Sunday, March 13, 2016

Unpacking Deepak's Mess: The Problem - Part One

Note:  This is the first of what I think will be a three-part series of musings about consciousness.

On April 22, 1715 a map of the United Kingdom was printed in a newspaper for wide distribution. The map showed where a solar eclipse would take place upon London and surrounding British areas at the precise height of the eclipse, which would happen on May 3, 1715.  When the predicted eclipse actually occurred at exactly the moment predicted, tens of thousands of ordinary British citizens, otherwise disinterested in astronomy altogether, were struck by awe. It was a watershed moment for astronomy.  The prediction seemed miraculous to most but a few understood the mechanics behind it, making it an inevitability. 

Did this eclipse have "consciousness"?  Was it planned or coordinated with any manner of intent? Would it have not occurred at all had no humans been living in and near London in 1715? These questions are obviously absurd.  It is definitive that the eclipse mechanics had nothing at all to do with humans.  It also had nothing to do with the moon and the sun acting with any “mutual awareness” of one another outside of mindless gravity itself. "Consciousness" of the eclipse was a completely animal experience.  Yet it happened whether humans were conscious of it or not, whether they understood the karmic mechanics or not.  It happened without anything that can genuinely be classified as "consciousness."

That is the place of consciousness in the universe. That is reality.  So much of Being is beyond the animal Now, meaning the universe trumps my personal experience in terms of what can relevantly be termed “reality."

Late in 2014 I read two fundamentally troubling articles in The Huffington Post by Deepak Chopra. They were entitled "Why God Makes More Sense than Atheism" and "God Is The New Physics." While the articles were troubling to me on multiple levels, their shared perspective also clarified something for me to the degree that I knew Chopra was wrong.  This clarity of wrongness was more felt than reasoned by me.  So I sat out on a long personal journey to understand Chopra's mistake and how to articulate a relevant response to it.  It has taken me over a year to write the following.

In essence, Chopra commits an almost imperceptible error because most of what he says fits so well into contemporary cultural values.  Yet, Chopra's position, despite its board appeal, is absurd in its fundamentally sweeping force and in its elevation of a very limited phenomenon. Consciousness is not vast.  It is rare in the universe and biologically based as far as we factually know. Yet, Chopra believes in a “cosmic mind," (or quantum mind) and that human consciousness is connected to the vast consciousness of the universe in powerful and meaningful ways.  The error Chopra commits is what I term subtle-arrogance.  

Though much of Chopra’s teachings appear benevolent and compassionate in their intent, he is, in fact, arrogant and misguided about consciousness.  He attempts to ground human reality and a deeper understanding of the human experience within a non-biological connectivity of things. By ridiculously elevating consciousness, Chopra artificially decouples it from its true place in the universe and, therefore, fails to ground it in relevance.  The result, in Chopra’s case, is human meaning centered in LaLaland.  It might feel good but it is not reality-based.

Human experience is, of course, supremely important to us as humans.  I believe life should be passionately embraced with a sense of wonder, an active inquisitiveness, and affirmed as a creative pursuit.  This makes life worth living. The experience of Flow is a great example of this.  It is enough and no further justification for living need exist.  If such justification does exist then it is an abundance, but not required for relevant living.  

There is no reason nor necessary implication to believe that reality is human experience or that human experience touches reality in a significant way.  It is only by seeing human consciousness as mediocre that we can gain an understanding of our proper place in the universe and obtain the foundation for a truly relevant, profoundly authentic existence.

Those who worship consciousness, like Chopra, see consciousness as a necessary and inescapable human concern that applies to some sort of larger, cosmic mind.  The human experience of “mind” is thus projected without any inherent justification whatsoever into the vastness of space, attributing “consciousness as mind” to physics, cosmology, molecular dynamics and every other scientific pursuit.

This is simply arrogant; but of a subtle, seemingly harmless, even helpful, kind.

Subtle-arrogance can be isolated by various examples:

  • Bestowing a human quality on the universe.
  • Setting expectations that human needs are answered in the universe.
  • That universal truth is inherently beneficial to the human spirit.
  • That the human “mind” mimics and connects with a “mind” outside of biology.
An extended example is equating spirituality and science as essentially different views of the same thing; thereby making science relative to spirituality.  But science is the practice of using tools and testing theories to broaden our knowledge of reality whereas spirituality is a specifically human expression and finite within our biology.  There are no examples of non-biological consciousness, not even artificial consciousness. Even Carl Jung’s famous “Collective Unconscious” (a concept I agree with in principle) is ultimately based in the biological underpinnings of the collective culture, it reveals aspects of consciousness that are not based in any particular brain.  If someone “discovers” an example of consciousness beyond biology via reflection or introspection into human experience it nevertheless remains biologically based; just because you make discoveries internally (and there are many important ones to be made) doesn’t lessen the grip of biology. It is subtle-arrogance (as well as poetic, inspirational, and other positive human things) to connect it with the whole of reality. 

