Unification of Science and Spirit -- Copyright Ben Goertzel © 1996
INSPIRATION AND BLISS
We have seen that, in order to understand Mind, it is necessary to move beyond Mind itself, narrowly construed, into the universe as a whole. The structures of individual consciousness and the structures of the cosmos are one and the same. The identity of these structures is not a physical identity or even a psychological identity: it is an identity of abstract patterns, an identity in anandamaya, the realm of Bliss. To see this identity, to make this identity a part of one's life, is a matter of spiritual insight -- it is a kind of Intuition.
This concept of Intuition is absolutely essential. For, after all, it is one thing to write about the unity of the individual consciousness and the All, or to think about it intellectually; it is quite another thing to realize this unity at one's core, with all one's heart and soul. This is a matter of Intuition, of an intuition so deep that it penetrates the sheaths and unties the knots that restrict Being from itself.
In this final chapter I will explore this notion of Intuition, from a number of different perspectives.
Intuition may be considered part of mind, it is a mental function. But it is different from other mental functions, like deduction, induction, emotion and memory. More than just mind acting on itself, intuition is mind reaching beyond mind, reaching up toward something else. It is the influx of fundamentally new structure into the individual mind. It is the movement of mind to adapt to input from the transpersonal realm, from the Overmind, anandamaya, the collective unconscious.
Sometimes, in ordinary life, it is difficult to distinguish intuition from emotive thought. Any idea or inclination which goes against rational, logical thought is a candidate for the label "intuitive." In terms of the hierarchy of being, however, the distinction between emotion and intuition is an extremely important one. If one has a certain craving -- e.g. a craving borne of romantic love, or hunger, or frustration -- and follows it, this is not Intuition. It is a phenomenon fundamentally of the Body level, pranamaya. Sometimes intuitions may align themselves with emotions, circumventing the rational level; in other situations, intuition and emotion may oppose each other. Intuition is irrational, but in a different way from emotion: it takes instructions from somewhere else besides the body. It exists onthe level of higher-order emergent patterns.
Intuition is not generally experienced as a "spiritual" phenomenon, a direct contact with pure Being. Rather, intuition is an experience of the Divine in the form of some particular idea, some specific inspiration. It is the result of pure Being infiltrating the mental realm, and helping the mental realm to transcend its own limitations.
Everyone experiences intuition, but some people experience it only occasionally, and only with slight intensity. Intuition plays a minor role in their lives. For others -- especially artists, writers, scientists and other "creative people" -- intuition is a dominant part of life. Even among creative people, however, the power of intuition involved may vary greatly.
For some creative people, intuition exists in the service of rational and emotive thought. It is just a way of getting around obstacles that cannot be gotten around in any other way. For others, intuition melds into deeper spiritual insight: it is a way of exploring the deeper realms of the universe, that may also happen to have practical consequences now and then. In these latter cases, Intuition is melding into anandamaya, Bliss. These are the cases that will interest us the most here. They are the intuitions that pierce the sheaths of Being, that bring the personal and the universal together.
In general, the most profound creative insights always seem to have something of the Realm of Bliss in them. They go beyond the purely personal level, and embody cultural or human universals. They show us nebulous forms that defy the range of the individual mind. In these cases, intuition is not acting in the service of rational/emotive thought; but precisely the opposite is happening. Reason and emotion are acting in the service of Intuition.
In anandamaya, the Realm of Bliss, one experiences Being more directly than during intuitive insight. One experiences Being as a creator and destroyer of forms. One experiences a pattern-space, a universe of fuzzy, chancy forms, at once too disparate and too coherent to put into words or symbols. One experiences a vast intelligence, embodied in a boundless, flowing fabric of reality.
The only well-known image we have for the Realm of Bliss in our culture is Jung's "collective unconscious". The idea of the collective unconscious has never been accepted by scientific psychology, but it has survived anyway, because of its powerful resonance with peoples' conscious experience. The collective unconscious is a vast pool of partly-formed structures, which appear in the mind as definite symbolic images. Great creative discoveries work by drawing "universal" structures from the collective unconscious and elaborating them in individual, intelligent, appropriate ways.
By its very nature, the Realm of Bliss can never be scientifically studied; it is too ungraspable for that. Once adefinite form emerges from anandamaya into the thinking, scientific mind, one is dealing with Intuition and not Bliss. Intuition is the highest level of the hierarchy of being that is susceptible to any kind of scientific investigation.
In the hierarchical model of the universe, one sees a linear progression from Mind, through Intuition, to Bliss and then Being. But there is also another point of view, represented by the second diagram drawn at the beginning of the book. This view, the interpenetrative view, is based on the fundamental triad of Mind, Body and World. Mind, Body and World all create each other in a cyclic fashion; but all have Being within them. The realm of Quanta is obtained by injecting World with a dose of Being -- by fluidifying the rigid structures of the world, breaking them down into more freely-flowing processes that interpenetrate and transform each other. The realm of Intuition is obtained in a similar way from the Mind: creative intuition is a process of loosening up thoughts from their habitual patterns, and allowing them to move around until they settle into a new, more inspired, pattern. And, similarly, though perhaps less obviously, the realm of Bliss is obtained by loosening up the rigid structures of the Body.
The Body is a physical entity, but it is also a metaphorical, metaphysical entity. A person's body-image is intricately tied up with their method of constructing concepts, of partitioning up the world. The boundary between Self and World is the same as the boundary demarcating each concept, the boundary between This-Idea and Remainder-of-Mind. By dissolving the boundaries between ideas, allowing all ideas to flow through each other in intricate, dazzling, beautiful patterns, the Realm of Bliss is also dissolving the body. In Intuition, one individual is receiving insights from above, pertinent to his or her particular life. In anandamaya, on the other hand, the individual body is vanished, or it is present in diminished form, as one among many fluctuating patterns. The individual self is gone. The Realm of Bliss is the Collective Unconscious, the Overmind -- it is the transpersonal realm, in which the body, the granter of individuality, has been shed. This is the irony of practices such as Yoga, which teach one to control one's body, with the ultimate aim of transcending one's body.
In this chapter, I will explore Intuition and Bliss side by side, with a particular emphasis on experiences that play around the boundary of the two. First, as concrete human examples of Intuition and Bliss, I will discuss the creative/intuitive/ spiritual experiences of some of the writers whose works and lives I have studied. These writers illustrate the diverse ways that intuition melds into spiritual insight. In many cases, there is no separating out the two: each one presents itself in the clothes of the other.
Two of these visionary writers -- Benjamin Whorf and Goethe --were also scientists. In addition to the relation between Intuition and Bliss, these individuals illustrate something further: the way Intuition bridges the two levels of Mind and Bliss. Intuition, in these case, give both insight into the deeper spiritual nature of the universe, and also into the logical, scientific workings of the material world.
The use of writers -- rather than, say, visual artists or scientists -- to investigate Intuition is a somewhat arbitrary choice, which reflects my own personal interests. But it does have one definite advantage: it allows one to deal with a direct way in issues of language. The nature of language is a crucial question for anyone concerned with the mind and universe. The intuitive experiences of writers provide insight into Intuition and language both.
Language, as studied in modern linguistics, is a purely computational entity. It consists of sequences of symbols, acted on by transformations. The vision of the Realm of Bliss in terms of language is hence, at bottom, a vision of the Realm of Bliss in computational terms. In the end, I will argue, the moment of creative inspiration is always a moment of perception of the world as virtual. Inspired artists, at the moment of creation, have always lived in a virtual world.
Specifically, modern linguistics is based on Noam Chomsky's concept of transformations that take a "deep structure," which is unconscious, to a "surface structure" which can be communicated to others. For instance, if the deep structure consisted of a person going to the store -- "I go store" -- the surface structure would consist of a sentence based on this structure, "I'm going to the store" or "It's to the store that I'm going," etc.
What we will arrive at here is a different kind of deep structure: a deep structure which specifies a kind of syntactic/semantic template for an idea or utterance, residing in anandamaya, the collective, transpersonal realm -- the "back of the mind." Proceeding down the hierarchy, these linguistic templates become more and more definite, until ultimately, in the realm of the rational mind, they become concepts, sentences, formulae.
Then, in the following chapter, I will turn to the psychedelic experience. Psychedelic drugs are probably the main route by which individuals in modern culture encounter the Realm of Bliss. They are an ancient technology, preceding the more difficult methods developed by the Oriental mystics. A careful consideration of the psychedelic experience -- particularly, here, the LSD experience -- gives a great deal of insight into the nature of the higher realms of being. Psychedelics will bring us back to the questions raised at the end of the previous chapter, regarding the differences between the abstract mental structures associated with the enlightened and ordinary states of consciousness.
Inspiration and bliss are timeless things -- they have nothing to do with drugs, computers, writing, or any other technology. But yet these different technologies can serve as portals to the Realm of Bliss. The same cultural and physical constructions that prevent us from seeing the Realm of Bliss all around us, are ourtools in breaking through to underlying blissful reality. This is the supreme irony which I have called "the contradiction at the heart of wisdom." Science and technology have emerged from, and solidified, a culture which exalts the individual and hence separates the individual from the cosmos as a whole. But they are leading us toward a world-view in which, once again, the individual stream of consciousness and the flow of time and form in the universe are one.
I am going to talk about some of my creative heroes -- some visionary writers, or linguistic visionaries. These are individuals whose intuitions into the use of language have led them beyond the realm of Intuition proper, and into domains of deeper spiritual understanding, into the Realm of Bliss.
Of course, the experiences of these writers are not in any sense "characteristic." Visionary writers represent a particular type of human being, with their own peculiar way of experiencing material and spiritual reality. But as we move toward anandamaya, we have passed the point where any of the generalizations that I know can be useful. The unification of science and spirit is still meaningful, but in a less concrete way. Spiritual and scientific considerations can still inspire each other, through the discussion of these phenomena, but they cannot connect to each other as directly as on the mental and physical levels. Here things are too individual and shifting for scientific concepts to have any fixed relevance.
The experience of these writers is that anandamaya is made of language. This is a valuable insight, which gives us a new way of understanding the Realm of Bliss. It should not be taken as an "scientific truth" of any kind -- it is just one way of experiencing things. But, as we are all users of language in so many ways, it is a way of experiencing things that is deeply relevant to all of us. This mode of experience gives us a new way of thinking about scientific linguistics -- about the transformations involved in language. And it gives us a new way of thinking about our everyday, language-filled minds.
Reality and Literary Reality
Let us begin our literary explorations with a brief discussion of the relation between literary reality and "reality" itself. Many writers, I have found, shared a common vision of words and sentences and paragraphs as a way of goading the mind into recognizing a deeper reality -- reality more fundamental than the one generally recognized as "real." This more fundamental plane is precisely anandamaya, the Overmind; or what I have called hyperreality. The state of mind which these writers wish their work to induce is precisely equivalent to the recognition of the world as virtual. It is the recognition that the world is made of patterns, habits and structures; that everything is autonomous and free to act on anything else, subject only to the law that habits will tend to persist.
A good case in point is Marcel Proust. At well over 3000 pages, Proust's Remembrance of Things Past is the longest continuous story in the history of "serious" literature. Yet the story which it tells spans only a few decades; indeed, around 80% of the book deals with a single decade of the narrator's life. And even within this short time scale, the narrative is focused on brief snippets. Hundreds of pages are devoted to a single dinner party; twenty pages to the experience of looking at a room of paintings, or listening to a piece of music. What is the purpose of this "magnifying glass" approach? Proust wanted to get at, not the broad contours of life that are captured in such things as "plots" and "characters," but the specific, situation-bound feelings that make up the concrete experience of living. The assumption is that these feelings are universal, and that they constitute a kind of reality which is deeper and more real than the particular collection of habits that is conventionally taken for absolute reality.
So-called "realistic" art, according to Proust, falsifies reality. The truly realistic work of art is not the one which produces a falsely frozen, "objectified" picture of the world, but the one which captures the fluidity of the world as perceived by actual human beings. As observed by the narrator of Remembrance, who toward the end of the book becomes more and more closely identified with the author himself,
Real life, life at last laid bare and illuminated -- the only life in consequence which can be said to be really lived -- is literature, and life thus defined is in a sense all the time immanent in ordinary men no less than in the artist. But most men do not see it because they do not seek to shed light upon it. And therefore their past is like a photograpic dark-room encumbered with innumerable negatives which remain useless because the intellect has not developed them.
