Saturday, October 08, 2011

Form and Formlessness


So, the woman and I were talking about how to reconcile the scientific, rationalist, logical, empirical, skeptical worldview with the spiritual, non-dual, ecstatic, shamanic, buddhist, santeria, magical worldview. And it seems natural to talk about that in terms of my own evolution of thinking on the subject.

As a child, I was a magical thinker. I'm pretty sure all of us were. I believed in portals that opened to another world. I believed in Aslan and the Wardrobe and Sandworms and robots and ghosts and Superman. It seemed obvious that these things existed. You just had to know where to look, and you had to really, really believe, or the magic wouldn't work.

Then I explored the religious path. I remember very clearly watching television early on a Sunday morning before my parents were awake, four years old and watching some televangelist on a black and white screen and he was telling me I had better accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior right now and I did.

I opened my little four year old heart to Jesus and asked him to save me and told him I would believe in him and be very good and never do anything to disappoint him. And I did it again when I was eleven. Got baptized in the tepid waters of the baptismal font of the First Southern Baptist Church in Burlingame, California, under a painting of the river Jordan and the watchful eye of my Grandmother Janice.

At sixteen I had this friend of mine who was born-again in a serious way. He gave me a big old bible and we used to read it together and we would pray together, but I was already drifting away from that idea of God, and of right and wrong. It seemed like a cartoon for little children to watch. It seemed to me to be fear-based and small-minded and parochial.

So when I got to my junior and senior year in high school I was in Taiwan and I started to read a little bit about buddhism and hinduism and Confucianism and those folks seemed to be on to something with a little more substance. I read the vedas and the bhagavad gita and the tibetan book of the dead and herman hesse's Siddhartha and I even meditated with my acid-fried swim coach.

In college I explored the whole psychopharmacological approach to enlightenment. After a year and a half I was invited by the administration to explore other opportunities, especially opportunities that might be available in an off-campus setting.

So I joined the Coast Guard and entered a period of seriously grounded-in-the-real-guts-of-the-world study. I disdained religion as a balm for the simple-minded, and philosophy and meditation as an escape for those who were too weak to understand life on the level of bloody-tooth-and-claw. If a boat was on fire and people were burning and jumping into the frozen alaskan sea, you fucking pulled them out of the water and you put out the fire on their boat and you tended their wounds and you towed the smoking hulk back to port where it could be repaired. By hungover ships mechanics and still drunk crewmen. I lived in and relished a world where the sea was implacable and malevolent and utterly, utterly real.

In a way that mere thoughts and fancy ideations never could be.

And I suppose I have inhabited that world almost without pause since I became a police. It is, perhaps, the most intimate and personal relationship that I have with the world. I love it because of its physicality, its immediacy and raw power. Blood and smoke in the air, the wailing of the damaged, the snarls of the evil, the courage and power of the righteous. It is everywhere available for the senses to ascertain, and nowhere hidden, nowhere coy.

But I have yet studied. I have learned my classical, Newtonian physics. I have learned my biology and geology and neurology. I have delved yet more deeply into Buddhism and meditation and yoga and mindfulness. I have explored the mind-body problem. I have learned my quantum mechanics and my string theory and I am comfortable with the paradoxes of the multiverse and black holes and on and on.

And I have had my spiritual education. I have experienced the power of what comes from beyond the known. I have had my own initiation into the path with a heart. I have read Casteneda and believed him literally, then symbolically, then literally again. I have stood witness to events and experiences that tear asunder the veil of rationality and show the whole shebang as a dream, albeit a forceful and persistent one.

So, we come back to the question. How do we reconcile these divergent world-views? Certainly a hard-boiled scientific, rationalist perspective must demand a skeptical approach to magic and spirituality, to the power of meditation and prayer, of wishful thinking and visualization? Surely a magical shamanistic approach must deny the ability of the scientific approach to ever quantify the nature of reality?

Surely the two points of view are irreconcilable?


Well, I'm not certain.


Here's my provisional take on a way to get these differing views in alignment.

Let's start with acknowledging that, from an empirical, rationalist viewpoint, our own objective reality is nothing more than a very sophisticated mock-up of what the real reality might be like, that is, a reality that is not filtered and reduced and modified by our own, very limited, sensory apparatus.


I mean, light doesn't penetrate the skull. Nothing happens inside the bony vault but signals-processing work done by neurons and various combinations of peptides and neurochemicals- there is not a kind of movie screen onto which the signals input from the retinas are displayed for a little man inside the brain to watch.

It's all biochemical, physiological signals processing.

