Vanity thought #1510. Subject-object disagreement

Can’t let go off that Chopra – Dawkins debate, this particular part I stopped on yesterday is precious. The moderator, however, had to stop it and take control of the situation. Well, not really take control. To me it looks as if he was completely out of his depth. Just this one exclamation, “Extraordinario!”, made it look like we were witnessing a eureka moment instead of a nasty troll battle. “You cannot prove it very well” verdict delivered in broken English didn’t add gravitas to his interruption either, it sounded like an easy cop out for someone who stopped following the conversation ten minutes ago. Nevertheless, it was time to move on, and the next question was to the point.

“How come that we share the same scientific background and/but …” – I can’t make what he was saying. “Are there two types of science? Did he go to a wrong school?” he asked Dawkins of Chopra and then Chopra of Dawkins. It’s a legitimate question – both men claim to speak for science and yet their views are diametrically opposite. Dawkins answered first.

“My attitude to science is that we are fundamentally trying to understand how things work. Science is very difficult, it’s very difficult to understand how things work..” Then he listed a few well known problems, the “hard questions” about origin of life, origin of universe, consciousness etc. “Scientific work consists of explaining complicated things in terms of interactions of their parts or of simpler things..”, he said, and then again ridiculed Chopra’s approach of using highfalutin words that don’t mean anything. “We use simple words that actually have meaning,” he said. “We don’t invent super-arching entities which have no explanation in themselves. We don’t invoke ideas like ‘universe has consciousness’, ‘universe has awareness’, ‘atoms have awareness’. If we have a difficult problem like awareness we explain it in terms of the interactions between small parts working together in ways that scientists understand…”

Chopra again said that he won’t respond to ad hominem attacks. Freeman Dyson said it, and so did Schroedinger, Max Planck and other widely accepted authorities – he was talking about consciousness and the universe, and these people, Chopra said, were compelled to include consciousness as a fundamental aspect of reality.

I don’t know what they said exactly. Freeman Dyson’s possible quote I gave yesterday, it’s open to interpretation. Schroedinger and others might have talked about consciousness, Schroedinger was very trippy this way, but science doesn’t remember him for this, nor does it remember Newton for alchemy. This is a phenomenon that deserves a deeper consideration – why does the science cherry picks ideas from scientists’ work? Why does it accept some of their theories as solid and reject others as totally absurd and not worthy of consideration? I don’t know the answer to that. I do know that Newton’s classical mechanics make more sense than his Bible studies, and at the same time I would object to citing Newton and others like him as examples of atheists, or at least rational thinkers who had led us to atheism. They had no such intention at all.

“Consciousness is a white elephant in the room,” continued Chopra. “You require consciousness to come up with a theory, you require consciousness to design an experiment” and so on. “Science is the offspring of consciousness. It is a product of consciousness.” Powerful stuff, but hard to see what it actually means. This is what I don’t like about Chopra – he opens lots of doors but never bothers to check if they actually lead anywhere and he never bothers to close them. It’s as if saying “Look, there are so many open doors, you can go anywhere from here,” but in reality they are not really doors and there’s nothing behind them, just hopes.

Still, in Chopra’s words: “If you want to understand science in its totality you have to bring consciousness into the equation, because, as we currently practice science, it’s based on what we call a subject-object split. There’s an observer involved in the observation. Science doesn’t ask who the observer is. Who is the observing self? Where is the observing self? But in the absence of the observing self there wouldn’t be any observation and there wouldn’t be any science. The observing self cannot be glimpsed by science and scientific methodology because it happens to be the observer. The observer cannot be observed, and that’s where spirituality comes in – if you define spirituality as self-awareness. Only consciousness can know consciousness, only consciousness can explain consciousness, only consciousness can understand consciousness. Any scientific understanding of consciousness through looking at the brain is at best inferential. You’re looking at correlations of experience conscious-indconsiousness through objective means…” He lost me there, but it started so promising.

Of course we might not understand how our own brains work but we can look at other people’s brainwaves, observe which areas of their brains are active when they are thinking or doing something, or even meditating. We can try and understand the consciousness of others as they go about their lives in the role of the observers, if the “observer” part is so important to Chopra. We also do not trust our own judgement absolutely and require others to observe our observation – scientific method takes care of that. I don’t know why Dawkins didn’t capitalize on it.

