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.


  1. Beautifully written Ben. I'm also in great sympathy with your ecospiritual views. But I take issue with your tone and argument. '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': sorry, as much as I love Joseph Campbell and Jung (I haven't read MTA yet) this is just New Age nonsense to me. Likewise the notion of a Mind-at-Large 'granting wishes'. Sure I appreciate you're probably being poetic and metaphorical but therein lies the problem. Mythology may or may not be a powerful guide to deeper truths. But we should be very cautious about falling prey to its emotional/symbolic power. And the strong impression I have is that you've been too easily seduced here. I'm agnostic. Not a scientific materialist. But highly sceptical of much New Age thinking too. To me it's all profoundly puzzling. Not least the notion of a Mind-at-Large creating itself to know itself..

  2. Thanks for your thoughts. Steve. Was I pressing my interpretation of the stars too far? Perhaps I was! When I was in my twenties, I used to set up and interpret people's birth charts, heh heh. If you want astrology that you might consider to be respectable, read Richard Tarnas' Cosmos & Psyche. The planets are inside Mind, not outside it!

    I agree with you about New Age thinking, as it happens; I think its optimism is a confection of hopium and denialism, turning us away from the profound problems we face.

  3. An astrologer? You do surprise me ;) You're the second person to recommend the Tarnas book. Better check the stars ;) 'Hopium and denialism' - like it :) The biggest problem I have (in addition to conceptualising God/the Mind-at-Large) is the problem of Evil. I have thought deeply and read widely but still - free will, karma, pandeism whatever - cannot reconcile the awful human and animal suffering in this world with the notion of a loving creator. I have yet to read what Bernardo has to say on this however so look forward to his guidance :)

    1. Ah yes, Steve, the problem of Evil! The Gnostic tradition has it that the World was dreamed up by a less than perfect god (based originally on Plato's Creator God), who, however, thought that He was perfect - possibly because he could not self-reflect properly without humans looking at Him from the inside! Considering certain aspects of the World, like those you mention -the food chain (life depending on eating other life) and suffering of innocents (including animals), natural disasters, disease, etc, there is still reason to respect this idea. In fact, with the complex ecological balance of the World now apparently failing, there is all the more reason for us to consider it.

      The Old Testament myth has Satan corrupting humanity disguised as a serpent in an original Garden of Eden. Bernardo has written recently on this blog of the rich myth of The Fall. We might ask: was Eden's ecology really supposed to have no food chain and no predators?

      As soon as a Mind starts working (using "imaginative consciousness" as Henry Corbin says), it creates polarities, divisions and dualistic ideas. Iamblichus suggested that evil accidentally arises as a result of dissonance between the infinite and the finite. This suggests that Evil is a byproduct (perhaps less an inherent property than a sort of epiphenomenon) of Creation. But is growing old a mere byproduct of living or an integral part of it?

      Do you think that all the ideas that helped to make the consensus-reality world we experience are necessarily dualistic (formlessness can only be known through form, darkness is necessary to know light)? Are dualistic thoughts inherently flawed - since they involve conflict and polarity or can they remain in balance (yin yang), perhaps like a supposed Edenic balance of Nature before ego-driven humans came along? Hang on, though! Even Tibetan monks experience conflict!

      If God needs the World for the interplay of his dualistic ideas (for instance, the idea of predator and prey), and so that He can know Himself through self-reflective beings, and those self-reflective beings start to overwhelm his World-idea because infinite growth on a finite planet is impossible, what does that tell us? Where does the flaw lie? Is it inside the formless infinite, before the finite beings came, or in the considered necessity for us, or must we blame our limited, finite selves for daring to keep our bellies full (Lao Tzu considered this as good!) and living for as long as we can? Was Creation doomed from the start or from before the start?

      Or did we ourselves create this consensual world-idea in the noosphere as an experiment before we "incarnated" on it - so God is quite blameless, at a remove from our own flawed gedanken?

      (I am being reflective: I am asking questions, as Bernardo advises us to do in More Than Allegory!)

  4. Certainly some caution is warranted against the anthropomorpising of the Cosmos -- though I've no problem with some amount of poetic license here. If one takes the view that within Consciousness, as that which is conscious of none other than itself, apparently there isn't any experience whatsoever that is necessarily precluded or denied, regardless of the positive or negative, good or evil connotations from the human perspective. As such, while we may not wish for this mess of a marriage between materialism and egoic separatism, until we can consciously transcend its dogmatic paradigm, it does seem that there is no hope of a more holistic experience being conceived. So in that sense, figuratively speaking, so-called Mind-at-large does seem powerless to grant our wishes, except insofar as it only has the power to do so through its manifest experience as our collective self, awakening to that awareness.

    1. Yes, Dana, "awakening to that awareness". I like that. That's where hope may lie...

    2. Yes, perchance there is something to the old adage about it being darkest before the dawn.

      And to address the question of evil and suffering, with another question, presuming the equating of Consciousness with God (granted a highly subjective presumption), why shouldn't consciousness know suffering and evil through its manifest experience of being human? Being unlimited, why should there be such conditional limitations?

      I'm reminded of a poem by Rumi, apropos for such a poetic posting ...

      The Guest House

      This being human is a guest house.
      Every morning a new arrival.

      A joy, a depression, a meanness,
      some momentary awareness comes
      as an unexpected visitor.

      Welcome and entertain them all!
      Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
      who violently sweep your house
      empty of its furniture,
      still, treat each guest honorably.
      He may be clearing you out
      for some new delight.

      The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
      meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

      Be grateful for whatever comes.
      because each has been sent
      as a guide from beyond.

      — Jellaludin Rumi,
      translation by Coleman Barks

    3. I do love that poem of Rumi's but the issue with this, as I see it Dana, is a kind of blithe unconcern for the limited perspective of the circumscribed person who must actually experience the sorrows and malice. If I could be sure that the law of nonresistance was at work in our World, I might agree. Sometimes it does seem to be there, but thanks to the culture we're immersed in, it's very hard to keep in mind.

    4. I made a short, darkly comic, 'Jungian' film once called Gift. At one point a Jewish man (who later gets stabbed by a neo-Nazi - and gives him a heart transplant!) kneels before a grave. On the headstone is the inscription: 'Sacred is the marriage wherein the opposites are made one.' Perhaps suffering is a necessary part of the journey to wholeness (Job, Adam and Eve etc). Perhaps dualism serves a grander purpose - we can only meaningfully experience when we can view things conceptually, in relative terms. Neale Donald Walsch writes very convincingly about all this in Conversations With God - 'In the absence of that which I am, that which I am is not.' All very Eastern of course. Who knows for sure? Maybe I need to take some Ayahuasca and meditate more ;)

    5. The darkness is necessary for the existence of the light, short for long, evil for good, suffering for joy---in Taoist terms: the leveling of opposites into the One. What I say to people that speak in "the sky is falling" terms, e.g.; this is horrible, that is threatening is that I would bet a nickel that the first use of written language by some ancient civilization 12000 years ago was on a rock or a sign, and it said, "the end is near!". So this kind of thinking is not without precedent.
      Also the human organism, perhaps all living creatures have evolved to a state that tolerates or uses suffering to evolve more. I will quote a superior mind, Goethe, and my favorite aphorism of his:"Anything can be endured except an endless series of beautiful days."