So, let's take that as our jumping off point. Next, lets look at how, on the very, very tiny, quantum scale, classical newtonian physics breaks down. A single photon approaches a barrier with two openings and goes through both of them at the same time. A pair of electrons are separated by time and distance and then one of the pair is measured by an observer, either velocity or location, and the other electron immediately collapses into the same state as the observed electron.

Look at varieties of scale, as seen fractally. No difference no matter how vast you scale up or how tiny you scale down. Look at deep time. Imagine, if you can, what fourteen billion years looks like.

I could go on and on.

The point is, the fucking universe is strange as a three-headed goat, and the more you look at it, the stranger it gets.

And think about what's going on inside us as a species. We're relative late-comers to the show, but we still have millions of years of evolutionary history packed into our DNA. If you cotton to the idea of the  conservation of energy, it's likely that there are all kinds of evolutionary ghosts riding around in the biochemical soup of our brains.

And now allow me to drag in the theory of the placebo effects. All these studies done that show if you think a certain injection is going to ease your pain, it will. And that if you think you're being given an inert ingredient and you are really given morphine, the morphine won't work very well. And if you are not aware that you're being given anything, it might not work at all.

Meditation. Prayer. Fasting. Homeopathy. Medicine men. Shamans. Yoga. Acupuncture. Trances. Shaker dances. Whirling dervishes. Holding hands. Wishful thinking. Buddhist enlightenment. Psychotropic enlightenment. Ghosts. Ouija boards. Surfing. Sword fighting.


We are trapped by our own conscious minds, by our sensory apparatus and the major-league filtering and modeling that goes on, simply so we can have some kind of coherent experience of what we call objective reality. Vastly more stuff gets filtered out than gets admitted in, and that is of the signals that come in through our very limited sensory apparatus- humongous amounts of data we cannot even access.

Then of the tiny bit of the torrent of stuff that gets through, ninety percent or more of it all gets processed outside the conscious experience.

But it's all still there, out in the dark and slimy waters of the unconscious.

Here's how I see it:

These mystical approaches, be they meditation or prayer or magic, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Islamic, Satanic, yogic, what have you, they are all every bit as real and necessary as anything else. They allow us, by means of ritual and hard work, to momentarily dismantle the tyranny of the machinery of the conscious mind-

They allow us to interrupt our own dream.

These practices allow us to create a gap through which information that is kept out of awareness by the mechanisms of the conscious reality-creating mind is allowed to penetrate the veil of conscious awareness.

Because it comes from outside the conscious mind, it is interpreted by the conscious mind as something other than itself. But it is not, not really.

And this is why the other than information is always coded in a sociologically congruent way by the conscious mind. Christians see angels and hear the voice of God. Buddhists see Buddha and taste enlightenment. Lakota Sioux see wakan tanka circling round. Physicians think they're hallucinating, or having a stroke.

The critical point is that this information, this other than information that is accessed by prayer, meditation, fasting, or simple intention, is valid and real.

Or exactly as valid and real as our own vivid and imaginary dream of objective reality imposed upon us by our faulty and limited sensory apparatus and cognitive framework.

Everything is provisional. Everything is fuzzy on a quantum level. Everything is vastly odder and more complex than we are capable of imagining.

I used to think that religion was a child's way of seeing the world, and for the most part, I still do. I like something with a little more bite and pizzaz. So I lay claim to the structure of Buddhism and the path of meditation and physical yoga. But I keep my eyes open for more. I keep my heart open for magic.

I look for portals to another world.


Our minds are playing a trick on us.

We need to play back if we're to have any hope at all.





Anonymous Anonymous said...

i like that you think.

4:43 PM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...

it's one of the most fun things I do. besides fingerpainting.

and, you know, hitting things.



4:53 PM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

I'm going to go outside and bounce a ball against the house, on that note.

5:25 PM  
Blogger Ms. Moon said...

Yah. Ah-lah.
I know too much and I don't know enough.
Lord how I would love to sit across a table from you. A table filled with beans and rice and beers.
And maybe a tiny bit of something else.
I would arm-wrestle you for the next sentence. I would laugh as loud as you would.
We would end in tears.

6:04 PM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


That seems like about the best idea for dealing with these kinds of thoughts.

Ms. Moon-

It all ends in tears.

That's why you have to have beer first. And rice and beans. And good conversation.

Cuz after the tears?

Comes the void.



tearful voidwatcher

6:13 PM  
Blogger Radish King said...

I love reading the personal bits of you, voyeur that I am. Then goddamfuck I want and need to have this conversation with you. I have some ideas. About light. You'd be surprised! And if the portals I find in myself and in the world aren't real, then I'm done for. I always thought that the Coast Guard was the perfect kind of police. I think you are now the perfect kind of police. A rare bird indeed.