Real life, the real world, is equated with literature. Each one of us, by living, writes his own book. The Remembrance of Things Past was Proust's attempt to create an outer book approximating his inner book -- and thus, as a consequence, approximating everybody's inner book:
I thought ... modestly of my book and it would be inaccurate even to say that I thought of those who would read it as "my" readers. For it seemed to me that they would not be "my" readers but the readers of their own selves, my book being merely a sort of magnifying glass like those which the optician at Combray used to offer his customers -- it would bemy book, but with its help I would furnish them with the means of reading what lay inside themselves. So that I should not ask them to praise or to censure me, but simply to tell me whether "it really is like that," I should ask them whether the words that they read within themselves are the same as those which I have written (though a discrepancy in this respect need not always be the consequence of an error on my part, since the explanation could also be that the reader had eyes for which my book was not a suitable instrument).
What is this "it" referred to in Proust's "'it really is like that'"? This "it" is, most obviously, the true reality of human experience -- something which is not gotten across by ordinary novels, but which Remembrance makes at least an effort to transmit.
The true reality, in Proust's view, is somewhere different than in the solid world of objects studied by classical physics. First of all, it is more psychological than physical:
I had realized now that it is only a clumsy and erroneous form of perception which places everything in the object, when really everything is in the mind; I had lost my grandmother in reality many months after I had lost her in fact, and I had seen people present various aspects according to the idea that I or others possessed of them, a single individual being different people for different observers ... or even for the same observer at different periods over the years.
But "everything is in the mind" does not imply that everything is in the conscious mind. Though writing before psychoanalysis became popular, Proust developed a very sophisticated understanding of the subterranean, inarticulate forces guiding behavior. And so, though he placed everything in the mind, he attached the greatest importance to those patterns emerging from outside the coherent, linguistic, thinking mind:
When an idea -- an idea of any kind -- is left in us by life, its material pattern, the outline of the impression that it made upon us, remains behind as the token of its necessary truth. The ideas formed by the pure intelligence have no more than a logical, a possible truth, they are arbitrarily chosen. The book whose hieroglyphs are patterns not traced by us is the only book that really belongs to us.
The word "pattern" is a signpost for pragmatism: the first sentence of this quote makes the very Peircean observation that memory deals with habits, with patterns, with Thirds. Experiences, when we come across them for the first time, have a quality of immediacy that cannot be duplicated. When we visit them again via memory, we see only their patterns, their abstract structure. But the fact is that, even if one rejects the notion of an absolutely solid external reality, one must admit the existence of a source of patterns existing outside one's own consciousness, one's own "pureintelligence." This constant flow of unfamiliar patterns is the real crux of external reality: it is what makes the internal books of our lives interesting reading.
Proust wanted Remembrance to be a "virtual reality" in a very strong sense: it was supposed to create a simulated world in which the reader would experience his own self more intensely than in the real world. But this idea is not as crazy as it might sound. For there is a sense in which the novel, as a technology, is a "proto virtual reality machine." It is obviously not a true virtual reality machine, but it is a precursor which has many of the same qualities as a true virtual reality machine.
Sitting down in front of a printed page sets the mind in a certain special state. Anyone who doubts this should reflect on the enormous subjective difference between reading words printed in a book and reading words displayed on a computer screen. The very permanence of the book imparts a certain reassuring feeling. And the feel of the spine or pages in one's hand also has a definite psychological effect. When I read a novel, I have, as the song goes, "the whole world in my hands." The fictional universe described by the book is demarcated as a part of me, as an element of my immediate physical world. And it is precisely the fact that it is a part of me that allows me to feel that I am a part of it.
The constrast between books and computer screens is somewhat similar to the constrast between movies and TV shows. When one stares at the TV, one is always aware that one is looking at a little box with pictures flashing on it. This effect can be counteracted somewhat by shutting out all the lights, but even then one does not obtain the same sense of totality that a movie screen automatically imparts. You can enter into the world of a movie precisely because the movie scenes identify themselves with your whole visual field. The movie is in you, so you can allow yourself to enter into it. Similarly, the book is in your hand, it is a part of your body, and hence you can thoroughly, unreservedly, attach your emotions to the world inside the book. This reflects the fundamentally self-referential nature of the universe: the world is inside the mind, which is inside the world. Every time we go to a movie, or read a book, we recapitulate this basic self-reference to a striking degree.
Perhaps someday, TV screens will be large enough and accurate enough that they will have the same effect as movies. And perhaps someday, the computer screen will seem so natural hat it will promote the sensations of inclusion and reassurance currently associated with books. But today, there is a definite distinction between the two types of media. Books and movies are excellent proto virtual reality machines -- we enter into them, we forget the world in which we "really" live. Word processing programs and TV shows are, except perhaps for a few unusual minds, not very strongas proto virtual reality machines. They may entertain us, but they never cause us to forget who and where we are.
Perhaps the biggest weakness of the book as a VR technology is its one-dimensionality. When reading a novel, it seems to us that events proceed in a fairly linear way. But in fact, is not each of the characters thinking and doing something at each point in time? When writing a third-person novel, the writer has no choice but to distort the time axis of his fictional world, in order to meet the demand of presenting different points of view one after the other.
Similarly, in a mathematics book, each definition, each theorem seems to follow very naturally from the last. This linear order does reflect the underlying deductive order of mathematics -- but it also covers something up. The only really natural way to teach high school mathematics, for example, would be to teach algebra and geometry together. Doing algebra first, one inevitably loses something that would be obtained by doing geometry first; and doing geometry first, one inevitably loses something that would be obtained by doing algebra first.
Even in these relatively straightforward types of book, lineality is a minor problem. When writing a book such as The Remembrance of Things Past, whose central theme is precisely the importance of individual images and the absence of a unified overlying structure in the world, lineality becomes almost intolerably confusing and distorting. Thus Proust's novel is in a sense paradoxical. Its form is inevitably opposed to its content. It wants to transmit the contents of memory, but instead of taking on the shape of memory, it must take on the linear shape of a narrative. The one-dimensionality of time is just as illusory as every other aspect of the "shallow realism" that Proust derided.
There are books which struggle to go beyond the habit of lineality. The best novels of Philip K. Dick, to be discussed below, fall within this category by virtue of their constant shifts in space, time and authorial perspective. James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake is an even more valiant effort in this direction -- it is like a system of equations, where one must understand every section in order to understand any section (of course, it is also nearly impossible to read). Octavio Paz wrote pairs of poems which can be read either separately, or in combination as a single poem.
But this sort of "nonlineality" can at best be partially successful. Reading, even reading radical writing such as Dick, Joyce and Paz, accustoms us to living in virtual worlds with a rigid lineal structure. Therefore it automatically predisposes us against accepting the multiversality of the world.
In fact, this is approximately what Marshall McLuhan meant when he wrote that TV and computers are moving us into a "global village," a new tribalism in which multiversality and multidimensionality replace objectivity and lineality as strategies for understanding the world. But the problem with this idea is that TV and computers are not effective proto virtual reality machines. They are not easy enough to enter into. When we have real virtual reality machines, McLuhan's prediction should genuinely come true. We will no longer think in the lineal,objectivist way that printed matter tends to induce. We will think multidimensionally, fractally, hyperrealistically -- not "tribally," not as they thought before printing was invented, but rather in a new way which overcomes the very issue of "lineality"....
The Mixed-Up Mind of Philip K. Dick
Another writer who was very explicitly concerned with issues of underlying reality was Philip K. Dick. Like Proust, Dick was concerned with "jolting" the reader out of his everyday mindset, impelling the reader's mind to a deeper understanding.
Dick might seem to be as far-removed from Proust as one could possibly get. Proust was highbrow; Dick was lowbrow. Proust wrote an endless literary novel, snobbishly obsessed with the rich and titled, full of fancy syntax and meandering sentences; Dick wrote a series of short science-fiction novels, with short, punchy sentences, a lower-middle-class sensibility, and a deep respect for the ordinary, undistinguished man. Beneath the surface however, there are several important commonalities. Both were concerned with getting at the essence of nature. Both were entranced with the human construction of reality. And both wanted to make an active difference in the realities of their readers.
Proust, born independently wealthy, spent the first half of his adult life in relative indolence, and devoted the second half to writing the "inner book" of these idle years. Philip K. Dick, on the other hand, spent much of his life scrounging for food and rent money (and unfortunately this was true even after he became a celebrated writer). He wrote science fiction for a living, and in order to sell books, he had to write stories with lively plots. His editors would not have allowed him to fill up his novels with Proustian philosophical observations. In order to tell his own "inner story," therefore, he had to be much more clever; he had to write in a kind of code, describing science-fictional "real-world" events which were actually inspired by events within his own mind. As Dick reached the end of his life, however, a very strange thing happened: his creative process inverted itself, and he became convinced that his own inner life was affected by science-fictional things like alien artificial intelligences. In the conventional view of things, the only explanation for this strange occurence is that Dick "went insane." But the hyperrealist perspective suggests a more detailed explanation (and one which is, as we shall see, supported by Dick's own autobiographical writings): as a part of his process of creative inspiration, Dick simply ceased to make a distinction between mind and reality. This did not render him insane in the sense of being unable to function in the world; it simply made his world-view unusual. It is true that eventually he committed suicide, but his depression was a life-long characteristic, and long preceded his science-fictional"delusions."
To understand Dick's peculiar form of "insanity" we must first of all discuss the actual contents of his books. Dick was one of the major science fiction writers of the century -- and hence of all time -- but, ironically, the science in Dick's novels is usually contrived and pseudoscientific, even by science fiction standards. What makes Dick's novels great has nothing to do with science, and only a little to do with science fiction. Dick once wrote that all his novels are concerned with two questions: What is real?, and What is human?
Dick's concern for the essence of humanity is what makes his novels fun to read: although the science is hokey, the characters are real; they have real emotions, problems and concerns. And human morality is the central focus of one of Dick's most popular novels: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which was the basis for the movie Blade Runner. As the title indicates, Do Androids Dream is concerned with the differences between humans and high-tech androids -- the physiological differences, but more importantly the moral differences.
But it is Dick's preoccupation with the essence of reality that makes his novels unique in all world literature. Many have asked "What is real?" -- but few have interpreted the question in so many different ways, and none have given so many interesting answers.
For example, Man in the High Castle is an excellent alternate-world novel, beginning from the barely science-fictional premise that the Axis, and not the Allies, won the Second World War. The hero of the book is a novelist, Abendsen, who has written a book called "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy" about an alternate world in which the Allies won World War II (for in the world of Dick's book, this is a fiction). Throughout his writing of the book, Abendsen has been using the I Ching to guide him -- to tell him who should be elected president in his alternate world, and so on.
And then, at the end of High Castle -- the very last page -- Abendsen's wife asks the I Ching about "The Grasshopper Lies Heavy." The I Ching replies: True Reality.
This is what I call a Phil Dick moment. Suddenly, the whole world, all the contents of your mind -- everything is questioned. Abendsen's wife understands that, in reality, the Allies did win the war -- than her world is only semi-real . Although High Castle is one of the best alternate-world novels ever written, it is the last page which sticks in your mind.
Another classic Phil Dick moment occurs in the movie Total Recall, and the story upon which it is loosely based, "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale." The lead character, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, wants to go to Mars for vacation -- but his wife wants to go to Titan. So he hears about a company which will implant in your mind the memory of a vacation. You strap yourself to their company computer, and in two hours when you wake up you feel as though you have gone to Mars -- or Titan, or Venus, or wherever.
This is a brilliant twist on the idea that the best thing about a vacation is the remembrance of it. Our hero signs up for a simulated Mars trip, and the computer operators ask him what sort of vacation he would like. Would he like to experience Mars as an ordinary tourist, as a rich business executive, as a secret agent...? He chooses secret agent.
But the simulated trip goes awry. He experiences psychosis while connected to the machine, and actually destroys the machine as he struggles to escape the false reality. Then, on his way home to his apartment, he is ambushed by mysterious people who yell "You just couldn't keep quiet about Mars!" Only by the most outlandish luck does he manage to kill all his attackers and escape....
