Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Eternal Void Tech: Going Deeper

This is a follow-up to The Eternal Void, which is required reading for everyone free of the delusion of self.

Realising the eternal nature of the void has had one specific effect on me. When I focus on the void to deepen my sense of it, it's as if I'm now in a video game where my progress gets autosaved. I focus, and I nearly instantly find myself at whatever depth of experience I managed to attain before. I don't have to spend time and effort working my way back. I don't have to claw my way towards it through morasses of intense emotion. I can just immerse myself in its depths at will.

This makes sense. It's a deep, instinctual knowing that the void is there at all times. That's what being eternal means. And if it's always there, it should always be there to access. So far so good.

So here's how I've managed to deepen it further. Basically, we already know that the void is there all the time. But where is it all the time? Everywhere, of course.

In short, what I've found is that whenever I become able to see the void in an area of my experience, my overall access to it becomes easier and deeper. Which means ever higher levels of emotional stability and inner peace, instantly available. And because progress gets autosaved, I don't have to painstakingly condition myself to see a particular angle of void - I just have to do it a few times and that's it.

Here are some examples of what I've got so far:

- Space.

I focus on the space in the room around me (or outside), seeing it as a continuous thing in itself rather than just the gaps between various objects. It's especially easy outdoors, where you can get a sense of all the objects on the Earth's surface being dwarfed by the vast expanse of sky that envelops them.

The interesting effect of this is that now I become aware of the void whenever I look at my surroundings - whatever my reason for doing so. Thus, it serves as an automatic reminder that the void is there for me to access when I need emotional stability. I'd have given my right arm to have this kind of near-constant reminder back when I was a Tolle fan trying to practise presence. (mind you, I'm left-handed)

- Motion.

When you're liberated and you investigate far enough, you notice that you're not actually controlling your movements - they're all happening on autopilot. The sense of controlling them is just that - a thought taking credit, an illusion. There is something beautiful about watching one's body move freely, smoothly, with no need for a controller.

Again, I have free access to this now. And, having watched other people with this in mind, it is also rapidly becoming my default mode of perception. When I go out into the street, it is immediately obvious to me that the people walking by are doing so automatically, like clockwork, and that their actions aren't being controlled by any entity. Curiously, this is harder to do when interacting with someone - I should look into that.

The curious thing, however, is that while I am seeing this, it becomes a lot easier to realise a natural implication of no-self: it is pointless to blame anyone for anything. No-one is actually in control, so moral condemnation means nothing. Sure, you can take practical steps to deal with things (pretending for the moment that there is a you to choose to do this), but morality goes out of the window as a framework for judging people's actions.

For now, this has limited scope -while I no longer react angrily to smokers polluting my lungs with second-hand smoke on the street, I don't think I actually have non-judgement of people at a deep level quite yet. It's deepening, though.

- Sensation.

We all know that the primary experience of the void, for practical purposes, is that it makes one aware of the space around emotions and pain (including physical pain), thereby preventing them from dominating our experience and granting a degree of freedom from them without reducing actual intensity.

Right now, I'm experimenting with space not just "around", but also "in front", "behind" and "within". Now, this is heavily tied to how I visualise sensations and the void, so it might not be of much use to those who process them differently. The general point is this, though: there are lots of angles from which the void can be seen to be involved in inner experience, and taking the time to experience them (rather than just acknowledging that they must logically be there) "locks them in", as per the progress-saving power of the eternal void.

This is very new, but I'm getting the best mileage out of "within" right now. Namely, I am examining sensations/emotions and seeing that they are not solid chunks of feeling. Rather, they are lots and lots of little bits, with space in between them. Seeing this dramatically reduces their impact on me, like an upgrade to the original effect of the void in the first place.

So anyway. Those are the three big void-deepening areas I've found so far. I have some ideas for further exploration, such as the space between thoughts, as well as the space within them (e.g. between sounds during verbal thought). So far, every bit of void I've discovered has deepened my liberation overall, and since I know intellectually that the void is around and within all things, there should be plenty more to find.

Over to you, ladies and gentlemen. Are you also finding your progress autosaved? Can you find any bits of void I haven't mentioned, and is doing so giving you a deepening effect?

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Tuesday, 16 August 2011

No-Self: A Few Extra Steps

Greetings, all.

I have not yet succeeded in solving the fundamental problem of human suffering, but I've had some neat advances that I feel are worth sharing with you fine people.

The model I'm using right now is that of perceptual filters and perceptual shifts. It's not a rock-solid model, and is subject to revision, but it's delivered some noteworthy results.

The key is a distinction between belief changes and perceptual shifts. Suppose I believe that the world was created 4672 years ago by the great Grathnaxor. Then a person with multiple brain cells comes along and points out all the evidence that the world existed long before that. I accept the evidence. I now believe that the world was not created 4672 years ago (though the great Grathnaxor can still claim credit).

Note what has changed and what hasn't. The content of my belief about when the world was created has changed. My thinking on the topic in the future will be different in some ways. There will be other such knock-on effects - for example, I may be more aware of the importance of evidence in general, or I may have to re-evaluate my belief that dinosaur bones are the great Grathnaxor's way of toying with the human race.

But what has not changed is anything structural. I still see the world exactly the same way on the level of perception. I still act exactly the same way, except where the exchange of beliefs now means I will make a different decision when presented with the same stimuli. If I were a computer, it is as if someone replaced X.txt with Y.txt in a storage folder. Outside the times when I am trying to access X.txt, there is no difference to anything whatsoever. And it is entirely possible to swap X.txt back in if there is some reason why this should happen.

Perceptual shifts are different. They are the replacement of software responsible for the running of the computer, like new drivers that let you make use of hardware features that were previously useless.

For example learning to read is a perceptual shift (more likely a series of shifts, since there is such a thing as partial literacy, but let's keep it simple for now). Once you can read English, you can look at a string of letters and words, and you will know what it says in the time it takes you to process all the symbols. The symbols themselves haven't changed in any way because you've learned to read, nor do they appear differently to your eyes. But suddenly they look completely different.

You can't undo this shift, at least not without brain damage or something equally rare and extreme. You can't see written English and choose not to know what it says. At best, you can think very hard about some other words so that you avoid subvocalising whatever is in front of you, or you can divert your attention so that you're not really seeing the words. But the words can't enter your brain without being understood.

Liberation is a perceptual shift. Once you see that there is no self, it is instantaneous, permanent and irreversible. It changes structure rather than content. With the exception of a few obvious points (e.g. the belief "the self exists"), content doesn't change automatically, which is why liberated people still find themselves being run by past conditioning which contradicts their perceptions.

As it happens, the conditioning does update over time - liberated people feel and act differently as they spend more time getting used to their new perception, just as one can get better and faster at reading a script one already knows. This is a broad topic, and one for another time. What is important to note for now is that just letting this passive updating process do all the work is a bad idea. There is no guarantee that the new conditioning will not be flawed or deluded in all manner of ways, which is why the active application of honesty to beliefs - what I call Laser Focus elsewhere - is important.

Now for the good stuff. The perceptual shift of liberation involves the removal of a perceptual filter - a filter that causes all perception to be interpreted in terms of a self. Remember how, when you were still deluded, it actually seemed like there was a you that controlled your thoughts and actions? Like there seemed to be a sense of self? Remember how didn't just think in your head "I exist", but actually took it for granted so deeply that it characterised everything you did?

Now that filter's gone. If you look, it's blatantly obvious that there is no self, no controller of thoughts or actions, no decider or observer. It takes no effort to see this, just the act of looking.

So here's the best part. Turns out there are plenty of other such filters, and they can all be removed. I've done this to quite a few, with some extraordinary results, and to my surprise have not destroyed my brain or impaired my ability to function or gone insane or anything. With this in mind, I'd like to share a couple that I feel particularly help in deepening the experience of liberation, as well as my current process for removing them.

This post will make what comes next a lot easier to follow, so I highly recommend reading it (plus, it's some of my best work on liberation so far).

First, the process. It is basically a specialised application of the same honesty we use to test our beliefs.

- Take a proposition about reality you believe to be true. I give you the ones relevant for this below.
- Do you in fact perceive reality as though this proposition were true? If yes, you're done.
- If not, look at reality thoroughly and attempt to see it as if it were true. This sounds iffy, but it's the best concise description I can come up with for what I do to remove a filter. Work through all the implications of the proposition being true. What would you be seeing? How would you see it? Where would you look to see it? How would you look to see it?

