Awakening to the Unreal Self
When string theorists attempt to draw or diagram what a “string” looks like, they don’t draw strings but vibrations — specifically, mathematical vibrations in multiple dimensions. For there is no final and fundamental particle, thing, or substance: when we are done dividing, we find that only the insubstantial remains. That is the ground of being; or at the very least it’s as good a candidate as a theoretical speck of matter.
Now you may want to ask: how can there be vibration without a string? How can something come from nothing? Now if I were a Zen master, I would assign you that question as your koan, a personal puzzle or problem that has no solution in the realm of thought or calculation. I would tell you to go to sleep and wake up with it; to take it to the bathroom with you; to eat it and drink it; to caress it and kick it; to follow it, hunt it down, and be pursued by it.
Such an approach is actually an intense variation on a well-known theme. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of solving an intellectual problem or general life conundrum by first burying yourself in it and then abandoning it — “losing it” in a temporary stream of activity that took you out of the problem — sleep, sports or games, sex, or even a different problem. Then you came back to the original puzzle and found it solved within you.
The Zen people merely magnify this process, with a focus on the matter of conscious attention. This, incidentally, may help to explain why there are so many artists, meditators, and psycho-spiritual seekers among the scientists and technicians at CERN, where the mysteries of creation are being explored within the Large Hadron Collider. We are already well into an era where the common findings of quantum physics and astrophysics are more bizarre and surreal than any celestial or infernal system of religion or esoteric fantasy. The universe as it is revealed to us is far stranger and more wondrous than anything we could have concocted in the wildest dream of expectation or projection; and there is a lesson in that for our everyday lives.
But in Zen, the way into such a realm of realization is typically a long and convoluted path of conscious struggle. They always acknowledge that it really is easy, or is supposed to be anyway — but then they lead (or follow) the student down a rabbit hole of analysis and into every trap and cage of thought, so that he may eventually realize that the answer is so much closer and clearer than anything that thought could concoct or conceive.
I am trying to provide some context for the quote in the image above; because one obvious objection to Tesla’s observation is that the brain is a transmitter, too. Technically, that’s true; but what Tesla was talking about was creativity and discovery. That is to say, when we focus on the brain-as-receiver, we open ourselves to another source or origin of the creative, and avoid the arrogance of intellectual conquest. Those Zen masters want to get their students to exactly the same place that Tesla spoke of — that invisible core from which all creativity and inspiration flow toward the heart of humility and the hand of pure effort. The Zen strategy is to access that core by undermining the authority of thought; and they do that by burning a hole in its body. Indeed, one of their primary metaphors on the action of the koan within the student is “swallowing the molten ball of iron.” The problem presented by the koan defies calculation; it burns the wooden wings of thought. Intellect cannot digest it.
So the student eventually passes through that charred hole of mind and into Tesla’s field of inspiration, where life meets experience in a starkly beautiful realm with no division, no conquest, no thought. Such moments often occur under the commonest of circumstances and environments: a Zen priest I once knew “solved” his first koan while he was sweeping up on the back porch of his temple. I have heard of others who broke through their koans while cleaning the toilet or washing the dishes.
Me? Nah, I’ve never “solved” a koan. I’d be in the loony bin before I got halfway to the end of it. But I have had these moments in which the entire city of the monuments of shadows collapsed before and around me; suddenly there was an energy in sensation and being that was, well, like sitting amid the arcs of a Tesla coil. The problem with such moments is that something inside us is compelled to grasp at them and attempt to hold them. You may as well grab hold of a hot ball of molten iron.
Can there be an end to such folly? Another koan. Take the red pill or the blue; there is no purple. But on that note, let me repeat something I mentioned earlier this year: if the universe and our lives are in fact a hologram or a matrix, then how is it that they are also “fake” or “unreal” (as the science writer in the link above says)? Is it not far better and nobler that I am a mathematical projection than the lumpy and sin-riddled creation of a clumsy and violent toddler-God such as the Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship? An equation is not an enemy of reality, but simply a different expression of it. The only enemy of reality; the only poison to the body of both Reason and Spirit; the only death worth fearing is the darkness of a hatred that parades as Faith; the violence of a tyrant disguised as God; and the delusion of priests dressed up as Truth.