Stephen Hawking, one of many renowned physicists who rightly sees that there is no inherent connection between human experience and the universe, has been critiqued by worshipers of consciousness for his comparison of science and religion. His comment that science "wins" over religion because “science works” galls the spiritualists, because it implies that religion doesn’t “work” as well.  While I find Hawking overly critical from the perspective of the importance of religion to human experience (I do not discount religion’s importance only some of its ultimate contentions), the spiritualists don’t understand what Hawking means by “works.”  Essentially, he is talking about how the scientific method leads to accurate predictions and protocols and approaches to life. No insight of religion or of inwardly reflective consciousness predicted the 1715 solar eclipse, for example. On the contrary, religion has historically interpreted eclipses in terms irrelevant to their occurrences.

The fact that religion does not “work” as well as science is also exemplified by Chopra in another HuffPost article contending that humanity is near some sort of “tipping point” for consciousness; that when we pass said point we will see consciousness in its proper, universal place. Yet, the true reason our species has not reached the tipping point of consciousness is that no such point exists.  It is a misunderstanding, and arrogant elevation, of consciousness.

This understandable error in the teachings of people like Chopra serves to answer a basic creative human need. It validates their existence and inspires them.  It also leads to erroneous thinking on a ridiculous scale.  To project the concept “mind” into the universe is forcing distinctive human Being onto a canvas that does not even acknowledge humanity, let alone embrace it.  I believe when you strip it all down, it is better to find a sense of wonder within a universe where eclipses occur completely indifferent to us and live life affirmatively yet grounded firmly in that truth than it is to force meaning onto the universe that is, for whatever noble purpose and positive influence, purely human fabrication.  By living affirmatively with a fundamental understanding of humanity’s mediocrity in the universe, all manner of spiritual and philosophical problems simply cease to exist.

Humanity is filled with a multitude of creative needs and expressions; this is part of what makes us human to begin with. But, because human consciousness is best contextualized as a decentralized aspect of an unconcerned universe, the expression of the creative need for certain conclusions of the worshippers of consciousness is misguided.  Its apparent importance to us as humans is irrelevant.  Friedrich Nietzsche understood what Chopra is trying to do in these two very revealing articles.  In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche writes: "Happiness and virtue cannot be used as arguments.  But we like to forget, even the thoughtful spirits among us, that whatever makes us unhappy or evil can no more be used as a counter-argument.  Something might be true, even if it is also harmful and dangerous in the highest degree; indeed, it might be part of the essential nature of existence that to understand it completely would lead to our own destruction. The strength of a person's spirit would then be measured by how much 'truth' he could tolerate, or more precisely, to what extent he needs to have it diluted, disguised, sweetened, muted, falsified." (Aphorism 39)

The central problem is that Chopra and these new age physicists conflate consciousness with Being. As I have written before, Being has nothing to do with animal consciousness.  While you can certainly come to an experience and an understanding of Being by looking within yourself there is absolutely no reason why that understanding elevates YOUR experience of Being to all Being.  Being is distinctive with innumerable forms of Being that do not reflect any singular Being at all.  The workings of Karma have no central guiding force. Karma is where intention meets the accidental in a haphazard fashion. Karma can only be seen to us as humans in the past tense of how things unfolded to create the largely unpredictable Now.  It is the result of multiple conflicting, complementary, and (mostly) indifferent forces of Being.

Unlike Being, animal consciousness is the residue of biological processes.  Consciousness is limited by biology and this is where Chopra’s subtle-arrogance leads him to the realm of the ridiculous.  Biology sufficient enough for animal consciousness is a rare thing in the universe and it is the universe that is "reality," not our consciousness within.  We are limited to our perceptions of things and without direct access to the things in themselves.  Our limited experience fails to reveal a doorway to ultimate reality.  It does not “work” that way.  It only offers a doorway to human perception and awareness, which is nevertheless valuable to us as humans.

Most recently, Chopra’s arrogance has led him in yet another HuffPost article to trivialize the discovery of gravitational waves as “red herrings.” This is a rather obvious slight-of-hand tactic, clearly elevating consciousness above the physics of the universe - again, subtle-arrogance.  Can anyone fail to see how arrogant it is to minimize a new proof of a prediction by Albert Einstein, possibly one that could change how we can see the universe?  There is a reality out there revealed to us through our use of tools, not by direct experience. But Chopra’s approach is doubly dubious.  While making a red herring out of Einstein he simultaneously elevates consciousness as the real target for scientific understanding of the cosmos. This is misguided.