    6. Well, it appears as if Steve and Bill anticipated my reply. Having been in the pit of emotional pain and suffering, I now see that it was somehow integral to any realization I have gleaned, as if, as Rumi puts it, being sent as a guide from beyond. But in that particular hellish version of now, it just felt like being a victim of unfair circumstances, with the well known refrain of 'Why me?" And there were no shortage of compassionate ones wishing to help alleviate the suffering, alas to no avail. I had resorted to chemical means, and seemed fated to find my way out of my existential quagmire, one dark, muddled puddle at at time, until Grace unexpectedly intervened out of the blue while walking through a park one sunny day, and gobsmacked my utterly unconscious worldview. I then went about all the usual experiential experiments to reproduce it, also to no avail. However, like some ever-faithful beacon, some intuitive GPS guided me now/here to see what was never not present. Mind you, I still feel the suffering, but it's not personal, but rather more like the repository of all the suffering in the world awaiting that touch of Grace. Not to say we shouldn't nonetheless act out of compassion, but perhaps just allow for the possibility that it doesn't always take the form we think it should.

    7. Well, what a wonderful discussion :) Dana - I too have been in the 'pit' as you put it. Lost my job as a lecturer, marriage broke down, became estranged from my daughter. Dark night of the soul.. Not that I'd want to put too much of a 'special spiritual' tag on it. Everyone has their cross to bear right? And true enough, I learned a great deal about myself from the 'journey'. Not least the need for a little more humility.. 'A blow to the ego is a triumph for the spirit' is probably my favourite quote. Talking of which, Bill - I think the Goethe quote is spot on. What a mind that guy had! And Faust - what an intellectual feast! 'Faust does not seek power through knowledge, but access to transcendent knowledge incomprehensible to the rational being. Here Goethe's mysticism asserts itself clearly.' Hmm....

  5. Steve
    A film that reconciles a Jew and a neo-Nazi is some accomplishment! Polarities seem an absolute property of life wherever the emotions are engaged - for instance in the Pro and Anti-abortion movements. Can there be a marriage of minds there? That's your next project ;-) The closer to home, the worse this gets. In Monty Python's Life of Brian, the People's Front of Judea automatically despise the Judean People's Front, and spend far more emotional energy in internecine strife than they do fighting the Roman occupation. This is spite of the saying that "my enemy's enemy is my friend", though in the event of an armed uprising, the two factions may be expected to temporarily join together against their common foe!

    Food for thought. Goethe has a point. If you want the Good days only, you have to go to Heaven. But the price of Heaven is Hell: where all the nasty evils are separated off. "Good!", you might say, but we may be forgetting that in Milton's Paradise Lost, Satan is by far the most interesting character; in the films and plays we watch and the fiction we read, we need villains; in the newspapers we read, the most popular are liberally spiced with scandal. And is Heaven a broad church, like the Church of England, or does it mean your enemies and rivals are in Hell? What is Heaven really? An idea, of course!

    From your perspective, a kind of miracle occurred, but unfortunately there are those who don't find a way out of the quagmire.

    1. Thanks Ben. Well (the film) that was the idea at least. Symbolically expressed by a Star of David (operational scar) enclosing a Swastika (tattoo). Deep huh?! A literal (heart transplant) and symbolic 'change of heart' - metanoia. A lot for a short film to handle but there was no dialogue - just dreamlike imagery. Again, very Jungian. Life of Brian is brilliant. Many a true word..

    2. " ... but unfortunately there are those who don't find a way out of the quagmire." ~ Ben

      I can certainly see how that appears to be the case. I watched my mother pass away in suffering. But who really knows what occurred in that moment, as Bernardo so poetically put it, of the timeless numinosity of death ... or how many apparent lifetimes in parallel dreamtimes it may take? :)

    3. Dana, I forgot to say that in MTA, Bernardo's cosmogonical story suggests that we're each responsible for tricking ourselves into obfuscating our connection to Mind at Large, thus allowing us to function as though we are separate beings.

      We might, I guess, interpret the magician who maintains this illusion for us as a soul or higher version of ourselves, but whatever, if you've ever woken up from a dream and were keen to get back into it, you'll likely agree that it's a real possibility (less sure about the nightmares, though!). I suppose that if we believe it, we can pleasantly drop any suspicions we might have that we're in thrall to an evil demiurge; on the other hand, if we find ourselves suffering a nightmare, we only have ourselves to blame...

    4. That's an interesting notion, and I can't say I've given it much thought. I do intuit that the illusion of separation is no random mistake, but serves some integral function. And if there is some trickster involved, that too can be none other than ourselves, as Consciousness, perhaps playing at some meaningful game of self-hypnosis. Whether as some greater self, or oversoul, is a theme that comes up in some of the more esoteric cosmologies. Who knows, maybe they're lining up somewhere to get into this, spacetime magic show of let's pretend.

      My dream-life has always been extremely vivid, often seeming more real than what is conventionally considered as real. Nightmares used to be quite frequent, but are rare now. And whereas I used to run in terror from those demons, I now face them and defy them to do their best -- sometimes we even embrace like old friends. But ultimately, whatever story we create, all-of-the-above are no more or less than the ordinary everyday miracle of Consciousness staring itself in the face in any given moment ... with a seemingly inexhaustible imagination :)

    5. Hmmm ... God playing solitaire; one of the more intriguing metaphors I've come across. Could be interesting to see how he elaborates on that theme. One wonders what happens if and when God wins? :)

      I also like the idea of God conceiving a never-ending story. Speaking of which, I really enjoyed the short story excerpt. Lovely writing. You've got me wanting to see how that plays out too.

    6. Actually I always interpreted Goethe's aphorism as a sly way of saying that the human being is built for suffering, and/or that we need variety in life or we will decay.

  6. Ben, during the Ordovician Period, some 450 million years ago, there was an ice age. At that time, Carbon dioxide was around 4500 ppm, or at least ten times what it is now. The counterargument says it was cold then because solar output was lower, and doubtless there's a counterargument to that, and so on.

    It's not that I want to argue about global warming: I have my views on that, as do you. It's rather that we're all on dangerous ground when it comes to relying on science to support (or refute) a particular interpretation of the world. Science is fine when it's producing devices that work and help us out in some way (engineering, really), because then we have some yardstick by which to measure its utility.

    But right now, science is creating a world where all sorts of ideas are taken as reality when they haven't actually been proved. One might call it the mythological aspect of science, which doesn't necessarily have much of a bearing on reality.

    In a way, the counterparts of the Roman gods are alive and well in the form of these modern myths, which can seem as real to us as the gods doubtless seemed to our ancestors. In other words, it's a myth that there are no more myths. We're actually saturated in mythology: I can say that quite confidently even though one can argue the toss in particular instances--such as anthropogenic global warming, for example.

    There are other examples, such as low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets, which today are coming under fire as being responsible for the obesity epidemic in the Western world. Is that so? Who knows. One thing's for certain: at present, the scientific establishment is on certain sides in certain issues and one argues with them at peril. We no longer burn our Giordano Brunos, but still, we can and do make life very difficult for them.

    Michael Larkin

    1. Michael,
      I respect what you say in principle, as would Rupert Sheldrake, whom I greatly admire. "The Science Delusion" is great, and I've squeezed it next to "The God Delusion" in my bookcase - I thought that as they are polar opposites, they ought to stick together. A fine example of life's unavoidable dualities!

      One thing you have to watch out for with scientific reports, is who pays for the research, or in the case of pundits, where their financial interests lie. In the case of global warming deniers, there seem to be links with fossil fuel interests.

      When an astronaut goes up into space for a year and returns as an environmentalist, it's worth sitting up and taking notice:

    2. As a point of order, you evidently *don't* respect me, otherwise you wouldn't label me a denier, in thinly-disguised association with holocaust deniers.

      That said, I'm not here, really, to argue about CAGW per se. My point is that your headline post is written from a viewpoint you consider self-evidently true. However, from my viewpoint, it's very far from self-evidently true: and that casts doubt, in my mind at least, on whatever it is you are trying to say in the rest of your post.

      What are you actually trying to say, by the way? Could you put it in a nutshell? I must confess I'm not entirely sure.