The end of Chopra’s speech was better: “Science is incomplete as a way of understanding fundamental reality. It’s based on the fragmented view of the reality – subject-object split (applause). Nature is one. The universe includes observers, modes of observation, and objects that are observed.”

And then Chopra added yet another thought: “Science, because it’s fragmented…, is capable of creating diabolical technologies. Everything that is wrong today in the world – from global warming to biological warfare [etc etc] is because science has evolved without evolution of spirituality.” His time was up.

I love that last argument, but I don’t think that it’s “fragmented” nature of science that is responsible for this. It could be simple ignorance, it could be simple short-sightedness, it could be desire for quick profits, it could be Kali yuga, it could be any number of things. “Subject-object” split would probably be very far down on the list.

It doesn’t mean that Chopra’s distinction is unimportant, I just don’t think this was the best way to illustrate its relevance. What I [diabolically] think is that Chopra prepared this sentence in advance and inserted it here because it felt like there was a connection, but the connection is flimsy and it takes the discourse in a different direction.

“I shall not make and argument ad hominem, my argument is ad bullshitem,” Dawkins injected himself. He then reduced study of consciousness to study of nervous systems, possibly of computer systems when the AI becomes developed enough. A good argument that deserves consideration but Chopra shifted to something else entirely and I’m not really sure why.

Subject-object split is a complex topic that I don’t even begin to understand. I don’t think Chopra understands its implications either, and Dawkins can’t comprehend it at all. He still thinks of himself, or of science, as an independent observer, a subject, and the universe as the object. Chopra just explained it to him that we are not separate from the universe, that our consciousness is not an external phenomena to the universe, and the universe in a way dictates what we perceive and how we interpret it. The subject-object split is artificial. Our brains, the seat of our consciousness, according to Dawkins, are also brains of the universe, it worked very hard and very long to create them, especially if we accept Darwinism. Our brains work according to the laws of nature, laws of the universe, they are not objective in their awareness, observation, and the thought process.

I suppose this can be understood and explained in any number of ways, some more favourable to an atheistic POV then others, but Dawkins didn’t even try. What a pity.

Perhaps it was the universe’s way to show us that even people like Dawkins are only marionettes incapable of understanding any more than they have been programmed to. Maybe he could be upgraded to Atheism 2.0, maybe not. Maybe we need a better hardware to truly challenge Chopra here.

Wait a minute! Why would we want to challenge Chopra? What should be our position on these issues? Shouldn’t we actually support Chopra as he gradually bends the discussion towards transcendentalism? Well, I think he is doing it wrong and an atheist 2.0 could easily crush him here. If we subscribe to his arguments we’d be crushed, too, and we don’t want that. We have our own way of arguing these points and we should stick to the method demonstrated by Śrīla Prabhupāda. Sometimes Chopra’s thinking would align with ours and sometimes it won’t, we should not become dependent on him in any way.

Maybe it’s time to explain this debate from Kṛṣṇa conscious POV, but, I’m afraid, this time is not today.

Vanity thought #1508. Word salad

Continuing with the debate I started looking into yesterday. I’m getting to the point where Chopra “dazzled” Dawkins with his “eloquence”, which prompted Dawkins classify Chopra’s speech as incomprehensible word salad of scientific jargon. That was harsh, but what is justified? TBH, Chopra does love to throw around words and ideas he thinks support his view but which could also easily be challenged. This time, however, Dawkins was unfair, I think, and he didn’t fully grasp Chopra’s main thrust even when explained in easy to understand language either.

To recap, at this point Chopra argued that while individual atoms and particles don’t seem to have any purpose behind changes in their states, when taken as a whole it looks as if the universe works towards creating conditions for emergence of biological organisms which are clearly purpose driven. This, in Chopra’s view, means the universe works towards a visible and purposeful goal.

Why Dawkins didn’t get it is a mystery. “Brains have purpose”, he said, “To push purpose back into the universe itself is to make a complete confusion.” It’s as if saying that when you are building a computer this activity has no purpose because purpose manifests only when computer is finished and is connected to the internet.

