Unification of Science and Spirit -- Copyright Ben Goertzel © 1996
THE PSYCHEDELIC EXPERIENCE
I have been talking, at great length, about creative inspiration. It is a sad fact, however, that in modern culture, creative inspiration is a relatively rare experience.
In tribal cultures, creative art is generally incorporated into everyday life. Everyone is a singer, or a musician, or a dancer. Carving, painting, clothing design and so forth are done by a large percentage of the population. Art is not rigidly separated from everyday existence. In modern Western culture, on the other hand, creative inspiration is a relatively arcane experience. Only a small percentage of individuals in modern society are actively involved in creative pursuits; and of those who are, only a small percentage devote the time, energy and concentration required to reach the heights of creative bliss reported by Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Dick, Goethe and the like.
A much more common portal to the Realm of Bliss, in the modern age, is psychedelic drugs. We have seen that, in modern culture as in tribal cultures, drugs are often used to stimulate creative imagination. Rimbaud and Dick are good illustrations. But more often, today, hallucinogens are used for entertainment or escape. The results of this kind of drug use can vary greatly.
In this day and age, views on drugs tend to be strongly held; and psychedelics are no exception. A few advocates argue that the psychedelic experience is an essential part of life, that, to paraphrase Socrates, "the non-psychedelic life is not worth living." On the other hand, the view of governments and mainstream political parties is just the opposite. According to the "official line," psychedelics and marijuana are very bad, in the same category as heroin, cocaine and morphine; whereas other psychoactive substances such as alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, theobromine (found in chocolate), refined sugar, Valium, Prozac and Ritalin are basically all right.
The irrationality of this official position on drugs is obvious. Most notably, there is no pharmacological or psychological sense in which alcohol is less damaging than marijuana, psilocybin or LSD. Perhaps the key to the official position lies in the fact that alcohol produces better workers than marijuana or psychedelics. There is a reason the 60's slogan was "Tune in, turn on, drop out," rather than "Tune in, booze up, drop out." Alcohol seems to breed sloth and conformity rather than spirituality, bizarreness and general lack of desire to do what one is told.
Psychedelic drugs have no particular pharmacological effects; more than any other drugs, they seem to act almost exclusively on the mind. Unlike amphetamines, barbiturates, nicotine and alcohol, the common psychedelic drugs are not physically addictive. However, they may be psychologically addictive -- in this they do not differ from many non-drug experiences, such as sex, skiing,eating, etc. As Aldous Huxley wrote in his early book on mescaline, psychedelics open up "the doors of perception." Not only do they cause dazzing visual, auditory or tactile hallucinations, they also allow the mind to break through the barriers it has set up for itself. The effects of psychedelics vary a great deal from one person to another, but yet the psychedelic experience has its own peculiar character, different and more bluntly powerful than anything else.
In some cases, individuals use psychedelics to solve personal problems, or to lift themselves up to a higher level of mental or emotional functioning. Having used the drugs in this way, they leave off taking them, and proceed with an ordinary drug-free life.
In other cases, psychedelics have positive effects, but the effects do not last long beyond the direct action of the drug. The individual in question cannot feel comfortable, emotionally and mentally free without regular doses.
Finally, there are cases where the effects of psychedelic drugs are definitively negative. Nearly everyone who has used psychedelics has had a "bad trip" at least once. Horror stories of bad trips abound, and indeed, there are few experiences more bone-chilling. A bad trip brings one into direct, visceral contact with the unpleasant parts of oneself -- what Freud called the Id. This can be educational, but it is invariably painful, and for some unstable individuals it may cause lasting psychological damage.
It should be noted that, when psychedelics were legal and were used in a research and therapeutic context, bad trips were rare and were easily dealt with when they did occur. Now that the drugs are illegal, professional help is not available for the person having an unpleasant psychedelic experience. And, furthermore, street drugs are rarely pure -- LSD has been cut with everything from heroin to strychnine -- increasing the unpredictability and potential unpleasantness of the experience.
Account of an LSD Trip
I will start out here by describing one of my own experiences with psychedelics. This was not my first acid trip but my second -- I had gone in deep the first time, and wanted to go in deeper. I won't pretend that this was a "typical trip" -- there is no such thing. But it does demonstrate many of the key properties of the psychedelic experience.