After a complicated sequence of events, our hero finds out the "truth" of the matter. He learns that he had previously been a secret agent, doing some kind of mysterious work on Mars, and that he had voluntarily had his memory blotted, so as to go undercover as effectively as possible....
Eventually he winds up on Mars, trying to get at the root of the phenomenon; and some of his old enemies try to arrest him. He pulls a gun and threatens them. They can't get him to surrender, so they get clever. They bring in a psychiatrist, and have him tell our hero that he is still attached to the simulated vacation machine -- that he is not really on Mars at all, but in their office deep in psychosis, and that if he does not put down the gun he will sink even further into psychosis.
This is a Phil Dick moment, par excellence! Where am I? Who am I? What am I doing?....
But these are minor examples. Without a doubt the most impressive and profound of Dick's works are Ubik and The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Each of these novels presents the "What is real?" question in a clearer fashion than one would imagine to be possible.
Ubik presents a group of characters fleeing a mysterious attacker through a reality that keeps shifting. Specifically, their twenty-first century reality keeps getting earlier and earlier, until it reaches the 1930's. The only way out of the fake realities is to get ahold of a spray can of Ubik. Spray some Ubik around -- and false realities disappear! Mysterious, right? But then the characters realize that they are not in physical reality at all -- they were killed in an explosion, and they are stuck in cold-pac: a half-dead, half-alive state which allows the mind to wander through irrational dreams....
Three Stigmata, on the other hand, presents a somber future in which people are forced to leave Earth and live on Mars colonies, which consist of dingy, overcrowded hovels and parched, neglected farms. The only way to avoid being recruited for colonization is to become legally insane, which is accomplished by hiring a mechanical psychiatrist, "Dr. Smile"....
The Martians' only solace is a drug called Can-D, which works in conjunction with a "layout" -- a physical model of an illusoryworld. In a particularly humorous touch, the specific illusory world in question is 1950's America -- the layout consists of a doll-sized 1950's house, complete with a doll named Perky Pat and her husband doll, Walt. Taking Can-D gives the colonists the illusion of being Perky Pat and Walt, back in the (relatively) idyllic past.
But then eccentric billionaire Palmer Eldritch returns from Proxima Centauri with a new drug -- something even better, called Chew-Z. You don't need a layout for it. "Be choosy, chew Chew-Z" proclaim the advertisements -- and the colonists buy it. Chew-Z gives a far better trip: one experiences one's deepest fantasies, and different ones each time, instead of the same old Perky Pat. But there are three drawbacks....
One, a Chew-Z trip doesn't take any time. When you come down from your trip, even though subjectively hours or days have passed, it is exactly the same time as it was when the trip started.
Two, there is a certain evil presence hovering over you throughout the trip, playing nasty games on you and mocking you.
And three, you never really come down. The trip lasts forever.
As a symbol of this latter drawback, even after Palmer Eldritch is killed and Chew-Z is banished, everyone winds up walking around sporting the three most significant physical disabilities of Palmer Eldritch: a mechanical hand, a glass eye and a bad leg.
These are not the only profoundly ontological Dick novels. A complete treatment would have to include at very least Eye in the Sky, Time Out of Joint, Martian Time-Slip, Flow My Tears, the Policemen Said, A Maze of Death and A Scanner Darkly. But the most intriguing thing about Philip K. Dick is not what he wrote in his novels. It is, rather, the fact that, as he grew older, he came to believe his novels. He came to believe that the shifted, distorted realities of his novels represented a more fundamental truth than the spatiotemporal reality which we perceive around us.
Beginnings and ends of psychic events are always indeterminate. But for sake of simplicity, Dick always denoted the beginning of his spiritual "conversion" by the shorthand 2-3-74 -- meaning February/March 1974.
What happened in 2-3-74 is hard to summarize. Dick's own diary tells the story better than I could:
March 16, 1974: It appeared -- in vivid fire, with shining colors and balanced patterns -- and released me from every thrall, inner and outer
March 18, 1974: It, from inside me, looked out and saw the world did not compute, that I -- and it -- had been liedto. It denied the reality, and power, and authenticity of the world, saying "This cannot exist; it cannot exist."
March 20, 1974: It seized me entirely, lifting me from the limitations of the space-time matrix; it mastered me as, at the same instant, I knew that the world around me was cardboard, a fake. Through its power I saw suddenly the universe as it was; through its power and perception I saw what really existed, and through its power of no-thought decision, I acted to free myself....
This is insanity, right? One cannot dispute such a diagnosis -- the experience of being "possessed" by a superior, hyper-rational intelligence has a definitely loony ring to it! But, as Dick realized, even if 2-3-74 was insanity, it was also a spiritual revelation no different in kind from those associated with Buddha, Jesus, Zoroaster, William Blake, Nietzsche, Krishnamurti, and countless other mystical giants throughout history. 2-3-74 was an example of artistic intuition blossoming into something yet more profound -- of Intuition melding into Bliss.
Just as ancient mystics integrated their experiences with their own cultures, so Dick conceptualized his experiences in the vernacular of the twentieth century. In his novel VALIS, Dick describes the events of 2-3-74 in some detail, and elaborates them into a fictional plot involving rock stars, psychedelic music, and the coming of the savior in the form of a two year old girl. The result is an outstandingly original novel, one of Dick's best. Robert Anton Wilson deemed the narrative originality of VALIS to be comparable with that of James Joyce's Ulysses.
The most honest and penetrating assessment of 2-3-74 and its psychological aftermath may be found in the eight thousand page "Exegesis," a journal in which Dick recorded his own personal reactions and speculations. Underwood-Miller has published some of the more interesting fragments of the Exegesis, under the title In Pursuit of VALIS. (VALIS, incidentally, stands for Vast Active Living Intelligent System -- one of Dick's names for the "overmind" which contacted him in 2-3-74.)
What makes the Exegesis so enthralling is that, although he was emotionally overwhelmed by these visions, Dick never lost his skeptical side. He never lost sight of what he called the "minimum hypothesis," which was simply the possibility that he was totally insane and VALIS had no real existence. However, he was never completely successful at balancing his inherent skepticism with the passionate strength of 2-3-74. This constant tension is evident in the following passage from the Exegesis:
Here is the puzzle of [my novel] VALIS. In VALIS I say, I know a madman who imagines that he saw Christ; and I am that madman. But if I know that I am a madman I know that in fact I did not see Christ. Therefore I assert nothing about Christ. Or do I? Who can solve this puzzle? I say in fact only that I am mad. But if I say only that, then I have madeno mad claim; I do not, then, say that I saw Christ. Therefore I am not mad. And the regress begins again again, and continues forever. The reader must know on his own what has really been said, what has actually been asserted. Something has been asserted, but what is it? Does it have to do with Christ, or only with myself?.... There is no answer to this puzzle. Or is there?
In this passage, VALIS, the Vast Active Living Intelligent System, is described with the word "Christ." But this is not the key point. The main point is that Dick cannot accept that VALIS really exists, but yet he cannot reject it either. He is caught in a loop -- if he accepts that VALIS exists, then he knows that this is a mad idea, so he must believe that he is mad, in which case VALIS does not really exist. But if he rejects the existence of VALIS, then this is a sane thing to do, so he is not mad (he has no other reason to consider himself mad), so therefore what he perceives must be taken at face value, and VALIS must be accepted to exist. This regress of doubt, self-doubt, doubt of self-doubt, doubt of doubt of self-doubt, and so forth might seem to be the least productive thought process in the world. But no, in Dick's world things are exactly the opposite. The acceptance of this paradox becomes the paramount thing. Dick does not wish to overcome his skepticism, nor to overcome his passionate belief. "The Sophists," he writes,
saw paradox as a way of conveying knowledge -- paradox, in fact, as a way of arriving at conclusions. This is known, too, in Zen Buddhism. It sometimes causes a strange jolt or leap in someone's mind; something happens, an abrupt comprehension, as if out of nowhere, called satori. The paradox does not tell; it points. It is a sign, not the thing pointed to. That which is pointed to must arise ex nihilo in the mind of the person. The paradox, the koan, tells him nothing; it wakes him up. This only makes sense if you assume something very strange: we are asleep but do not know it. At least not until we wake up.
According to this argument, the process of simultaneously doubting and believing in VALIS is analogous to continually repeating a Zen koan to oneself. The paradox "wakes us up."
"Waking up" is not a phrase which Dick takes lightly. In fact Dick's concept of "waking up" is inextricably tied to Ubik, in which people are kept half-asleep in cold-pac, while they experience realities that are only "semi-real." And what keeps us from waking up is not merely laziness, or cosmic chance; it, like Palmer Eldritch as he appears to Chew-Z chewers, is definitely evil:
The criminal virus controls by occluding (putting us in a sort of half sleep) so that we do not see the living quality of this world, but see it as inert. Man reduced to automaton. The occlusion is self-perpetuating; it makes us unaware of it...
The process of thinking paradoxical thoughts is a pointer to something -- a pointer to something which the "criminal virus" prefers us not to see. And this something to which the paradoxical process points, is itself paradoxical:
Something ("Y") is recognized as its own antithesis ("~Y"). This sounds like Zen or Taoist thinking. But this is oxymoron thinking. ("A thing is either A or ~A" what could be more obvious? How can A=~A? There is no such category of thought; literally, it cannot be thought; it can be recognized about reality, however, as I did in 3-20-74).
In other words, the true underlying world -- which Dick calls by the Greek name macrometasomakosmos, but he might as well have called anandamaya, the Overmind -- is paradoxical. The true world is built on a foundation of paradox; and by presenting our minds with irresolvable paradoxes, such as the existence of VALIS, the true world alerts us to its own existence.
By this logic, Dick's own novels are part of the process by which the true underlying reality makes itself known:
My writing deals with hallucinated worlds, intoxicating & deluding drugs, & psychosis. But my writing acts as an antidote, a detoxifying -- not intoxicating -- antidote.... My writing deals with that which it lessens or dispels by -- raising those topics to our conscious attention....
The goal of Dick's novels is therefore not to get across any particular message or content, but just to wake us up.
In conclusion, one may summarize Dick's peculiar metaphysics in three key points:
1) the everyday spatiotemporal world is at most semi-real
2) there is another world underlying it which is truly real
3) the thing which prevents us from seeing this true world is evil
This is, as he points out, a combination of Gnostic and Platonic philosophical doctrines -- 1) and 2) are from Plato, and the idea of evil is from the Gnostics. But on a more essential level, it is a product of his own personal experience.
As a philosopher, Dick is a strange mix of Plato, Kant and Nietzsche. He is admittedly confused, and from one novel to the next he drifts from one view to the next. In Time Out of Joint the real world is finally attained through perseverance and intelligence; in Three Stigmata it is snapped away by evil, and the question of its recapture is left ambiguous; and in VALIS the whole idea of contacting true reality is made to seem faintly ridiculous. Dick's final view, however, as we shall see a little later, veers remarkably close to Peircean pragmatism and cyberspace philosophy: this mysterious "true world" is revealed to be nothing more than a world of pattern, of structure. The "evil" of which Dick speaks is thus nothing other than the mental block that prevents us from seeing reality as virtual. This evil is, in Buddhistic terms, the "mental knots" obstructing the smooth flow of the stream of consciousness. Dick, through his artistic intuition, saw through the surface structure world, through to another world beneath. But except in his most inspired moments, he was "asleep" like the rest of us -- his vision was occluded by mental knots, and he could not see through to the truth of things.
The Whorfian Vision.
Now let us move from Dick to an entirely different case -- Benjamin Lee Whorf, the radical ethnolinguist, who wrote a number of beautiful and influential essays on American Indian languages and the philosophy of langauge and mind. Empowered by Whorf's ideas on language, we will return to Dick shortly and gain new understanding.
Whorf shared with Dick a love for language, mysticism and science. His claim to fame is the theory of "linguistic relativity," which states that people from different cultures think differently because their languages are structured differently. But in fact, Whorf never earned his living as a linguist -- his natural inclination was toward physical science, and throughout his life he remained employed as a chemical engineer.
