could have started with it.  Such is the coherence and logical integration of a neutral metaphysical theory - the close and ineluctable inter-connectedness of its theorems by logical implication - that many and possibly all of its true theorems can do duty as axioms.  When Heraclitus states, ‘We are and are not’ he unambiguously denies the truth of either of these extreme views and proposes the unity of the universe. When Lao Tsu states, ‘True words seem paradoxical’ he denies the ultimate truth of any positive or partial statement about the world as a whole and endorses its unity. When Nicolas de Cusa writes, ‘He lies beyond the coincidence of contradictories’ he is explaining the Unity of All that he has realised in his vision.  When the Sufi sage Al Halaj tells us that it would not be rigorous to state ‘God is One’ he is endorsing a doctrine of unity for which there can be no testifier set apart from God.  And so on. The authentic literature of mysticism never varies on this point.  It appears that people who follow the Oracles’ advice to know themselves and who persevere consistently discover the same thing, just as we all discover the same thing when we study metaphysics.       
There can be no possibility of making much sense of the term ‘unity’ here but it can be treated as a theoretical term yet to be fleshed out. It can be defined negatively by listing all the things that it is not and so it would work as a logical term for an investigation of its usefulness. G. S. Brown, whose book Laws of Form explains this nondual solution for metaphysics by way of a formal calculus, thus solving Russell’s famous and here immediately relevant set-theoretic ‘paradox’ or problem of self-reference, elsewhere likens this phenomenon to a blank piece of paper before the first ‘mark’ or conceptual distinction is made on it. This is where the world of opposites in which we live would originate, an emanation from, encompassed within or whatever the correct description would be, a phenomenon prior to number and form.


We could add to the list but just these four propositions carry us from scholastic philosophy, which would normally assume P1 and have P2 as a result, to mysticism, which depends on P3 for its external intellectual plausibility and for which P4 would be both an ‘empirical’ or experimental finding as well as a result of logical analysis. These propositions therefore transcend the philosophy of our western universities and enable us to solve problems that baffle professors. Logic and experience would coincide.  
A neutral metaphysical position can be defined so closely, like the state of a pencil balanced on its tip, that there can be no prevarication on metaphysical problems.  The danger of adopting this position, therefore, or the price, would be that one tends to becomes rather dogmatic about what is right and wrong when speaking about fundamental issues. One pulls out the principle of nonduality and this enchanted sword just chops through the problems.  Nobody else will have a competing solution that works since there would not be one.  Yet there would always be two ways to look at this. Neutrality means that no view would be entirely wrong, and so it would usually be possible to half-agree with any opposing view as capturing something of the truth.     
Hang on, I hear you say, this is all much too simple. Not long ago I would have agreed. When I came across this simple solution, at which time I knew approximately nothing about philosophy and truly nothing whatsoever about mysticism and thus thought I had invented my idea, I was immediately amazed that it had not become the orthodox solution for many problems in academia over time and that it is, rather, derided for being nonsense. It seemed so obviously correct. A decade and a half later and I am still amazed. Kant calls Scepticism the ‘scandal of philosophy’ but it is surely just a symptom of a much wider scandal. The problem seems to be a lack of interest. It appears that professional philosophy has given up on metaphysics and thus on the whole of philosophy.  The Blackwell Guide suggests that this is the case. 
A million books have been published yet it is rare to meet a paid-up member of the profession who has properly examined the claims made by the Perennial Philosophy.  How is this possible? It cannot be because it is somehow not part of philosophy.  It is called ‘philosophy’ because it gives an explanation of philosophy. It cannot be because this philosophy has been tested as a formal metaphysical theory and found wanting. It is called ‘perennial’ because it cannot be improved upon or falsified.  It is, after all, supposed to be true. It may be explained in ever renewed ways, as here, and must be, and as an explanatory theory it must be extended in all sorts of directions by examining its ramifications beyond metaphysics, but the metaphysical underpinning never changes. Surely it is about time that the academic community explained to the rest of us what exactly is wrong with this description of the world.  A summary such as this ought to provide a clear enough target for a refutation. 
Can we be sure that a neutral position is, in fact, the correct position to associate with the Perennial Philosophy? It seems to me that this is a question that each person must decide for themselves. Can we be sure it would work? This can be demonstrated so is not be a matter of opinion and need not be doubted. It is unfalsifiable and gives rise to no problems of logic.  Can it shed light on the relationship between Science and Religion? To me it would represent a complete solution for their mutual antipathy, a common position on which they could, if they chose, happily agree to stand, side by side, as two proven and practical methods for understanding the world around us and our place within it, and for realising the world within us and our place outside of it.
Copyright © 2016 by Peter Jones. Published with permission.