Three of us took the acid together, in my college dorm room: myself, my friend Mike, and my girlfriend Gwen (who is now my wife). Mike's friend Sludge was there to babysit, along with someone else, a friend of his, whose name I don't remember. Sludge was a very clean-cut guy, who is now a computer scientist; he wasn't into drugs at all, but had come at Mike's request. Mike had heard somewhere that it was good to have a straight "baby-sitter" around while you were tripping. I didn't really subscribe to thisview, but Sludge's presence didn't bother me. I was only concerned with one thing: popping the tab in my mouth, feeling that weird familiar tingle on my tongue.
The acid hit Mike first -- and, much to the amusement of all present, he leaped on Gwen and spent about fifteen minutes slurping her bellybutton. As for me, I was immediately thrown back to the end of my last trip. To a vision I'd had then, and had completely forgotten. This vision of society as a web of interdefinition -- I defined myself by reference to my parents, my friends and a few others, she defined herself by reference to her friends, et cetera, they defined themselves by reference to their friends.... I saw humanity as a vast system of simultaneous nonlinear equations: one which, however, could never be solved due to the fact that even the concept of solution was a human artifact and hence fit into the equation.... This trip picked up where that one left off -- people, webs, music.... I was inside Gwen, Sludge and Mike, trying to bust out from their collective shapes and colors, trying to find the key to the universe.... I kept thinking about my Theory of Everything. Somehow, it seemed, I could get at the center of it all this way. The essence of reality. The same thing I was looking for with my equations, I could find this way -- directly.
Sludge put Pink Floyd on the stereo; I sank into every tiniest chamber of the music, every rhythm-within-rhythm, every counter-counterpoint ... music was my only tie with time. Time didn't pass so every note was a whole symphony. And through the phantasmagoric mayhem of it all I sought to concentrate.... But concentration was impossible. Every time I made a definite statement to myself, erected a plot of conceptual ground for my conscious to stand on -- the very process of standing seemed to flip the plot out from beneath my feet. Assertion of X was impossible since the process of assertion invariably seemed to contain not-X ... and no less when the assertion was this sentence. It was impossible to think. But I sensed somewhere that this was not something to be held against acid; it was something to be held against thought. Thought was a limiting, stilted process. I was feeling something much more profound.
First, there was a state of mind I called Mind as Stack.... I saw my mind as a vast stack or tree of computer programs, an hierarchical control system in which each program controlled the programs immediately below it, which in turn controlled their subsidiaries, et cetera. And at the top of this hierarchy stood -- the Self! At least, normally ... during a trip, I hypothesized self-referentially, different programs assumed top-level control -- the self churned downward. Identity abdicated to sensation. I felt this programming shifting as I moved. As I rose to flip an album I felt the Self resume control ... then I fell into the album's blackness: a boundless void, an endless ocean in which I could swim as a fish -- the metaphysical equivalent of quicksand...
Then there was a vision I thought of as Self-similarity ... My dorm room had become my only true home; the experiences of the past few hours towered with such intensity that all my memories from further back were lifeless, pale, ancient history. Nonetheless, Ididn't want to pee on my floor or in my trash can. The air seemed unreasonably viscous as I stumbled toward the door and flew through the bone-shakingly bright infinity of the hall. In a flash I slid into the bathroom: the toilet stall became a universe, my urination the process of being, connection with world. There was nothing, nothing whatsoever, besides urination and the sterile forbidden- grime smell of the bathroom. As I finished peeing the walls hiccoughed and screamingly shuddered. The water swirled down the toilet as I automatically flushed. And I was -- literally, not metaphorically -- born again! Emerging from the toilet stall, I felt life as if it were something never felt before -- all full of vibrancy, hyperreality, subtle electricity. I looked at the mirror, saw myself, and tumbled through an abyss ... At that time mirrors were anathema to me; months passed between glances at my own image. But this time I didn't see "me," or rather I did see "me," but in a deeper sense than usual -- I saw a ghost, a heap of wafers barely cohered by some obstinate biological force. White wispy wafers, sebaceously shivering -- oozing repulsively, all apulse to the beat of invisible drumming, wafting through the walls from my dorm room.... I bent to drink. I bent to drink and a thousand veils lifted. All of a sudden I saw all the unconscious rooms of my mind, all in action ... I felt my intuition calculate the angles at which to bend various parts of my body in order to successfully execute the act of drinking. Waist: just so much. No -- that, like before ... divided by walking. I felt my body think by analogy, proceeding on the basis of a weighted average of its actions in previous similar situations (weighted by amount of similarity). Head: so far just like look at ground, minus scratch plus half of waterfountain ... Lips: shrink on contact, make round; torso: twist. "The body has its reasons" -- Yes indeed, and it shares them with the rest of the mind, not to mention the universe! I felt my body think, using the precise process I had previously identified with "higher mind" ... self- similarity, identity of process across scale, functional equivalence, logical level as argument.... I saw, specifically, that the ways of weighting averages were the same in body and mind, that the subtle patterns of reasoning, not just the general processes of analogy, were the same ... I returned to the room hoping desperately not to forget it, and also hoping it was a valid insight, not some kind of phantom. I'd read too many stories of meaningless LSD "discoveries" not to be skeptical, even in my twisted, exalted state....