The theory of linguistic relativity is often called the "Whorf Hypothesis"; or else the "Sapir-Whorf hypothesis," a more accurate name which honors both Whorf and his mentor, Edward Sapir. It is, to say the least, a highly controversial idea. However, research done in the last two decades verifies that it is accurate, at least in certain contexts. For example, the sociologist Alfred Bloom has demonstrated that Chinese tend not to think in terms of counterfactuals -- they tend not to construct ideas of the form " If x were true, then..." unless they believe that x, in fact, has a reasonable chance of being true. This means that most Chinese will have to struggle to answer a question like, "If the government were to outlaw fingernails, how would you react?" They will be far more likely than Westerners to answer: "But the government hasn't and won't!" This phenomenon cannot be unrelated to the fact that the Chinese language lacks a convenient method for marking counterfactuals.
Whorf's hypothesis of linguistic relativity has received a lot of press. But much less attention has been paid to the Whorf's philosophy of language, thought and reality, which is what led him to linguistic relativity in the first place. Actually, in his general philosophy, Whorf was a sort of precursor of the current trend of crossbreeding modern science and mystical religion. Theurge for scientific/spiritual synthesis seems to have been the main psychological motive underlying all his work.
His first attempt to combine science and spirituality was a classic case of intellectual awkwardness. Can you think of anything more bizarre than a hybridization of Episcopalianism with general relativity theory? But gradually, over the course of years, Whorf's scientific focus shifted to ethnolinguistics, and his religious beliefs drifted toward Theosophy. And in the last essay of his short life -- "Language, Mind and Reality," published in Theosophist magazine in 1942 -- he achieved the synthesis he had been searching out for so long. He proclaimed that the forms of a person's thought are controlled by inexorable laws of pattern of which he is unconscious. These patterns are the un-perceived intricate systematizations of his own language -- shown readily enough by a candid comparison and contrast with other languages, especially those of a different linguistic family.... And every language is a vast pattern-system, different from others, in which are culturally ordained the forms and categories by which the personality not only communicates, but also analyzes nature, notices or neglects types of relationship and phenomena, and builds the house of his consciousness.
This is the science half of the Whorfian synthesis: the empirically testable hypothesis that the deepest patterns of thought are mostly also patterns of language. The reader may have noticed how nicely Whorf's phrasing fits in with hyperrealist philosophy. "[I]nexorable laws of pattern" control the mind -- this is precisely the computational-pragmatist point of view championed above. Whorf is merely saying that the most complex and subtle patterns in the mind are precisely linguistic ones. And this is almost indisputable -- so long as one, following Whorf, takes a suitably general view of what constitutes a "language."
But Whorf could not let science stand alone. He immediately followed up his scientific hypothesis with a remarkably lucid and beautiful statement of his spiritual views. This is such a tremendous passage that an extended quotation seems in order:
This doctrine is new to Western science, but it stands on unimpeachable evidence. Moreover, it is known, or something like it is known, to the philosophies of India and to modern Theosophy. This is masked by the fact that the philosophical Sanskrit terms do not supple the exact equivalent of my term "language" in the broad sense of the linguistic order. The linguistic order embraces all symbolism, all symbolic processes, all processes of reference and of logic. Terms like Nama refer rather to subgrades of this order -- the lexical level, the phonetic level. The nearest equivalent is probably Manas, to which our vague word "mind" hardly does justice. Manas in a broad sense is a major hierarchical gradein the world-structure....
It is said that in the plane of Manas there are two great levels, called the Rupa and Arupa levels. The lower is the realm of "name and form," Nama and Rupa. Here "form" means organization in space ("our" three-dimensional space). This is far from being coextensive with pattern in a universal sense. And Nama, name, is not language or the linguistic order, but only one level in it, the level of the process of "lexation" or of giving words (names) to parts of the whole manifold of experience, parts which are thereby made to stand out in a semi-fictitious isolation. Thus a word like "sky," which in English can be treated like "board" (the sky, a sky, skies, some skies, piece of sky, etc.) leads us to think of a mere optical apparition in ways appropriate only to relatively isolated solid bodies. "Hill" and "swamp" persuade us to regard local variations in altitude or soil composition of the ground as distinct THINGS almost like tables and chairs. Each language performs this artificial chopping up of the continuous spread and flow of existence in a different way. Words and speech are not the same thing. As we shall see, the patterns of sentence structure that guide words are more important than the words.
Thus the level of Rupa and Nama -- shape-segmentation and vocabulary -- is part of the linguistic order, but a somewhat rudimentary and not self-sufficient part. It depends upon a higher level of organization, the level at which its COMBINATORY SCHEME appears. This is the Arupa level -- the pattern world par excellence. Arupa, "formless," does not mean without linguistic form or organization, but without reference to spatial, visual shape, marking out in space, which as we saw with "hill" and "swamp" is an important feature of reference on the lexical level. Arupa is a realm of patterns that can be "actualized" in space and time in the materials of lower planes, but are themselves indifferent to space and time. Such patterns are not like the meanings of words, but they are somewhat like the way meaning appears in sentences. They are not like individual sentences, but like SCHEMES of sentences and designs of sentence structure. Our personal conscious "minds" can understand these patterns in a limited way by use of mathematical or grammatical formulas....
To me, this is one of the most beautiful and meaningful passages ever produced in any language or genre. It is closer to poetry than to academic prose -- it represents not merely the recital of an hypothesis, but the outpouring of a vision -- a vision that is at once personal and universal, and at once scientific and spiritual.
What Whorf is saying here, to put it in very prosaic language, is that it is the lower levels of the mental hierarchy which deal with physical space (Rupa) and the recognition and categorization of objects (Nama). These processes involve relatively simple patterns. The highest levels of the mental hierarchy, on the otherhand, deal with patterns that are much more abstract, that speak of relations between relations between relations -- this is Arupa. And ordinary consciousness resides at an intermediate level on this hierarchy -- not quite as high up as the loftiest reaches of abstract pattern, but high enough to get some idea of what Arupa is all about.
In Vedantic terms, what we have here is an interpretation of anandamaya, the Realm of Bliss, as a universe of patterns and abstract forms, shifting and fluctuating, giving the world its underlying structure. The specific forms of language are seen as instantiations of these general, spacetime-transcending (Arupa) forms.
Whorf defines language very generally, as something that "embraces all symbolism, all symbolic processes, all processes of reference and of logic." But what is the recognition of a pattern if not a process of reference and a symbolic process? A pattern is a representation as something simpler, and this implies both reference and symbolism. So, according to Whorf's very broad idea of language, linguistic order encompasses any kind of systematic patterned order. What Whorf is experiencing here, and expressing in his Theosophical terminology, is precisely the filtering down of forms from the Realm of Bliss to the Mind, through the medium of Intuition.
Rather than just repeating the spiritual insights of others, however, Whorf makes a unique and powerful contribution here, by virtue of his linguistic knowledge and interests. He teaches us that language is a large part of what holds consensus reality together. If many of us tend to understand things the same way, this is because we all use the same basic language of thought -- where by a "language of thought" I mean, not a collection of words, but merely a systematic syntax for manipulating mental symbols, i.e. a collection of high-order patterns relating other high-order patterns. Whorf's central assertion is that it is language itself that holds reality together -- that most of what filters down from anandamaya to manomaya via vignanamaya is specifically linguistic structure.
Phil Dick's Voyage Through Pattern Space
Now let us return to Philip K. Dick -- the reason for the Whorfian digression will soon become apparent. One of Dick's favorite ways of explaining his mystical experience was by reference to Plato's notion of learning as anamnesis (anamnesis = loss of amnesia, i.e. recovery of memory; remembrance). According to this idea, the most ignorant schoolboy actually "knows" every theorem of advanced mathematics, so that one does not actually need to teach anyone anything; one only needs to make them remember what they have "forgotten."
The Platonic theory of learning is based on Plato's vision of the Realm of Ideas -- an anandamaya-like cosmos where abstractforms exist in and of themselves, ready to be instantiated in the realm fo spacetime. Plainly, Whorf's Arupa is the same as Plato's Realm of Ideas -- only, Whorf's emphasis was on language, whereas Plato's was on ideas in general.
Aristotle very convincingly argued against this Platonic idea of learning, in favor of the more modern theory of learning by induction: once we see that some rule holds in a number of cases, we make the leap of inference and decide that it always holds. Because the sun has risen every day for the last ten thousand days, we assume that it will rise again tomorrow.
But of course, two millenia after Aristotle, Hume came along and devastated the concept of learning by induction. And then, a few hundred years later, the theory of probability finished the job, demonstrating beyond all possible doubt that there is no real logical justification for assuming that the sun will rise tomorrow, just because it has risen every day for the last ten thousand days. The Humean argument, made more rigorous by probability theory, is as follows: when we reason by induction, we must have some rule telling us how many cases we must see before we accept something as a general law. How many times must we see the sun rise before we decide that it will rise every day? Once, twice, five times, a hundred? But this rule for guiding inductions -- how do we arrive at this? If we arrive at it by induction, then we face the same question again -- we enter into an infinite regress of inductions. But if we just pull some rule for guiding inductions out of the blue, then what validity do our inductions have?
Hume's final answer is that, in reality, the regress bottoms out after a finite number of levels -- and at this bottom level the decision is made by "human nature". At first this may seem to be a disappointing conclusion for such a virtuosically logical train of thought. But we will see a little later that there is more in Hume's answer than the first glance reveals.
So the Aristotelian theory of learning has its flaws too. Dick is proposing to reconsider the Platonic theory. Or, more precisely, he is proposing to combine the two:
This meta-abstracting due to anamnesis is equal to the
following. A child learns that one apple plus one apple
equals two apples. He then learns that one table plus one
table equals two tables.... Then a day comes when he
abstracts; it is no longer one apple plus one apple nor one
table plus one table; it is: one and one equal two. This is
an enormous leap in abstracting; it is a quantum leap in brain
function.... But I say, Another leap exists, beyond this;
another quantum leap. And this next leap does not occur to
everyone; in fact it only occurs to a few.... It is truly
dependent on anamnesis, whereas the above, as Aristotle
rightly pointed out, does not depend on anamnesis. The child
does not in fact remember or recollect that one and one equals
two; he extrapolates from the concrete examples of apples and
tables. Plato knew that another and higher leap existed,
based on anamnesis, and it meant a leap from thespatiotemporal world into another world entirely....
I am saying "One plus one equals two" to people who are saying, "One apple plus one apple equals two apples. One plus table plus one table equals two tables." It's not their fault. I'm sorry, but the difference between my meta-abstraction as a brain-function and their abstracting, their brain-function, is that great. I'm lucky... my blocked memory of my prenatal life was disinhibited. After making the initial leap into meta-abstracting my brain drew conclusion after conclusion, day after day; and I saw world more and more in terms of conceptual or morphological arrangement and less and less in terms of the spatiotemporal; I continued to abstract reality more and more, based on the hierarchy of realms (each higher one possessing more unity and ontology than the lower) that Plotinus describes.
This is an intriguing passage. Dick accepts both Aristotelian induction and Platonic intuition, but assigns them different roles. He feels that ordinary thought is based on induction, but higher thought is based on intuition. In essence, this is just a distinction between Thought and Intuition. He says that he is truly "remembering" things, seeing them in their essences, whereas others are merely inducing -- meaning simply that he is more Intuitive than the others around him.
What Dick means by meta-abstracting, by seeing things as they are, is more or less seeing pattern as pattern. To look at something, and see that it is nothing but a pattern in other entities, an ordered arrangement of other entities -- that it is just a pattern and has no substance in itself. This is precisely the type of realization that Dick was writing about! This is nothing more or less than the recognition that everything is virtual. One sees through the particular instantiations of abstract, anandamaya forms, and sees the underlying abstract patterns, with their more fundamental reality, closer to the realm of Pure Being.
Further insight is given by the following passage. Listen:
The issue is not reality or ontology but consciousness -- the possibility of pure, absolute consciousness occurring. In terms of which material things (objects) become language or information, conveying or recording or expressing meaning or ideas or thoughts; mind using reality as a carrier for information, as a lp groove is used to carry information: to record, store and play it back. This is the essential issue: this use of material reality by mind as a carrier for information by which information is processed -- & this is what I saw that I called Valis...
This is about as Whorfian as you can get. Language as the ultimate reality! Everything, at bottom, is made of "language or information" -- i.e., pattern.
And there's more. Recall that, in the the psynet model, the structure of an entity is the set of all patterns in that entity. And recall also that, in this view of mind, patterns are active. Similarly, according to Dick
The agent of creation ... is at the same time the abstract structure of creation. Although normally unavailable to our cognition and perception, this structure -- and hence the agent of creation -- can be known....