    3. In a nutshell, Michael.. objects are not really objects, but symbols in consciousness, and manmade symbols that are on the increase in the world might be telling us something about ourselves that perhaps we don't want to recognize. I don't expect everyone to agree with my interpretations- hopefully, though, they're food for thought.

    4. Just take a few minutes to hear a rational discussion: WHO ARE THE REAL DENIERS? Randall Carlson puts it in true perspective:
      When we humans give ourselves "credit" for affecting the atmosphere and causing climate change, we are just living out our egoistic bullshit. WE ARE NOT THAT BIG A DEAL to Mother Earth... Check the FACTS.

    5. "Here is something to ponder. Carbon Dioxide comprises .0004 of the total atmospheric composition. The natural contribution to the total ambient atmospheric CO2 is 250 times greater than the human contribution, about 750 gigatons naturally compared to 3 gigatons of anthropogenically sourced CO2 residing in the atmosphere at any given time. So, the human contribution to total atmospheric CO2 is .004, which means that anthropogenic sourced C02 comprises only 4 one thousandths part of 4 ten thousandth part, or 0.0000016 part of total atmospheric composition, that is 16 parts out of 10 million. This is what is known as a TRACE GAS, a gas, which, by the way, is absolutely essential to all life on Earth. A gas which has now been declared a “pollutant” by the EPA for purposes of regulatory control."

    6. I've no interest in convincing anyone of anything, but keeping it in perspective, once upon a time, illusory as time may be, so the story goes, something like 90% of all lifeforms became very rapidly extinct due to some catastrophic event or another, or combination of events, possibly involving poisonous gases, almost certainly involving climate change, and yet Life just kept on chugging along in evermore astonishing diversity -- although it took a few hundred million years to recover. It even could be argued that humans wouldn't be here, if not for that mass extinction, and dinosaurs would still rule, devouring mammals like fast food snacks. Or possibly, if not for the so-called greenhouse effect, another ice age might have once again buried Canada beneath a mountain of ice by now, severely impacting on my lifestyle. So perhaps one should be cheering on those drivers of SUVs burning fossil fuels -- said fuels coincidentally also courtesy of that mass extinction. So who truly knows about the various woulda/coulda/shoulda scenarios? Was it all part of some grand plan to fast-track evolution? And if humankind eventually goes the way of dinosaurs, perhaps it'll just clear the way for the aliens to land, or god only knows what else, and one wonders if Mother Earth would miss us at all. Mind you, flippant as it may be, I'd hate to miss the aliens landing! :)

    7. Is CO2 a greenhouse gas?
      Are CO2 levels the highest they've been since humans inhabited Earth?
      Why do we keep getting the hottest months and years since records began?
      Why is the Arctic melting? Why is the Greenland ice sheet melting?
      Why are drought fires increasing? Why are coral reefs bleaching?
      Just asking...

      If there are good alternative interpretations, you can go with them.

      But we need to try to work out why we believe one idea and not another. None of us want to believe in AGW - I said that in the essay. Even if we *think* it's true, we don't entirely give up our planet-unfriendly way of life. It's still an obfuscated issue because for AGW believers, beliefs aren't translating into experiences. For AGW unbelievers, it's, "What AGW? Nothing to see here!"

      Dana - OK, but then MAL needs to go to all the trouble to think up new self-reflective beings. I interpret the myth of "millions of years of evolution" as MAL having a hard time working this idea out (since Time is an illusion)!

    8. @ Ben ... I can only imagine the possibilities. We now have so-called coywolves, a highly adaptive hybrid species, around these parts. Being city-dwellers now, they hang around quite frequently, fearlessly curious, plenty smart, observing human behaviour with a cunning look in their eyes, as if biding their time for when they can move into my house. I've no doubt they can figure out how to use the stove. Perhaps they're next in line. ;-)

      Joking aside, whatever its source, I think what climate change tells us without doubt is just how transitory it all is. Inevitably our world as we know it will be dispelled, as surely as does any dream. In the meantime, seems we have some pondering, and myth-making to do.

    9. Coywolves sound scary -I like your interpretation of their intent. They'll have to get dexterous paws to fix the leaky roof, though ;-)

      I agree with you that more pondering and myth-making is unavoidable. We can hardly say to our grandchildren: "Don't fret, we humans have had a good run."

  7. Very interesting, nice poem, but I think you've gone a bit past my boggle-threshold. Can't objects just be themselves?

    1. Thanks, Tom!

      Remember that physicists these days don't believe in the solidity of objects.

      In "More Than Allegory", Bernardo argues that space and time don't really exist, that the concepts are "language ghosts" which cannot be defined except by using synonyms. An Idealist position is that space and time are features of our own minds, not external dimensions, so objects must really be something being interpreted by our minds - the "contents of consciousness" (Bernardo's term). This implies that they're ideas, images, symbols, etc, deriving either from Mind-at-Large or, I suppose, from the cultural noosphere- symbols and images we all share as inhabitants of this consensus reality. They don't need to be seen as imperfect copies of ideas existing in a realm of Ideal Forms (Plato's view, implying two realms, which is a form of dualism).

      If you're were to ask how Mind-at-Large fundamentally works, I'd guess it produces algorithms and geometric patterns and fractals (perhaps a landscape generator program on a computer gives a flavour of what might be going on), and of course the outcome, the eventual interpretation via our sensory perceptions, looks like, feels like: objects, bodies, landscapes, etc.

    2. Tom/Ben - My brother just sent me a wonderful picture of a rainbow. I replied with this extract from a short story I've been writing: 'Then my research as an academic enabled me to explore the extraordinary ways in which perception works - and is fooled. Take rainbows. It’s natural to think that the shimmering, multicoloured arc we’re seeing is ‘out there’ in the real world. In other words it’s independent of the mind. But there’s much more to this scenario than, as it were, meets the eye. When we see something there’s a highly complex, and for me, truly magical process at work involving light, the perceptual apparatus in our eyes, and our brains.

      The visual process starts with the eyes’ capture of an array of light rays coming from what we perceive to be the object. These are then focused by the lens onto the retina.

      The brain then unscrambles all this information and voila, we get a picture of the rainbow.

      But consider this. If I asked you to fly up to the rainbow and bring me a piece of it back we know what the answer would be. Impossible.

      So, we might ask, in what sense does the rainbow physically exist? Would it still be there if no one was looking at it? This is like the classic Zen conundrum: if a tree falls in a forest but there is no one to hear the sound? And so on.

      Granted this notion violates our common sense, our fundamental belief about reality. Yet to take it on board opens up a whole new way of seeing the world.'

    3. If you consider that even the brain is only an interpreted object...
      You'll have to tell us when that short story is ready, Steve.

    4. Ah the short story.. It's been a long time coming ;) It's called 'The Train' - about a philosophy professor (semi-autobiographical) heading for a nervous breakdown/mid-life crisis. He meets an intriguing stranger on a packed commuter train at Xmas whilst trying to complete a crossword. Kind of A Christmas Carol crossed with It's a Wonderful Life, liberally sprinkled with (Eastern and Western) philosophical nuggets! Here's another extract: ‘Tell me more about your trip to India,’ the stranger said, ‘that sounds fascinating’.

      ‘It was,’ I said. ‘and there’s certainly more to tell. After I got to Varanasi I met a Sadhu, an Indian holy man, on the banks of the Ganges. He was, so he told me, in his eighties. And he stood less than five feet tall. But his long matted grey hair was the only clue to his age as his body was as lithe as a twenty year old marathon runner, and his eyes as bright as the sunlight sparkling in the waters of the river. His name was Baba Das and I was keen to discover the mystical thinking that lay behind his ascetic approach to life so we sat down on the steps leading down to the river and began to talk.’

