So here we all are then… all the same, all different, all like that throughout our life on this earth. We are completely ourselves yet yearn for connection, we’re individuals yet must live in tribes, we’re all unique yet can only share ideas, art, and indeed ourselves, through shared languages, shared ideas, an inner knowing of our commonality that somehow is on the outside too.
And we love our abstract concepts. It certainly looks as if they’re a key aspect of being human. So here’s a couple – mind0 and mindi. It would be usual at this point to set out clear definitions of each, but the approach here is to present matters to ponder, for reasons that will hopefully become clearer further on.
First, consider mindi. Here it refers to the individual mind belonging to each of us, as individual as a fingerprint. We refer to ourselves as ‘I’, and this is associated with mindi. Here, ‘i’ also stands for ‘imponderable’. ‘Imponderables’ are things like companionship, good company, humour, beauty, sister/brotherhood, being treated with appropriate respect, the particular sort of innocent love we receive from pets etc etc. All the things that in principle are not catchable in the net of science, and never will be. They are ∫, never ∑. They are life itself – love being the greatest imponderable of all, yet something that humans seem inherently prone to becoming profoundly disconnected from.
Science can analyse imponderables ever more minutely, and precisely by doing so ensure that they slip ever further away from the living and towards the abstract. Imponderables are vibey, boundaried yet simultaneously without a clear boundary and with no boundary at all. We know them well yet struggle to define or explain them (which in itself is a clue to perhaps realise and thus understand that analysis has limits – even if ironically those limits aren’t easy to define in themselves). Imponderables are vivid yet they’re fuzzy, they’re clear but they smear. They are neither-both and/or both/neither. They are somehow beyond, and yet the most profoundly present aspects of our lives. And they are the true material from which our lives are woven (not put together like Lego). They are the ‘gist’ of things, but also somehow their completeness. The fuzziness can include precision, but not the other way round. More on this further down the page. Alas, this isn’t the preamble to a easy-to-prepare slow cooker recipe that will ‘change your life’ or at least taste good – all of this writing is the important bit, all the way through, so it would be good if you could just read without skipping anything, thank you.
My beautiful pussycat Jess – there was a curious unclarity about her size. She seemed compact somehow, yet stretched out on the sofa next to me she seemed far larger. But her compactness was so striking other people commented on it. Then there was her pussycat style, the way she moved, moseying to the kitchen to perhaps nibble a few snacks, curling into a circle to sleep, deciding to view the room upside-down, all four legs in the air, yawning way beyond any yawn a human could attempt, meowing, burbling, trilling, rolling about in patches of sunlight on the carpet in the spring and only the spring, effortlessly radiating profound contentment, becoming imperiously haughty then in a flash full of affection, running over to see if I was OK…
There was her cat shape and way of acting, clearly defined (in particular when it came to graciousness), but in principle not pin-downable (especially when I had to get her into the carrier for a trip to the vets). And so it was with her companionship, the bond between us that grew ever deeper somehow the longer we shared a living space. It was all bounded, de-finite, and limitless. There was a Jessyness that was unmistakeably Jess yet without sharp edges (apart from on her claws, of course, one of which left a small, precise white scar on my hand that I treasure as a memento).
And Jess, my small-not-small furry guru, my teacher who brought me round to reality over and over again when I got home from work, my mind teeming with burning rubbish I’d brought from the office that had no relevance at all to where I actually was and who was actually greeting me, Jess pulling me out of my obsessive interiority right back to what was actually happening right there and then, Jess wanting food and cuddles, and communicating away with me – here clearly was a unique be-ing. Jess was both a physical cat and a feline process in the style of Jess, a representative of catdom with her own uniquely quirky Way, with an inner life of which I formed just a part, and she had a boundary to her being and yet she didn’t. The size and not-size, the boundary and not-boundary, her physicality but then the connection between us, that resonance in mind and heart – this all was soul. There was Jess, surrounded by not-Jess, yet also here we both were, companions.
The classical Greek concept of pneuma has always been somewhat troublesome for modern-day translators/interpreters. It seems quite slippery. It’s something to do with breath, but it also somehow refers to individual physical being. There are arguments over how to define it clearly. But to us moderns , the very unpindownability of pneuma displays the same characteristics outlined in the previous few paragraphs regarding Jess – so there’s some kind of identity, or an isomorphism, between the concept and what it refers to. So maybe the difficulty us so-called ‘modern’ people have in understanding pneuma is because we’ve become too reliant on – or even too dominated by – definitional boundaries. The point being that becoming overly or prematurely rigid over definitions can block out profoundly important insights further on. Which is one reason why mindi and mind0 were not clearly defined above.