And pattern space is the fundamental reality:
[T]his insubstantial abstract structure is reality properly conceived. But it is not a God. Here, multiplicity gives way to unity, to what perhaps can be called a field. The field is self-perturbing; it initiates its own cause internally; it is not acted on from outside.... [I]t is not physical ... it is known intelligibly, by what Plato called Noesis, which involves a certain ultimate higher-order meta-abstracting...
I posit ontological primacy to the insubstantial abstract structure, and, moreover, I believe that it fully controls the physical spatiotemporal universe....
In the end, a careful textual analysis shows that what Dick's crazy mystical vision comes down is simply a vivid, visceral realization that the world is made of pattern. That physical objects, and everything which appears real to us, is just an epiphenomenon of the underlying reality of pattern. And that this underlying reality can be seen -- it is possible to see an object as a pattern as well as an object.
"I posit ontological primacy to the insubstantial abstract structure...." -- there is no better way to summarize the crux of computational pragmatism, the enigma of hyperreality, the primacy of anandamaya, the intrinsic virtuality of the world? Dick's "Platonic reality" is not a reality of abstract, perfect Ideas, but a reality of informational relations, of connections between things, of communications. It is the web of relation announced in the Vedas; the universe of interrelating dynamic quanta proclaimed in The Will to Power....
In this context, we can understand exactly what Dick meant when he wrote about "meta-abstracting" the fact that 1+1=2. He meant nothing other than recognizing "1 + 1 = 2, and this is a pattern which has its own independent existence; it is not inherently tied to any specific 'substrate' reality." But when one recognizes this, it does not come parceled up into clauses -- "this and this and this" ... it comes all at once, in a single intuitive flash. It comes, in short, as an emergent pattern. Dick's and Whorf's visions blend naturally into the hierarchical network of the psynet model of mind -- which itself blends naturally into the Vedantic hierarchy, and Buddhist psychology. There is only one reality here, only one type of experience, being expressed in many different languages.
The hilarious and disturbing reality games of Dick's novels, when seen in this context, make perfect sense. Although the supposedly solid "underlying realities" of the novels are constantly shifting and disintegrating, the novels are anything but absolute chaos. The personalities are constant, and the interactions between people are the same. The basic human situations are invariant, even when the decade spontaneously changes, or Mars becomes Earth, or everyone grows a mechanical hand. The basic structures of life remain the same, because it is after all structure which is basic. The moral of Dick's novels, considered as one long interconnected story, is that human consensus reality is more basic and powerful than physical reality. This is an incredibly important lesson to learn.
Dick asked "What is human?" and "What is real?", and his corpus points inexorably to the conclusion that the two questions have the same answer. There is no absolute reality; but for us, in the "region" of pattern space in which we live, the closest thing to a constant reality is the human consensus reality. Ergo, humanity is reality; and reality is humanity. QED.
And this brings us right back to Hume's Treatise on Human Nature. At the conclusion of his devastating critique of Aristotelian logic, Hume's conclusion is that the infinite regress of inductions bottoms out with human nature. What this means is that there is no absolute justification for anything, because there is no absolute reality; but at bottom, human inferences are justified by reference to the consensus subjective reality in which we -- approximately -- live. They are justified by their survival value -- by their affiliation with networks of patterns that are able to survive multiversal dynamics, able to survive the recurring "ontological primacy" of structure.
The bottom line of Dick's crazy visions is a very simple one. Reality is virtual. We are living in cyberspace already. More specifically, we are living in a region of cyberspace that is designed by, for and of human nature. According to Phil Dick's brand of informational mysticism, the apparently real world is an illusion; the only truly real world is information, language, structure, pattern.
The Systematic Disorganization of All the Senses
The French Symbolist poet, Arthur Rimbaud, is another excellent example of an artist who used language to see through theworld. Let us begin with the poem Drunken Morning:
O my Good! O my Gorgeous! Appalling fanfare where I cannot stumble. Enchanted rack! Hurrah for the wonderful work and for the marvelous body, for the first time! In the midst of children's laughter it began, and with their laughter will it end. This poison will remain in all our veins even when, the fanfare turning, we shall be restored the old disharmony. May we, so worthy of these tortures, now take up fervently that superhuman promise made to our created body and soul: that promise, that madness! Elegance, science, violence! They promised to bury in darkness the tree of good and evil, to deport tyrannic respectability so that we might bring here our love so very pure. It began with a certain disgust -- and it ends, -- unable instantly to grab this eternity, -- it ends in a riot of perfumes.
This poem, from the collection entitled Illuminations, is a remarkably potent concoction -- it reminds one of a confusing but moving Picasso painting, all full of distorted women and staring eyes; or a rambling John Coltrane saxophone solo, soulful blues mixed up with fancy Arabian scales mixed up with plain old discord.... Not at all bad, considering the author was a drug-addled, sexually confused teenage delinquent.
Prose poetry of this nature is more shocking in French, in which the rules of prose composition are stricter. But even in English, if Drunken Morning is interpreted by the rules of proper descriptive prose, it is absolute nonsense. Yet Drunken Morning is certainly not structureless, meaningless gobbledygook. It describes a certain experience, a certain feeling, and it does so in a uniquely vivid style.
Part of the beauty of the poem, it seems to me, is the way abstract ideas and states of mind are represented in terms of familiar images. Rimbaud didn't write "to get rid of rules" or "to banish morality" -- he wrote "to bury in darkness the tree of good and evil," giving a similar meaning along with intense visual imagery. He didn't say the experience ended in a potpourri or a miasma or a mixture of perfumes, but rather a riot of perfumes. One would not normally speak of a riot of perfumes: the juxtaposition of words gives an image of extraordinary olfactory assault, and it brings the mind back to the passage "Elegance, science, violence!" a few lines up.
But it's not only the words. Part of the beauty is the tone,the hurried, frenzied, enthusiastic rhythm of the sentences. This forward-going rhythmic thrust is broken up only by the dashes at the end, which surround the description of the end of the experience. As the breaking-up of the experience is described, the verbal rhythm breaks up also.
So, in order to get across certain experiences, Rimbaud employed unusual combinations of words and an unusual tone. But this is not the full story. As the following oft-quoted letter indicates, not only was Rimbaud's style a conscious decision, it was the product of an furious quest:
One must, I say, be a visionary, make oneself a visionary.
The poet makes himself a visionary through a long, a prodigous and rational disordering of all the senses. Every form of love, of suffering, of madness; he searches himself, he consumes all the poisons in him, keeping only their quintessences. Ineffable torture in which he will need all his faith and superhuman strength, the great criminal, the great sickman, the accursed, -- and the supreme Savant! For he arrives at the unknown! Since he has cultivated his soul -- richer to begin with than any other! He arrives at the unknown: and even if, half-crazed, in the end, he loses the understanding of his visions, he has seen them! Let him be destroyed in his leap by those unnameable, unutterable and innumerable things: there will come other horrible workers: they will begin at the horizons where he has succumbed.
So then, the poet is truly a thief of fire.
Humanity is his responsibility, even the animals; he must see to it that his inventions can be smelled, felt, heard. If what he brings back from beyond has form, he gives it form, if it is formless, he gives it formlessness. A language must be found....
This eternal art will have its functions since poets are citizens. Poetry will no longer accompany action but will lead it.
These poets are going to exist!
Rimbaud, like Phil Dick and Friedrich Nietzsche, took the "quantum leap," and "arrived at the unknown" ... albeit at least "half-crazed"!
Knowing all we do about the biology of perception, we must take Rimbaud seriously when he speaks of "the prodigous and rational disordering of all the senses." During his years of poetic activity, Rimbaud was perpetually on one drug or another -- opium, hashish, alcohol, and probably others as well. And he behaved so outrageously that he even offended other young poets. We know that a great deal of the construction of a person's subjective world takes place in the sense processing centers oftheir brain. And we know that drugs can modify the operation of various levels of sensory processing, as can "natural" insanity.
Most people who take drugs and act crazy are, it would seem, trying to force themselves to perceive the world differently. But Rimbaud's case was unusual, in that his motivation was not merely hedonistic but artistic as well. He wanted to stretch his mind to the limits, in the service of art. He wanted to get rid of the preconceptions by which we perceive the world: to penetrate to a deeper, more magical level, and then to bring some of the magic back to the rest of humanity.
Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to humanity; for this he was punished with an eternity of torture. When Rimbaud describes the poet as a thief of fire, he means that the poet is a martyr, sacrificing himself to give humanity magical power. Somehow, he seems to imply, the reader of the poetry can experience a bit of divine magic, without the anguish of stealing it from the land of the gods. To put it more concretely, the poetry can loosen the bonds of language and perception, of consensus reality, on the mind. The poetry is not a static artifact but an active, dynamic process; and once it enters the mind it sets to work at changing it.
The way I read "Drunken Morning" is a description of precisely the state of sensory disorganization which Rimbaud sought to achieve. What is this "poison," which elicits opposite emotions simultaneously? It brings tremendous exuberance ("O my Good! O my Gorgeous!"); and it brings an "appalling fanfare" every time he fails to stumble. What is this "poison," which will continue to infect him even as his present state fades into "the old disharmony"... which makes him a "superhuman promise" of going beyond morality, beyond the strictures of "tyrannic respectability", of "burying in darkness the tree of good and evil." This poison which promises to transcend all these things which restrain "our love so very pure." Certainly, the poison is alcohol or some other drug. But it is also the "other world," the world of the supernatural, the mad, fierce, fiery world from which inspiration springs. The other world promises deliverance from the restrictions of ordinary life, it promises the release of pure love; but it always fades and then only the poison remains. The task of the visionary poet is to grab something of this superhuman promise, of this transcendent life, and bring it back to this world.
But in fact, is this "other world" not the same as the macrometasomakosmos of Philip K. Dick -- or the anandamaya of the Vedas? Is Rimbaud's unnamed "poison" all that different from Palmer Eldritch's Chew-Z? Is Rimbaud, in his famous letter, not essentially saying the same thing that Dick said in his Exegesis?
The disorganization of the senses is required in order to disrupt the ordinary pattern recognition routines. Normally we don't realize that the world in front of us is made of pattern -- we're so accustomed to seeing it there that we assume it to be absolutely real. Disrupting the senses, whether by drugs or by other means, forces one to face the relativity of existence; it isan ontological challenge. It destroys the false division between world and mind, transforming the strange into the ordinary, the ordinary into the strange, and the real into the hyperreal.
Once the normal assumptions were cast aside, Rimbaud's native intelligence was able to recognize new and different patterns in the world, patterns that were obscured by the process of ordinary perception. The whole universe of anandamaya was open to him. Of course, anyone is capable of disrupting their senses -- but not everyone is able to take advantage of the freedom thus obtained to recognize and create striking new forms. Not everyone is able to transform sudden flashes of insight into anandamaya into serious, sustained bouts of Intuition.
The pain involved comes -- as discussed above -- from the re-adjustment to the normal mode of perception. After seeing amazing, exciting patterns that contradict the patterns of consensus reality, one comes down from the "trip" and must accept the patterns of consensus reality as being in some sense "real." This can be an horrifying experience, it can give one the feeling that all the tremendous visions one has had are completely worthless. But the poet, in order to be consistently brilliant, must learn to live with this feeling. Rimbaud did not learn to live with it; he gave up poetry before his twentieth birthday. The mental knots took over. He never learned to untie them on a permanent basis: he only learned to take brief vacations into non-ordinary states of consciousness, and this was not enough.
Through Us the Universe Talks to Itself.
Rimbaud, Dick and Whorf were loners. But there have also been cultural movements, involving large numbers of people, concerned with language as a tool for exploring the deepest levels of reality. The best example is the Surrealist movement.
Probably the best-known Surrealist is the painter Salvador Dali. But in fact, the original Surrealist movement was focused on literary and political endeavors much more than on visual art. Andre Breton, Paul Eluard, Phillipe Soupault and most of the other early French Surrealists were writers, with a very different philosophical agenda from Dali (who eventually left the Surrealists to pursue his own vastly less influential "paranoiac-critical method").
What united all the Surrealists, however, was a love for intellectual game-playing, and a commitment to revealing the underlying truth of mind and world, which is ordinarily hidden by consensus categories of thought. The Surrealist movement was temporarily allied with the Communist Party -- but soon enough the Surrealists recognized that the Marxists were more concerned with control than with liberation, and they broke the relationship off.
