I rewrote this essay many times over a period of three weeks. I would finish a draft, delete the whole thing, and restart from scratch. The reason I did this is because after reading each draft, I sensed a tone, a tone that made me uncomfortable. A tone of knowing, as if I knew what I was talking about. Truth be told, I don’t, and people a million times smarter than me have thought about dualism and argued for and against it.
So, I was left asking myself, what value was I adding in writing this essay ? And how could I write it while remaining conscious of my ignorance ?
To add value I figured I need to share my own experiential perspective, and not someone else’s. To answer the second question, I figured remaining in a questioning state would keep me conscious of my ignorance.
So, before answering the above question, it might be worth considering the following questions:
What is reason ?
What is dualism ?
What has changed since Descartes argued for dualism ?
1. What is reason ?
Reason could be defined as: ‘the power of the mind to think, understand, and form judgment’s logically.’
In this case, we’re using the mind to think, understand and form logical arguments about itself.
There are many issues in that sentence.
One, for a mind to figure itself out strikes me as quite the challenge. How can a thing figure itself out? Put differently, for the mind to be figured out, I think an alien must visit earth and conduct the figuring out process because only an alien would be able to approach the mind from a nonbiased and purely objective point of view. Otherwise, the eye see’s what it wants to see.
Since there are no aliens visiting earth, I’ll delve into the second issue, ‘logical arguments’. Logic, reason, rationality are all relative terms or concepts. The relative is always subjective and tends to fail the test of time. History has shown us that, many times. So has science. Actually, that’s the essence of science, proving concepts wrong, and moving forward with a new concept until the new one is proven wrong.
A never ending cycle. A beautiful one though. And yes, when it comes to matter, some concepts have stuck, like Einstein’s relativity, but when it comes to mind or consciousness, I don’t think we have much to show for (yet?).
2. What is dualism?
In Philosophy of Mind, ‘Dualism is the position that mind and body are in some categorical way separate from each other, and that mental phenomena are, in some respects, non-physical in nature.’
And if we’re talking about dualism, we must mention Physicalism.
Physicalism can be defined as: ‘the thesis that everything is physical, or as contemporary philosophers sometimes put it, that everything supervenes on the physical.’
A few bits in there caught my attention, ‘are in some categorical way’, ‘in some respects’, ‘the thesis that’ and ‘or as contemporary philosophers sometimes put it’. So nothing is concrete when it comes to either dualism, or physicalism. Again, we’re dealing with concepts, and all concepts are relative, a never-ending work in progress, specially when it comes to mind and consciousness.
3. What has changed since Descartes argued for dualism ?
Neuroscience and brain mapping. I’m not an expert so I don’t know how far we’ve gone with our research. From what I’ve read though, we’re not even close to fully understanding the mind, or consciousness.
So, back to the first question, can one reasonably be a dualist in this day and age ?
After going through the above exercise, answering those three questions, and trying my very best to think like an objective philosopher, I think one can be both reasonable and unreasonable in being a dualist in this day and age. Also, I think one can be both reasonable and unreasonable in being a physicalist in this day and age.
Reason is relative term, and all things relative can be both reasonable and unreasonable, depends on the subject.
Concepts like dualism and physicalism are nothing but concepts, and all concepts are relative, and so again, it depends on the subject.
I also think its not about this day and age, this issue transcends time. I think these concepts will evolve, but I don’t think science or philosophy will figure this one out. Its up to the aliens.
So where do I go from here ?
I’ll follow in Descartes footsteps, and admit the fact that I have no knowledge other than the knowledge of myself, or the knowledge my own individual experience. So I will use my own logic, and introspect.
Before delving into the answer, allow me to present my biases:
· I was a believer in god, I then shifted to atheism, and then to (evolving) agnosticism. So at this moment, I’m an agnostic, but an agnostic in a sense where I believe there is something powerful within each and every one of us that we do not fully understand, and never will.
· I’ve been meditating for almost two decades, and due to meditation, I was exposed to certain experiences or realizations. These realizations destroyed every concept stored in my mind and I was forced to view reality from a different perspective.
· I have a soft spot for eastern traditions.
With that in mind, I’ll begin by saying I know and therefore I am. Knowing, or being conscious of the I, tells me I exist. So prior to any thought or perception, I know I am. A simple I am, with no noun to follow. That’s the only thing I am sure of, and my logic does not allow me to think otherwise. Specially after meditation and the experiences that come with it.
Am I dualist? In a sense, yes I am. I’m a dualist in sense where I think there is a subtle difference between mental and physical. But also, I’m a non-dualist, meaning I believe everything is consciousness. Again, my experience has left me no other option.
If I were to elaborate on that, I would say that everything, as in thoughts, feelings, perceptions and sensations are happening within consciousness, and consciousness is non-localized. Consciousness is actually everything and everywhere. The mind, body and world are happening within the I of consciousness. So I, as consciousness, observe the mind, body and world.
This analogy might put things in better perspective.
So as we close our eyes and go to sleep, a dream appears. In that dream, the dreamed character isn’t aware of the dream, and the dream is as real as reality itself. There is time in the dream, but there is no space. 'Space' in the dream is happening within the dreamers consciousness, its illusory, or the mind is creating space.
After a while, the person asleep drops into deep (dreamless) sleep. In deep sleep, there is no mind activity, so consciousness has no object to reflect upon itself, to know itself. So the mind rests, and consciousness remains as it always is, present, silent and still.
The person asleep wakes up from deep sleep, and the mind and world appear. But what the person doesn’t know is that the mind and world that appear in the waking state are also a dream, just like the dream state.
In the dream state, we thought the dream was real, but that was not the case, the mind created the dreamed character, and the environment around the character. It felt so real, but it wasn’t. The dreamer experienced the dream as real, without a single doubt.
Now we apply this to the waking state. In the waking state, we think and feel that everything that’s happening around us is real, so space and time are real, but they’re not, this is also a dream (row row row you’re boat gently down the stream).
So space (matter) and time are created by and in the mind, and so when the mind isn't active, like in deep meditative states, reality reveals itself as a big wide open field or matrix of consciousness in which all objects appear. In metaphysics, they say infinite consciousness, infinite as in non-localized, one can’t pin point consciousness. They also say eternal, eternal not as in till the end of time, but as in outside of time, fully focused in the now.
With that in mind, I would say there is a difference between the mental and physical from the perspective of mind (as in thoughts), so one is gross (extended) and the other subtle (non-extended). And from the perspective of consciousness, I would say mental and physical are one and the same as they are manifestations of consciousness.
What I find so very interesting is the fact that over the last four to five thousand years, since the Hindu Veda’s, this way or experience of reality revealed to itself to the people of every day and age, and nothing really changed. So the Hindu’s, Buddhists, Sufi’s etc. they all experienced the exact same thing, what differed was their articulation of it. The conditioning and culture of each day and age presented this reality in its own way. Quite fascinating.
Finally, do I think this is the ultimate reality? No, our feeling/understanding of reality will continue to evolve, refine and redefine itself. What is reality? All I can say is maybe finding peace within the chaos, reverse entropy if you like. Will we forever continue to investigate ourselves and reality? Yes, I think so, and that’s what makes us who we are as humans, this wonderful, endless curiosity.