Dawkins would probably argue that computer has a designer but the universe doesn’t. To which we could reply that this is the whole point of the argument – it seems as if the universe is being assembled by a designer so that biological organisms, and particularly us, humans, can finally come online and express ourselves. The fact that this final purpose stays invisible while all the parts are being collected is irrelevant – we already agree that the designer is invisible, we are trying to judge his presence but what we can observe, and it looks like the universe works with a purpose in mind.

This is a matter of interpretation, if Dawkins interprets it differently he should say so, simply stating that designer doesn’t exist and there’s no visible purpose in the early stages is not enough. Unfortunately, there’s even bigger, more fundamental difference at play here and Chopra is starting to get into it.

As the argument for universe having a purpose he mentioned the idea of fine tuning. To get the universe just right so that life eventually emerges all the physical constants need to be exactly as they are, a little deviation here or there and the Earth wouldn’t even exist or at least wouldn’t be able to support carbon based life, the only one we know. Dawkins, however, have surely heard this argument many times before and gave a standard response – some physicists support fine tuning, some don’t, others say we don’t understand enough about these fundamental constants to speculate about their origin, or, indeed, “fine tuning”, and yet there are others who propose multiverse theory where we just happen to live in a universe where life is possible while there’s an untold number of completely dead universes in that “multiverse” place. I don’t think it’s a satisfactory answer in a sense that it doesn’t explain the perception of fine tuning and instead proposes existence of yet unknown and speculative theories that could answer this question in the future, all because he doesn’t like the theory that answers it right now.

Even if Dawkins had a prepared response to fine tuning question he still went all wrong about it. In Chopra’s thinking fine tuning leads to creation of life and therefore purpose, that’s what universe is tuned for. Dawkins again can’t see this connection, can’t see life as a consequence of this fine tuning. This inability to get this simple point is incomprehensible. And then he completely screws up Darwinism.

Normally, atheists wouldn’t accept us lecturing them on understanding natural selection but look at what Dawkins said: “Darwin explained how starting with no purpose at all … laws of physics working through this remarkable process called evolution by natural selection gave rise to cells, to nervous systems, to brains, to the illusion of purpose. Indeed very genuine purpose because for living things purpose is a very genuine phenomenon.”

First of all, Darwin didn’t explain how laws of physics created life. I’ve also already said that natural selection is driven by the need for survival. Atheists would reply that “natural” here means it’s not driven by anything, it just happens and better fit individuals last longer. This argument, however, goes against everything we experience and observe in the living world around us. No living being is indifferent to death. Survival is a purpose, we all feel it. See how Dawkins himself stumbled there between “illusion of purpose” and “genuine purpose”. Natural selection would give us only illusion of it, because it’s “natural”, not purpose driven, not an expression of each living being’s will, and yet even Dawkins himself accepts that for us the purpose is genuine, not illusory.

This sudden jump from illusion of purpose to a real one would later give an echo in a sudden jump from non-conscious living beings, in Dawkins’ classification, to conscious ones.

He also missed a simple Chopra’s point – we are part of the universe, we are not special, not separate, not fundamentally different. We are an “activity” of the universe. We can’t say that there’s universe and there’s us. How can Dawkins ignore this while harping on about universal laws giving birth to our consciousness is beyond me.

And then came the “word salad”. It was prefaced by establishing Chopra’s credentials in a scientific world, and here’s what followed, with minor omissions:

“There’s a school of scientists who believe that if you look across the universe it shows the following properties – sentience at all levels.., complimentarity at all levels, which means that the universe is empirical but most of it is actually non-empirical, non-observable. It is wavelike when you don’t know where these waves are, that have no units of mass and energy, and it is particlelike which have units of mass and energy, so it gets weird at this level. But it also seems to be self-organizing, it seems to be self-regulating, it seems to be self-evolving…

I think yes, evolution has a purpose, it’s evolution itself! Evolution is guided by awareness, by consciousness, and the purpose of evolution is maximum diversity.

What we experience as perceptual phenomena are not fundamental reality at all because every species has its own perceptual experience of the universe. These scientists that I work with say that awareness is a singularity, perceptual experiences are many, and evolution of species is actually the evolution of consciousness to express itself as multiple observers, multiple modes of observation and multiple objects of observation. We are the eyes of the universe looking at itself. This brain is the observation deck for the universe to experience itself.”