So I am a hologram, and so are you. We are creations of that pure art of mathematics; we are expressions of the golden ratio; we are algorithms and not ideology. We are vibrations with no palpable string to make them; these amazing Somethings derived from Nothing — or better still, amazing Nothings coming out of Something. We are energy independent of (but not opposed to) matter. And you’re saying this is not real? As if that were a bad thing? I can scarcely imagine any discovery that would rate more as “gospel” — good news — than this: the deep understanding that we are not real according to the superficial measure of our cultural stereotypes. It’s a truth I’ve long felt, and so I look forward to astrophysical science closing the case.
A Lesson of Night: The Cosmic Brain
I still talk to her. I imagine that will be so for a long time. Over the space of the years she learned my language. Not the words, of course — she learned the real meaning, the “deep structure,” as Chomsky would call it, of my sounds, intonations, and breath. Animals can do that, most often better than we can ourselves, parsing the hidden music of our speech.
It was very easy to communicate with her, for she understood so readily and always without judgment. Children, incidentally, are like this as well; but we tend to train it out of them all too quickly. I would encourage all new parents on this single point: talk to your babies as you talk between yourselves, or to your best friends. The youngest infant will understand a single phrase of your normal adult speech better than a litany of baby-talk. Test it: try it yourself and find out.
And so I still talk to her because I can feel her listening, as she did when I sat beside her, petting that black fur which attracted the light and then sent it back, blessed with a fresh energy, throughout my human space. Now, she seems to respond in ways that I hadn’t sensed during her 13 years of life here.
During the half hour or so that I spent with her body after the doctor had completed the euthanasia and pronounced her, I held my ear gently to her side as I’d done so often, to hear that sublimely musical purr of hers. Of course, this time there was only silence. But what a sound of transmutation there was in that stillness! I didn’t hear a thing, of course: I just felt it, and have again since, even amid the burning emptiness of grief.
Our human brains are generally divided into two main evolutionary parts: the lower, reptilian, or hind-brain; and the forebrain, “higher” brain, or neocortex. It’s called a “neo” cortex because it is, in fact, new, compared to that other proto-brain, which is still responsible for most of our basic life functions and homeostasis.
These two brains are, of course, connected — not, however, as master-to-slave or intellectual-to-bestial. My sense is that they are joined in a kind of cosmic recapitulation of our holographic universe and its source or background universe:
In 1997, theoretical physicist Juan Maldacena proposed that an audacious model of the Universe in which gravity arises from infinitesimally thin, vibrating strings could be reinterpreted in terms of well-established physics. The mathematically intricate world of strings, which exist in nine dimensions of space plus one of time, would be merely a hologram: the real action would play out in a simpler, flatter cosmos where there is no gravity.
The nature of this connection, both in its cosmic and its cranial settings, remains elusive; but we can take some good philosophical guesses as to some of its attributes. One thing we can be fairly sure of is this: no hierarchy, no boss and no subject. I also sense that there is less of form than there is of field to it: that is, the connection doesn’t happen solely over organic wires or tissues or cells, but through a spatial field of pure dynamism.
In such a model, thought — intellect, reason, logic, even much of emotion — would be holographic. The background universe within is the brainstem. These two realms of being, the field through which they connect and join, are woven rather than divided. Kind of like the play of light, dancing on and through and out of that field of glistening black fur that I loved so much (open the enlarged views of the pictures here and look for yourself).
There is, naturally, truth and light in both brains. Yet thought, which we seem to prize far above our animal gifts, seems refracted, projected — again, the holographic re-creation of something plainer and primordial, which lacks the pomp and self-attachment of the larger and more complex neural structure.
But let me be clear about this: the neocortex is not by nature confused or neurotic or fearful: it is so only through our forced, conscious separation from that field of connection between our two brains. The “higher brain” has been mounted onto a vast pedestal of isolation and arrogance; pushed naked and alone onto the stage of Mind, all its original partners and helpers repressed or denied.
Night can show me these things now, for she has entered that cosmic field in which the universes speak to one another; where they can, as the old poet said, “dance and mingle like the breaths of lovers.” The background universe inhales and releases countless photons, for it has no need to grasp or own light and warmth. It casts the light back, transformed, where it becomes the holographic forms that you and I and all of the Nature we know, truly are, in this universe.
Our work as humans — perhaps our primary responsibility to that through which we were created — would seem to be to bring an end to the loneliness and isolation of thought; to restore, nurture, and re-enter the field of union and inter-dependence between our “duals;” our two brains, our two primary phases of consciousness. We rely on those crucial supporting functions of our brainstem without being aware of what it’s doing for us in our every waking and sleeping moment. It receives, responds to, and influences thought, but does not use it; just as that background universe regenerates light without holding it for itself — it never hoards a single photon. Gravity itself — the cosmic force of attraction whose animal counterpart is the feeling and the principle we know as Love — it, too, is a hologram.