If the proposition is false, nothing will happen. I've tested this, and was rather disappointed that I can't do a number of cool things with my perception that I hoped I could. On the other hand, if it is true, this does work. I've not only used it on myself, I've also talked my liberated partner through achieving all of the perceptual shifts I have.

Now for the actual filters. I suggest you do them in order.

1) There is one single solid entity which, while not an "I", can be referred to by my name, and has consistency and continuity over time.

Look at yourself. Look at all your thoughts, beliefs, opinions, behaviour patterns and everything else that makes the character of Your Name Here that character. Is there anything binding them together other than the fact that they occur in the same body?

Scratch your ear while thinking about music. What connects these two actions apart from the fact that the brain thinking about music is part of the same body as the hand and the ear? Look at the mannerisms that are unique to you. Carry them out while doing other things at the same time. Is there a commonality? Is there any sort of you-ness that distinguishes them, or only the idea of one?

Think of the you of ten years ago. Some things have changed drastically. Others haven't. Are there some that are more you than others? What connects them all? Can you see such a thing, except as a mental concept?

The filter is gone when you can see, clearly and freely, that there is no solid core, only patterns. Lots and lots of patterns. Some coincide. Some trigger others. But there is no you-ness holding them together.

If this doesn't hit you with the force of liberation, or a ten-ton truck, you haven't seen it yet.

2) Apply the same principle to the body. It has an apparent solidity. Is it actually solid? Its cells are constantly dividing and dying, its molecules are constantly being swapped in and out. The patterns of cells we call organs are fairly stable, but is there anything keeping them in the same shapes and organisations apart from their individual DNA-determined structures? Do you see some higher controlling entity holding it all together, or just an endless series of patterns and feedback loops?

When I cracked this one, I realised something. We take for granted that our bodies must be perfectly organised, because we go about our daily lives without things constantly going wrong or falling apart. Bits that need to be connected stay connected. Bits that supply something to other bits keep supplying it. The heart keeps beating and the lungs keep pumping oxygen.

Except things do go wrong. It's just that when they do, we get ill or die. It is perfectly possible for the heart to stop pumping blood. It's just that then people die, and this really does happen. Or the heart can malfunction in any number of other ways, and they all really do happen. In real life. People do die because their lungs stop working (happened to me once, just not for long), to say nothing of other less deadly lung problems.

The body's remarkable degree of organisation isn't magic. It's not evidence for some kind of special solidifying quality that keeps everything together. It all breaks down to individual cells, individual combinations of cells and individual processes caused by combinations of cells, which natural selection has caused to always reproduce in very roughly the same ways because the ones that didn't died too soon.

The filter is gone when you see that the body is nothing more than another set of patterns and more patterns (in this case of molecules and cells, rather than of thoughts etc.), and that the dividing line between it and the patterns which form the external environment is purely imaginary.

3) You have seen that you do not exist. Not only is there no self, there is no single person, on any level, except as a mental label for a set of interconnected processes.

Now do the same for your perception of other people.

You may have to start by taking the original insight of liberation and applying it to other people first. Remember what you took a self to be and how you looked to see if it was there. Now do the exact same thing, but look for that self in the people around you. Is it there?

Once you've removed that initial filter, see if there is any more of a single solid person when you look at others than when you look at yourself.

The filter is gone when you see that there are no solid, coherent, consistent people any more than there is a solid, coherent, consistent you.

This tech is very new and unrefined, so I don't know how effective my instructions are. I cracked it on my own from scratch, and my partner was talked through it by phone, so whether I'm doing it right by text is as yet unknown. Hopefully, people will give this their best shot and report back.

What I will say is that, based on our experience, making it this far brings benefits comparable in scale to the original liberation itself. It still doesn't cure human suffering, but it does appear to significantly reduce the duration of negative emotional feedback loops, and has a variety of other interesting effects as well.

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Friday, 5 August 2011

What About an Invisible Self?

Possibilities for seeing the self break up into two distinct categories.

1) The self is available to perception.

This one is easy. Try to perceive it, and you will find that it's nowhere to be found because it doesn't exist.

2) The self is such a thing that it cannot be perceived by its very nature.

There's this thing that happens where I write a really long refutation of something, and only right when I finish do I see a much quicker and simpler way to do the same thing, and end up deleting the original post. That just happened.

So, turns out this one is easy too. If the self cannot be perceived, then there can be no such thing as self-awareness. Simple as that. Think it through, you'll find it holds up any which way.

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Thursday, 28 July 2011

No-Self and What It Really Means

There is no "I". We all know it (if you don't, check it out for yourself - can you find it anywhere in your experience?), but I've only just come to appreciate how far that goes.

When you realise that there is no self, all that is left over, all that's actually shown to be real, is the personality. Behaviour patterns. "Ego", according to some uses of the term.

Actually, even that is a fiction.

What is a human being? Just a set of patterns. A certain proportion of those patterns is physical, matter arranged in specific ways and interacting in specific ways. These patterns are organs, chemical exchanges, organ systems. Exactly where we draw the line between them is entirely subjective - for example, you could call the stomach a pattern, or you could separate it into its biological constituents, the various ways it interacts with other organs, and so on all the way down to individual subatomic particles.

It may seem strange to think of something physical as a pattern, but it works. Google gives one definition as "a regular and intelligible form or sequence discernible in certain actions or situations", and I think that's fair. At any rate, bear with me.

The essential thing is that although these patterns are interconnected, and some rely on others to exist or function at all, they have no inherent property of "being part of one thing" except insofar as we define them as constituting a single body. For example, suppose we introduce a pacemaker into the system. It is interconnected with the other patterns, and many will rely on it to function (the heart, for a start). We can even make a feedback loop so it relies on them as well (by having it detect the heart rate and adjust accordingly).

But this doesn't invest the pacemaker with a property of "body-ness". To take another example, try a dialysis machine. You could be hooked up to a big one outside your body, or we could somehow minimise it and make it ultra-efficient so it fitted inside you. It would effectively function as an extra organ either way, but we would not be magically making it cross a "you/not you" barrier just by making mechanical modifications.

We could even find out that a foetus had a lethal kidney problem, and implant our micro-dialysis machine in it before birth. There would still be no "you/not you" barrier being crossed.

The point I'm trying to make is that there is no objective criterion according to which the patterns which make up the human body constitute a single continuous thing. There is no "bodyness" attribute, any more than building a LEGO house gives a "houseness" attribute to the LEGO blocks. The decision to demarcate a certain combination of patterns as "Alexei", and to treat further alterations to that combination of patterns as "Alexei changing", is a mental one which doesn't reflect anything about actual reality.

Now we go from the hard part to the easy one. Behaviour patterns, that which we call "personality", work in exactly the same way. There is no fixed entity created by a particular combination of thought and behaviour patterns. There is no fixed "Alexei", only a load of tendencies encapsulated as neural patterns in the brain. Of these tendencies, only a few at a time are being expressed, and there is no inherent reason why those being expressed at one time should relate to those being expressed at another.

In other words, there is no such thing as "acting out of character". There is no objective reason why a person's thoughts or actions should be consistent. Sometimes they are and sometimes they aren't, depending on which patterns are being triggered when. If you know a person's dominant (i.e. most frequently triggering) patterns, and you know what their triggers are, you can predict their behaviour to a certain extent. But you're not actually predicting a person, you're predicting a pattern. There's no person there apart from the patterns that exist at any given moment.

Putting it another way, if a pattern is 1 and a person is 5, 5=1+1+1+1+1. There is no "fiveness", no special quality that makes the whole in any way WHATSOEVER more than the sum of the parts.

Yes, patterns interact, which is to say some trigger others and some rely on others to be triggered at all. The ways in which they do so are staggeringly complex - and remember, exactly where you draw the lines between different patterns is entirely subjective. But in the end, those patterns are all there is. The fact that a certain set of patterns is labelled "Alexei", and that a certain subset of them is labelled "Alexei's body", is just the activity of more patterns.


This is a Portuguese Man O' War jellyfish. It looks like a single living being. It's not. It's a colony of lots and lots of individual living beings called zooids. The zooids are highly specialised, and could not survive if they were detached from the colony, but they are very definitely individual creatures.

You look like a single living being. You're not. You are made of countless patterns. These patterns are highly specialised. Depending on where you draw the lines between them, most could not survive (or, in the case of non-physical ones, exist at all) apart from the rest. Yet they are very definitely individual patterns.