(They say that the word ‘guru’ comes from a root meaning ‘heavy’. The heaviest aspect of my guru was losing Jess, then realising later that I’d needed to learn this profound lesson about love. Like all the important lessons, it was truly hard-won. But learning it changed me forever, in a way I urgently needed to change. This was a lesson of the heart, not the mind.)
Regarding ‘objective definitions’, it is important to note that science makes a big deal about the way in which we can ‘know’ things that turn out to be wrong. You think that the moon’s made of cheese, here’s the evidence it’s rock – moon rock, but rock nonetheless. Sorted. But science contains something in it that people can’t resist misunderstanding, and then misusing. If you think the moon is made of cheese you’re deluded and you can be proved wrong, but you can’t say that the vibe you get watching a full moon rise on a balmy midsummer night over a forest is either deluded or objectively real in the same sense. Getting contemplatively wrapped up in watching bright spring sunshine dance about on the surface of a glass tumbler of water you’ve just put on the table… is this ‘true’ or ‘false’? And don’t try saying it’s either good or bad by referring to effects on the brain, or mind, or society, or evolution – we’re referring to the watching of that interplay of light on the surface of water. That comes before all the post hoc, left-brain analysis.
Next time somebody mentions that they like something, try telling them ‘well you’re wrong!’. Obviously it doesn’t work, and it’s a bit silly. If somebody loves the beauty of a sunset or a moonrise, or being with friends, or the knowings that come upon them while listening to their favourite music, then that’s it – these things are primary. Yes opinion may in some circumstances be changeable or tastes change over time, but that doesn’t mean that their subjectivity doesn’t have this primary quality to it. (We certainly do have ideas of moral right and wrong, though, and appear to have got into proper trouble by saying those ideas are subjective in the same way as any other subjectivity – a huge mistake right there, yet unnervingly common these days. For some reason.)
We live the entirety of our lives in a consciousness that is completely outside the machinations of science, in a society that so often tells us science is capable of providing all the answers.
We turn now to mind per se – mind0. This is the ultimate ‘imponderable’ as outlined above, and can only be understood in ‘imponderable’ terms. In principle there is no outside to mind0, no other sort of anything through which anything can be understood, in the same way that there is no beginning to a circle. The fact that in terms of mind we act and keep acting like there is, or ought to be, ‘something outside the circle’, or a start to the circle that we can attach our projects to, something to aim for, pin down and ‘get’, is a key aspect of the tragedy of the human condition. We have this gift of self-awareness that somehow then gets snagged on itself and leads to so much suffering. Mindi blocks mind0 in the same way that the moon blocks the sun during an eclipse. We see (figuratively or who knows, maybe even literally) just the coronas of things. We never see them in their true radiance. There is this odd coincidence that the moon is nearly the same size as the sun in the sky from our human standpoint, which this strangely suggests the way that the ego nearly but not completely blocks the radiance of ‘objective’ reality, which really is (in) mind0.
The drama of a total eclipse is truly one of the amazing sights of nature, a powerful and awe-inspiring experience for those lucky enough to see it, but it only exists from our viewpoint on Earth. We love the drama when it’s exciting, or pleasurable, or beautiful, or loving and kind, but when it’s none of those things its horror hurts the heart.
As part of the tragedy, we create vast philosophies, religions, sciences, an endless variety of multifarious systems of thought, all of which represent a trying to neutralise the world, to tame it or use it, through abstraction. We hope to somehow go to the abstract level then come back with something that helps us in life… in this case with the concepts of mind0 and mindi, though these concepts have a ‘meta’ quality that makes them a bit different to regular ‘clear’ concepts even if there’s also clarity in there somehow.
A profound blind spot that is found everywhere – all our endless thinking that seeks to somehow ‘explain’ life in terms that themselves are not living.
But life cannot be distilled like water. For example, at the moment there is a movement towards espousing the philosophy of idealism and backing it up with some quite impressive intellectual firepower, yet the whole thing leaves the mystery of life-as-it-is entirely untouched. It’s curiously reminiscent of Wittgenstein’s dictum to the effect that even if all scientific questions were answered, it would leave the mysteries of life entirely untouched. As Bernardo Kastrup (currently a particularly visible proponent of idealism) put it on his FB page after the tragic chemical dump explosion in Lebanon, ‘why would Mind at Large do this?’. No matter the intellectual arguments for or against anything, the mystery of life remains untouched. The tragedy and the love continue, whether reality is ultimately mind or not.