Warm, warm comfort of the room -- or is that womb? Oh, yes, there's old friend struggle once again -- pulling the rug out from under my feet; eternal contradiction; eternal moment, death/life/death/life/death/life.... My fellow trippers, my cosmic family, everyone else just a bloodfilled body, a spark of the cosmic mind. Gwen was drawing, with magic markers, some kind of picture on the wall. She looked perfect, whole, beautiful, but not like a beautiful woman, more like a tree or mountain, a natural form. Her artistic motions wove pictures through the air; her body and her drawing were united in a four-dimensional scuplture. I hadan inkling of another trip we would have a year later, in which we would hallucinate the same golden luminous castle, covered with winding snakelike spires -- looking into each other's eyes free of confusion, lost in the same transpersonal mindspace, vowing to love each other for life. "I marry you and I see inside your mind." Mike was not having such a good time: he was lying on the bed repeating "Of course!" five hundred time, again and again, in fake operatic tones. The babysitters had got bored and left. I think I'd told them it was all right. I put Jimi Hendrix, Axis, Bold as Love, on the turntable, side two. My mind set off again. I wanted to reach the core of things, the essence. To grab an insight out of here that I could bring back to the temporal world. To be Prometheus, Thief of Fire! I tried to reason as follows: no matter what I think, it ends in cntradiction. Therefore everything is paradox. Why? Because nothing can be solid: there can be absolutely no thing. To draw a boundary is to separate X from X -- which is absurdity. You say the inside and outside are different? But to identify the difference is merely to draw another boundary: victim to the same flow. I realized that my logic contained a million holes. But to the extent that I was convinced by it, I didn't believe in logic or holes. Reasoning about self-contradiction, I contradicted myself continuously... Perfect skepticism: that which will not even permit itself to be formulated.
The final song arrived: the title song, "Axis, Bold as Love." I dove through the music. The onset of the song is slow, sweet, strong; as smooth as the pearly void of the Zen Buddhists ... the music flowed along slopes of invisible angel-down which tickled the cracks in my chapped lips, which made me sing silently and laugh, while the lyrics told fantasies of bright spiraling colors. Images arrested me. The song chased the Skeptic's Tumble from my mind, brought out beauty instead, wild-webbed gold-flowing intricacy:
Anger, he smiles, towering in
shiny metallic purple armor
Queen Jealousy, Envy, waits behind him
Her fiery green gown sneers at the grassy ground
Blue are the life-giving waters -- taken for granted,
they quietly understand
Once-happy turquoise armies lay opposite ready
But wonder why the fight is on
But they're all bold as love
They're all bold as love
They're all bold as love
Just ask the Axis ...
My Red is so confident he flashes
trophies of war
and ribbons of euphoria
Orange is young, full of daring,
but very unsteady for the first go-round
My yellow in this case is not so mellow
In fact, I'm trying to say it's frightened like me
And all these emotions of mine keep on holding me
from giving my life
to a rainbow like you
But I'm ... I'm bold as love
But I'm bold as love
But I'm bold as love
Just ask the Axis, he knows everything....