Sure, you could say "I am one very large pattern", and since the lines are subjective, that's a legitimate response. But it's no less subjective than the rest. Your thoughts are part of that pattern, right? But they're triggered by the environment, and could not exist without it. So is the environment part of the pattern too?

You would die without food. But food is just like thought - it might turn up or it might not, and this depends both on the actions of the organism and on the environment. So is food part of the "you" pattern?

And so on. The lines between the patterns are arbitrary. You can draw them around individual organs of the body, you can draw them around individual bodies, or you can draw one line that includes the totality of the universe. But no amount of drawing will change what's actually true.

And what's actually true is that there is an arbitrary number of individual patterns, interacting and interdependent, with nothing holding them together except those interactions and interdependencies. Some of these patterns give names and labels to other patterns, but that doesn't make the names and labels any more real.

A human being is a mental abstraction, a label given to a set of patterns. The patterns themselves are constantly changing, and the pretence of continuity or consistency is just that - a label that doesn't reflect reality.

Look again at the Portuguese Man O' War. That's what you are. A colony of patterns, a few of which are shouting "I exist as one distinct individual!"

There is no you. This is how deep it goes.

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On The Impossibility of Free Will

Today I would like to ask you to perform an experiment.

A word of warning, first. If you're not yet free of the delusion of self, or failing that particularly emotionally stable, don't do this one until you're free. If you think that its implications apply to a "you" that exists, it could be genuinely depressing, and your mental health matters to me. In a sense, its improvement is what this blog is all about.

So. The experiment. What I'd like to ask you to do is to look around your experience and observe your thoughts and actions. There are two questions you need to answer.

1) Am I consciously constructing any of my thoughts, or are they all arriving in consciousness ready-made?

2) Am I noticing my actions while they are still at decision level, or are they already beginning when I notice them?

Take some time. What you're trying to do is identify whether there is a gap between the state of "no thought/no action" and the state of "thought arising/action taking place", a gap in which you consciously cause the thought or action.

I can't find one. I'd already realised that thoughts always arrive in consciousness (so to speak) fully-formed as verbal sentences or visual images or physical sensations, and that therefore there is no room for "me" to be involved in constructing them.

Now I've come to see that the same is true of actions. By the time I notice an action taking place, it's already begun. That means even if there was an "I" capable of volition, there would simply be no room, no opportunity for it to exercise it. By the time something's happening, it is too late. All that can happen on a conscious level is a thought of taking credit.

Again, make sure you check this out for yourself. Be rigorous. Can you notice a thought or action before it's in progress? Or is it already happening by the time you become aware of it? Don't take your thoughts on the matter at their word. Check thoroughly.

For me, this has been the biggest realisation since no-self so far - realisation as in a thing that actually permanently alters how I experience the world, rather than an insight (which I use to refer to new intellectual understandings). Not only is there no me to be responsible for thoughts and actions, it isn't even theoretically possible for a me to do so if it existed.

One more thing. We often think that we have a thought, and then we act on that thought. This is not the case. Thoughts do not cause actions. Test this by performing actions without thinking about them first, such as scratching your nose, helping yourself to a snack from an open container or diving in front of a truck to push a loved one out of the way.

So. There is no gap in which thoughts are constructed or decisions are transformed into actions. Is this true?

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Monday, 25 July 2011

There Is No Self: Redux

OK, people. You already know (I hope) a really obvious truth: there is no self. If you don't, check it out in your own experience. Can you find an "I" as an actual thing anywhere, or are you just taking its existence for granted?

Now, there is something that people who have grasped that there is no self often trip up on. It is this: there is no self.

Yeah, really not where you'd expect to have a problem at this stage, is it? Here's how it works.

Many liberated talk about "the false self" or "the self constructed by thoughts" or "the concept of self". These things don't exist.

Really, check it out.

There is a belief, hopefully by now recognised as false: "the self exists". There are lots of other beliefs about the self, like "the self has free will", "the self observes reality", "the self believes that Pokemon is for kids", "the self despairs of British politics" etc. You can substitute "I" for "the self" to make these beliefs sound more familiar.

But notice this: they are all beliefs about the self.

There is no actual concept, belief or thought which is the self.

Compare angels. The concept of "angel" is made up of other concepts - person, wings, halo, white robe, Heaven, etc. But it is an actual concrete concept. You can imagine angels in and of themselves.

Or take a moral law like "stealing is wrong". It's abstract. You can't visualise it or anything. But it is an actual distinct concept. It exists as a concrete thought.

The self doesn't. It's not a concept the way angels and moral laws are concepts. It's a pointer to a thing which isn't there on any level, in any sense, like the "it" in "it's raining".

So whatever beliefs you have about liberation and the self, rethink them. There is no self. It is fully as true on the level of fiction as on the level of reality.
 

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Friday, 22 July 2011

Demolishing the Stairway to Heaven

A particularly courageous gentleman who is trying his hardest to find out whether there is a self even as we speak reminded me of a classic objection to no-self and the work of Ruthless Truth today.

Here it is:

"You claim that no-self is the highest realisation, when this is patently not true. There are higher realisations beyond it. No-self is not enlightenment, only the first step on the path."

I would like to address this objection in detail.

There is a simple reason why no-one in RT claims that no-self is the highest realisation. Here it is: truth is not hierarchical. It doesn't come in levels.

Let me repeat that: Truth Doesn't Come In Levels.

Truth can be discovered. You can discover how X works, or what Y really is, or whether Z actually exists or not. When you conceptualise that truth into a model, the model may have varying degrees of accuracy (never 100%, because the model is a separate thing from the truth to which it points), but the truth doesn't care about that. The truth just is.

The truth about X is as true as the truth about Y and the truth about Z. None is inherently deeper or more profound than the other - that only happens when an observer decides to rank them hierarchically according to their own beliefs about the truth.

This is what happens with the above objection. People imagine a hierarchical progression of insight, with True Enlightenment (cosmic wisdom, infinite serenity and bliss, unity consciousness etc.) at the end, and a ladder of increasing understanding in between them and it. To them, no-self is at best the first step on that ladder.

The problem with this is that the whole thing is a mental fiction. Truth doesn't work that way. Sure, when we teach things, we structure them into little truths that build up into bigger ones, but this is a teaching aid designed to fit the way our brains build connections and absorb information. It's a reflection of how we build conceptual structures and develop concrete skills, but it has nothing to do with actually seeing what is true in the first place.

No-self is not the final realisation. Nor is it the first realisation. It's just one of an infinite number of possible realisations. We at Ruthless Truth happen to value it particularly highly because its long-term effects on how people see the world are vast and ultimately positive. But on the level of reality itself, it is no greater or lesser a realisation than "water is liquid at room temperature".

And unlike the aforementioned True Enlightenment, it's an actual permanent realisation, immediately available in real life, rather than a story people tell themselves about an imagined state they have never personally experienced.
 

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Thursday, 21 July 2011

Hearing Voices

It has come to my attention that many people hear a particular type of sound. This type of sound does not appear to emanate from the external environment, and does not require functioning ears to hear. Nevertheless, it is entirely audible, and can vary hugely in volume, pitch, and all the other things that distinguish different sounds.

Sometimes what is heard is music or other non-verbal sounds. Most of the time, however, this sound takes the form of words in a particular language or mix of languages, as if one were listening to speech.

Sometimes, the content of this verbal sound is relevant to the situation in which the listener finds themselves and sometimes it isn't. Sometimes the things it says are true and sometimes they are false. Later, the words can equally easily turn out to be great wisdom or utter nonsense. There is no way to tell from the sound itself which it is at any given time.

Two things amaze me about this phenomenon now I see it for what it is.

1) Based on the fact that they can hear it and nobody else can, people somehow make the staggering leap of logic to the belief that they must therefore be the ones producing it. They do so even though even the most cursory examination reveals that they have no power whatsoever to control the nature or content of the sound, which arises in their experience fully-formed.

2) People work on the assumption that the content of the sound must be meaningful by default. No matter how many times this turns out to be false, they assume that the sound is automatically worthy of their attention, and that any verbal sentences are, if not true by default, at least much more likely to be true than false.

Are you suffering from this strange phenomenon? Here is a quick questionnaire for self-diagnosis.

1) Do you have the experience of hearing a voice in your head?

2) Do you suffer from the delusion that you can control what this voice says, or when?

Observe it carefully the next time it speaks, and see if this is true.