Granted it covers a lot of ground. “Units of mass and energy” should be replaced with “measurements of mass and energy” and “awareness is singularity” probably needs an explanation, but otherwise it’s a rather coherent presentation. “We are the eyes of the universe” might be a bold and far out statement but it does make a lot of sense if you think about it. I mean it is possible to see our human consciousness as a product of the universe, a product that is meant to understand the universe itself. In Chopra’s view, as I said, we are a part of the universe, and we are a part of the universe that is capable not only of self-awareness but of the awareness of the rest of the universe, too.

Ironically, it is Chopra who is being atheistic here, insisting that consciousness is a natural, mechanic phenomenon (save for treating awareness as singularity where all laws break down), while Dawkins can’t accept it and demands a special status for himself and for the science. Has Dawkins ever listened to Neil deGrasse Tyson going on about how we are made of space dust from billions of years ago? How can he not get that his dear “natural selection without purpose” must lead to us becoming the self-aware brains of the universe? I mean our noses are not self aware and neither are planets, so what? Without a nose and other organs devoid of awareness our brains wouldn’t work. Likewise we, the humans, need existence of stars and planets and all the lower species, too.

If it reminds of you puruṣa sūkta then great, I think Chopra loves this connection, too, even if he didn’t mention it here.

Did Dawkins really not get it? If he didn’t he shouldn’t have called it an incomprehensible word salad, and if he did he… Wait, let’s talk about his reaction tomorrow.

Vanity thought #754. Watching yourself on TV

I’m not talking about actual TVs, I’m just thinking of a thought-provoking metaphor made in the second banned TEDx video I wrote about earlier.

Once again, it starts from reminding us that from science point of view our consciousness is the product of our brain work. Brain dies and so does our life and with it our consciousness. It’s compared to a TV set when electricity goes off – it just dies and provides no more entertainment. Graham Hancock, however, suggested to look at it the other way – TV sets are our bodies and consciousness is the broadcast signal. TV dies, picture disappears, but the broadcast doesn’t stop and exists independently.

I think this approach has a big potential. It’s not exactly Vedic but to a degree it’s correct – our consciousness manifested through our subtle body does not die with our death and is transferred to another TV set somewhere else. The sense of being, the sense of existing does not die and, just like we can objectively observe our ailing body parts, at the moment of death we’ll be able to see our discarded body.

Practically it would become useful if we learn not to identify our interests with those of our gross bodies. Our subtle body will carry on and so with it our emotions and aspirations but at least we should learn not to take circumstances surrounding our physical bodies too seriously.

Next step would be to disentangle ourselves from the interests of our subtle bodies, too. For that, however, we need to approach TV analogy from yet another angle.

While we are undoubtedly conscious living beings, we have no control over TV programming and quality of neither the broadcast signal nor of TV receivers. Some carry premium cable content, some have old TV sets, some have it in 3D, some have smart TVs, some have HD, some have SD, and some have 4K signals. Once you identify yourself with the particular combination you get to enjoy your experience and also occasionally complain but as consciousness you are neither the TV nor the signal.

We just sit and watch how the universe unfolds itself under the direction of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. How programs start, reach climax, and then unwind and end. There are season finales and there are new shows, and there are commercials, too. With a remote we can increase the volume or mute the sound altogether. We can make picture appear warmer or colder but we can’t escape watching it.

Who are we in this metaphor? Nobody. As Krishna’s eternal servants there’s no place for us in this world, no matter what part of it we chose to identify with – a cable guy, a news anchor, National Geographic addict or a big name producer.

Our real life lies in a completely different place. To reach it we need to turn the TV off and open our ears to the transcendental sound of the Holy Name and our guru.

No mobiles or internet either, just good old-fashioned person to person, face to face communication.

Vanity thought #332. Blowing of the mind

Several things seem to be converging together, which I take as a good sign that I’m on the right track. Even if I’m wrong it looks like a mistake I need to make to learn something.