Now perhaps, assuming you’ve read this far, a skeptical question has occurred to you: how can I have learned such things from a dead cat? Ha! You’ve got me there, and good. I have no answer.
But oh, if only you knew her, for just a moment, a fleeting second, as I did; if only you felt her fur and sensed her natural warmth and perfect presence beside you for the length of a breath of pleasure or a sigh of grief — well then, you would not be asking. It would all be as clear and as beautiful as a pair of golden-jade eyes, holding you in a glance of compassionate grace.
A Brief History of Wars of Occupation, with Scorecard
|War||Combatants||Outcome for Occupying Force|
|Trojan War||Athens vs. Troy||Not good: after at least ten years of war (maybe more) and innumerable losses of men and money; Athens prevailed, sacked the city of Troy, and went home, depleted and exhausted.|
|Persian War||Persia vs. Greece||Miserable: the Persians, who had the dominant empire of the time in size, economic strength, and military power, were routed at Marathon. As one historian points out: “The final victory [for the Greeks] must have seemed a miracle. A handful of independent cities, who were not prepared at all, and who hastily formed an alliance with enormous aversion, had humiliated the mighty Persian empire.” Persia would never again be even a modest power in the world–at least not until OPEC was formed.|
|Peloponnesian Wars||Athens vs. Sparta (et al)||Not good: decades of war, internal strife, and economic decline resulted from the Athenians’ arrogant attempt at occupation and imperialism. Their attempt to spread their version of “democracy” throughout Greece ended in tragic defeat and humiliation.|
|The Roman Occupation||Rome vs. Palestine||Not good: the struggle for Jerusalem took the Romans 7 years and untold loss of life and resources. If that weren’t bad enough, what followed was one of the early blows in the fall of the Empire: the bloody and maddening fight for the fortress that has come to be known as Masada.|
|The Napoleonic Wars||France vs. Europe||Not good: the “scorched earth policy” of Napoleon naturally bred hatred from enemies (which comprised nearly every nation in the world at that time) and hypervigilance from the little demon himself (he has become a cultural symbol of paranoia). After Waterloo, France would never again be a power in the world, and would soon enough see itself forced under the yoke of others’ tyranny and finally relegated to the status of “Old Europe.”|
|WWI and WWII||Germany vs. the World||Disastrous: the Kaiser and the Fuhrer, in their turns, each discovered the consequences of relying on power and dominion to further wealth and territorial possession. They were each forced into insupportable alliances, overstretched economies at home, and ravaged supply lines abroad, until Germany met the final defeat that would push it into a mendicant’s corner of “Old Europe” along with the French.|
|The Cold War||USSR vs. Eastern Europe and the U.S.||Not good: The Russians, like other occupying forces before them, overextended themselves beyond the limits of their economic and military capacity, and finally were undone by the inertia of their own lumbering tyranny. The same lesson was repeated for them in Afghanistan.|
|Korean War||U.S. vs. Korea||Ambiguous, but ominous: the U.S. took on what it perceived to be the spread of Communism, less than ten years after the nation was still recovering from the losses and strain of WWII. The war was fought to a bitter, bloody stalemate, which persists to this day asthe Koreans amass (for real, it would appear) WMDs. Thankfully, it did at least give us M*A*S*H.|
|Vietnam War||U.S. vs. Vietnam||Disastrous in the extreme: the U.S. again grappled with the perceived spread of Communism, apparently somehow buoyed by their “tie” in Korea. The result is well known to most Americans alive today: 50,000 dead, hundreds of thousands wounded, traumatized, and impoverished–and that’s just for the losers.”Never again” cried the politicians of every party affiliation and allegiance at the time. Never again, indeed.|
|Invasion of Kuwait||Saddam vs. Kuwait||About as stupid and ugly as it can get: Saddam had his eye on Kuwait and the UAE for a long time, and, supported by American military and financial might given to him some ten years before, he made his move, sure of his standing in the eyes of the CIA as a”benevolent dictator.” He discovered that, as Cervantes said, “greed always bursts the bag,” and that even the CIA will lose patience with a man who doesn’t understand his limitations.|
|The Current Invasion of Iraq||U.S. (and a grumbling “coalition of the willing”) vs. Saddam||Well?….Encouraged by his Dad’s success and the excellent prospects for quick victory and enormous profits, Bush decided to take on one of the more brutal, corrupt, but impotent dictators of the world, and things went so well early on that the cry “Mission Accomplished” went out to a grateful nation. Since then, thousands of innocents and over 900 American soldiers have died; the paramilitary insurgency has grown like a cancer over the land,supported no doubt by Osama (who remains at large, apparently ignored by the Bush Administration); and in the estimation of none other than the Secretary of State, the situation is deteriorating. Where it all leads may be decided by the American voting public onNov. 2.|
Impoverishment is relative. That is to say, relativistic in the sense that Einstein intended it. Neither space nor time is a separate dimension of any reality; they can only exist cooperatively as a continuum of experience and meaning. I may be thrown out of my apartment or I may endure another month — the space and its time cannot be divided, even if they are measured discretely. If only in my own experience, I must find a way beyond the mechanical as my measure of the whole. Even visible weeds have quantum roots.