3) When the voice makes a claim about reality, do you automatically make certain assumptions about what it says?

For example, do you assume that the claim is true until proven otherwise? Or do you assume that the claim is based on certain rational grounds, or on evidence? Do you assume that the claim is important to you and worth hearing out in full? Do you assume that acting on the claim will be to your benefit?

Looking at everything the voice has said in the past, have these assumptions proven to be always or even usually correct?

Please note that the phenomenon can manifest in two other common ways - visual images and physical sensations, the latter typically concentrated around the head and upper torso. The questions listed here are equally applicable to them with a minimal degree of adaptation.

If you have been thorough in your self-diagnosis, it will also have constituted a preliminary course of treatment. When these so-called "thoughts" are carefully examined, and the fact that they have no automatic credibility or significance becomes obvious, their harmful effects on the human psyche are significantly mitigated.

Here at Iatrogenesis Labs, we are working hard on a cure for human domination by thought. In the meantime, the above medical advice, taken with daily supplements of scepticism, should help you build your immune system in time for the winter.

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Thursday, 14 July 2011

Demon Theory: There Is No Consciousness, Only Brain

Part I: There Is No Consciousness

There is no consciousness.

This is a ridiculously bold claim, and its truth is very much predicated on what you mean by "consciousness". So let me clarify.

Consciousness is not a thing in and of itself. It exists only as a label which we give a number of separate things which happen to coincide.

Observe your senses. Do it right now.

Do you see how they are fundamentally independent? If you were deafened right now, your sight would still work the same way. If your eyes were put out, you'd still feel things with your skin exactly the same way. Every single sense works perfectly well without the others. You could make the case for some senses being composite, like the overlap between smell and taste, but the actual streams of data coming from the tongue and the nose are entirely independent of each other even if they are being stimulated by the same thing at the same time.

"Consciousness" is what we call the sum of processed sensory input at any given time, including the sensations that we call verbal and visual thoughts and feelings (which we experience as forms of hearing, sight and physical sensation respectively). Nothing more.

As long as at least one sense's worth of input is being processed (e.g. data from the eyes into what we call seeing), we call ourselves conscious. Whenever none of the input is being processed in that way, we call it unconsciousness.

As with everything I write, put this to the test. If you had hearing and no other sense, would you be conscious? What about touch and no other sense? Taste and no other sense? What if you couldn't sense anything except hearing your own thoughts?

When a given sense isn't delivering processed input, is there a big empty space called "consciousness", waiting for it to come back? Or is "consciousness" just the name we give to whichever senses are currently active?

Consciousness doesn't exist. Not as a thing. Only as a label that unifies a number of entirely separate phenomena taking place in the same brain.

What are the implications?

Well, for one thing, if you think you ARE consciousness, then good luck with that. It means you don't exist in reality, only as a mental label that doesn't refer to an actual object.

You might want to look into that.

For another, it means consciousness isn't an environment or a space or a substrate. Things, including thoughts, don't happen in consciousness, they constitute it. Among other things, this requires a re-think of Demon Theory and its mechanics, which I go into below. Read Demon Theory before you get onto that.

For a third, it means consciousness isn't a thing that can be focused on. Any time you are trying to place your attention on consciousness itself, you are only placing it on a given one (or more) of your senses. This is bad news for the claims of any number of mystical doctrines.

"There is no consciousness". Comprehend the proposition. Then test the bejeezus out of it. Chase down all the implications and see if they're consistent with what you're experiencing. Not with what you think is going on - with what you actually perceive as happening at this exact moment in time.

Part II: Implications for Demon Theory

One key element of Demon Theory is that thoughts have consciousness as their substrate, as the environment within which they compete for information as a resource. Obviously, consciousness as described here cannot be an environment.

However, this is not yet a reason to reject Demon Theory altogether. Thoughts, as we experience them, are another form of sense data. I've discussed this before. Only as sight, sound and feeling (and combinations thereof) do they participate in consciousness.

On the other hand, we know that the senses as we experience them are already the product of processing. Signals from the eyes, for example, have to travel down complex networks of neural pathways before they are processed, on an unconscious level, and interpreted into what we call seeing.

If we experience thoughts as the same sort of processed sense data (which we do - check it out for yourself), then it stands to reason that the actual processing that generates them, on an unconscious level, takes place via signals travelling via specific neural pathways which determine what happens to them.

Those neural pathways, neural patterns, fit the description of Demon Theory's thoughts perfectly.

Let us take a belief as an example. When a particular piece of information comes from the senses, it travels along a particular neural pattern on its way to being processed into how we consciously experience it. That neural pattern gets reinforced in the process - that's why practising a skill makes it easier and more automatic to do the next time.

If the pattern is a belief, every time it processes data, which is to say every time sensory input gets filtered through the belief, that belief grows stronger.

If the neural pattern grows in ways that mean such signals get routed through it more often, which is to say it filters a greater proportion of sensory input, it continues to become stronger. Again, this is common sense.

If it grows in a way that means signals which would normally get routed through a different pattern get routed through it instead, it has effectively won a competition for food with another belief. It will now get even stronger, while the other pattern will atrophy, to the extent that signals are being redirected.

The pattern may even grow in a way that means all the signals that pass through another pattern also pass through it, in which case it has effectively consumed that belief and made it part of itself. Everything that feeds one belief feeds into the other.

Yes, these neural patterns behave exactly like individual living things. Their environment isn't consciousness, it's the actual physical structure of the brain. Their food is indeed information, as Demon Theory states - information in terms of the signals that travel through the brain's neural network.

If you don't believe that simple patterns can act with such sophistication, check out John Conway's Game of Life (credit to StepVheN of "Burning, True" for relating this to Demon Theory; you can find his blog in the blogroll on the right).

Ghostbusters references aside, I think this is pretty important. It discards a vast amount of the fluffy mysticism that has accumulated around the notion of "consciousness", and provides a solid experiential and at least vaguely scientific foundation for Demon Theory's claims.

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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Something Else Must Be Going On

From Ciaran Healy I learned the concept of a philosopher's rule of thumb, a basic principle which one applies to philosophical work to keep it sound and progressing smoothly, rather than veering off into deep and basic errors. One of his favourites is "there are no paradoxes in reality", meaning that there is only one reality and it does not get split in two by things that contradict each other happening at the same time. If you spy a paradox, it can only be in your mind, not in reality (i.e. your understanding of reality is flawed).

Now, I have one too. "If you have established something to be true, and your explanation of a phenomenon contradicts that truth, then the explanation must be wrong. Something else must be going on."

The obvious example is the self. Many people discover that "the self exists" is false. Try this for yourself, it's quite neat. However, when attempting to account for various aspects of human behaviour, they stick to their old ways of thinking which are based on the existence of the self.

For example, when trying to explain human suffering, they say it is because the false self identifies with various objects and ideas.

Picture me slamming my hands down on the desk Phoenix Wright-style. "Hold it!"

There is no self, not even a false one. That means that the self cannot be identifying with anything. So if you see anything which seems like a process of identification by the self, you are wrong. Something else must be going on.

You might have no idea at first what that something else is. Investigate. Look at reality. Make theories and test them. But whatever you do, don't pretend that if a foundational belief about reality turns out to be false, other beliefs which rely on its truth can still be true.

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Tuesday, 12 July 2011

There is no "sense of self"

There is this thing people talk about called a sense of self. It's not actually seeing a self of any sort - that's impossible because no self exists to see. Instead, it is this vague "sense" that something is there, something that somehow feels like a self.

Yesterday, I decided to turn laser focus onto this sense of self.

It didn't take long to figure out what a sense of self actually means. It's a sense of existence, a sense that, no matter who or what I actually am, I do at least exist, and I can sense that fact of existing. It's like "I think therefore I am", but with the "I think" taken out, because this is something you can feel even when you're not thinking. Indeed, some would say that this "I am" is something you can feel only when your mind is still.

Is this true?

I chased down the sense of existence. What did it actually refer to? Where and what was this existence that I was sensing? What was sensing it like?

In every instance, the sense of existence turned out to point to some other, concrete sense. It was the sense of me touching something with my skin. The sense of me hearing an inner monologue. At its deepest, it was physical sensation coming from inside the body, the kinaesthetic sense.

Here's the clincher. Without those concrete instances of sensation, I could not find any sense of existence at all.

Do you know what happens when consciousness contains no sensory input at all, not even sensations from the inside of the body? We call that unconsciousness, or dreamless sleep (depending on context). And in neither of those states is there any sense of existence.