For example, a standard Surrealist literary game was taking an ordinary sentence, and replacing each word with the word that appears eleven words before it in the dictionary. Or: taking anarticle about a gathering of famous politicians, and re-writing it to refer to a meeting of famous murderers. The point was to jar the mind, to reveal hidden structures in things; to make one think in unusual, nonconforming ways; to associate things that would not ordinarily be associated. Dali, using his own ideosyncratic vocabulary of tricks, accomplished this same goal in the realm of visual art, with admirable elegance and wit.
The surrealist artist whom I wish to discuss here is the Mexican poet Octavio Paz. Paz was not one of the original Surrealists; and his artistic approach differed significantly from that of the founders of the Surrealist movement. For one thing, he was not French -- not even European. And, for another thing, whereas the literary experiments of the French surrealists were often somewhat academic and contrived, Paz's writing flows straight from the heart. Like Dali, he is intensely personal and emotional, as well as surrealistic.
For instance, in their most celebrated work The Immaculate Conception Breton and Eluard run through a list of mental disorders, and seek to give each one an appropriate prose-poetic expression. And in The Magnetic Fields Soupault writes randomly, incomprehensibly. These works are entertaining, and they serve the Surrealist purpose of making the reader throw off his or her mental categories -- so as to see the hidden meanings inside ordinary things. But they do not do what Paz's writing does -- that is, hint at another world beyond the world of immediate appearances, a truer reality. And this is precisely because, whereas the surrealism of Breton, Eluard and Soupalt was based largely on game-playing, Paz's surrealism was based on mystical, emotional intuition.
Let's take a simple, out-of-context example. Paz speaks of:
in the eye of the dog of the dead
in the overgrown well of origins
whirlwinds of reflections
in the stone theater of memory
whirling in the circus of the empty eye
This passage may be interpreted in several ways. Let's just consider the first line. "Images buried in the eye of the dog of the dead" may be taken as a literal image, in which case it makes little sense but leads to an interesting picture. Or, by some stretch of the imagination, it might be taken as a metaphor. Or, finally, it may be taken as a meta-linguistic comment, as "Images buried in 'the eye of the dog of the dead'". All these meaningsare equally valid; and Paz probably intended them all.
Paz's poetry unearths the images buried in "the eye of the dog of the dead" and other magical, half-nonsensical, intuitively potent juxtapositions of words. He rearranges the language we use to describe reality and thereby draws out the hidden structure of reality -- the inner world. When he wrote, in another poem, "The amphitheater of the genital sun is a dungheap," he was not just stringing words together at random, he was trying to use unusual juxtapositions of words to connect parts of the mind that are not usually connected. Without knowing the psychological specifics, he realized that thought depends upon associative memory, and he was trying to form new connections in the memories of his readers, so as to free their thinking from its conventions. Reading Paz's poetry is like having the experience of brainstorming imposed on you -- this is the essence of Surrealism, and in Paz's work it is realized to an unparalleled extent.
Does "the genital sun" imply that the genitals are fundamental life-giving sources of energy, or does it imply that the physical sun is in some sense a sexual symbol? Is "the ampitheatre of the genital sun" a colorful way of referring to the world? Shakespeare said "all the world's a stage," so why not an amphitheatre? Does Paz mean to say that our world, particularly insofar as it is illuminated and empowered by sexuality, is a dungheap? The point is not any particular interpretation, it is the process of shifting symbols and subliminal connections.
And just as he saw images hidden in linguistic forms, Paz saw language hidden in everything:
Are there messengers? Yes,
space is a body tattooed with signs, the air
an invisible web of calls and answers
Animals and things make languages,
through us the universe talks with itself.
We are a fragment --
accomplished in our unaccomplishment --
of its discourse. A coherent
and empty solipsism:
since the beginning of the beginning
what does it say? It says that it says us.
It says it to itself. Oh madness of discourse,
that cause sets up with and against itself!
We are, Paz says, a fragment of discourse. The universe is a discourse, a coherent talking-to-itself which ultimately says nothing. And what does it talk to itself about? It talks to itself about the fact that we are one of the things it talks about, and about the madness of the fact that it is talking! It talks to itself about talking! Just like Dick's "VALIS" voice -- which was the "abstract structure of the universe," and which spoke to Dick specifically to tell him that it existed. Just like Rimbaud's "inner world," full of fire, which filled him with inspiration and impelled him to write poems about -- precisely this inner world. There might seem to be something bogus about a revelatory experience that gives you revelations only about itself. But the important thing is that this process of self-revelation automatically awakens the mind to the fact that everything is composed of this same process of self-revelation. X speaks, to spread the word that X exists, but the very existence of X is synonymous with its omnipresence. Not merely "I am that I am," but "I am that I tell you I am" -- and, furthermore, "I am that I tell you I am, and so is everything else!"
Language speaks, to reveal the transcendental existence and fundamental power of language, and in the process it reveals that language underlies everything. The circle of creation connecting language, reality and mind was at the center of Paz's poetry. He used surreal language to jar the mind into perceiving alternatives to ordinary reality, and to depict the language inherent in ordinary objects, in the universe, in space, in our bodies,....
As a final example, let consider the following fragment, an excerpt from a poem written as a reaction to the music of John Cage:
an architecture of sounds
a space that disintegrates itself.
we come across is to the point.)
Factories of air
is the space of music:
there is no silence
save in the mind.
Silence is an idea,
the idee fixe of music.
Music is not an idea:
it is movement,
sounds walking over silence
( Not one sound fears the silence
Silence is music,
music is not silence.
Nirvana is Samsara,
Samsara is not Nirvana.
Knowing is not knowing....
John Cage was one of the most radical composers of the century. He composed music for the lid of a piano, and for pianos prepared by hanging paper clips and other objects from the strings. Sometimes he composed by playing a normal song, recording it, then cutting up the tape and reassembling it in a random order. Once he composed a piece consisting of four minutes or so of silence -- the idea being that there is no such thing as silence, except for a deaf person; that whatever sounds you hear during that four minute interval of silence are just as valid a piece of music as Beethoven's Ninth. He was fond of observing that even in an anechoic chamber, one hears two sounds, a low one and a high one. One's heart and one's nervous system.
Paz connects Cage's analysis of silence and music to the Buddhist concepts of Samsara and Nirvana. Yes, Nirvana is Samsara. God is everywhere. As the Gnostic version of Jesus said, split a stick and I am there. But no, Samsara is not Nirvana. There is a difference between seeing a rock and seeing a rock with Buddha in it. And yet there is no difference. Under a certain interpretation, the distinction between silence and music is a particular version of the distinction between void and form. Remember, the Buddhists often pointed out that Void is never truly Void.
Here Paz is subtly juxtaposing concepts generally considered unrelated, with the goal of transmitting the mystical aspects of the experience of listening Cage's music. Unlike Rimbaud, Paz does not feel a deep need for the prodigious and rational disordering of all the senses. He concentrates more on disordering linguistic forms -- on illustrating the linguistic forms underlying everyday physical and mental reality, so as to make vivid the Whorfian idea that everything is at bottom linguistic.
For after all, what does Paz mean when he writes "I am an architecture of sounds"? An architecture is a form, a way of arranging space. "An architecture of sounds" is simply a piece of music. Does he mean that he is, literally, music? To describe music in spatial terms is to emphasize the transcendent nature of pattern, of form. An arrangement of sounds, he is saying, is essentially the same as an arrangement of physical space -- what is essential is the arrangement. He is an arrangement, a pattern, which may be expressed in words, in sounds, or in pictures -- in Rupa or in Nama, to use Whorf's interpretation of the Sanskrit terms.
No Body in No Place
The Surrealists were known for excess. As a contrast, it is worth considering an artist who revered simplification above all else, who used his deepest intuitions to bring back visions of asimpler, more elementary realm than the ordinary world. This person is Samuel Beckett.
Beckett is best known for his plays, Waiting for Godot and Endgame, which present a unique combination of surreal dialogue, stream-of-consciousness monologue, and physical comedy. He also wrote a number of outstanding conventional novels. But what I am interested in here are the prose poems which Beckett produced with increasing frequency toward the end of his life. To start off, let us take a look at a fragment from the first page of How It Is, written in 1964. It has been remarked that whereas Shakespeare only said "Life is a tale told by an idiot," in this book Beckett demonstrated it...
past moments old dreams back again or fresh like those that pass or things things always and memories I say them as I hear them murmur them in the mud
in me that were without when the panting stops scraps of an ancient voice in me not mine
my life last state last version ill-said ill-heard ill-recaptured ill-murmured in the mud brief movements of the lower face losses everywhere
recorded none the less it's preferable somehow somewhere as it stands as it comes my life my moments not the millionth part all lost nearly all someone listening another noting or the same
This is a far cry from Paz's florid linguistic excesses, or Rimbaud's tightly woven networks of sensations and images. It is, rather, language stripped bare to the bone. Language with all the excesses removed. It is primal expression, as simple as expression can possibly be. Is there any way to compactify a phrase like "my life last state last version ill-said ill-heard ill-recaptured ill-murmured in the mud"? There is no metaphor here, or almost none. Whether or not the character is really in the mud is hardly relevant. This is "my life my moments" recorded "as it stands as it comes," and this mode of expression is "preferable somehow somewhere" even though it is "not the millionth part," even though it is "all lost nearly all."
Instead of trying to remake language in the image of the inner world, Beckett sought to strip language of everything but the simplest core, the idea being that this core corresponds to the inner world. In this view, fancy language -- perhaps all language -- only distracts us from ultimate reality. Listen to the final page of Company:
...Till finally you hear how words are coming to an end. With every inane word a little nearer to the last. And how the fable too. The fable of one with you in the dark. The fable of one fabling of one with you in the dark. And how better inthe end labour lost and silence. And you as you always were.
Here language is taken as a metaphor for external reality. The entire book Company recounts the experiences of someone lying on his or her back in the dark, listening to a voice, which may or may not be coming from someone beside him/herself. The person talks to the voice, but s/he is never sure if the voice is really responding or just going on of its own accord. Most of the book details either bodily sensations or communication with the voice. Language is portrayed as the only point of contact with the outside world: indeed, the only evidence of the existence of the outside world. Language is the outside world, in the universe of Company. And each word is inane. "How much better in the end labor lost and silence, and you as you always were, alone." Beckett saw words as a tool for perpetrating illusion. His contradiction was that he nonetheless wrote. But he attempted to resolve this contradiction by stripping his language of as much illusion as possible, by being maximally direct.
In Worstward Ho, he took this approach to its ultimate extreme. The subject of the book is nothing less than the creation of the universe; the emergence of pattern from nothingness. Here is how it begins:
On. Say on. Be said on. Somehow on. Till nohow on. Said nohow on.
Say for said. Missaid. From now say for be missaid.
Say a body. Where none. No mind. Where none. That at least. A place. Where none. For the body. To be in. Move in. Out of. Back into. No. No out. No back. Only in. Stay in. On in. Still.
All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
First the body. No. First the place. No. First both. Now either. Now the other. Sick of the either try the other. Sick of it back sick of the either. So on. Somehow on. Till sick of both. Throw up and go. Where neither. Till sick of there. Throw up and back. The body again. Where none. The place again. Where none. Try again. Fail again. Better again. Or better worse. Fail worse again. Still worse again. Till sick for good. Throw up for good. Go for good. Where neither for good. Good and all.
It stands. What? Yes. Say it stands. Had to up in theend and stand. Say bones. No bones but say bones. Say ground. No ground but say ground. So as to say pain. No mind and pain? Say yes that the bones may pain till no choice but stand. Somehow up and stand. Or better worse remains. Say remains of mind where none to permit of pain. Pain of bones till no choice but up and stand. Somehow up. Somehow stand. Remains of mind where none for the sake of pain. Here of bones. Other examples if needs must. Of pain. Relief from. Change of.
All of old. Nothing else ever. But never so failed. Worse failed. With care never worse failed.
Dim light source unknown. Know minimum. Know nothing no. Too much to hope. At most mere minimum. Meremost minimum.