Each of his phantoms, his feeling-constructions, arise and dance with me in turn, clothed in gorgeous dashikis and skins of dragons, leopards, snakes. The emotions rise up from my mind and sail around the room, invading the molecules in the air. As the lyrics dim, the music unravels inexorably -- pattern on pattern of fresh flawless flowing, soft endings suddenly transforming into bright new beginnings, a symphony of delicate balance, afterplay, tying up every tremor left in my body in a kind of bouquet of nonmelodramatic love. And then the silence... The silence which seems to last forever. And then explodes, booms into a herd of thundering drumclouds; a swarm of beats spiraling out and in and out, in orbits too intense for the eye. In the complexity my self was lost; in the intensity my self regained. It was at this point the vision hit me with full force. Suddenly the Skeptic's Tumble, the World as Stack, the self-referentiality of the mind -- everything combined into a huge spot of nothingness. Every object around me, I saw, was a giant abstract red vagina: a living, breathing, pulsing opening, giving birth to everything else in the world. Everything was constantly being birthed by everything else. And everything was constantly making love with everything else, planting the seeds for this birth. Everything was flowing, a flowing and pulsing: flowing in and out of everything else, with a rhythm that was precisely the rhythm of my and everyone else's thoughts, the heartbeat of the universe. The moving was in precisely the form: X, not-X, X, not-X,.... In, Out, In, Out, In, Out,.... Everything was breathing, birthing, loving, pulsing, expanding contradictions into the flow of time. And real objects, people, minds, chairs, walls, music, were just continually regenerated by this flow. Mike was a giant beached whale; his destructive bad-trip mindset was carrying on by itself, self-sufficient and self-producing, each "Of course" birthing him as he birthed it. Gwen's strange expression concealed some dark erotic mystery, but as her eye blinked the veil blew aside, and I saw the currents in her brain, locked in with the pores of her skin and the air in the room and the colors and curves in her drawing. Everything was just a temporary configuration, a network of processes that happened to approximately reproduce itself by the dynamic of universal love-birth. The mindstack, the hierarchy of commands, the patterns of self-similar averaging, were all just configurations of processes, all just attractors in the void. And my awareness was cruising, pulsing and flowing; it leaped from every process of birth, injecting novelty and life. The insightwas perfect; the moment lasted forever. The color red was more magic and vivid than even Gwen's beautiful face. In the end the abstract vaginas and rhythmic In/Out movement proved to be inessential. The basis of the vision was nothing. The universe was open, wide, perfectly clear. I didn't try any more to think or describe it; I didn't care about bringing back insights to the temporal world. Everything just was. Fifteen to thirty minutes? It is still going on.
I am not a true psychedelic veteran. Always skeptical of drugs, I sat in on other peoples' trips three or four times before trying it for myself. I liked what I saw, and since then I have never been disappointed with the psychedelic experience; but even so, I have taken LSD only half a dozen times, and hallucinogenic mushrooms a few other times. By way of comparison, consider Terence McKenna, who has written a great deal of interesting things about psychedelic drugs, and reports taking the hallucinogen DMT just about every day. When asked about LSD, he reports that he has taken it "only" 150 or 200 times.
Never again did, in my limited psychedelic experience, did I duplicate the intensity of that trip with Gwen and Mike in my dorm room, described above. That time, somehow, everything went just right. Until the end, at any rate. When the trip was just about to end, I suddenly became quite depressed. It seems incidental now, but it was real and intense at the time. The insight was gone -- the beautiful harmony of the universe; the simple matter-of-fact existence. The humdrum rhythms of everyday thought and life were coming back, and this was a knowledge I couldn't bear. But I did bear it somehow: I'm still here, writing about it. And the echoes of that acid trip still resonate through all my writing, even -- perhaps especially -- my scientific work. The "Mind as Stack" is nothing but the hierarchical network in my theory of mind: pattern/processes building on pattern/processes building on pattern/processes, constructing intricate pyramids of perception, thought and action out of chaos and simplicity. The flow of one idea into the other is nothing other than the heterarchical network, in which each concept stimulates its relatives. The LSD wreaked havoc with the hierarchical network, destroying or deconstructing the standard procedures of behavior, giving the heterarchical network uncharacteristic precedence, letting flow and relationship predominate over mechanism and routine.