      ‘The Western mind is feverish,’ the Sadhu said, ‘like a pot of boiling water. Chatter, chatter, chatter. Other times (he motioned with his head towards a group of monkeys drawing attention to themselves in the nearby trees) it is like a hungry monkey, forever grasping at the fruit in the trees. Except the fruits in your world are the material things - designer clothes, smartphones - you have created to make you happy. But what of the fruits of wisdom? These are the only fruits that can nourish the mind. And let me tell you this my friend,’ he said, ‘they can only appear when the mind is still and it has no need of ‘things’. Control your mind or it will control you.’ he said, eyes flashing.

      I scratched my head, unconsciously registering his injunction.

      ‘Look at me my friend,’ the Sadhu continued, his hand pointing to his enormous crimson turban then sweeping down his body past his grubby loin cloth. ‘In material terms I am poor. But compared to you I have all the riches a man could need. I have peace of mind and I want for nothing.’

      I nodded politely but couldn’t help thinking that the Sadhu was, in effect, a royal beggar, entirely dependent on the charity of his followers.

      ‘Your Greek philosophers were right.’ he continued. ‘The key is to ‘Know thyself’. But do you think the answer to the question of who you are and what your purpose in life is can be found by chasing your tail? Or by wandering around the world on a never-ending quest? Isn’t that why you are here in the holy city?’

      ‘I guess so,’ I replied, trying to conceal my embarrassment at being ‘found out’.

      In the distance I could see smoke curling upwards from a funeral pyre and thought how bizarre for Westerners yet completely natural for Hindus, this ritual was. Perhaps, I reflected, the belief behind it is right - the body is simply a vessel that houses the incarnated soul. But for the soul to be released, the body needs to be fully extinguished by the flames. I looked up at the reddening sky, half-expecting to see a ghostly form ascending. But of course I saw nothing. And as I simply couldn’t stretch my mind around the concept of an immaterial soul, I threw a glance back at the Sadhu.

    5. Steve,
      East meets West; East defeats West? Hopefully, no murders on this Orient Express.
      Mind you, trains in Anna Karenina are a very potent symbol of death and upheaval.

    6. Ha ha, very good :) No murders, but perhaps an NDE as we go through the tunnel.. ;)

  8. Bernardo says that our brain is what our mind looks like from a second person perspective.

  9. After another reading, I’ve been pondering Ben’s essay, and its quite valid concerns over the proliferation of the mirrored symptomatic signs from the obfuscated mind pointing us to some deep psychic wounds and conflicts, and our denial thereof, crying out to be acknowledged and resolved. As such, insofar that there is no world ‘out there’ apart from one’s conception of it, apparently it can never be other than a reflection of what is found through introspection, and no amount of manipulation of the reflection is going to make much difference to what surely needs to be focused on, i.e. the state of our psyche. Indeed, even our most well-intentioned actions, if coming from fundamental misconceptions, can often create as many problems as they hope to solve. So surely we must first focus on the psyche, and the signal it’s broadcasting, if we ever hope to resolve the problematic paradigm, and see the reflection follow accordingly. And how else can we possibly do that except through self-inquiry? For as ‘within’, so ‘without’ ... they are not-two.

  10. Well put, Dana. If we don't properly reflect, as you indicate, and as we're designed to do, and act accordingly, integrating the results of that reflection into our lives, the shadow grows within us. We don't want to let loose Kurtz in Conrad's Heart of Darkness or even the Monster from the Id in the film Forbidden Planet.

    The Western attitude in our fight against the War on Terror brings all this to mind. We live in a green, fertile land; the terrorists live in a dry, dusty desert. We live with a complex, civilized infrastructure; they live simply. We have the rule of law; they live by warlord and gun law. We are rational and secular; they are irrational and religious. We value this life; they value the next life. (Note: it is our perception of the "others" I refer to here, rather than what they actually are!) Yet we and they are, as you say, *not-two*. We act as if we *are* two. That's the trouble - so we make war on ourselves. The answer would seem to be to give them what we have, and take from them what they can offer us -then we have the reconciliation of opposites, and psychic healing.

    1. There's a very interesting book I came across which you both/others might find equally interesting. It's called The Ten Terrains of Consciousness The authors are keen to stress that what they present is not a hierarchy although it's difficult not to see it as such. Either way, my point is that there's clearly a complex interplay between ideologies and consciousness - levels of consciousness to be more specific. What Jung, and Bernardo drawing on his thinking, have done very successfully is map out the symbolic terrain of psychospiritual development - in Jungian terms, individuation. But where Jung's focus is more on the individual, albeit connected to the collective unconscious and the rich mythology that feeds this, Bernardo draws more heavily on the insights of philosophy and the finding of contemporary physics and neuroscience. What perhaps is missing from both 'narratives' though is a deeper understanding of the political process. Who has power? Why do they have it? What can we do to develop greater participation towards social/economic justice and sustainability. My point is this is not just about consciousness raising at the individual/small group level. It's about mobilising en masse over global warming, neoliberalism etc. What often concerns me is that spiritual discussions can get very abstract and very 'me' focused. I think symbolic forms can play a key role in consciousness raising both individually and collectively. But to focus on them at the expense of practical action is mistaken. The two go hand in hand surely? Equally, to view everything through a Jungian/symbolic lens (binary oppositions say) risks simplifying complex political realities. I have yet to read all of Bernardo's books - looking forward to that immensely - so if I've done him a disservice here please correct me! Likewise I'd welcome his comments.

    2. Steve,
      I'll offer my cynical opinion:
      Isn't that tenterrains a moneyspinning enterprise? Tahnee Woolf (author) calls herself a "professional optimist". Sorry, I think it's New Age!

      Amit Goswami is kind of a monistic idealist, and he says in "The Self Aware Universe" that the ethics flowing from that are of compassion, altruism and service to others. So I guess it's more religious than political. But I'd vote for the Monistic Monks and the Nondual Nuns ;-)

    3. Valid points Steve ... The Ten Terrains of Consciousness could be interesting. I've read Wilber's The Spectrum of Consciousness, in which it seems there may be some parallels. Likewise, I'm certainly not fond of any connotation of hierarchical levels.

      I'll just clarify that I agree that 'me focused', ego driven self-improvement probably does little to affect the deeply entrenched patterns of the psyche. As such, I'd make a distinction between action derived from that mindset -- which as mentioned previously, no matter how well-intentioned, can often compound a complex problematic situation -- as opposed to action born of profound self-inquiry, from an integral foundation of holistic self-awareness. Not to say we shouldn't at any point attempt to do our best, but how often do we see so-called practical solutions put into action, to resolve poverty, corruption, social injustice, etc, only to discover some time later that they've made superficial changes at best. Indeed, I'll concede that I've sometimes wondered if it's better to do nothing than to act out of ignorance. So, from this perspective at least, when one inquires into who has the power, ultimately it seems that only through our individual empowerment and reconciliation do we find truly powerful answers. But certainly one honors each unique journey in Consciousness, however it may be impelled to act, however far it may stray, as valid in finding its own path toward a collective fusion of heart and mind. And one keeps in mind the Bodhisattva Vow to forego liberation until all beings are free of suffering. as has been said, maybe the next Buddha will be the Sangha.

    4. Ben - Ten Terrains. I think you're right to retain a healthy cynicism/scepticism. I'm tempted to buy the book though as it does seem interesting and well written. I have Goswami's book - very much on his wavelength :)

      Dana - I think the link with Wilber is spot on. He's another controversial figure isn't he? But his model/hierarchy is certainly thought-provoking and makes a certain degree of intuitive sense. I have a close affinity with Buddhism - I think the principles are wonderful. But I stop short of practising it. I'm happy, at least for now, to just live as ethically as I can and practise 'loving-kindness' in my own way. I don't feel a need to 'wrap myself in religion' ;) Likewise I'm happy seeking out the truth by drawing from different wells - the perennial philosophy, mainstream philosophy, science, art and literature. Indeed wherever I think it might be hiding ;) Probably within...