6:16 PM  
Blogger John Carroll said...

Don't tell my husband I said this, but you are the most interesting guy I know. Sometimes I think the things I think about are crazy, but then you come along, thinking them way better than me, with more breadth and depth than I can reach, making as much sense of it all as anyone else, and I feel simultaneously silly and smart. Silly for not thinking it through as well as you, for not having read and studied as much as you, but smart for thinking about any of it at all, for sharing the same brain plane, at least a little. You would be such a great teacher - you already are.

I spent my childhood looking for magic, believing in the fairies and the magic toads and the borrowers living in the walls... it was the best part of being a kid. I spent a long time looking for God and Jesus at all kinds of churches too, and I felt like the emperor had no clothes when my quest fizzled out. I'm with Mary and the Possibilities. I think our monkey brains can't even fathom the wonder that is our existence. And yet we try.
Thanks for sharing the magical thinking with us. Sometimes your posts feel like they should come with college credit. :)

6:25 PM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


One of these days, man, one of these days. Me and old girl are coming up there and bringing some food and some beers and we'll have us a goddamn talk.

Thanks for thinking I'm a good kind of police.

I try, I really do.



6:39 PM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


Well, that's about the sweetest thing to say. I'm so glad to have your company as we wrestle with the nature of being, the nature of all this strangeness.

I don't think there's a finer thing than thinking about stuff like this, really deeply working it.

Except for hitting things and cooking and eating really good food, and sex, and reading, and and and.

PS- that must be your son, the golfer. he looks like a serious student of the game, and a total stud.

thank you for your amazing generosity-


6:45 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

oops, that John Carroll comment, that's Mel, I was logged in under my son's account, makes that husband comment seem kinda odd. But hopefully you got my drift.

6:46 PM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...

drift received!

7:10 PM  
Blogger 37paddington said...

I have been thinking so much about thes things and I believe it all and especially the magic and for me there are no absolutes. We make sense if it how we can and the mythology that we reach for changes and evolves, as we do. You are a philosopher, dear Scott, and this is a stunning piece of writing. You are intellect, heart and sinew, brilliantly all.

My love to you and Yolie.

5:02 AM  
Blogger Mim said...

The Mandelbrot Set connects it all, I believe. You might agree.

Yours for connecting,

6:21 AM  
Blogger Petit fleur said...

(Late to the party as usual!) I didn't think you'd be coming around for a while.

So..this is all true, what you say, at least to me. Every bit of what you expressed can be true... but perhaps truth is not what was define it as.. maybe truth changes as more information is discovered... that is why everyone's truth is different, or at least they often think it is. (Just look at the Middle East)

I think we can over think though, which is not a problem unless we are bothered by it or it hinders our growth... it is just another distraction, over thinking.

At some point, I think we have to just surrender to the experience of being here, or being in a special moment without analyzing it, just simply being IN it.

I have thought about all the theories and topics you've mentioned to some degree. All of them make a certain amount of sense and I like the way you have put them together and your theory of what is.

I have come to the (perhaps temporary) conclusion that it is all an illusion as the Buddhists and other ancient cultures have said. (Once I found out how the eye really works and how color is just the absence of color reflected... that did it for me.) That was my "sign".

So, as much as I can I participate in our shared reality, I spend a lot of my energy working my mind and heart to create my own illusion based on my love and my desires. And I keep asking for some higher guidance from my ancestors, the universe or whatever is out there...

Great post. I love chewing on this kind of stuff!

6:52 AM  
Blogger 37paddington said...

and you should know that as i read this, i kept hoping it would go on and on, that it wouldn't finish too quickly, such a balm it was to sink into the words and ride the current through.

i just read it again. same word. stunning.

7:48 AM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


As always, thank you for your kind and generous and thoughtful comments. You make this place richer for me.

And I'm glad to hear you weren't bored by my ramble....ask my poor wife, I can go on and on about this kind of thing.


thank you.



1:07 PM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


Of course, I do agree! The Mandelbrot set does connect all!

So good to see you here, thank you.



1:14 PM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...


I like to move back and forth between present moment awareness and chewing on the bone of the world.

But I'm pretty sure I spend a lot more time chewing than I should....

As always, thank you for coming by and sharing your enlightening perspective.



1:17 PM  
Blogger The Ancient Hippie said...

Must say that I agree with you in much of your credo. Rather that Buddha/Quantum mechanics, I go the Brahman/Quantum mechanics belief route.
I will be following you further.
Peace, and

12:49 PM  
Blogger tearful dishwasher said...

Ancient Hippie-

Welcome, brother. Hope you find something of value here.

all best-


12:13 PM  

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