Unsurprisingly, Gwen's experience of that trip was quite different from mine. She felt none of my regret or anguish, but neither did she delve so deeply into the center of her mind. She was bedazzled and absorbed by the flood of sensations. Befitting her artistic temperament, it was a profoundly aesthetic experience for her. She felt very close to Mike, as if she were sharing a collective mindspace with him, and felt that I was shutting the two of them out, not letting them into my mind. In truth I wasn'tparticularly social during that trip -- as opposed to some later trips, which were totally focused on Gwen's and my shared experience. I was continuing the private mindspace of my previous trip, which had been a solo; and I was enthralled and encompassed by my solitary quest for insight.
As for Mike, he seemed to be enjoying himself during much of the trip, but the whole experience left a bad taste in his mind. He didn't speak to either of us for a couple years, and then it was only a couple sentences. We both sensed that he felt somehow violated and exposed, as if we had seen too far into the secret caverns of his mind. It wasn't so much his embarrassing behavior (500 "of course"'s, sucking Gwen's navel) as the complete relaxation of all psychological barriers between self and other. I felt quite guilty afterwards for having encouraged him to take the acid: I had thought it might solidify our friendship, but it wound up having the opposite effect. He couldn't handle the feeling of confronting the raw feelings and urges that make up the substrate of our world. In fact, though, we hadn't seen nearly so far into his mind as he thought we had. I was off on my own voyage of discovery, and Gwen's feelings toward him during the trip were purely ones of affection and companionship. He had lost the capacity to distinguish our minds from his own.
Anyone who's taken psychedelic drugs will recognize the kind of experiences I'm describing here. The details are different for everyone, and different for every trip, but one thing is common: the deconstruction of reality, the erosion of ontological certainty. Immediate perception of an underlying world, of the arbitrariness of the personal and social categories we use to divide up the world. Stanislav Grof, the pioneer of LSD psychotherapy, has written that "LSD and other psychedelics function more or less as nonspecific amplifiers of the psyche." I would agree with this but would clarify further that this amplification tends to have the consequence of freeing up static, ossified thought systems. LSD frees up the mind from its routines, and thus opens up the possibility of supernormal states of ecstasy or despair. It shifts the balance of the dual network, weakening the hierarchical network and letting the heterarchical network run free. It shakes the mind out of the basin of attraction of ordinary consensus reality, giving the possibility of fundamentall different states of awareness.
To someone who has had a deep psychedelic experience, the world can never again appear as solid, rigid, and fragmented as it did before. The memory of the solid world dissolving into sensations and relations is always there, hovering in the background. The memory of self, others, and physical objects deconstructing into a shifting web of peacock-feather interrelations. As one of my uncles, a schoolteacher and playright, said to me recently, "taking acid was one of the bigthings in my life, no question about it. It's like getting married, or going to college -- I can't imagine how different I'd be if I hadn't had that experience."
This view of psychedelics is borne out by what is known of their neuropsychology. Similar in shape to various neurotransmitters, these molecules subtly affect the ways in which neurons send messages to each other. Thus interfering with the natural course of neurodynamics, they cause the transmission of messages which might normally be suppressed. They disrupt the order of existing cell assemblies, producing informational chaos, and leading to the possibility of a new spate of assembly formation. They are different from other drugs: they have no specific, universal pharmacological effects. They serve exclusively, or primarily, to amplify the intrinsic heterarchical dynamics of mind.
To look at it from a slightly different angle, one may observe that some of our autopoietic thought-systems are so large and so tightly interconnected as to cause us to forget the intrinsic freedom of the component parts. LSD, stimulating interconnections, amplifies the activity of the individual thoughts and thus frees them from their systematic entrainment. Amplification leads to the temporary destruction of routines, habits, patterns. And, by the same token, it leads to awareness of these routines, these self-supporting systems. Change and freedom in these thought-systems naturally commands attention, attention that used to be focused elsewhere. This is awareness by the mind of what it is that the mind is doing. Awareness and routinization are opposed; as it chips away at the latter, LSD broadens the scope of the former. Thus, in my own trip described above, I became aware of (among many other things) the role of my "self" in regulating my activities, and the various calculations involved in bending over to get a drink of water. These processes were disrupted by the general state of activation caused by the LSD, and thus brought to my conscious attention.