As far as I am concerned, this astoundingly simple passage has more to say more about language, mind and reality than a hundred academic papers in linguistics, psychology and philosophy journals. In Beckett's world, saying is equivalent to creation. The world is formed through language. First comes "On," and immediately afterwards comes "Say on." The first act is existence, and the second is speech acknowledging existence. "Say bones. No bones but say bones. Say ground. No ground but say ground." Bones and ground do not exist, but in saying them one grants them a degree of being. They may be illusory, but they are viscerally present.
"Other examples if needs must," he wrote. "All of old. Nothing else ever." To Beckett diversity of form is meaningless. It's all just nonexistence made real through speech. All we ever see is "dim light source unknown," about which we can only know the "meremost minimum." But we create from nothingness, from the dim light, mind and pain. "Say remains of mind where none to permit of pain." We speak mind into existence, in order to make pain possible.
Beckett is, in essence, giving us a prescription for constructing virtual reality -- not from the engineering point of view but from the phenomenological point of view. First the body. No, first the place. Bones. No bones, but say bones. Somehow the bones may stand. He is telling us, from the standpoint of basic human experience, what are the basic ingredients of a world. And he is expressing a persistent disgust with the process. Why create all this stuff, when there's nothing really there. Say remains of mind where none to permit of pain. Why create a mind when it will only feel pain?
Say yes that the bones may pain till no choice but stand. Why would the bones want to stand? -- only because it hurts not to. The world creates itself because it hurts not to exist, but then it hurts to exist as well. It's a lose-lose situation.
Language, Beckett says, creates reality. The world is virtual, and the programming language in which it is written is plain old English (or maybe French, in which Beckett alsowrote...). For Beckett the crucial point is not the ultimate reality of the world, but rather the unpleasantness of the world. Just as for Dick the crucial point was not ultimate reality, but rather human warmth and human nature.
We are now almost finished with our journey through the world of literary intuition. It is time to change course a little.
Many of the writers mentioned above were unhappy men, who lived tragic, unfulfilled lives. One should not think from this, however, that deep mindspace voyaging is necessarily cruel, that artistic hyperspace always exacts a harsh toll on the human mind. Rather, such men as Philip K. Dick, Rimbaud and Samuel Beckett were unhappy before their journeys into hyperreality -- it was their unhappiness which spurred them on to transcend conventional modes of perception. If ordinary waking consciousness had been more pleasurable for them, they probably would not have sought out alternatives. But it is also perfectly possible to be spurred into a creative use of hyperspace out of an energetic, restless dissatisfaction rather than a brooding, depressed dissatisfaction. Probably the best case in point is the German writer/philosopher/ scientist, Goethe.
Goethe journeyed deep into the realm of the hyperreal, and came back with such jewels as Faust -- one of the most brilliant parables of mindspace ever created. And all the while he carried out a remarkably various and fulfilling life in the "real" world. Goethe's life, as well as being intriguing in its own right, is valuable as a demonstration. Goethe shows us that success in artistic contact with hyperreality is not mutually contradictory with success in ordinary life.
Goethe was blessed with a keen, wide-ranging intelligence and a huge amount of energy. He was constantly bounding from one project to another, and from one type of endeavor to another: painting, drama, prose, poetry, biology, physics, political administration,.... After barely squeaking through law school, he won fame, and helped start the Romantic movement in literature, with his novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. He wrote some poems and popular dramas, then devoted himself for a decade to the administration of the small duchy of Weimar. Finally he tired of politics and left for Italy, telling no one of his departure and traveling under a false name. In Italy he painted, and lived the life of an artist. His energy and intelligence were unable to compensate for his basically mediocre artistic talent -- but the trip rejuvenated his energies. "All the dreams of my youth," he said, "I now see living before me. Everywhere I go I find an oldfamiliar face; everything is just what I thought it, and yet everything is new. It is the same with ideas. I have gained no new idea, but the old ones have become so definite, living and connected with each other, that they may pass as new." He paid notably little attention to the artistic and historic wonders of Rome and Florence, spending his time instead painting, thinking, and studying plants, observing that "The book of Nature is after all the only one which has in every page important meanings."
Clearly Goethe's trip to Italy was an experience of deep spiritual insight and personal growth. The direct perception of deep interconnections, the increased vividity and vivaciousness of the everday -- all this speaks plainly of hyperrealistic experience, of openness to underlying mindspace. After this he could not go back to politics -- fortunately, the Duke of Weimar saw this, and paid Goethe his high salary as a kind of court genius rather than as an administrator. Unlike most creative artists, Goethe, for most of his life, was paid very highly just to think, theorize and create: he didn't have to worry about the marketability of his creations, nor about working a "side job."
In addition to Werther and Faust, Goethe wrote two great novels, The Travels of Wilhelm Meister and Elective Affinities, a wonderful autobiography Poetry and Fiction, popular plays like Gotz and Hermann und Dorothea, and a number of classicist dramatic poems -- Tasso, Egmont, Iphigenie,.... He was not a consistent writer; these profound artistic successes were just a fraction of his total literary output, some of which was embarrassingly weak. But his vast and various output is an indicator of his immense creative energy.
Furthermore, a large proportion of his time was spent on nonliterary pursuits. After Italy, he gave up painting, but he took up biological and physical science with an increased passion. To him all these different pursuits were as one: all part of an attempt to understand and participate in the wholeness of the universe.
Goethe's theory of the morphology of plants was revolutionary and in essence correct. He viewed different parts of plants, such as leaves, flowers and stalks, as coming from the same underlying form. Time, he said, caused the fundamental forms to develop in different ways, creating different overt forms. He drew attention to the structural and geometric similarities of different plants, and different parts of the same plants. All these ideas seem fairly obvious today, in the context of evolutionary and genetic theory, but at the time they contradicted the established dogmas. It took a great deal of courage to publish and promote them in the face of almost universal rejection from the scientific establishment.
His theory of colors was also reviled by the scientific establishment, but in this case justly: he was incorrect. Rejecting Newton's concept of the spectrum, he viewed all colors as made up from the two different principles of Darkness and Light. This fundamental opposition was expressed in different ways depending on different circumstances, thus yielding differentcolors. He argued vehemently for his view of things, and collected literally hundreds of interesting optical data. But still he could not explain the disturbing fact of the rainbow; and, due to his disinterest in mathematics, he never really understood the subtlety of the Newtonian view. Had the scientists been more receptive to his botanical insights, he might have accepted their views on optics more readily; but as it was, he had evolved a very bitter attitude toward scientists, and especially toward their use of mathematics. In the end it seems that most of the energy Goethe spent on optical research was wasted -- but no matter, he of all people had energy to spare!
Throughout his life Goethe had been interested in writing a version of the Faust story. Dr. Faust, so the legend went, was a kind of traveling alchemist and quack doctor, traveling the world in search of arcane and occult knowlege. Finally he sold his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and understanding. Goethe wrote a few fragments of the first part of his Faust in his thirties, but there was then a twenty-year gap before he finished what is now known at Faust, Part One. Finally, nearing the age of eighty, he returned to his vision and wrote Faust, Part Two, quite different from its predecessor, but yet embodying the same themes, and carrying them to a higher level.
God and the Devil, Mephistopheles, wager on whether the Devil will be able to corrupt Faust. Then Mephisto makes Faust, knowledge-seeker, a bargain: he will show Faust all there is in the world, give him an endless and universal feast of information and experience, if Faust will only promise not to become absorbed in this parade, if Faust will retain his detachment and never become fully satisfied with the world. Once he has run the gamut of earthly pleasure, orgies and all, and he has run the gamut of intellectual pleasure, had his fill of science and philosophy, Faust is very nearly tempted by deep love relationship with a woman, Gretchen. But he remains aloof, cruelly abandoning Gretchen to continue his quest.
Faust, Part One is an incredibly diverse and entertaining dramatic poem, full of colorful scenes and characters -- but this entertaining intricacy only lends irony to the fundamental point, which is the frustrating nothingness of existence. Even the passion he feels for Gretchen, vehement as it is, is feverish and transitory. He seeks the Absolute, which can never be found.
In Part One, it has often been said, the problem of existence is stated but not solved. Thus what Goethe has produced here is a profoundly existentialist document. It poses the anguish, the angst of existence, without more than hinting at a way out.
Part One is artistically beautiful, but in a deep sense, it is not complete. Had it been written by a depressed, angst-ridden individual, it would be at least psychologically complete. But it was not: it was written by Goethe, by an energetic, excited man, bya person in love with the world in spite of its fundamental ungroundedness. Faust, Part One does not even come close to fully expressing Goethe's spiritual insights.
Goethe had no affection for organized religion. But neither did he advocate atheism. Each individual, he believed, must cultivate their own religion. True spirituality was to be found, not in nihilistic freedom and denial of the Supreme Being, but rather in the everyday recognition of the Supreme Being within oneself:
'I believe in God' is a beautiful and praiseworthy phrase; but to recognize God in all his manifestations, that is true holiness on earth...
[In the Four Gospels] there is a reflection of a greatness which was emanated from the person of Jesus, and which was of as divine a kind as was ever seen upon earth. If I am asked whether it is in my nature to pay Him devout reverence, I say -- certainly! ... If I am asked whether it is in my nature to reverence the sun, I again say -- certainly! For he is likewise a manifestation of the Highest Being. I adore in him the light and the productive power of God, by which we all live, move and have our being. But if I am asked whether I am inclined to bow before a thumb bone of the apostle Peter or Paul, I say -- away with your absurdities! ...
Let mental culture go on advancing, let science go on gaining in depth and breadth, and the human intellect expand as it may.... [A]s soon as the pure doctrine and love of Christ are comprehended in their true nature, and have become a living principle, we shall feel ourselves great and free as human beings, and not attach special importance to a degree more or less to the outward forms of religion.
To Goethe, God was to be found in mind and nature, not in the rituals of organized religion. And it is this attitude which, finally, gains its highest expression in Faust, Part Two.
The First Part of Faust is concrete, full of vivid portrayals of everyday events. It is not a drama to be performed, but still, when read it evokes genuine dramatic scenes in the reader's mind. The Second Part is different: it exists on a higher, more abstract plane. It has left the trappings of the real world behind, and has ascended into the realm of the hyperreal. It is not so entertaining as the First Part -- though there are some funny scenes, such as the one where an impish homunculus in a bottle, created by Wagner who has taken Faust's place, undertakes to instruct the devil in classical aesthetics. But the obscure passages are more than redeemed by the immeasurably beautiful ending.
Faust, finally, finds something with which he is satisfied, and he agrees to deliver himself over to the Devil. But it is not any worldly pleasure, sensual or intellectual, to which hesacrifices himself -- it is a vision. It is a deep vision of the world, a vision, in my language, of mindspace as mindspace! Having seen to the essence of the world, having seen the underlying unity amidst the dizzying wonderful diversity, having finally come to see God as manifested in concrete processes of creation, Faust is contented. The brilliance of the moment makes his future fate irrelevant. He is interconnected with the world, and thus his personal future is no more important than the future of the rest of the world. Existentialism is overcome as the symptom of a false attitude. Visionary ecstasy is plucked out of the jaws of absolute despair. The unity of individual consciousness and cosmic consciousness is made manifest. Patterns and forms coalesce together, in the manner of anandamaya, and thus the universality of structures of consciousness ascends above the apparently divisive forms created by the lower realms of Being.
It is crucial that Faust's blissful vision occurs at an extremely unlikely moment, at the conclusion of a nightmarish vision in which he is visited by a vision of four grey women, Want, Guilt, Necessity and Care. Faust argues mightily against the four demon hags, celebrating the spiritual beauty of the everyday:
I only through the world have flown
Each appetite I seized as by the hair;
What not sufficed me, forth I let it fare,
And what escaped me, I let go.
I've only craved, accomplished my delight,
Then wished a second time, and with might
Stormed through my life: at first 'twas grand, completely
But now it moves most wisely and discretely
The sphere of Earth is known enough to me
The view beyond is barred immutably;
A fool, who there his blinking eyes directeth
And o'er his clouds of peers a place expecteth!
Firm let him stand, and look around him well!
This World means something to the Capable.
Why needs he through Eternity to wend?
He here acquires what he can apprehend.
Thus let him wander down his earthly day;
When spirits haunt, go quietly his way;
In marching onward, bliss and torment find,
Through, every moment, with unsated mind!