The pressure of impending loss cannot be denied; but its emotional physics may be understood somewhat differently than is common in our culture. I do not know what truth there may be in any of that; I only seek a certain wisdom in desperation, because the frigid pressure of this imperious austerity would otherwise crush me. I must find a way beyond survival and a path into living. No matter who or what else might be involved, that path must take form within me. This is the connection between the dispersal of false belief about the cosmos and the ordinary struggles of an impoverished life down here.
I see that the most active planets and nebulae appear silent and cold; and I know that this is exactly what I have been. There is necessity even in failure: this has been my only self-defense amid my pillar-to-post stagger of submission to loss and estrangement. I hold nearly everything within, reasoning that we cannot reveal much when we are poor. I must be cold and still, or else risk tainting others with the stain of my collapse. If my orbit has broken, then I alone must bear the responsibility and the consequences. Expression must recede as currency dwindles.
And so I quail before the most common and trivial of conversation: “how ya doin’?” becomes a mystery greater than the sound of the last trumpet (Cor. 15:51). But it is more than a matter of not troubling the still waters of others’ sensibilities; that is only part of it. We live on bread — not because it is the staff of life (John 6:35), for it is not. Bread is, in fact, an ugly metaphor on the essence of God. The modern poor understand this. For while it is true that we do live on bread; we consume it because it fills and bloats us cheaply. Many of us eat it because our teeth are too rotted and broken for a crisper, more diverse and nourishing sustenance. Whenever surveys are done of the uninsured, the dentist is commonly rated first or second among the medical providers most sorely missed.
The decayed remnants of our social philosophies lie exposed on the board of want; even pabulum cannot be chewed when there are no teeth. But again, we cannot speak of these things; they open too wide a gulf between with and without; between have and have-not. There is no space in our discourse for the examination of assumptions.
Certain things must be politely assumed or God will tumble out of heaven like the last drunk thrown from the tavern; the government may crumble before its time; and the television will go dark and quiet amid the temblors of awareness and compassion.
In this age of the Internet, <em>search</em> has some meaning — it delivers information and sells advertising. But to <em>seek</em> does not become us. Our searches must be for cold data and stop there. We are content with facts and have no need for truths. A fact can lie dead, stiff, and bare before us, like a corpse beneath the undertaker’s hands. Truth, however, vibrates with life and is therefore more elusive. It takes more energy just to touch, let alone hold truth than to discover a fact. What is dead can be claimed and owned; but truth can only be loved, shared, and then released.
Release is half the act of sharing; and sharing is the essence of compassion. Truth’s light and joyous movement evades the iron point of possession’s flagstaff. The search box delivers ready information; the seeking heart promises understanding. It is not a technological choice; our machines have no advice for us there. And so we remain marginally free, for the moment.
My landlady and my ex-wife want to know where their money is and why I do not pay. There is an oppression of shame in the inability to pay. The chains of poverty thicken and multiply with time, and write their sentence into our skin: abandon the dream of building bridges across the chasm of separation; getting and spending is all the quest your life needs. The Corporate Church teaches that compassion and survival are enemies. So grab as much as you can reach; survival allows for no other recourse. No wonder, then, that the poor are reticent: they have violated the great commandment.