The sense of existence doesn't exist. All that happens is that we apply a label - "existence" - to a concrete sensation, and then pretend that we are sensing this label independently of the sensation it's been applied to.

At any given moment, specific instances of sensory input - such as sight, hearing, thoughts and feelings - are all there is. ALL THERE IS. There is no sense of existence except as an after-the-fact label applied to those instances. There is no sense of self except as an after-the-fact label applied to those instances.

Is this true?

Try it now. Find a sense of self that relies on no other sense in order to be felt. Find a sense of self that's more than a mental label applied to other senses.

And when you've failed, ask yourself what else you've been taking for granted about reality. How about the self that you thought you were sensing? Can you find that anywhere?

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Sunday, 10 July 2011

Demon Theory: Don't Cross the Streams!

This is a response to Demon Theory by Ciaran Healy. Read it first - it's long, but its claims are very big and very hard to refute (no-one's managed it so far), and the implications are pretty staggering.

This post is intended to answer three questions which arise from Demon Theory.

1) If the self is not a thought, what is it and where did it come from?
2) How do thoughts filter the world?
3) Why does honesty check their growth?

As you read, please be sure to check everything I say against your own experience. If you come up with any contradictions, please let me know.

There are two streams of data entering the brain at all times. The first of these is sensory data coming straight from reality. I trust all my readers are familiar with this phenomenon. Let's call it the sensory stream for convenience.

The second stream of data is generated when the brain processes said sensory data and generates new data based on it - thoughts and feelings, in other words. It is a kind of feedback process where sensory data generate thought and feeling data, which in turn can generate more thought and feeling data and so on potentially ad infinitum. Let's call this the feedback stream.

The thing which people don't always realise about the feedback stream is that it is made of the exact same kind of data as the sensory one. For example, verbal thoughts are literally a case of us hearing voices or other sounds, just not coming from the outside world. In fact, you'll find that your voice box vibrates during verbal thinking (I found this easiest to test by shifting the pitch of my thoughts up and down), suggesting that it's just a kind of subvocalisation or very very quiet talking.

Likewise, visual thoughts are literally things we see, and utilise visual nerves in the same way as data from the eyes. Meanwhile, feelings are always felt as sensations in the body, and you'll find that the same feeling is always felt in the same body part.

Now here's when the problem arises. The brain has no way of telling that one stream of data refers to real things and the other one doesn't. It evolved around the premise that sensory data always refers to actual objects - if you are seeing the colour blue, for instance, it is because there is actually a blue thing there to be seen.

So when a thought comes up in the feedback stream, the brain naturally assumes that this thought is generated by a real object. Just like it thinks that a roar is generated by a real animal in the physical world, it thinks that a verbal thought is generated by a real speaker in the physical world.

But at the same time, the roar appears to come from outside the body while the thought appears to come from inside. So if the roar proves the existence of a thing that roars in the external world, the thought must prove the existence of a thinker, which is real but inside the body.

Aha, the brain concludes. There is a real thing inside this body which thinks, and to which all thoughts must be attributed.

But it gets worse. Because there isn't just the fact of speech to thoughts. There are also concepts, static objects which continue to exist even after the act of speech has ceased. The brain doesn't understand the idea of unreal objects - it's only ever encountered real ones. So when thoughts describe abstract concepts, those concepts must also be real objects that exist - once again, inside the body, since that is where all the sensory data that describe them are coming from.

So now there is a whole inner world, containing lots of mental objects (concepts, beliefs etc.). Being both real and permanently inside the body, it must be part of the body. And that means that if any of those things get damaged, the body gets damaged. Survival instinct dictates that the thinker and the mental objects must be protected.

This is vital to grasp. All thoughts and beliefs are treated as part of the organism, because to the brain there is nothing else they can be. And the bigger and more important a thought or belief, the more significant a part of the organism it is, so the more energy gets expended in protecting it. Sometimes, a thought gets so big and powerful that protecting it becomes more important than protecting the actual body.

Now we come to the second part. How do thoughts get that way?

The brain has a special algorithm which serves survival by prioritising the important over the unimportant. It never switches off the two streams of data - even when you close your eyes, you are still seeing the inside of your eyelids - but nor does it give all data equal significance. The birdsong outside gets filtered out. Loud noises or bright objects do not, because they may represent a threat. And so on. Simply put, this algorithm is attention.

The other thing that it's important to understand at this point is this. The brain only has one way to distinguish the two streams, and that is by signal intensity. Real sights and sounds, for example, are more intense than visual and verbal thoughts. When this is not the case, the brain crosses the streams and gets confused - dreams and schizophrenia are two examples where the feedback stream gets mistaken for the sensory stream.

Now, suppose you have obtained from somewhere the belief "white people are evil". One day, you see a white person, and two streams of data enter the brain. One, the sensory stream, is the image of the white person. The other, triggered by it, is the thought "white people are evil".

But suppose the white person doesn't do anything that obviously proves they aren't evil. Maybe they're just washing their car - evil people wash cars too. All that the brain has seen in thought terms is another instance of the "white people are evil" thought being true. It was triggered, and matched reality. The thought pattern gets strengthened.

And when a thought pattern gets strengthened, its signal intensity rises. Beliefs that we are sure of because we've seen them to be true over and over again have a different sort of strength to them than ones we've just formulated as hypotheses about how things might be. They become bigger and more important as far as the brain is concerned, and threats to them are bigger threats to the self.

Eventually, a thought pattern's signal intensity may be higher than that of the thing that triggered it. The attention algorithm naturally prioritises strong signals over weak ones (unless the brain detects a weak signal it knows to be relevant to survival, like a sneaking predator). Then the thought gets prioritised over reality. You look at the white person, and "white people are evil" takes up more of your attention than the actual person. At this point, the algorithm starts filtering out data that contradict "white people are evil" - such data have lower signal intensity, so they must be less real, so in a contradiction, they're the ones to ignore.

This is how thoughts usurp the filtering properties of attention to continue growing. A feedback loop is generated whereby the more times a belief comes up, the bigger the contradiction it takes to prove it wrong, and any contradiction that isn't big enough gets filtered out. Eventually, a belief's signal intensity can rise so high that there's simply no chance of its being proven wrong, at which point its growth becomes unstoppable and we have dogma, fanaticism and other such horrors.

Only honesty is capable of stopping this process. Human beings are capable of directing their attention and overriding the automatic survival-based algorithm. We are capable of focusing on things that are not new, intense or obviously relevant to survival. We are capable of focusing on reality.

When we focus on reality, the signal intensity of what we are observing rises. What we focus on, we see (or hear etc.) more clearly. Its priority rises. This means that when a thought and reality contradict each other, we can make sure that reality gets prioritised rather than filtered out, and the belief seen as false - no matter how powerful it is.

Honesty is our tool for not crossing the streams. By directing our attention at the stream of sensory data, we restore to it its original importance, and render the feedback stream of thought subservient to it. We cease to be enslaved to the uncontrollable growth of thoughts, and can instead steer them in the direction of truth at all times.

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Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Winning the lottery

Many people expect enlightenment to be some sort of vast cosmic explosion of consciousness, with choirs of angels singing and the ultimate wisdom of the Universe suddenly at their fingertips. Enlightenment isn't like that (though if you are prone to hallucinations or spontaneous higher states of consciousness, your mileage may vary).

Enlightenment is like winning the lottery. Which is to say, nothing much happens. You get a piece of paper, which you put in a machine, and then a number on a computer somewhere changes into a different, bigger number. That's it.

It's only in the aftermath, over time, that the scale of what's just happened becomes apparent. You get an expensive meal with friends to celebrate. Nice, though not that incredible in and of itself - just like a less expensive meal, but hopefully a bit bigger and better. Then, over time, it hits you that you can afford just about anything you want. State-of-the-art PC/sound system/plasma TV? Sure. New car? Sure. New house? Sure. Then, gradually, you start thinking bigger.

Being able to do what you truly want with your life without having to worry about financing it? Sure. Being able to set up large-scale projects that impact the whole world? Why not. With a bit of savvy financial management and some imagination, the possibilities that open up become endless.

So enlightenment is just like winning the lottery. It's not a big thing in and of itself. It's a tiny thing, the recognition of one simple truth. After that, it's what you do with it over time that counts.

You can do that tiny thing now. Look. Can you see the thing you call "me" anywhere right now? Anywhere at all?

