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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