In any event, our questions fade under the thickening ice of want. The vision of desperation goes blind under the glare of judgment: you are a lazy parasite within the belly of society, a leech on the back of the collective. The judgment must be accepted, the poison ingested, if there is to be any hope of re-assimilation. Just remain on or close to the surface and you will not be isolated. But go further: seek any depth beyond the veneer and you will be lost, trodden underfoot, crushed by the ice or drowned amid its melting.
Again: we cannot speak of these things. Though there may still be millions of us in this boat, it is only the surface of the water that matters. Think outside the box, the Corporation tells me; but do not dare try to tip it over or look beneath it. Speech may be nominally free, but listening is restricted and often forbidden. Today, both the iconoclast and his audience are extinct, except as mere images. Otherwise, all strive to be insiders within the Corporate Body of God and His org-chart hierarchy of Heaven.
Transcendence has no place in a world where everything can be bought. There is no one left outside whose heart can be felt or heard inside; iconoclasm has no further place among us. If you dare to speak strangely or uniquely — should you risk the work of tipping over the box to expose the vermin beneath it — expect to be either cast out Â of the tower of shadows or lifted onto its top; the net effect is the same. Christ sits there now, atop the tower of belief and worship — isolated, distorted, and imprisoned — functionally as silent as if he had been buried under the frozen ground with all the others. He is lost amid those distant clouds: thus, the money-changers\’ tables are safe from harm.\r\n\r\nI am here below, with the others, the numberless horde pressed beneath the ice of disenfranchisement. I do not speak about it; I no longer ask why I cannot contribute; why I have not been able to see a doctor in over a decade; why I have no place or message for those on the inside, except as a warning against the price of dissent; why debt must be my present identity and my future legacy; or whether giving and receiving might not be the proper and natural leaders of getting and spending. These questions have no place in the silent order of shadows.\r\n\r\nNo, I do not talk about it anymore — not to family, friends, or even strangers. My voice goes cold and still in that sunless air, even before the thought can find sound. But here, in an electromagnetic space of anonymity, it may still be spoken; the questions may still be asked. The irony is only superficial: to write on the Internet is like walking through a great city — you can be visible to millions and seen by none.\r\n\r\nAgain, the realm of Search does not admit of seeking. It must also be recognized that philosophy — certainly Western philosophy — has been largely a failure. Plato and Spinoza mean no more to us than the numberless walls of Facebook; the government at leastÂ reads the latter. Philosophy surrendered itself to the tyranny of abstraction as, with few exceptions, it allowed its living heart to be consumed amid the ice of oppression. It gave up speaking to people when it insisted on talking to itself.\r\n\r\nThis is perhaps the barest and most broken form of Poverty: we no longer ask what it means to be a citizen either of the universe or a nation; we look instead for that point of subjection wherein survival but not life reside. It is as far as our minds dare reach.\r\n\r\nStill, it is worth recalling that both greatness and folly lack constancy. The same is true of reality and delusion. These are all subject to the same principle — a law of transformation rather than of randomness. The wheel of fortune spins on the surface of the random; the breath of transformation flows through the entire body of the universe, embracing space and time within a single quantum reality. There is in nature no fixed state of wealth or poverty. Only belief is inscribed in stone; truth lives and moves — but it takes more energy and a greater commitment than belief. This is the point of a poem I once wrote, a prayer of sorts \”To the Goddess of Transformation\”:\r\n<blockquote>Please come in: go all the way back\r\nto the old closet past the kitchen\r\nwhere the priests left their wine-stained robes.\r\nWhere the arms and legs of hallowed toys\r\nthat never worked, never played\r\nare buried in the graveyard of lies.\r\n\r\nLet the drunken robes sleep on, undisturbed;\r\nbut clear away the empty bottles of belief.\r\nFor every time I touch them, I bleed\r\nonto the edges of their granite labels.</blockquote>\r\nPerhaps we who are poor do not speak of our condition because it needs no words. To talk openly of ourselves and our state would be to touch the granite label of Fortune\’s two-dimensional wheel. We may as well surrender ourselves to the rigid chaos of the daily Lotto drawing. The bipolar axis of Hope and Dread dwells lifeless and frozen within each, like the binary poles of a sunless asteroid.\r\n\r\nTo be a have-not is at least to have an identity within the collective, even if it is as its refuse. A society\’s garbage is as much of its essence as is its gold. We are fed the hope that transmutation between those two states is possible. To say that this is an illusion, and that the actual rule is proven by its exceptions — that is the greatest blasphemy possible within the temple of acquisition.