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Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Authenticity: Part I

In my efforts to communicate the essence of liberation - that the self does not exist - I have made the mistake of being inauthentic. I believed I could strip my personality from the message I was conveying so it wouldn't get in the way.

This didn't work. People can sense inauthentic communication, and do not tend to be well-disposed towards it. What was meant to be the sharing of a single idea became a battle in which I tried to convince others to do something (look to see if there was a self) while holding back information which might have made them more willing to listen to me.

That might work in the Ruthless Arena, where everyone involved knows that they are there for one specific purpose - to free themselves from the illusion of self - and knows that everything that is being said is intended to serve that purpose. It might work for other contexts where people are ready to evaluate ideas on their own merit, without ego getting in the way. But most of the time, people don't expect you to take yourself out of the equation, and they react badly when you do.

So what is authenticity, and how does one get it?

Real authenticity has two parts: being honest with yourself, and being honest with others. Both are huge, and can utterly transform your life depending on the extent to which you master them.

Being honest with yourself takes courage. What it means is to acknowledge whatever arises in your experience, and not try to pretend it away or mislabel it as something else. Even if what arises is truly horrible to you, such as thoughts of violent murder arising when you are angry, or inappropriate desires, or deep fears that you don't want to admit you have, being honest with yourself means acknowledging that those things are really there.

There are many reasons why this is a good thing. First off, you can't face and deal with something if you're too busy pretending it's not there. You can't treat a wound you don't see. If you're terrified of something, only by acknowledging that fear can you find ways of overcoming it, or of compensating for its existence in some way. If there's a part of yourself you want to change, you can't do it until you accept that it's there.

Secondly, your predictive abilities are greatly enhanced. You can predict how you will feel in a given situation, so you can make plans ahead of time as to what situations to seek and what to avoid, and how to cope with unwanted sides of yourself coming up. Without being honest with yourself, you will consistently be wrong in your predictions, and incur great amounts of unnecessary suffering and failure.

Thirdly, it helps you understand other people. For as long as you deny something in yourself, you won't be able to understand what it is like for another person to feel such a thing, so you will limit your ability to connect with them. You are the only person you can understand from the inside, so honesty about what that inside contains is the absolute prerequisite for true empathy.

Fourthly, when you look at things directly, they invariably turn out to be less bad than you thought. This is because the thoughts are an extra layer over the top of the actual experience, one which emphasises and reinforces it. When you look at the experience itself, you tend to realise that it's not actually as bad as your thoughts make it sound. Check this out next time you feel pain or a negative emotion. Is the feeling, in and of itself, actually as intense as your thoughts about it say it is?

Fifthly and most importantly, it lets you see life as it really is. Ask yourself this - "do I, the person looking at reality through these eyes, actually exist? Or does the looking happen without me?" Then be honest about what you see when you look for that "I". There is a vast freedom in this honesty which no-one who practises self-deception will ever be able to access, a liberation from an entire web of lies that covers up the truth of life.

That's all for now. Look forward to Part II another time.

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Tuesday, 21 June 2011

The Complete Liberation FAQ

Q: How do I become liberated/enlightened?

A: There is no you. Look and see if this is true.

Q: What does "you" mean?

A: The thing you refer to when you say or think "I", "me" or "my".

Note that you do need to be honest about this - people will often claim to believe they are X, but then use those pronouns in a way that shows they actually believe something else. For example, they say they are the body, but when their legs are cut off, they say "my legs have been cut off" rather than "I've been cut in three".

Q: What does it mean to say there's no you?

A: It means that "you" does not exist in reality, only as a thought. You can imagine a unicorn being in the room with you, but that doesn't mean an actual unicorn is there. The same is true of "you".

Q: What does it mean to look?

A: Exactly what it sounds like. If someone asks you to confirm how many toes you have, you just look and count the number of toes you see. If someone asks you to confirm if there's a tree behind you, you just turn around and look if you see a tree.

Q: Any other question.

A: Shut up and look.

Looking at your experience of life is something that you naturally do all the time. There are no questions that need answering before you can do it. There are no doubts that need allaying or philosophical issues that need dealing with before you can do it. Even if what you're going to see contradicts your beliefs, you do not need to deal with those beliefs before you can LOOK AT WHAT'S ACTUALLY THERE.

So shut up and look to see if there's a you. It's the best advice anyone will ever give you.
 

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Monday, 20 June 2011

Time on Trial

Judge: Time, already convicted of being the greatest thief and the killer of all that lives, stands accused of the heinous crime of not existing. Prosecution, please present your case.

Prosecution: Your honour, I would like to begin by pointing out that Time is not helping its case by forcing us to hold the trial in absentia.

Judge: What do you mean? It's right here.

Prosecution: Would your honour please point to the defendant?
.
.
.
I thought so. The present moment is certainly real, and it's what we are experiencing right now. But the past is merely a thought in our heads, reconstructed whenever we remember. The future is also merely a thought in our heads, and usually an inaccurate one at that. Time is nowhere to be seen except an abstraction in the mind.

Defence: Objection!

Your honour, I would like to present the following pieces of evidence which contradict the prosecution's statement.

First, my watch, which is virtually synchronised with the watches of everyone else in this court. Second, a receipt for an expensive lunch, which I had after my breakfast this morning, but before my dinner this evening. Thirdly, Muriel the Cat - stop trying to scratch me, dammit - whose infernal yowling wakes me up at dawn every morning without fail, even though dawn shifts throughout the year and on some mornings it's too cloudy to see the sun rise. How can you explain all this if time doesn't exist?

Prosecution: To say time doesn't exist doesn't mean that nothing ever happens, or that everything happens simultaneously. It means that what we call time is not in fact an independent entity or dimension, merely the mistaken belief in a whole being greater than the sum of the parts.

Those parts are change. There is no such thing as absolute time. When we perceive time passing, it is because we are looking at a thing, and watching it change - whether that be the sun's daily journey across the sky, or a second hand's journey across a clock face, or the sound of our own breathing.

Watch paint dry. Does your sense of time not slow down? Think about a really interesting topic so that your thoughts fly one after the other. Does your sense of time not speed up? Try spending what feels like five minutes on each of these activities, then look at a watch to see how much time has passed.

This isn't a trick of the mind. All time is relative to the thing we are watching change. It so happens that all of us are capable of watching the same thing - like the aforementioned sun, or a well-made watch - which changes at a regular pace, and that makes us think there is an absolute time. We design our clocks and watches so that they all change at the same rate, and this lets us synchronise our activities. Before any kind of clock was invented, people kept time with each other by watching the sun, and no-one would have dreamt of trying to pin down precise times for meetings or other arrangements.

So, to the evidence presented by the defence. All the watches are synchronised because they are made of such materials, and so adjusted in terms of operation, that the changes that give rise to the movement of the hands happen at the same rate. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are co-ordinated based on the rhythm of the Earth's rotation, which is regular enough so that we can schedule activities for certain points in its cycle of change. As for Muriel the Cat, she just has a very good internal clock - a mechanism where chemical changes produce certain results at a regular rate. That clock is influenced by light levels such that it keeps pace with the external world.

In short, time is relative not only in advanced physics, but in the basics of everyday life. Time is simply what happens when someone observes something changing, and assumes that the speed at which it is changing relative to other things (including oneself) says something about the objective structure of reality.

Judge: So does time exist or not, then?

Prosecution: That depends on exactly what you mean by "time".

Judge: Bloody philosophers...

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Sunday, 19 June 2011

Who is Looking?

Another great question in the comments today, this time from a gentleman named Greg. You can find it in the comments under "A Single Act of Honesty". The basic gist of it is this: if there's no self, then whom am I telling to look and see that there's no self? And who achieves liberation?

Obviously, it isn't the "you" that is being looked for, because that doesn't exist. But if there's no-one to do the looking, then the instruction to look makes no sense. A lot of seekers of liberation get hung up on this, and a lot of gurus make the problem worse by repeating "there's no-one to get enlightened" like a mantra.

Here's a provisional model of what really happens. I may come up with a better one later, but it will do for now.

There is an organic system which we call a human being. In response to input from its environment, certain thoughts arise within it and certain actions are carried out by it. This process is completely automatic.

Over time, when certain patterns of input get repeated, the brain within that system naturally generates certain patterns of thought in response. These patterns are beliefs, and all future input is filtered through them. "I exist" is one such belief.