Adam, Eve, and the Fall into self-reflection

Photo by Bernardo Kastrup of original artwork.

One of the richest and most evocative myths of Western civilization is that of the Fall, narrated in the book of Genesis: by eating from the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, Adam and Eve acquire the knowledge of good and evil and are then expelled from the Garden of Eden. As I discuss in my newly released book More Than Allegory, attempting to interpret myths intellectually is often counterproductive, for authentic religious myths always point to something beyond what can be captured in words. They point to truths that transcend linear articulation along grammatical rules. Yet, in a society fixated on two even more counterproductive alternatives—literal interpretation and dismissal of religious myths—it may be useful to offer a different perspective on such a foundational myth as the Fall. My intent is to help open up new cognitive vistas and landscapes, hermeneutic directions and dimensions that normally elude us. Naturally, I remain keenly aware that if one tried to capture the full transcendent meaning of a religious myth in mere words, one would end up with countless contradictory entendres. So my ambition with this brief essay is more modest: by limiting myself to one, perhaps unusual, way of seeing the myth, I just want to reveal the claustrophobic box within which we ordinarily place our understanding of religious symbols.

The myth of the Fall tells that Adam and Eve, before they ate from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, 'were both naked, and were not ashamed.' (Genesis, 2:25) There is a subtle point to be made about this passage. Although Adam and Eve were not blind to their own nakedness—presumably they consciously experienced it all the time—their cognition of this nakedness somehow did not trigger the shame that it would likely trigger in a modern Western person. Adam and Eve did have the conscious experience of being naked, alright; but not quite with the mode of cognition that you and I have.

Then the serpent tells Eve: 'when you eat of [the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge] your eyes will be opened' (Genesis, 3:5). Yet, Eve's eyes were presumably already open; she wasn't blind; she was already fully capable of conscious experience. Therefore, the serpent must have meant something more than just conscious experience here; something extra. But what exactly? A passage from my book Why Materialism Is Baloney may offer us a clue:
Now, how many times have you felt, upon learning new information or arriving at a new insight, that you’ve somehow known it all along? You say to yourself: ‘Darn! I don’t know how, but I have always known this!’ ... The recognition that a new insight or piece of information has somehow always been known to us ... shows that the ‘unconscious’ knowledge was, in fact, in consciousness all along, even though we weren’t self-reflectively aware of it. The knowledge was always there, diffused in the interstices of egoic awareness. Then, when an event suddenly triggers its insertion into the field of self-reflection, we suddenly become aware that we were conscious of the knowledge all along.

There are documented historical examples of sudden incursions of knowledge into the field of self-reflective awareness that relate to the kind of personal experiences I attempted to describe above. For instance, it was only about six centuries ago, during the Renaissance, that Europeans became self-reflectively aware of three-dimensional perspective. Some authors refer to this development as the ‘discovery’ of perspective. Well, obviously every sight-capable human being has been seeing perspective since the dawn of our species, so it couldn’t have been discovered in the 15th century. One just needs to look at the world around to see it everywhere. What did happen is that, at that time, European artists first became aware that they were conscious of perspective. Three-dimensional perspective wasn’t new in consciousness, but new in the field of self-reflection. After it entered this field, it was immediately recognized as something people had always known, yet didn’t know that they knew it.

It is critical for ordinary human thinking that we not only know something, but that we know that we know it. ... That’s why many fail to see the distinction between knowledge and self-reflective knowledge, ending up stating, for instance, that perspective was ‘discovered’ in the 15th century as if it had never been in consciousness before. (pp. 122-123)
I suggest that the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge conferred a self-reflective mode of cognition to Adam and Eve. The Tree was the tree of self-reflective knowledge. Eating from its fruit developed in Adam and Eve not the ability to consciously experience things—which they already had—but to know that they experienced things. It enabled them to recognize themselves as that which experiences; to ponder their own condition; to think about their own thoughts, feelings and sensations. Prior to acquiring this ability, they could already experience nakedness, but they didn't know that they experienced nakedness. Therefore, they felt no shame. From Genesis: 'So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked.' (3:6-7, my italics) Precisely! Only then did they know that they were naked, in a self-reflective manner, even though they had already, all along, been consciously experiencing their own nakedness prior to eating the fruit. The Fall was the fall into self-reflection.