    5. Seems like a sound approach Steve; and I feel a close affinity with your eclectic sensibilities.

      Honestly, sometimes I feel that we must do whatever we're compelled to do, and there isn't really much choice about it -- although it certainly feels as if there's a choice to venture as far into the darkness or the light as we dare to go, albeit the ultimate destination is the same in either case ... The spectacular here and now. :)

    6. Powerfully put Dana :) And very 'Hero's Journey' :) I think you're absolutely right about 'daring' to heed the call to adventure. But that's a conscious choice no? Unless we're 'programmed by destiny'.. That is you believe Free Will is an illusion.. Clearly another complex issue (again I know Bernardo has written expansively on this). I've been catching up on the thread here - a lot to catch up on! :) - and noticed your compliments on my book. Thanks, much appreciated :) It's not published yet and I'm not sure if it's publishable to be honest - very niche. So I'm not here to promote it. Just to get some initial reaction - always useful for an aspiring writer of course. The other issue is the story itself. Jostein Gaarder did a wonderful job of making philosophy accessible to a wide audience with Sophie's World. But I suspect having a middle-aged philosophy lecturer facing a mid-life crisis as the 'hero' will narrow the audience somewhat ha ha :) Anyway, since you enjoyed the other extracts you might like one more - it concludes the Sadhu section... He caught my glance, then picked up his walking stick with its cobra’s head handle, and scored a circle in the dust.

      ‘Look’, he said pointing to the centre of the circle, ‘this is who you think you are. It’s your false self, your ego. And this,’ he said tracing the circumference, ‘is its boundary wall. So what does your ego tell you? It says ‘‘I am separate from everybody and everything else.’’ And all your life you believe this. All your life you are imprisoned by your beliefs, because you are afraid of the truth that lies beyond them.’

      He then rubbed the circle out with the palm of his hand. ‘Yet it’s nothing but an illusion. Don’t you see? There is only consciousness. Everything is connected. All is one.’

      ‘I see,’ I replied.

      ‘Do you my friend?’ said the Sadhu, ‘do you really?’

      I thought he’d finished his speech with that searching question but he was waiting for his final flourish.

      ‘And your scientists, your intellectuals, they are imprisoned too, but by another form of materialism. They think everything in this world is made of physical ‘stuff’ and this appeared by chance. Do you think the coiled serpents inside you created themselves?’ he said (I realised he was talking about DNA).

      ‘This stick with its serpent’s head is carved by the hand of man. But the serpents inside you are not only alive with information, they communicate with each other!’ the Sadhu said. ‘Ask yourself, how can a serpent do that? Believe me my friend, only a magical one can do this. And such a serpent can only have come from the hand of God. Take a good look around you. Everything - the water molecules in this river, the leaves on those peepal trees - are clusters of energy dancing in the cosmic field. No, the world is not how you see it with your analytical, self-deceiving mind. It’s all a conjuring trick played by your consciousness. And the real trick is to see this magic for what it is - Maya, the grand illusion! Then you can play along with it like a joyful child.’

      At this the Sadhu laughed heartily, got to his feet, and wished me farewell.

    7. Once again, very evocative writing Steve. You may be surprised how many potential readers may also enjoy it. There seems to be a never-ending supply of spiritual seeker types on youtube these days, fascinated by such explorations, into every experiment, adventure and/or practice imaginable of course. I used to watch an interview show called Buddha at the Gas Pump (how I actually came across Bernardo, who was one interviewee), where the host chats with so-called ordinary, apparently awakening individuals, now numbering over 300, which is just one of dozens of similar broadcasts and podcasts on the net. So it appears like there is a growing readership surfing cyberspace on an iPhone, or device of choice, thirsty for meaningful entertainment. Though for sure, its a tough gig for a writer to actually get noticed among the endless myriad of available choices now.

      As for free will, do we possess it or not? I think I've settled on a both/and proposition -- or that's my cop-out. Yes, it seems as if there is great freedom in terms of any limits to one's potential for experience. And yet much of it seems to be somehow predetermined. Like a wind-blown leaf now drifting in the river Tao, within which there are unlimited possible eddies, entanglements, nooks and crannies, murky depths, or sunlit islets where one might be compelled to go, it's nonetheless confined within the bounds of opposing shores, pulled back and forth in the cross-currents of yin and yang, and always eventually, inevitably flowing to the sea, like some fractal of a greater will and design. It does surely appear like a 'Self'-perpetuating dream, wherein there is no actual dichotomy of dreamer and dream, and the individual is but an indivisible aspect of the dream on a journey of Consciousness with infinite possibilities, without beginning or end. Not sure that there's really any opting out ;-)

    8. 'All that we see and seem is but a dream within a dream' (Poe). Another of my favourite quotes. Do you know the wonderful Australian film 'Picnic at Hanging Rock', directed by Peter Weir? It starts with that. Haunting.. Must stop all this quoting though. Like I've had too much Burning Man koolade ;) Many thank again for your very kind comments about my book. I think you're absolutely right that more and more people are searching for meaning outside of religion. But also right about the huge marketing challenge. Still, I have some experience in that area. Making connections with the right people is key of course. As Bernardo rightly points out, free will almost defies any rational attempt at explanation. A complete paradox. But then the more you look at reality the more paradoxical it all gets. Of that much I think we can be certain! :)

  11. ALL: Soon this post will pass 50 comments, which is fantastic! Congrats to Ben for stirring up such a fantastic debate. However, notice that after 50 comments you have to click on 'Load more' at the very bottom of the page to see the new comments, including those you post yourself!

  12. It is fantastic! Easily one of the best online discussions I've been in :) So stimulating - and refreshing (people responding so intelligently, openly and warmly). Just to say Ben - I was a bit forthright with you at the beginning and I apologise for that. I'm afraid 'New Age obfuscation' does wind me up a bit..! But I can see that your thinking - like Bernardo's - is much more nuanced than I gave you credit for. Anyway, Vive la différence! as we say in France.. (I'm an expat now but still very much a child of the universe ;)

  13. Ben Iscatus said:

    "In a nutshell, Michael.. objects are not really objects, but symbols in consciousness, and manmade symbols that are on the increase in the world might be telling us something about ourselves that perhaps we don't want to recognize. I don't expect everyone to agree with my interpretations- hopefully, though, they're food for thought."

    So: there are no objects, but only symbols in consciousness, some of which men generate, and these may be telling us things we don't want to recognise.

    Hmm. I'm wondering where the creative symbology of men begins and ends. I'm assuming that God or MAL or global consciousness (or whatever) is the primary source of what appear to us as objects, but which are actually--one supposes--symbols or appearances to us of ideas in Its consciousness, perhaps experienced by It in a loosely parallel way to our own experience of dreams.

    We appear to ourselves as objects, so what do we symbolise? I'm wondering if it's the idea in the mind of MAL of at least partially autonomous entities capable of generating their own ideas from a basic subset of ideas; which latter we objectify as universal *laws* created by It for that purpose. IOW, whether, in a way, MAL is deceiving Itself as much as we are deceiving ourselves. This could be characterised, as Bernardo might put it, in terms of MAL dissociating Its own consciousness so that it can experience Itself as if from many different points of view. Maybe MAL is thereby staving off cosmic boredom by investing at least part of Itself in Its own dream, as it were.

    In some sense, it could be completely identifying Itself with us in that dream; having many adventures it would not otherwise be able to have. These adventures range, in our terms, from the magnificent to the completely wretched; they spawn in our dissociated minds notions of good and evil; of the way we think the world should be contrasted with the way it appears to be.