Then, one day, the input "look - there is no you" enters the system. This prompts the pattern recognition element of the system to check the belief "I exist" against the sensory data of direct perception for the first time. The belief turns out to contradict direct perception.

As a result, the pattern recognition element deflags the belief as "true", and marks it "false".

This is liberation.

In other words, everything except the self does exist, and it's that everything which becomes liberated, with liberation defined as the recognition that the belief "I exist" is false.

The reason we say that, strictly speaking, "no-one is looking" is that the entire process is completely involuntary and automatic. To say that the system is choosing to look is like saying that the computer chooses to process data, or that the clouds choose to make it rain.

Conversely, the reason we tell people to look is that the illusion of free will persists (that could be a subject for a separate post), so it seems like not only is there a person whom we are talking to, but also a choice on our part whether or not to tell them, and a choice on their part whether to look or not. In reality, none of this is true, but illusions don't automatically go away just because you see that they're illusions.

Anyway, this is a simple model, and I strongly suspect it contains certain inaccuracies, but it is sufficient to answer the question. No-one gets liberated because the thing that gets liberated isn't a someone, not because the process of liberation doesn't take place.

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Friday, 17 June 2011

Another Brief Note on Laser Focus

adsdas, if that is their real name, posted a comment which I feel deserves closer attention:


"Velorien ,how you look to see if the belief is true?I mean , all beliefs are false and all thoughts are false, and all beliefs about self are false because self doesn't exist."


There are a number of things worth saying in response.


First off, it is not true that all beliefs and all thoughts are false. If I think "the sky is blue", that thought is true, and I can verify this by looking out of the window. If I believe "most people have five fingers on each hand", again, this belief is true and can be verified (though perhaps not by me personally, because there is an awful lot of people).


Secondly, while all beliefs about self are false, I've found that beliefs are worth examining on more levels than just that. Here's a real-life example.


I am afraid of failure.
Looking at this fear, I see that the belief behind it is "if I fail, I will be somehow diminished".
I can look at the "I" part of the belief, and see that it is false because the I doesn't exist, and therefore will not fail or be diminished.


But I can do more than this.


I can look at "fail" and "diminished". I can ask "will failure really lead to diminishment?" This leads me to at least two new lines of inquiry.


What is failure? By looking honestly, I realise that failure is simply when the reality of what has been accomplished does not measure up to my pre-existing image of what needs to be accomplished. In other words, failure is when I compare a thought to reality and discover a mismatch. As a concept, it is no more meaningful or threatening than that.


What is diminishment? By looking honestly, I see that it means that instead of thinking of myself as good at something or good in some way, I will start thinking of myself as not good at something or not good in that way. In other words, diminishment is when I trade one thought for another thought. As a concept, it is no more meaningful or  threatening than that.


By putting these two insights together, I see that "if I fail, I will be somehow diminished" actually means "if one of my thoughts turns out to contradict reality, I will replace it with a thought that doesn't". I have not only eliminated a false belief, but I have gained a deeper understanding of it that will serve me when addressing other beliefs and other aspects of human experience.


Finally, to return to the original question of "how do you look to see if the belief is true?"


You literally just look. What would you be experiencing if the belief was true? Are you experiencing it right now? There's no more to it than that.


Is it true that the sky is blue? If it's true, then by looking up I will see a blue sky. Do I see a blue sky? Yes? Then the belief is true.


Now, this approach is not omnipotent. There are two points worth bearing in mind.


1) You have to be clear about the limits of what you are testing. When you see a blue sky, all you know is that you are perceiving the sky as blue. You do not know - not with 100% confidence - that the sky actually is blue. You just know that it looks blue to you, and that if it's really a different colour, there must be a good reason for the mismatch.


2) You can never be 100% certain that a belief about something beyond your actual experience is true. It will only ever take a single counterexample to prove a belief wrong, and since you do not know the contents of the entire universe, you can never know that such a counterexample isn't out there somewhere.


On the other hand, it is possible to know that a belief is false with 100% certainty. If you believe that all swans are white, and you see a black swan, your belief is false. It is, of course, your responsibility to make sure that you are actually seeing a black swan, and not, say, a painted one, but beyond that there is no possible way for your original belief to still be true.


So look. And above all, if you haven't done so already, look at "the self exists". If you see no self, then either the self doesn't exist, or it is not something perceivable. If it is not something perceivable, then you must have concluded that it exists based on various other beliefs about reality, and those can be tested too.

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Thursday, 16 June 2011

Meteorology vs. Zeus

Back in the days of Ancient Greece, it was widely believed that thunderstorms were the wrath of Zeus, King of the Gods. Today, poor Zeus has been relegated to myth as meteorology, which predicts the weather with ever-increasing accuracy based on scientific principles, has rendered him obsolete.

I think it's time for him to make a comeback. Get back in the ring, Stormbringer. You've rested long enough.


So let's take a look at our two competitors. First up, the reigning champion, meteorology.

Meteorology holds that all weather is based on specific patterns, namely natural laws. Meteorologists and other scientists are presently hard at work discovering those laws. More accurately, they are busy building models which describe what weather does, and why, ever more accurately. There are a zillion factors that go into shaping weather, and gradually scientists are discovering more and more of those factors and how they interact.

By discovering those factors, and what patterns they make, scientists can predict how the weather will change based on what is going on at any given moment. For now, they are notoriously bad at it compared to other branches of science, but that's because weather is ridiculously complex and taking everything into account isn't easy.

Now, in the other corner we have Zeus and the religion of ancient Greece. Zeus is master of the skies and thus responsible for weather. If he is wrathful, you get thunderstorms. If he is in a good mood, hopefully you'll get clear skies. Presumably, other shades of moods will result in other kinds of weather (ignoring for now the place of other gods, who also have some influence on the matter).

The problem with Zeus's activity as an explanation of the weather is that it really isn't that helpful. A very skilled priest might be able to decipher the omens that precede a given meteorological phenomenon, but he will still look like a clever child next to a meteorologist when it comes to weather prediction.

So Zeus has had no choice but to stay in retirement. If he were to come out, he'd just be a laughing stock in a world where science can explain the natural world so much better than religion (which has pretty much given up even on trying).

But now it's time for a change. Prepare for Meteorology vs. Zeus II: This Time It's Impersonal.

What got Zeus knocked out of the championship the first time round was the belief in free will. If Zeus is responsible for the weather, and the weather is in theory completely predictable, then Zeus's actions must also be completely predictable. Meaning Zeus has no free will.

But if a god has no free will and humans do, that makes gods inferior to humans. Religion says that can't happen. So Zeus must have free will and it can't be true that the weather follows predictable patterns.

An instant K.O., I'm sure you'll agree. The success of meteorology, limited though it may be, demonstrates that the weather follows predictable patterns. If a religion says otherwise, that religion must be wrong.

So how can Zeus recover from such a humiliating defeat?

Using the truth. The truth is that humans have no free will because they have no selves. There is no self that stands outside reality and says "even though the sum of past and present environmental influences should cause me to do X, I will do Y instead". You can confirm this for yourself by observing your choices - can you see an entity that makes them in reality, or do they just happen?

And if humans don't have free will, then the gods are not inferior to them when they don't have it either. The wiser of the ancients knew this, and if you dig deep into pagan religions, you will find admissions that the gods are fully as bound by fate as humans. The religions which try to deny this - like Christianity - do so at the cost of a cascade of paradoxes.

How does this bring Zeus back into the ring?

If Zeus has no free will, and we don't either, then his actions are (in theory) fully predictable, without in any way reducing his divine majesty. In other words, if the gods exist, then they and their actions are necessarily part of the clockwork mechanism of the universe just like the rest of us, not spectators who interfere on a whim.

If so, whether you're trying to comprehend the ways in which the will of Zeus works or studying the phenomena which affect the weather, as long as you're applying the same level of scientific rigour, you will get basically the same results.

No-self and its corollaries level the playing field between secularism and theism as models for explaining the natural world. Admittedly, there are still reasons to pick some models over others - wait until meteorology gets back into the ring waving Occam's Razor, for example. 

But now it's a real contest of equally effective models for explaining the world, without being compelled to either give up science, give up belief in superhuman entities or perform ridiculous mental contortions in order to reconcile them.

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Wednesday, 15 June 2011

A Brief Note on Laser Focus

I'm learning the extent to which focused honesty is more than a tool; it can become a way of life.