This deep-seeing "trippy" state is not a good state of mind for getting things done -- routines are useful in the everyday world, and in order to be effective, they often need to be unquestioned. It is nice to have an hierarchical mental network in good working order. But still, the LSD state is a state of mind wonderfully conducive to insight. Sometimes it is good to stop doing and take a moment to understand what it is we are doing -- to ask, what is this "I" which is doing the doing in the first place.
In the end, what the spiritual quester is working towards is a state of mind somewhere between ordinary waking consciousness and the LSD daze. Rather than accepting mind-systems as absolute, or seeing them dissove entirely, one wants to accept them on a tentative basis -- to trace them out with dotted lines rather than solid lines. Psychedelics have the power to bring this alternate way of viewing the world into very sharp focus. At times they can move one too far into the realm of nihilism -- make the dotted lines a bit too faint, the spaces too much larger than the dots. But, used with wisdom, psychedelics can be a very valuable tool.
To use a slightly different language, one might say that psychedelics are just another way of producing mindfulness. They are another way of bringing parts of mindspace to the realization that they are, indeed, parts of mindspace. They are a door to hyperreality -- a door between the upper levels and the lower levels, beyond the autopoietic mental and bodily knots that prevent the mind/universe from acknowledging its true nature. They stimulate the hierarchical network, thus leading to general spreading activation; they initiate the breaking-free of mental pattern/processes from their standard autopoietic attractors, the liberation of pattern/processes to drift in the sea of "potential mind," of mindspace.
Psychedelics do have certain effects that cannot be explained by this statement, that seem to demand neurophysiological explanation -- the "traces" in the air seen by the LSD-tripper when someone moves their hand come to mind. But nevertheless, it is this heightened "mindfulness" that is the essence of the psychedelic experience. The feeling of ontological anarchy that comes with an acid trip is a result of seeing and feeling the processes by which we build up reality. Understanding the construction of the world, we can no longer believe in the world as real; the ground of our existence disappears, and the only thing left in its place is a swarm of shifting, interproducing forms, without the solidity to which we are accustomed. Psychedelics untie the self-sustaining "knots" by which mind and world are constructed. They amplify the activity of the processes taking part in these knots, and give these processes their own independent life, thus freeing them from the tyranny of the system.
Ups and Downs
The dark side of psychedelics -- shown by the depressing final segment of my own best trip, reported above -- may bear further emphasis. The psychedelic insight, the "general amplification of thought," is only temporary. The brain is given dramatic powers of proprioception, but only temporarily; then it goes back to acting blindly, without knowing what it is doing.
This darker aspect, however, is not unique to insight obtained by chemical means. The "dark night of the soul" is a cliche' among spiritual seekers, and for good reason. No matter what your spiritual path, at some point you are going to find yourself feeling lost. Often this is the point at which an individual gives up their spiritual quest and returns to the hollow but nevertheless comforting routines of ordinary life. But of course, this is the worst time to abandon spirituality. A bad trip or a "dark night of the soul" means that one's autopoietic thought systems, one's mental knots, are straining under the pressure. It means that thehigher and lower levels of being are straining toward each other with maximum force. Very often, the dark periods are followed by periods of unprecedented grace and light -- "The darkest hour is right before the dawn."
My wife, several years ago, had a vivid experience of deep insight, lasting several months, which followed a roughly similar course to my acid trip. She describes it as follows:
I was standing in the playground with Zar [our son, then 2 years old] reading a book, The Spirit of Zen, and, reading about I don't remember exactly what, I experienced a sudden explosive awareness ... of nothing mattering, of the interrelatedness of all things, the unimportance of daily concerns or what one does, and how everything was beautiful and wonderful. I was in this incredibly high state; everything was just amazing and wonderful and nothing mattered, so I immediately went on to find out more about Zen and to try to maintain this state. I went to talk to Emma [the reverend of a local Zen group] to try to find out what was going on, and she said I was in kensho. I thought that it would last forever because it was so wonderful, and that I would never go back to the way I was; she told me that it would wear off, but I wouldn't believe it. It lasted several months, and it wore off very very gradually; I could feel it wearing off, I just gradually got into a worse and worse state of mind until I was actually quite depressed -- in fact, I got in an incredibly, incredibly worse state than I'd ever been in. In my good experience I learned important lessons about myself, I learned to listen to myself and to do what my self and my comfort levels dictated. But I stopped listening to myself at one point, so I was incredibly miserable; and I knew that this was why I was incredibly miserable, that if I were listening to my inner self I wouldn't be unhappy, but just knowing this, knowing that I should be listening to my inner self, but that I wasn't, made the situation much worse. I think what you need to do to come up again is the same think you need to do to avoid going so low in the first place....