    The world appears to us as flawed: to some, as deeply so. Throughout the ages, we have associated flaws with various apparent objects. In the past, these were often angels, demons, gods, and so on. These days, though similar associations still exist in various parts of the world, we think of ourselves as being beyond such primitive notions. But are we? Or have we associated newer but equally dubious notions with good and evil? Are we any the less superstitious than our forebears? Is overpopulation a real problem? Is CO2, genetically modified crops, or any one of a thousand other perceived threats? Is a low cholesterol level, high carbohydrate diet, or chemotherapy or any one of a thousand other things good for us?

    Political correctness is the new religion. We used to tiptoe around, being careful what we said about Christianity. These days, like it or not (and I definitely don't), we have to be very careful of what we say about all sorts of issues because they have become officially sanctioned givens in our societies. We're just as devotional as we ever were, and some of the most devotional are those who think of themselves as scientifically literate.

    Michael Larkin

  14. Having an academic background in Media and Cultural Studies as well as a lifelong interest in Jungian Psychology etc I'm used to thinking about meaning, if you get my meaning. This sentence is merely a collection of symbols. You know what it means because you have learned to read the c-o-d-e. The shapes on the page. But the meaning is entirely consensual. The letters themselves are arbitrary (Linguistics/Semiotics). Clearly though the more complex the code the more difficult the task of decoding the meaning - if we accept that texts are inscribed with meaning. If you're a structuralist/poststructuralist texts (whether literary or other media) do not have an intrinsic meaning. So no point in getting your hermeneutic magnifying glass out. There is certainly a 'preferred reading' (what the author/producer intends) but what the reader actually reads is another matter. Because encoding and decoding are two different activities, even though they share the same language. Everything is ultimately subjective, open to interpretation - and circumscribed by culture. From a philosophical perspective all this is further complicated by the metaphysical/ontological problem of subject and object - when we start to go down the road of 'everything is mind/consciousness', so to distinguish between subject and object ultimately makes no sense, we are then left in a very tricky and uncomfortable position. Everything - literally every thing - collapses into One. Now, I now a few symbols for that.. ;)

  15. Michael-
    Excellent thoughts and questions, too. I particularly agree with the idea that deception is an essential part of the universal process. Having to forget who we are *must* involve deception. I also agree about political correctness; in a way it's always been around - although in the past, the old "sanctioned givens" (nice phrase!) were what political correctness now calls "prejudice". You may be old enough to remember how gays and ethnic minorities etc were badly discriminated against, because "that's what you do" without any sense of what we have now, in a way, is a reversal - the opposite pole (apologies - I keep harping on about polar opposites in this blog).

    Yes, coding and decoding is a good way of looking at the process of cultural interpretation. Many moons ago, when we did lit crit at college, our lecturers would argue that it didn't really matter what the writers intended - most of the literature was (in those days) interpreted with a Marxist slant. Also T S Eliot said that no writer can divorce himself from his cultural milieu, so he'd always unconsciously reflect it (that sounds Jungian, doesn't it?)

    1. Yes exactly - Marxist structuralism etc. As I'm sure you also gleaned on your course, the Romantic notion of the artist is someone with special powers of imagination and insight - standing outside their culture and creating timeless works of art that bring wisdom and aesthetic pleasure to the cognoscenti i.e. those blessed with similar insight, if lacking in the creativity department. But the classical 'Marxist' model turns this upside down - the cultural/ideological superstructure is largely determined by the economic base. And the ruling class owns that. Hence dialectical materialism (there's that word again) - the struggle between conflicting groups for economic and political control. However the Italian neo-Marxist Antonio Gramsci argued that it's the superstructure that's important. This is where - largely unconsciously - the ideas of the ruling class are adopted by the lower classes and ensure their legitimacy albeit subject to a constant process of 'hegemonic' struggle. To loop back to your essay, it could be argued that there's a huge battle being fought currently between the forces of neoliberalism and the various 'alternative' political groups, including the greens. Ecospiritual greens like me (and you I assume judging from your thoughts here) view all this both politically and spiritually - activism and consciousness raising - although of course that language is used widely. So I'm particularly interested in the interplay between these two elements. To put it bluntly, as I've indicated elsewhere, worshipping the rising sun in the morning and chanting in a circle in the evening is all very well. But real, lasting progress/global change has to be fought for - Gandhi and Martin Luther King being perfect examples.

  16. All very percipient observations. And quite McLuhanesque it seems. And speaking of quotes, McLuhan's famous one, "The medium is the message", could also have a metaphysical relevance, if we understand the cosmos, and our earthly slice of it, as the medium of Consciousness; and I sometimes wonder if it too has no intrinsic meaning -- though not in a nihilistic sense. It may well be that we are intended to supply the meaning, the wonder of it being that it can mean whatever we believe it to mean ... or so it seems. Thus we conceive the never-ending story, and perhaps that's where free will comes in.

  17. Steve,
    Your analysis is very profound.

    Talking of change needing to be fought for, that's exactly how I see what Bernardo is doing: he's both an activist and he's consciousness-raising (literally!) -heroically fighting the materialist paradigm! This is especially tough now that (as Michael said), political correctness polices the media (like the BBC), turning away anything that challenges conventional scientific materialism.

    Yes, all those beliefs are based on myths, so myth-making usually involves myth-busting the myths of others too. Maybe that's why spiritual decluttering often entails turning to no-myth traditions like Zen - it gives the ego a break from the battlefield that Steve refers to (Bernardo has a chapter on Myth/No Myth in MTA).

    1. Dana
      McLuhan - 'Cool' ;) It's interesting to note how he's come back in vogue a bit lately as we struggle to make sense of digital technologies. I still class him as a technological determinist - technology has a life of its own enabling it to control and drive society rather than the other way round. But his notion of 'cool' tech as an extension of consciousness offers some interesting insights. Certainly the Transhumanists have bought fully into this - technology (AI, Big Data, Augmented Reality etc) finally promising to eradicate all our problems and put us within reach of the gods etc etc As for the 'medium is the message' I think it's possible to see consciousness as both don't you? Particle and Wave. Subject and Object. The 'message' that 'consciousness is all' being carried by the medium of consciousness itself. More teleological than technological perhaps. But then if you think about it consciousness is fundamentally a tool (medium) for self-reflection, a point which Bernardo I believe consistently makes.

      Thanks :) But I think all of this discussion is very profound :) I don't see Bernardo fighting 'political correctness' as such but certainly agree about the materialist paradigm - after all he's made that very explicit. That takes real courage as well as a robust and penetrating intellect! The pen is mightier than the sword eh?

  18. It's been a long, long time since I read Mcluhan. Pretty sure I didn't comprehend most of it at the time, but some of it did strike a chord, most especially The Gutenberg Galaxy; quite brilliant and far ahead of his time. He was a Canadian, so kind of required reading around U of T, and environs. Also one of those intellects that combined the poetic with the noetic, which I resonated with. And yes, as mentioned, there is no dichotomy of dreamer and dream, just a more poetic way of saying subject and object are not-two. And yet without both, neither is ... more paradox.

    @ Ben ... As well, many so-called neo-advaidists are anti-story too, saying that if anything it just distracts from the bare essentials, so to speak, and why they teach the 'direct' approach, whatever that may be -- there being some irony in saying that, for that too is a kind of story -- albeit a very short one. Indeed, one could say that, if it's put into words, it's a story, and thus open to interpretation, filtered through beliefs, cultural ethos, academic bias, etc ... end of story ... for now ;-)

  19. Dana
    'Poetic with the noetic' - love that :)

    Looping back directly again to Ben's essay and its Jungian take on its central, Interpreting Objects, premise, I would like to share a story about a baffling 'synchronicity' I experienced recently: It Must Mean Something? It's very brief so will only take a few mins to read.