What Chopra doesn’t take into account is that our human sensory perception is augmented by the tools we invent, some of which are theories we verify through factual merit, others are scientific tools we build in order to expand our knowledge like infrared and ultraviolet telescopes.  The experience of science is not entirely, as Chopra conveniently claims, an extension of human experience (though much of science is very human).  We do not experience the infrared spectrum in any meaningful way; not like we can experience an eclipse, for example. Physical sight is more powerful to most of us than mathematical formulas leading to other aspects of the spectrum of light beyond our sensory ability to directly experience.  The perceived power of our senses (as directed either inwardly or outwardly) tempts some of us to mistakenly make them the origin of reality.  

To place your spirituality within a "cosmic mind" or any such “power” and to elevate consciousness into a relationship with the solar eclipse and rogue asteroids and the orbits of planets and the globular clusters and Super clusters of the observable universe is simply a subtle form of egoism.  

The discovery of gravitational waves is the result of applying a tool (the Theory of Relativity), not direct human experience. It reveals a part of reality that is without consciousness.  There is absolutely no basis for consciousness in gravitational waves. We did not even know about them and they were there all along, Being their thing-in-itself. It is far more likely that gravitational waves are part of reality without consciousness than it is to primitively attribute human characteristics to realms of reality without humanity. These waves have Being regardless of our awareness of them, independent of consciousness, because Being is largely without consciousness.  Their Being is revealed to us by the fact humans can create tools to expand our knowledge of things we cannot be conscious of. There is a revealed aspect to the universe that has nothing to do with human experience.

“Conscious” expression certainly has Being. But Being is more than this and transcends biology altogether. The movement of the Milky Way, the form of the Delicate Arch, the eruption of a volcano, the emergence of a typhoon, the gravitational interaction of the Sun and the Earth and the Moon are all examples of Being.  But, it is a misapprehension to classify these aspects of Being as "conscious."  They are physical occurrences, they have the quality to Be in space and time but they are not consciously attempting to control anything or deal with the internal struggles and joys of what we call consciousness.

When we delve into human consciousness (and unconsciousness) we truly encounter a myriad of realities. There is salvation for some, enlightenment for others, occult powers, self-mastery, mindfulness, nightmares, love, fear, courage, arrogance, forgiveness, understanding, desire, well-being, artistic inspiration, and empowerment and control. Any of these could be experienced in any combination. Many individuals experiencing any of these believe they have distilled experience down to the prime experience.  That is the way internal human experience works.  It is selfish, even in its apparent approach and realization of alleged selflessness. You can't escape yourself, not matter how deep you go into your "inner reality." You remain fixed in space, not in biological consciousness alone.

Whenever a comet hits Earth, then you will see how relevant consciousness is to reality.

Although pop psychology stresses the importance of consciousness to our lives, consciousness itself is a very limited thing.  We make a big deal out of it because it is all we directly experience. Nevertheless, consciousness is biologically and physiologically limited to perceiving and awareness and personal expression. Consciousness cannot transcend anything because it is firmly embedded in biology which, as far as we can currently tell, is a rarity in the immediate universe.  Biology itself cannot be reduced to the material, nor the molecular, nor the spiritual for that matter. Biology is dynamically biological (variations of living processes) and Earth is unique in our solar system in its conduciveness to promote higher biological functions such as animal consciousness. 

In absence of fact, Chopra can only theorize, since his initial approach, while beneficial in some ways (mindfulness, well-being), is absurd. Consciousness is a particular Being of karmic occurrence.  Chopra's fundamental theory, put somewhat negatively, is that “Without consciousness there is no reality.” How do you prove that contention?  Where are the facts, not the theories? Chopra’s “cosmic mind” is a projection of biology where it doesn’t belong.  It is a vast spiritual palace founded upon the biblical-like myth that our “soul” is our "essence."  Over millennia the concept of the individual soul became “mind.” Rene Descartes addressed this in his writings although mature Buddhism already knew that centuries earlier.

When we project human experience onto the laws of physics or the tangibility of geology (Are earthquakes conscious? They sure as hell are real.) or whatever then we are taking the first step toward conflating and equating two very different things. Consciousness is a subset of Being.  Being itself is more than consciousness.  The error commonly made among masters of meditation and worshipers of consciousness is to reverse the hierarchy here or to eliminate the hierarchy altogether through religious and spiritual practice such that Being emerges out of consciousness, is a subset of consciousness.  This is, quite simply, an unjustified inflation of consciousness.  Experiences confirming this falsehood are illusionary and self-induced, but not without a certain advantage to humanity, as Nietzsche pointed out in The Birth of Tragedy. There is value in illusion.

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