God's punishment for this is severe: 'cursed is the ground because of you; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.' (Genesis, 3:17-19) And then, 'the LORD God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he was taken. He drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim, and a sword flaming and turning to guard the way to the tree of life.' (Genesis, 3:23-24)

Why such a severe and long-lasting punishment, under which we, to this day, are supposed to be suffering? I suggest that the key question here is not 'why' but 'how.' Indeed, how is it that the acquisition of self-reflective cognition leads to so much suffering? The answer is not difficult to see. It is self-reflection that allows us to recognize our own condition as living beings, which in turn enables us to create models of self and reality. From these mental models we then compulsively derive countless internal narratives about what the past should have been, leading to regret, bitterness, disappointment, anger and a general inability to let go. From the same mental models we also compulsively derive countless internal narratives about what the future might yet be, leading to anxiety and melancholy. Without self-reflection, we would live simply in the present moment—with no regret, bitterness, disappointment, anger, anxiety, melancholy, etc.—like the other animals in the Garden.

Self-reflection is a cognitive configuration that allows us to leave the immediacy of the present moment by imagining past and future scenarios, which we then torture ourselves with. We torture ourselves with our own self-reflective imagination. We fell when the Tree of Knowledge gave us the ability to create internal narratives about what should have been and what might yet be. We've become addicted to using these self-manufactured 'alternative realities' to struggle against what is. And such futile struggle against reality is what generates all human suffering.

There's more. As discussed above, the exile from Eden is our own compulsive self-torturing through comparing what is to our own imagined alternative realities. Alternative realities. Eating from the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge enabled us to create our own alternative realities. Who is it that has the power to create a reality? God, of course. So 'when you eat of [the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God' (Genesis, 3:5, my italics), said the serpent to Eve. Spot on. Wise little reptile...

Yet, there is great good that comes with the Fall; unfathomable possibilities for realizing the fullness of the human potential and fulfilling its role in the cosmic scheme of things. After all, the Tree is supposedly 'the tree of the knowledge of good and evil' (Genesis, 2:9, my italics), not only of evil. To hint at what the good part is, I quote two passages from More Than Allegory:
"The human intellect does have the unique ability to ‘stand outside’ its own thoughts in the sense that it can think about its thoughts. We can also stand outside our emotions in the sense that we can ponder our emotions. We can even stand outside ourselves in the sense that we can contemplate our situation in the world as if we were looking at ourselves from the outside. This capacity is what we call self-reflective awareness and it is essential for making sense of nature. Without it, we would be completely immersed in the turbulent waters of instinct, unable to even ask ourselves what’s going on. Only through self-reflective awareness can we raise our heads above the water and consciously try to steer our way. Therefore, if it is true that the images of consensus reality point to a transcendent truth ... then our capacity for self-reflection is nature’s only chance of solving the conundrum. Think about this for a moment: without the capacity for self-reflection embodied in us, nature would stand no chance of groking itself; it would never be able to raise its head above the waters of its own instinctive unfolding." (pp. 69-70)
"The true value of self-reflection is not in answering, but in asking. As we’ve seen above, the self-reflective but language-limited intellect will never be able to produce the transcendent answer to the riddle of life. But by progressively refining the way the riddle is posed—that is, the way the questions are asked—the intellect can nudge and guide the obfuscated mind toward increasingly more insightful answers. Indeed, the limitation of the obfuscated mind is not its ability to arrive at answers: as argued in the previous chapter, its range of cognition is much broader than that of the intellect. The limitation of the obfuscated mind is that, because it lacks self-reflection, it simply doesn’t occur to it to ask the questions." (p. 74)
This essay relates but one amongst myriad valid interpretations of a religious myth that points to an ineffable truth. Under this unambitious interpretation, great suffering came to us when we fell into self-reflection. Yet, unfathomable possibilities did too. The Fall wasn't for nothing. God knew what He was doing. After all, who do you think put that Tree—and that serpent—in the Garden?

(The Bible quotations in this essay were taken from the Vatican website and are available online here.)