  20. Yes, nice article Steve!

    I agree that we can easily go too far with looking for patterns, like interpreting times and hit counters as if they must be significant. Do you read Michael Prescott's blog? He posted recently on this: and if you google it, has posted on this several times before.

    Years ago, I read Koestler's "The Roots of Coincidence", which I've now forgotten! but do recall having trouble with the term "meaningful". Coincidence, as if a pattern is recurring at different levels or layers of the fractal, is fair enough. Making anything really meaningful out of it in terms of changing our behaviour or taking advantage of it is something else entirely.

    But if you ever get to read the Richard Tarnas book, you'll get a sense of how the patterns formed by the planetary aspects (each planet plus Sun and Moon as archetypes) can be interpreted meaningfully in the lives of culturally significant figures :)

  21. Thanks Ben :) Many moons ago I had the intuition that the 'quest' is all about 'patterns and principles'.. The scientific mind understands this very well of course. But I think it applies equally to spirituality. When coincidences come in 'clusters' I think we should take notice. Bearing in mind it could be just apophenia.. Connected with this guy on Twitter recently - doing some serious research into Coincidences

  22. Just catching up on the links provided above re: coincidence and synchronicity (btw, presumably there must be a way to create hyperlinks in this blog commentary using html code). I've always been prone to experiencing such events, although they seem to happen more and more frequently in recent years for whatever unknown reason. One of my favorite tellings is as follows: When I lived in BC near the ocean I was into sea-kayaking. As it tended to do when the waves were choppy, water would make its way into the kayak. So I was in the habit of taking along a small plastic tub to bail it out on longer trips. However, on one such trip I forgot to take it along, and just as this realization formalized into thought, and I started berating my forgetfulness, what should appear floating along side the vessel in the vast open sea but a large commercial sponge, the ideal solution to soaking up water in a kayak and squeezing it away overboard. From then on, that sponge replaced the plastic container. If such an event had happened only once I'd probably dismiss it as random, but I could give many other similar, though quite mundane examples that I now just take for granted, which would seem to point to some other explanation other than randomness. Mostly though, the events don't seem to have any intrinsic meaning, unless they happen to occur in conjunction with some emotionally charged context wherein they can seem to be trying to tell me something. For example, when I once was having one of those imagined arguments in my mind's eye with my daughter about some now-forgotten issue while she was living overseas, and a fork inexplicably went flying off the kitchen table landing at my feet where I was standing a couple of meters away, as if to say that I'd come to a fork in the road of my conditioned thinking, and my daughter was exclaiming, as she is wont to do, 'Get over it dad!' Random coincidence? Perhaps, but somehow I can't buy into that! :)

  23. Dana,
    Nice anecdotes. Some people like to interpret such events as nudges or assistance from their guardian angels, higher selves or the Larger Consciousness System. But I've just been reading a harrowing tale of a Nazi death camp, where the prisoners prayed constantly for deliverance; deliverance was not forthcoming.

  24. Yeah, not sure praying has much to do with it at all. It comes unbidden, as a mirror of one's subconscious world, through the symbolic cosmic language that is the medium of Consciousness. As such, no amount of prayer or wishful thinking can override whatever deep-rooted patterns and paradigms that inform one's 'inner' system. So unless that is reprogrammed, so to speak, it seems one's fate is sealed. As Bernardo quotes Ralph Hodgson in MTA, "Somethings have to be believed to be seen." In other words, it's not that seeing is believing, but the other way around. And a prayer is not necessarily a belief.

  25. Victor Frankl's book Man's Search For Meaning delves into the idea that the only thing he could control about his experience in the death camps, the one thing that could not be taken away, was his inner response. A couple of quotes from the book speak to this:

    “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

    "When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

    And of course some did escape going to the death camps, but I suspect not by praying for it, but by urgently heeding and believing the intuitive promptings and warning signs that 'told' them to flee before it was too late. But I certainly can't pretend to fully understand all the complex implications of why so many could not escape such a cruel fate, and can only feel and grieve deeply the horrific experiences of those who become the victims in a collective worldview that they unwittingly become locked into playing a part in, and can only trust that it is all somehow integral to the whole.

  26. Ben + Dana
    You make an eloquent case for agnosticism (my position). I've read a lot about the Holocaust and visited Dachau twice. The whole thing resonates so deeply within me I sometimes wonder if I was Jewish in a previous life and perhaps even a victim. Certainly the short film I made (mentioned above) was partly an attempt to express these feelings. But also to make sense of them within a Jungian framework. I have yet to read a convincing spiritual/religious explanation for suffering but I am very intrigued by the idea of a simulation. That's what a loving God would do right - make us believe it's all real in order to experience authentically the gamut of emotions, including forgiveness? Then show us how the trick was done.. 'The reality of illusion creates the illusion of reality'?

  27. Oh, and here I thought I was making a case that I and the Divine are One ;-)

    It is intriguing, the idea that the role of the human condition is about running the gamut of every conceivable emotion and experience, from the horrific to the blissful, to the point of exhaustion -- if that's even possible. Why? Well, at this point the best answer I can come up with is ... because I can.

  28. Before Bernardo came along my go-to source of spiritual wisdom was Neale Donald Walsch - Conversations With God. I found the whole series fascinating even if the New Age packaging left a somewhat queasy feeling. He goes into all this emotional stuff in depth but makes it easily digestible with lots of snappy soundbites e.g. Knowing is not experiencing. Knowing comes from experiencing. To atheistic philosopher-debunkers (we all know who they are) it's mere pseudoprofundity. But my bet is they've never read beyond the book jacket. What would be the most incredible, emotionally expansive story ever told? Not the Bible or other religious texts. But the cosmic story that includes all of it - religious myths and much, much more: every single emotion that every single person has ever experienced. That really would be knowing. And in that knowing, consciousness - the Mind-at-Large - would truly know itself. Hmm..

  29. I feel you may be onto something Steve. Now all you have to do is evocatively express it in that book of yours, and get it published ... no pressure :)

  30. Yes, in a sense, the fictions and films we read and watch are simulations, Steve - but the difference is, they're entertainment, and we know that nobody is really suffering. The problem, as I see it, with a simulation idea is that suffering is not, in fact, illusory. Subjective experience is the only definite truth we can know, isn't it? Isn't that Bernardo's ultimate position? Have I got this wrong? Perhaps what Dana said suggests I have, in that suffering loses its power if we don't see it as unendurable? But then, what of those who never attain that enlightened position? Do we just say, "Tough, you should have realized that pain is inevitable but suffering is not?" None of this would make sense unless there are further opportunities to refine one's response - and that implies reincarnation.

    Bernardo's interest in Pandeism suggests a different possibility: that the creator deity became the universe and ceased to exist as a separate and conscious entity. Well, MAL is still there, but perhaps it's sort of asleep and dreaming, and the dream only gets lucid when we come onstage as its dream characters. At least this seems a more rational explanation than trying to blame a conscious God for what we do, or denying God altogether because of suffering. I guess we have to somehow try to write ourselves into a more enlightened dream script. Your film seems to recognize that!

  31. I suppose what it comes back to for me is that we don't just find meaning in happiness and so-called enlightenment, but we find deep meaning in suffering as well. As mentioned, I watched my mother die in what appeared to me as a state of painful psychological suffering and confusion. And yet I can't actually know her inner experience, or that she didn't find meaning in it. She was an innately reticent person, being brought up in an ethos that preached that one didn't talk about such things, and any talk of death was to be avoided, indicative of a paradigm in deep denial of death. And in any case she was towards the end off in some morphine induced realm, and couldn't have expressed herself, even if so inclined. But I've certainly heard many say that their terminal cancer diagnosis was not in the least bit meaningless, but brought insight into their lives that they had never before considered, if not even being the catalyst of their Self-realization. Thus it seems that suffering has its role to play in the play of Consciousness.