Since that time she has remained a Zen Buddhist, convinced that meditation is the path to happiness and spiritual advancement. She is convinced that Buddhism supplies an instruction manual for dealing with these enchanted states of awareness -- that disappointment following ecstasy is not necessary, but is rather a consequence of mishandling:
Meditation is the way you're supposed to prevent yourself from getting into such a low, funky state -- to hold onto spiritual advances you've made -- and that's the way to get out of it. To listen to yourself, to your inner self and to your body and your mind's needs. Feed your self and give it what you need -- nurture yourself. See, my problem was that I had this wonderful experience and, when you have this wonderful experience, to maintain it and get the most out of it you're supposed to continue to regularly meditate. I never did that, and I still haven't. While I was feeling so awful, I felt good when I meditated, but I hardly ever did meditate. Whenever you meditate you go back into the state, but in order to maintain the state you have to meditate regularly, then you get better and better. Every hour that you meditate you're making gains -- it's cumulative....
The thing about meditation is that it is extremely difficult to meditate when you're in an awful state of mind. It's very difficult to still your mind and actually do it. On the other hand, while you're feeling good and in a good state of mind you don't feel like it and you don't bother, you don't think you need it. And that's how we can neglect taking care of ourselves through meditation, and fall into an awful funk that we can't get out of, because we're not strong enough to do it through meditation because we don't meditate enough.
Another experience in the same basic pattern happened to me about ten years ago, when I was in chronic pain from having twenty to forty cold sores in my mouth for a period of a year. The pain wrenched me and squeezed me until I felt that I was nothing. Everyone around me seemed to be insensate, dead, moronic -- I was in a universe of automata. I couldn't eat or drink without agony, and even opening my mouth to speak was a terribly painful act. My tongue, covered with sores, stuck to the roof of my mouth, and in order to speak I had to peel it off, millimeter by torturous millimeter. For the first time ever I contemplated suicide -- not that I really thought it was the rational thing to do, but I was just so sick of being in all this pain. Then suddenly, one day, it turned around. Perhaps the pain was a little less than the previous day -- sufferers of chronic pain are incredibly sensitive to slight upward or downward shifts in their conditions. Also, I had been reading Nietzsche again: he was also a chronic pain sufferer, who had combated his pain with the formula amor fati. Love of fate! Love your pain, thank it for all it has given you! My pain made my life hell, yes, but one day it would be gone. And could I deny that the altered state of consciousness induced by my pain gave me greater insight into things? It was just like when, as a child, I had been wracked by 102 to 106 degree fevers. I had seen hallucinations, dancing figures in the air, and I hadunderstood everything. I had seen into my parents' minds. I had seen the place we go after we die, where our bodies are gone and our minds just barely blur into each other, not quite combined and not quite separate. The fever had been terrible, but it had brought insight. Similarly, these cold sores were a plague on my life, they made each day almost unlivable -- they made going to sleep each night feel like an infinite reward, like a combination of Utopia, orgasm, and return to the womb. But they helped me to understand. Once the sores receded, I realized, the insights would stay. As soon as I realized this, my mind filled with new insights, stronger insights. I felt I understood everything. I wrote delirious verses:
Songs of gently-bursting exuberance --
I cannot help but sing!
I cannot help but dance --
my feet weave trails of laughing through the air
I am the heart, the mind, the lungs of the world!
The world breathes through me!
I wrote a thousand page science fiction novel, called Wargasm (still unpublished -- any highly adventurous fiction publishers out there in the audience?). I wrote a rambling, inventive nonfiction manuscript called Transnihilistic Visions, containing many of the same ideas that, now, nine years later, I am presenting in this book.
