Sunday, June 09, 2013


On the bus from Rochester, as the trip winds to a close.  Spent my last night in a camper on the beach of Lake Ontario. Tonight to Stoney Creek, then flying to Winnipeg tomorrow. Meditators waiting for me, and coming throughout June and into the summer.

Just a little more here on views.  I get lots of questions about metaphysical concepts like the soul and free will, and addressing such questions often requires a sort of dance where I don't actually answer the question or satisfy the questioner.  The problem is that these sort of questions rely for their very framing on abstraction of reality and so defeat their very purpose of being asked; this is what is so often missed in metaphysical discussion - the fact that it doesn't actually talk about reality.

The basic idea here is that abstraction is inherently distortive, and so any view that attempts to say anything other than 'it is what it is', is not only incorrect but also harmful.  This is easy to see with views like 'mind states are brain states' or 'the universe is inherently deterministic'; irrespective of their truth or falsehood, the claim is that they have a corrupting influence due to their abstraction.  The same, of course goes for their respective alternatives, 'mind and brain are two distinct entities' and 'there is free will'.  A brief survey of the uses these sorts of view are put to shows as much, and I would argue the corruptive influence occurs on a more subtle level as well, degrading the mind, influencing day-to-day decision making, etc.

This is not to say all views are equal - while I would argue that any of the above views is more harmful than, say, 'Friday is the best day of the week', they are obviously less harmful than, say, 'evil has no inherent negative consequences for the evil doer'.  But this, I argue, is separate from the harm caused by abstraction itself.  This claim is important in allowing us to address the issue of free will, and the mind/brain problem.  The answer to both is, ostensibly, that the framing is inherently flawed.  There is nothing about reality that suggests either free will or determinism, and nothing about experience that suggests either a physical universe or an independent soul.  Experience is as it appears prima facie - experiential.

I think this helps us avoid questions like 'who receives the effects of karma?' or 'who is it that is reborn?'  as well, since we are forced to accept that concepts like 'death' and 'soul' are also extrinsic to reality and thus an improper framework within which to ask questions about reality.

There are, of course views that are within the boundaries of experiential reality and thus avoid the problems inherent in abstraction; 'everything that arises, ceases' is a perfectly valid view, since it lies within the framework of experience - this, irrespective of its truth or falsehood.  Thus, 'something arisen doesn't cease' is also abstraction-free, though it fails to hold up to empirical observation.  The point is that the questions we ask, and thus the answers we can hope to find, must of necessity lie within experiential reality or else not only are they inherently invalid, they are inherently harmful as well.

I hope that helps someone somewhere give up the fruitless quest of answering the questions posed by metaphysics since time immemorial. Now I'll be quiet until Winnipeg.

words tumble like stones
small splashes in dark water
silence flies like birds