So, the topic of free will originally inspired by Dandavats rolls on and it further inspired someone who called him/herself BBD to post a comment I totally concur with – the dilemma of a free will is a symptom of a conditioned soul lacking knowledge of the true nature of things.

When we really become devotees rather than just issue a declaration of intent we will see the world as it is, and, as BBD rightly pointed out, it should look like this:

Within this world, whatever is perceived by the mind, speech, eyes or other senses is Me alone and nothing besides Me. All of you please understand this by a straightforward analysis of the facts.

It’s from Srimad Bhagavatam 11.13.24 and it leaves no scope for having any kind of free will while being under the spell of the material nature, so that’s settled.

What I think is a remarkable coincidence is that just a few verses down this chapter, verse SB 11.13.36 says that a self realized person is not even aware of the situation of his material body, whether it’s sleeping, walking or sitting, which confirms my earlier hope that we don’t need to see the world through our minds at all.

We can totally exclude material mind from our consciousness, the way to achieve it is given to us by our acharyas – we need to purify it by engaging it in vaidhi bhakti but the goal is clear – on the platform of self-realization we and our minds should get a divorce.

Practically that means that during japa, for instance, there’s no need to engage our minds in listening. Of course we should avoid listening to the minds, too, but listening to the Holy Names doesn’t need to involve the mind as a third party.

In the initial stages, and I hope it will progress further than this, we don’t have access to any facilities of our souls to engage in serving the Holy Name but I guess even a passive listening would be a great start already.

Eventually, I hope in my naivety, we will find the way to engage in serving the Holy Name internally, unaware of the engagements of our material bodies, whether they are walking or sitting. It doesn’t mention the mind directly but no activity of the body is possible without engaging the mind to a some degree so I hope that choices of whether to sit or to walk, or to walk where, will continue to be made, by our minds, but without our internal awareness.

Another activity that we are supposed to be indifferent to is sleeping, especially the deep sleep. Sleep had been mentioned in the same chapter quite a few times earlier and from the way Krishna explained its nature I think we should be able to test the level of our self-realization by how much we are aware of Krishna’s existence during deep sleep.

Currently I’m hardly aware of my own existence but if I monitor it carefully and I don’t sense any progress – I’m definitely on the wrong path here.

So, that’s my homework.

On the other hand it would be so much easier if I stopped worrying about my own progress and threw myself at serving Srila Prabhupada’s and Lord Chaitanya’s mission but while I’m waiting for the opportunity to arise I think I have no choice but to try something else, like sleeping, and so off I go to practice devotional service in a new and exciting, and at the same time relaxing way.

Vanity thought #288. Sinful demigods.

Yesterday I caught a part of Srimad Bhagavatam class on Mayapur TV and people were discussing how demigods can commit sinful acts. As is becoming usual some smart cookie in the audience raised the question that the speaker couldn’t adequately address. I remember another one of those but will save it for another day.

Again, as usual, the better answer, I believe, lies not in knowing some obscure passages from shastras or utterances by Srila Prabhupada, but in understanding the question. Once you understand the question properly the answer appears well within our range of knowledge.

Anyway, the speaker tried to answer the question posited like this – if demigods live on heavenly planets only to enjoy results of their good karma, how come they occasionally engage in sinful activities. I didn’t hear what activities were referred to specifically and how exactly the question was originally worded, but this is how the speaker heard it and, posited like this, it is indeed a bit perplexing.

The clue to untying this knot, I think, lies in the assumption that only human beings on this planet can create karma. This is one of the very first things we learn about it, about the importance of human form of life. I don’t think we should take it in absolute sense and blindly employ this principle in each and every situation.

What does it even mean – create karma? The living being is not a creator of anything in this world, karma is created by material bodies acting under the influence of the modes of nature. Every time something happens in this world it’s bound to have reactions in the future. Perhaps the real meaning of “creating karma” lies in putting our consciousness into it.

Again – what does consciousness mean in this context? Does it mean that only human beings possess consciousness so that only human beings can create karma? That’s absurd, every living entity possesses some degree of consciousness.

This is where I think the answer lies – how much freedom to apply our consciousness is given in different forms and conditions of life. Some humans have better conditions to develop spiritual consciousness, some worse. Even in Bhagavat Gita Krishna mentions that – people in distress, for example, are more likely to turn to God than people enjoying their senses to the full.