There is a difference in that if everything is mind, death changes meaning, but even then there is still an imposingly huge barrier between death and life. And if we start looking into that, more questions of meaning appear, this time with even more bite… perhaps because they’re questions (and answers) that we’re not ready for in our current state. When it comes to the deeper aspects of life, the injunction against putting new wine in old skins is there for good reason. Imagine knowing that there definitely is an ‘after’life – so many people would be killed due to arguments and rages and lusts for power. The effect on the value of human life and indeed the whole drama of living would be catastrophic. Somewhere in John Cage’s book ‘M’, in amidst the cut-ups and typographic play is the phrase ‘if we knew for sure what happens after death we could not love each other’. A phrase that invites pondering, mulling over…
There both is and isn’t a boundary between mind0 and mindi, in the same way that there is and isn’t a boundary between you and other souls (in the pneuma sense), or you and me and the ‘outside’ world.
Maybe if we were able to see our individual mindis interacting with this apparent outside world and other mindis, we would be seeing it all from the viewpoint of mind0, in the same way that when we individually look at brain scans we can see somehow there’s a close correlation between brain activity and subjective consciousness but can’t go any further than that.
We see ever more clearly how different activities in the brain are somehow associated with subjective experiences, but we have no idea just it might give rise to those experiences. We try to duck the issue by referring to ’emergence’, but this leads to the question – ‘if matter can do this, what else can it do?’.
And perhaps the supposed ‘emergence’ of the drama of our lives within mindi, a drama that is so different ‘on the inside’, as we live it, follows an analogous principle. We can examine ever more minutely the workings of the brain associated with subjective thoughts yet with no explanation of that correlation, and so – perhaps – we can examine our mindi lives from the viewpoint of mind0 without ever being able to put together an intellectual ‘explanation’ for it all.
Again, the hint that by looking outwards we are looking in the wrong direction – even though there’s an objective world, even though that world sometimes gives us the impression it will offer up some kind of final answers if we just probe it the right way.
But in any event this mystery is not analysable into statistics dust, or mindi or mind0, or digital 1s and 0s, or in principle any abstractions, as doing so destroys what it was about in the first place. Thought and feeling, science and ethics, combine and there is always and ever a third Something we can sense but only understand by radically not looking for it. And the incredible thing is that yes, we can understand it profoundly – as long as we don’t go looking for it with our analytical minds. Looking outwards with our analytical intellect will only, can only, ever produce approximations. So be wary of those who have a prejudice against lack of clarity – they will block you from going towards deeper understanding. True clarity is not found in the neurotic pennings-in and pinnings-down of the egoic intellect. True understanding naturally goes with what the egoic intellect arrogantly likes to pejoratively think of as unclarity, fuzziness.
As you look at the 0 and i, even then you are seeing symbolism, intuiting it, being involved in an associative activity to do with O and I: the O of the void, of perfection, of the infinite, free from any localised particularity, and the I of I AM, but here seen as the small i of ego, with its imaginary nature that nonetheless is effective in the world in the way that imaginary numbers turned out to have practical uses, a limited reflection of I, with the head disassociated from the body, and the head being a tiny O that’s shrunk right down into a solid black dot, reminiscent of the way that our ego arrogates to itself the qualities of O, eclipsing the ground of being in the way the moon eclipses the sun, but without the emptiness within O that gives everything resonance, that permits everything to happen, that lets the light in…
But all of this is mere neutral philosophising, lacking in the sheer intensity of life as it is lived. In the end all arguments for and against the existence of God, all ideological and intellectual arguments, all the politicking, all that clever-clever clashing, is only happening because of our morbid craving for deracinated certainty. But the ironic paradox is that all this supposed ‘reason’ has become, or always was, intimately intertwined with emotion, intuition, feeling(s).
And however much darkness lets rip, its nature is that of a storm, and storms always burn out in the end – they have to by their nature. Love never burns out. It’s eternal. The beautiful nightmare of the world will be redeemed, no matter how utterly unlikely that may seem at any point in our life on this earth. It all works out in the end. All of it.
As for where we are right now in our lives, amidst all our approximations that are (whether we can see it or not) strangely suffused with the light of completeness, amidst all our struggles that we can’t let go of and have to live our way through… well… here we all are then.