Faust affirms the power of transformation, development, motion. But the battle is a difficult one, and he is blinded by the demon hag Care --
Throughout their whole existence, men are blind
So Faust, be thou like them at last!
Faust conceives a vast construction project:
The night seems deeper now to press around me
But in my inmost spirit all is light
I rest not till the finished work hath crowned me
The master's Word alone bestows the night
Up from your couches, vassals, man by man!
Make grandly visible my daring plan!
Seize now your tools, with spade and shovel press!
The work traced out must be a swift success.
Quick diligence, severest ordering
The most superb reward shall bring
And, that the mighty work completed stands,
One mind suffices for a thousand hands
he proposes to drain a swamp and fill it with soil on which millions can live. And in this activity, this creation, he finally sees a meaning in life. It is the action, the creativity, that fills him with joy. The process of making, of giving birth -- this not the abstraction of Christian God but the erotic pagan mother-Goddess. This is the Perceptual-Cognitive Loop, the abstract form of creation, but enhanced with a higher awareness, an awareness of absolute Being -- it is the loop of spiritual awareness. Just envisioning this vast project of his, this tremendous instance of physical creativity, fills Faust with such joy that he utters the magic words, the words which give Mephistopheles permission to take possession of his soul -- "I now enjoy the highest moment":
Below the hills a marshy plain
Infects what I so long have been retrieving
This stagnant pool likewise to drain
Were now my latest and my best achieving
To many millions let me furnish soil,
Though not secure, yet free to active toil;
Green, fertile fields, where men and herds go forth
At once, with comfort, on the newest Earth,
And swiftly settled on the hill's firm base,
Created by the bold, industrious race.
A land like Paradise here, round about:
Up to the brink the tide may roar without,
And though it gnaw, to burst with force the limit,
By common impulse all unite to hem it.
Yes! to this thought I hold with firm persistence;
The last result of wisdom thinks it true:
He only earns his freedom and existence
Who daily conquers them anew.
Thus here, by dangers girt, shall glide away
Of childhood, manhood, age, the vigorous day:
And such a throng I fain would see,
Stand on free soil among a people free!
Then dared I hail the moment fleeting!
"Ah, still delay -- thou art so fair!"
The traces cannot, of mine earthly being.
In eons perish, they are there!
In proud fore-feeling of such lofty bliss,
I now enjoy the highest Moment -- this!
With these words, Faust delivers his soul to the devil, Mephistopheles -- having understood the power of creation, the infinite significance of the single moment, and the interconnectedness of his life with the rest of the world. "The traces cannot, of mine earthly being, in eons perish" -- because his earthly being will continue in the people he has helped, and, ultimately, in all things! The Devil, lacking a deep spiritual understanding, is baffled:
No joy could sate him, and suffice no bliss
To catch but shifting shapes was his endeavor;
The latest, poorest, emptiest Moment -- this --
He wished to hold it last forever
How can an empty moment in fact interdepend with other, fuller moments: moments in the past and moments to come? How can there be an order outside of time, which makes life worthwhile, which is an inner light even when the eyes are blind? The Devil will never understand this, which is precisely what makes him the Devil.
Inevitably, under these circumstances, the Devil's grasp on Faust is called into question. God has the power to forgive -- and what better situation in which to exercise this ability? In the end Faust's vision, of happiness through good works and divine interconnection, must redeem him. And, in a typical Goethe masterstroke, Faust's arrival redeems Heaven as well. In the Prologue to Faust, Heaven is a rather lifeless, antiseptically blissful sort of place. But in the conclusion it is viewed as a realm full of life, development, action. It is exciting rather than sleepily euphoric. No devout Christian, Goethe put the standard Christian mythology into Faust only for sake of concreteness and ease of communication. In the end, he created a Devil more mischievous than evil, and a Heaven eminently suited to Faust, or Goethe.
Faust's voyage, obviously, parallels Goethe's own. Goethe had no lack of sensual pleasures: he took many lovers, and finally married a coarse, sensual working-class woman. He lived the life of the Court, was an inveterate prankster, and experimented with other lifestyles as well, as during his incognito trip to Italy. He threw himself into science, art, literature and politics with a passion. In the end, nothing finally contented him: he kept moving from writing to science, from science to writing, from fiction to poetry, and so forth. He had a serious fear of romantic committment; even once married, he had numerous affairs, and frequently made long journeys alone. He experimented extensively in all domains, but nothing satisfied him. Finally, in his last decades, he found contentment, not in any new passion, but in an understanding of the whole. He understood that the passion, not the object, is the crucial thing. He exalted process, development,growth -- creation! -- as the manifestation of God in the world. God, he saw, is morphological development, creative process. Love for corporeal women was beautiful but not fundamental; the essence was the Goddess, the universal process of giving birth, or, in his famous coinage, the eternal-feminine.... Feeling unity with the Goddess, he distanced himself from the everyday world, assuming what has frequently been called an "Olympian detachment."
In the end, for all his human flaws -- his egotism, his occasional dogmatism, his strange relations with women -- Goethe was a very rare thing in human history: not only a great achiever but a truly great person. He is remarkable not only for what he did but for what he was. He saw deeply into mindspace, and in a thoroughly Western way, through diverse and impassioned activity. He died reconciled to death, understanding his own life cycle as part of the big picture of universal creative and destructive force. His life unfolds like a symphony, reaching a dramatic conclusion in which, finally, the divine is perceived in its natural place, in the everyday world.
Too many creative visionaries remain stuck in the world of Faust, Part One. Dazzled by the variety of forms emanating from anandamaya, but realizing their ultimate insubtantiality, they remain in a state of confusion. The ecstatic act of intuitive creation fails to induce a lasting mental transformation. But Goethe's story indicates the possibility of going beyond this stage -- without submitting to Oriental routines of meditation, sleep deprivation, and so forth. Goethe indicates a kind of spiritual "enlightenment" achieved through systematic and diverse creative activity.
It is for this reason, essentially, that Nietzsche took Goethe as a model for his Ubermensch, Superman.... Goethe was not superhuman, but he is an extraordinary lesson as to the tremendous potential of a single human life. Goethe lived the kind of life that many of us would create for ourselves if we had the ability to structure our own virtual world. Each of us has different flaws, different talents, and a different trajectory of development. But we should not forget the concreteness and possibility of the universal goal -- dynamic, flowing, creative harmony; harmony inclusive of creative conflict; deep perception of mindspace and the interconnectedness of the world. Or, as Goethe put it, in Faust's closing verse,
All things transitory
Are but as symbols sent;
Grows to Event;
Here it is done:
Draws us on
The Language of Structure, the Structure of Language
In the preceding pages, I have lightly skimmed over the work of a number of linguistic visionaries -- men who, by dint of their personal, intuitive experiences with language, arrived at penetrating insights into the nature of mind and world. Each of these men had his own peculiar preoccupations, his own talents and shortcomings. But yet, among their very different analyses of linguistic reality, one finds a remarkable amount of common ground. There is an unvarying vision of language as indicative of another world deeper than the spatiotemporal one -- an underlying realm of pattern, information, structure. In short, we may say that anandamaya presented itself to these men as a realm of abstract linguistic forms. Intuition adopts the role of an agent transforming these abstract linguistic forms into sentences, paragraphs, words, story ideas. For these men, it is language that brings together the personal and the universal, putting the timelessness of the present moment ahead of the sheaths that cloak Being.
The linguistic bias is obviously a consequence of the fact that we are dealing with writers. But it is also indicative of a deep truth, which is that language plays a significant, perhaps dominant role in maintaining the lower levels of being, especially the "central triad" of ordinary waking consciousness, Mind, Body and World. This single statement packs so much information that thousands of pages of detailed analysis would be required to adequately explore it and document it. But, at bottom, the phenomenon which it identifies should not be at all surprising.
Language is a large part of what causes different minds to judge things similarly. Individualized thought that does not follow standard linguistic patterns is less likely to be common among various minds. It follows from this that, to a certain extent, it is language which maintains consensus reality: the world is built out of language. One may arrive at this conclusion by logical or empirical analysis; or, like our linguistic visionaries, one may apprend it directly. One may apprend it directly by seeing patterns as patterns -- and thus "remembering" what consensus reality causes us to "forget," which is that we are all just interconnected subsets of pattern space.
Our linguistic mystics, our creative literary visionaries, have found their muse in the notion that everything is language and information -- that reality is a "pure simulation," a trick with linguistic and algebraic mirrors, a construction of self-deceptive logic. This realization loosens the bonds of consensus reality, and thus encourages the mind to explore and create patterns outside the bounds of consensus.
In essence, all this is just a different way of observing that works of art are virtual realitites. My claim would be that all creative visionaries experience, on some level, a similar view of the world (world-as-information). Some artists devote substantial time to understanding their own creative process; others proceed on a more implicit basis. But, one way or the other, it is seeing everything as pattern that opens up the mind to consider new and innovative patterns, patterns that contradict the patterns hitherto assumed absolute and irrefutable. Intellectually realizing that everything is pattern is not enough; the realization must be integrated into one's perceptual and cognitive systems. In order to derive truly deep and fantastic creative accomplishments, one must move toward the farthest edges of Intuition, toward the Realm of Bliss, where definite inspirations and ideas meld into general, transpersonal patterns -- where forms play, multiply and subdivide, and the goals and biases of humans are just particular forms dancing among many, many others.
Finally, before venturing further into the Realm of Bliss -- in the next chapter, which deals with the psychedelic experience -- let us return for a moment to the more prosaic world of science. It is not hard to see that these "mystical" insights into language have revolutionary implications for the science of linguistics. In particular, the idea of linguistic forms passing down through Intuition into the mind is quite reminiscent of contemporary and classical models of sentence production. Once again, we find that science and spirituality are not easily separable! This is not the place to talk about language production in detail, but a few brief remarks may be useful, if only as another example of the remarkable interpenetration of science and spirit.
In fact, these spiritually-oriented ideas bring us back to the first detailed psychological model of language production, conceived by the German neurologist Arnold Pick. Pick gave six stages constituting a "path from thought to speech":
Thought formulation, in which an undifferentiated thought is divided into a sequence of topics or "thought pattern," which is a "preparation for a predicative arrangement ... of actions and objects."
Pattern of accentuation or emphasis
Word-finding, in which the main content words are found
Grammatization -- adjustments based on syntactic roles of content words, and insertion of function words
Transmission of information to the motor apparatus
This sequential model, suitably elaborated, explains much of the data on speech production, especially regarding aphasia and paraphasia. And it can also be read between the lines of many more recent models of speech production. the details have been modified, but the basic idea is the same.
Pick's stages of sentence production connect naturally withthe better-known ideas of Chomsky's transformational grammar. In Chomsky's view, language consists of "deep structures," representing the inner structure and meaning of sentences, and "surface structures," which are the sentences we actually speak, write and hear. Transformation rules map deep structures into surface structures. Chomsky's "deep structure" corresponds to the emphasis pattern and sentence pattern of Pick's steps 3 and 4; whereas Chomsky's "surface structure" is the result of Pick's step 5.
Taking a broader view, it is plain that there is a substantial amount of overlap between Pick's steps 1-5. The "two" processes of idea generation and sentence production are not really disjoint. In formulating an idea we go part way toward producing a sentence, and in producing a sentence we do some work on formulating the underlying idea. In fact, it is quite possible that the process of producing sentences is inseparable from the process of formulating thoughts.
In From Complexity to Creativity I have given a novel mathematical model of sentence production, incorporating these ideas. In the present context, however, the point is: Where do the "deep structure" patterns, the emphasis and sentence patterns, come from? Conventional psychological wisdom has it that they come from the cognitive areas of the mind. The insights of our linguistic visionaries simply extend this idea: they say that the most abstract semantic/syntactic sentence patterns actually come from a "higher" region, a region of cultural universals, a collective unconscious, an abstract realm of forms.
Highly creative writers are able to dip very deeply into the higher realms, to pull out abstract sentence-patterns and concept-structures that others cannot reach. But what they are doing is just a more ambitious version of what we all do when we formulate sentences. It is just a question of how far up in the universal dual network you reach, to grab your abstract forms. Eventually, when one goes far enough up, one is grabbing forms of such subtlety and complexity that they extend far beyond the domain of consciousness, and present themselves to the mind as a priori emergences -- Intuitive forms, ringed around with fluctuating patterns from anandamaya.