Here's a pattern I've gone through several times over the last couple of days:

- I feel scared of something.
- I look to see what it is I'm scared of, and what the belief driving that fear is.
- I look to see if the belief is true.
- I generally have to work through several iterations before the real, correctly formulated belief becomes apparent.
- I look at it until I see whether it is true.
- It is not true.
- I stop being scared of whatever it was that scared me.
- I now have one fewer false belief.

I'd like to get into the practice of doing this every time I feel something caused by a false belief. There is still a lot of fear left in my life (you'll recall that liberation doesn't automatically clear away past conditioning; that has to be done manually), and ditching it will let me do the things I really want to.

Try it yourself. It's a powerful method, and it's absolutely free.

P.S. I'd like to post an example of working through a belief like this at some point, but the process always seems to be a bit messy and not completely linear in practice, so I have yet to come up with a suitable model case.

Disclaimer: I don't know if it'll work as well if you're still suffering from the delusion of self. Ditch that first.

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On Individuality

I've encountered a lot of people who say the following:

"Of course I have a self! I have a unique first-person perspective on the world. I am the only one who thinks my thoughts and feels my feelings. I don't have access to your thoughts, and you don't have access to mine, and we don't see the world the same way, so that proves that you and I both exist."

This is a fallacy.

Let's take it apart bit by bit.

1) A unique first-person perspective on the world.

Not to be too blunt about this, but heck, mate, what else can a human body generate?

Can you conceive of eyes that see in second or third person? How about ears that hear in second or third person? Maybe your skin should feel things that push that guy over there instead of things that push the body that skin is part of?

Ditto uniqueness. If my body is standing over here and your body is standing over there, of course their perspectives would be unique. The only way two bodies could have the same perspective would be if they overlapped so completely that they were, in fact, the same body. Do you see that happen a lot?

A unique first-person perspective on the world is the natural, inevitable, and automatic consequence of there being a body with a set of senses. Nothing more.

2) I am the only one that thinks my thoughts and feels my feelings. I don't have access to your thoughts, and you don't have access to mine.

First off, there is no you that thinks thoughts and feels feelings. Look for one in your experience. Can you see the thinker or the feeler? Can you see anything other than the thoughts and feelings themselves? Do they need you to do something before they arise?

Secondly, think about what it means for a human body to function again. Is a human body equipped with senses that let it feel another body's physical pain? Is it equipped with senses that let it feel another body's digestive processes? How about ATP synthesis? How about another body's sense of smell, or taste, or touch?

Then why would one human body be able to sense another's thoughts or feelings?

The fact is that one human body is incapable of directly experiencing the same thing as another human body because of basic facts of biology. A self is not required to explain it.

3) We don't see the world the same way.

From the point of birth, no two human bodies occupy the same physical space. They are usually not even genetically the same, so they come with starting differences. Either way, they will always encounter different stimuli from the environment, and those stimuli will cause the development of different cognitive frameworks in response, and thence the thinking of different thoughts and the feeling of different feelings.

Thinking and feeling in different ways is a natural, inevitable, and automatic consequence of being different people.

So do unique human beings with unique first-person perspectives on the world and unique thoughts and feelings that cannot be directly experienced by another exist? Yes.

Is a self necessary for them to be any of those things? No.

Does a self exist? No.

Look. You can see this for yourself, in your own experience.

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Monday, 13 June 2011

How to Develop Laser Focus

Do you value the truth? Do you want to be able to burn through lies with the speed and intensity of a terawatt laser facing a very thin sheet of paper?

Here's how.

1. Look and see if there's a you.

Start here if you don't understand what this means, or come here if you need extra help doing it.

This step is imperative. Strictly speaking, it's still possible to be brutally honest while operating under the delusion of self. But it's like becoming incredibly good at winning battles with a blunt butter knife when you have a katana sheathed at your side.

For as long as you believe in a self, you are handicapped when it comes to honesty. Being right matters. Being wrong matters. There's this mystical thing called "being true to yourself", which matters very much. There are beliefs which you need in order to withstand life's many challenges, like "God loves me" or "I have the power to keep my family safe", and the possibility of finding out that they're false is downright terrifying.

Recognising that there's no you brings freedom from all that. No-one is right or wrong. There are just thoughts which are true or false in the way they describe reality. And that means that you can afford to be 100% wrong about absolutely everything you've ever believed, and it's OK.

With this comes the courage to test any belief, no matter how deep or precious, and to shatter even the most beautiful lie on the rock of reality.

2. Plug in your power source.

Your lie-burning laser deserves the greatest power source it can get. That power source is not your finite human intelligence. It's not your personal skill at solving puzzles. It's not the strength and consistency of your belief system. It's not your capacity for analysis and comprehension.

That power source is reality itself.

What this means is that when you are faced with a belief you want to test, you do not try to pick it apart or compare it to your own beliefs. You put reality on one side and the belief on the other, and then dive the heck out of the way.

The key point here is to suspend everything you normally believe. If someone says to you "your father is actually a shapeshifting lizard from the planet Zong", you don't say "of course he isn't, because of X, Y and Z". If someone says to you "God doesn't exist", you don't say "of course he does, I believe in God". Instead, you step out of the way and let reality power your laser focus. Reality can be misinterpreted, but it cannot lie.

3. Aim the laser.

Your target is the belief in its strongest form. Assume that the belief you are testing is absolutely true. It is the truest thing you've ever believed.

Some flaws in the belief may become apparent to you immediately. Fix them. Find the best arguments you can to justify why these aren't really flaws, or why the belief is true in spite of them. That's what you do when you are convinced that a belief is true.

Now comes the fun part.

4. FIRE.

With the belief at the forefront of your mind, face reality head on. Look at your experience of life, and follow all the implications given that the belief is true.

Now, there are two things that can happen here.

A) The belief will be perfectly consistent with reality, no matter how long and hard you look.

Take your time confirming this. Hours, maybe even days if that's what it takes to be sure. If, at the end of that time, you haven't found a single contradiction between the belief and your experience, you have to accept that the belief is an accurate model of reality.

Of course, the belief could still be wrong, and could be disproved by new evidence coming to light. Every scientist knows that you can never conclusively prove something to be true. But until that new evidence emerges, you have to accept that this belief is as true as any of your beliefs can get.

or B) You will discover an inconsistency so staggering that the very notion of continuing to hold the belief will be ridiculous.

This is where laser focus really shines. Remember all that patching up of minor flaws you did earlier? You won't regret it, because the stuff you will discover by holding a belief up directly to the light of reality is in a whole other league. The most arcane, sophisticated, seemingly bulletproof structures collapse like houses of cards in a Magnitude 10 earthquake.

The great thing is that this process is not only supremely powerful. Honesty turned up to 11 is not only devastating to any lie. It is also beautiful.

The reason for this is that the truth is always simple. There may be vast layers of complexity to a belief itself, but the inconsistency at the root of a false belief can usually (in my experience, at least) be expressed in just one or two sentences.

As a lover of conciseness, I can't get enough of this. I see a brilliant, elaborate two-page argument, and in a single paragraph demolish it so utterly that those two pages become just so much waste paper.

As often as not, of course, that argument is my own. But that's just part of the fun.

So that's laser focus in a nutshell. There's just one more step, and actually, it's as important as the rest.

5. Train.

Laser focus is a skill. It can be trained. You can get better, faster, more efficient. You can learn to apply it as your default approach to life, to the point where your mere gaze vaporises deception as if you were Cyclops from the X-Men.

The only things you require for training are testable beliefs. You can get these anywhere. The best ones are your own, because whenever you eliminate a false belief, you become a distinctly more effective human being. You no longer make mistakes based on an incorrect understanding of reality, and you no longer waste time and energy trying to will a lie into being true.

But other people's beliefs work too. Sometimes, in fact, in the process of disproving a belief, you will discover that you unknowingly believe the same thing. In this case, you will be not only exposing someone else's error, but eliminating one within yourself at the same time.

Happily, with the advent of the Internet, you can find testable beliefs on any subject that interests you with ease. I've got some of my best insights, for example, by reading the arguments of people debating the topic of no-self on a personal development forum, and asking "is what this person saying true?"

I'm still learning to wield the great and terrible power of laser focus, and I may well post more on the topic once I get some more insights on how to optimise it. In the meantime, why not start developing your own? You can even use this blog as one of your targets - hold it up to the light of truth, and let me know of any inconsistencies that emerge.

Complete freedom from delusion is available to you, here and now. Do you value the truth enough to take it?

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