I believe it’s not correct to assume that there’s a clearly drawn line between forms of life and the ability to project consciousness but rather that in certain conditions certain human beings appear to be more conscious than others of their kind, or of lower or higher species. Relatively speaking, not absolutely.

Thus even the demigods can commit sinful acts or worship the Lord. They can also express envy or greed and act on those urges, they certainly have the capabilities. I suspect that those a just petty crimes in the great karmic scheme of things. They are not genocidal, they don’t rape and pillage, they are far to civilized for that. And so are some of the people living on this planet right now.

Perhaps their sins are like taking home a pencil from the office. Sinful? Yes, but not the maha raurava level of sin.

Conversely, demigods live in far too opulent conditions to surrender their lives to serving the Lord, but there are exceptions, too, when they decide to descend on earth and take part in Lord’s pastimes. They don’t do it because our local sweet rice is so irresistible, though it’s often a treat deserving demigods.

We are not so much different after all, we just have different levels of help or distractions provided by the material nature.

Imagine being suddenly transferred to New York’s Upper East Side, into a family of immense wealth, and given dozens of platinum credit cards and an obligation to appear like an ordinary member of New York’s elite. That would throw anybody’s sadhana off the balance for a while. So is transferral to the heavenly planets.

I think arguing in this direction would have satisfied the person asking the question much better.

Thought for the day – devotees live their lives in conditions tailored by the Lord to provide the best chance at self-realization, there’s no greener grass on any other side, let’s make the best use of what is given.

Vanity thought #285. Surfing the waves.

Recently I’ve tried to develop better tolerance in face of daily troubles – stress at work, family disagreements, body ailments etc. I told myself that I should treat happiness and distress as waves, they come and go in due time and instead of panicking about it and thinking of the ways out I should just soldier on and wait until relief comes naturally.

It works magic. Surely it sometimes tests the limits of my patience but, generally speaking, the relief comes without me having to wait for it for too long, and every time I feel satisfaction when it does. Mostly it’s the satisfaction with myself for sticking around with my rule of ignoring my personal discomforts.

It’s only in the past couple of days that I realized that this much awaited relief and the sense of satisfaction is actually me falling head over heels with maya, with the illusion that I’m this body. Suddenly I remembered that it is actually maya’s first business to make me feel welcome and comfortable in my life.

It appears that when I ride the wave of distress and await the lull in suffering I’m actually waiting for the maya to embrace me and show me her good side and I buy her proposition hook, line and sinker.

All the while I thought I was developing my Krishna consciousness but it was actually quite the opposite. So what IS Krishna consciousness? Negation of suffering is not it. Attraction to happiness is not it either, but avoiding those too feelings and getting some sweet spot of temporary equilibrium is also not the answer.

It is said that impersonalists have to give up all their interests in comings and goings of this world in exchange for nothing whereas Krishna’s devotees replace those interests with interests in Krishna and His service. Fine, but the fact is that I’m not aware of any of my spiritual senses that I can engage in service anyway, so there’s not much practical difference with impersonalism.

When I strike out time when I feel happy, distressed and all the other feelings in between, there’s absolutely nothing left. I can experience feelings when tasting prasadam or looking at the Deities or reading books but those manifest in my material body. They are pleasant but there are many other things that could be pleasant in exactly the same way.

I’m afraid I do not have an easy answer to this problem. I’m afraid that all my Krishna consciousness can be tested by what I feel when I say or hear Krishna’s Name without trying very hard to pretend I like it. What I feel is indifference, but that is good indifference, it’s indifference of my material senses, material mind and material emotions. Somewhere behind this indifference lies my dormant Krishna Consciousness.

Another test is how much aware I’m of Krishna during my deep sleep. Not much, but I’m going to look for that little part of my soul that never really sleeps. Until I find it all I have to go on is Krishna’s manifestation on the external platform – Deities, books, devotees etc. That’s how He keeps His connection with me and should hang on to it at any cost.

Well, this post grew longer than I originally planned but, perhaps, it’s a good thing. I could have been typing away on local politics, Facebook IPO, Apple’s evil plans or something, that would have been an enormous waste of time, it always is.