    My mom's passing did inspire a poem that tried to express this sentiment ... perhaps it is apropos here ...

    As I sat in that cathedral of life and death,
    how many lives were born and lost
    within the rooms of its labyrinth halls?
    And where was god watching from?
    As I gazed into the dazzling geometry
    of its crystalline ceiling, did I see
    the myriad crosses of Flanders repeated
    there? During the countless hours
    I waited, I tried in vain to count them,
    until I could not bear them any more.
    Strange, how one skin-cloaked skeleton
    could radiate such beauty and light,
    while yours, that shell of your being,
    housed only darkness and despair.
    And so I retrieved those fading photos
    to remember your lost beauty and light,
    to mask the pain and fear in your eyes.
    And yet they too became unbearable,
    as I sat helplessly by your side,
    while some irrevocable karmic will
    pulled your hand from mine. I tried
    my love to read the failing words
    upon your lips, believe me I tried,
    but they also became too hard to bear.
    And where was god listening from?
    While everywhere around us, others
    shared our grief, the nurses of our ward
    went about their gracious business,
    as they warded over us. So I borrowed
    their dauntless spirit, as they bravely bore
    the infinite weight of our untold tears.
    And I prayed that perhaps deliverance
    might find a way into the darkest depths
    of your sleeping soul, and prayed somehow,
    somewhere, an angel was waiting to do
    what I could bear to do no longer …
    and that some god was waiting too.

  32. That is one beautiful poem, Dana.
    Thinking of Pandeism, it's possible to look at things much more darkly than we normally do. If God suffered intense loneliness (why wouldn't he?) and decided to die to the Universe, then The Big Rip symbolises God's attempt to dissipate himself a galactic neuron at a time and lose himself in infinity; meanwhile Earth is a tiny bubble of resistance in this scenario (we are warring against the Heavenly intent, like fallen angels in reverse). So denial of death -and the "dauntless spirit" as you put it- may be what we're all about. But that's 3am talk.

  33. Dana - Completely agree about finding meaning in suffering. Jung on Job.. But it's also about empathy right? We suffer with others.. We make connections.. I certainly felt great empathy towards you reading your poem. Not just because it's wonderfully written and very moving, but because I can identify with your suffering. Imagine if we didn't suffer at all.. Everyday in paradise.. So I can certainly rationalise suffering - to an extent. As Kahlil Gibran said, 'The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.' But my goodness how deep the pain goes..

    Ben - Wonderful thinking and imagery :) Picking up on the 'angel' thread - I've wondered many times whether we get 'nudges' from invisible/higher vibrational, beings. And that explains our intuitions, synchronicities etc (Wings of Desire, It's a Wonderful Life etc). It does make a certain amount of sense even if 'proving' it seems beyond science.

  34. "it's possible to look at things much more darkly than we normally do" ~ Ben

    "But my goodness how deep the pain goes." ~ Steve

    Indeed, at times it has felt like a bottomless well ... but certainly not a dry well ... and yes yes yes, so rich in related rewards, wherein strangely enough one has even found rapture in the darkness and pain, again leaving me to wonder if any experience, expression, exploration is precluded to the infinitude that is Consciousness. Lovely Gibran quote ... reminds me of another poet's words on this theme: "There's a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in" ~ L. Cohen.

    Thanks all for the encouraging words. Truly, it does this heart good to know that such insightful kindred spirits are just a click away in cyberspace. :)

  35. Nice words Dana :) It's a very strange experience feeling so in tune with like, but strangely disembodied, minds.. Still, good training for the next realm perhaps ;) Looking back over the depth and breadth of this extraordinary conversation and including Bernardo's profound insights, I'm almost tempted to say the pieces of the cosmic puzzle are scattered throughout. One thing we haven't discussed yet though is memory. I have a particular interest in this area too since in my latter career as a teacher trainer I lectured on neuroscience and learning. But also, after I left teaching, I designed a memory game ('Memneon'). Researching that led me down all kinds of interesting avenues including revisiting the classical metaphysical conundrum of how thoughts and memories are real yet are nowhere to be found.. Bernardo's notion of material/physical forms being 'excitations' of consciousness certainly helps me to get my head round the paradox. Yet I'm left grasping at the thin air of abstraction. I begin to see the outline of something meaningful in the fragments of the puzzle yet nothing to which I can firmly fix my thoughts. Intuitively though I sense the validity of what Eastern mystics have always said (represented of course by the Sadhu in my story) when they talk about the need to surrender the rational mind's 'need to know'. The truth lies beyond it.. Which is not to devalue philosophy of course - particularly Bernardo's monistic idealism brand. Rather to recognise perhaps that this is but a path on the journey and that, at some point, when the mind is ready, the thinking has to cease..

  36. Ah yes, the mystery of memory, another fascination to explore, though not one I've tended to focus on. These days I very much live in the now, and my once-upon-a-time life appears as if looking through a frosted window. Some metaphysicians, and science-fiction writers, also touch upon the idea of 'future' memories, a curious notion to be sure, but I could swear that in some night-dreams I do experience them as alternate versions of now -- time being illusory of course, how and where else could those experiences be but simultaneously now, as if tuning into them is just a matter of switching channels. But yeah, to tranfix them somewhere in spacetime seems like trying to pin down a faster-than-light quantum particle.

    So yes, it may be that somethings are just not for individualized human mind to comprehend, circumscribed as we are by its limitations, like Bernardo's whirlpools in the greater stream. And we may just have to be content with that for now, as masters of limitation, so to speak. Which brings to mind the somewhat neglected, but equally insightful lines that precede L. Cohen's more oft quoted ones above:

    Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack in everything
    That's how the light gets in.

  37. What more can any of us want apart from fresh baked bread, mature cheese... and wine... and music...and sea-bathing...and natural landscapes...and women ;-)

    Steve, in MTA, there's a section on memory that will resonate with you. Bernardo says there is only ever the present, so the past becomes less and less consensual the further it gets from perception- you need to read it. I had a little think about this and at first I thought that (say) the assassination of President Kennedy would be agreed upon by all despite it's "distance" from perception (perception seen as a kind of circle, with increasingly fuzzy edges as we move away from the present focus of attention). Then I remembered the conspiracy theories about how he died - then I thought of 9/11 and the conspiracy theories around that, and I realized that explanations for memories are, shall we say, er, variable! We each explain past events based on our own subjective, idiosyncratic make-up. Bernardo goes into some detail.

    Dana, channeling is often said to be about getting in touch with one's own future self. I'm not impressed by any channeled information I've seen, but maybe that's partly because "future memories" would not be consensual (as per above, too distant from the present focus) and therefore of no use for predicting a reliable consensual future (if you see what I mean and if I'm not being tautological).

    If all possible choices already exist in superposition, we presumably all make consensus reality by continuous selection from among them by focusing or tuning in (as you say). However, although alternative choices we didn't make are lost to consensus reality, they still remain in superposition and can be accessed by us in dreams and visions, I guess...

  38. @ Ben ... I do see what you mean, but not sure it means what I see ;-)

    I did get somewhat into the Seth Material, channeled by Jane Roberts, many moons ago, and actually found it to be quite cogent at the time. Roberts was actually very skeptical and dubious herself as to where it was coming from, whether some higher or future self, or more like some dissociative aspect of her personality, she wasn't quite sure. Seth described himself as a personality essence no longer focused in physical reality. In a nutshell, the ontology expressed was very much about the physical universe as idea construction, so not far removed at all from what we're discussing here. Being the open-minded imaginative type that I am, I didn't get too hung up on the source of the information. Nowadays, I just channel my own greater Self, and report back from occasional trips beyond the event horizon into hyperspace, and conversations with my own unique 'Other' ... if you see what I mean. :)