Eventually the cold sore attack faded -- but was I happy? Right away I was less unhappy, that's for sure. No longer was I suffering daily pain. But the ecstasy was gone too. No more crazed, white-hot insights, following me around day and night. Finally my mood was lifted by external events -- I got my Ph.D., got my first job, and moved across the country; we had our first child, Zarathustra.
The point is that, no matter what ones route to spiritual growth, pain and pleasure are both going to emerge, most likely in an extremely mixed-up fashion. And, in the light of the theory of emotion described above, this is not at all surprising. For pain and pleasure are, themselves, substantially defined in terms of each other. In the long run, you can't have one without the other. The Realm of Bliss transcends pain and pleasure; it transcends ups and downs. For these are aspects of the individual organism, and the essence of Bliss is that it transcends ego boundaries. One's body expands to encompass the whole universe. Every concept's "body" -- the mental borderline region which separates it from other concepts -- is transcended, blending into the entire universe. Individuality is retained, but only provisionally, only as one pattern among others. Some patterns are fulfilled, causing pleasure; others are frustrated, causing pain; but the organisms feeling these pleasures and pains are just patterns floating among all the others, and so emotion as we understand it from a "realistic" point of view does not exist.
Proprioception of Thought
To lend a different flavor to the discussion of psychedelics, let us now turn to the philosophical thought of David Bohm, the late quantum-physicist-turned-philosopher. One of the last books Bohm wrote before his death, Thought As a System, is wonderfully relevant to these issues.
Bohm's views on mind are substantially in sympathy with the psynet model. He pictures thought as a system of reflexes -- habits, patterns -- acquired from interacting with the world and analyzing the world. He understands the self-reinforcing, self-producing nature of this system of reflexes -- the emergence of autopoietic subsystems. And he diagnoses our thought-systems as being infected by a certain malady, a malady which he calls the absence of proprioception of thought. Though Bohm's language is unfamiliar, it turns out that what he is talking about is very familiar indeed. His particular slant on mind and spirit will help us to clarify the distinction between ordinary and enlightened states of consciousness, and thus to finish off the train of thought begun at the end of Chapter 6
Proprioceptors are the nerve cells by which the body determines what it is doing -- by which the mind knows what the body is doing. To understand the limits of your proprioceptors, stand up on the ball of one foot, stretch your arms out to your sides, and close your eyes. How long can you retain your balance? Your balance depends on proprioception, on awareness of what you are doing. Eventually the uncertainty builds up and you fall down. People with damage to their proprioceptive system can't stay up as long as as the rest of us. A friend of mine suffered this sort of damage as an indirect result of a serious skiing accident -- it took him years to recover fully.
According to Bohm,
... [T]hought is a movement -- every reflex is a movement really. It moves from one thing to another. It may move the body or the chemistry or just simply the image or something else. So when 'A' happens 'B' follows. It's a movement.
All these reflexes are interconnected in one system, and the suggestion is that they are not in fact all that different. The intellectual part of thought is more subtle, but actually all the reflexes are basically similar in structure. Hence, we should think of thought as a part of the bodily movement, at least explore that possibility, because our culture has led us to believe that thought and bodily movement are really two totally different spheres which are no basically connected. But maybe they are not different. The evidence is that thought is intimately connected with the whole system.
If we say that thought is a reflex like any othermuscular reflex -- just a lot more subtle and more complex and changeable -- then we ought to be able to be proprioceptive with thought. Thought should be able to perceive its own movement. In the process of thought there should be awareness of that movement, of the intention to think and of the result which that thinking produces. By being more attentive, we can be aware of how thought produces a result outside ourselves. And then maybe we could also be attentive to the results it produces within ourselves. Perhaps we could even be immediately aware of how it affects perception. It has to be immediate, or else we will never get it clear. If you took time to be aware of this, you would be bringing in the reflexes again. So is such proprioception possible? I'm raising the question....
"Proprioception of thought" is a fancy phrase, a weird concept, a brain-stretcher. But a very similar idea has been proposed within the Zen Buddhist religion, under the much simpler name of mindfulness. In the words of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh
[T]he seed of mindfulness -- when manifested, has the capacity of being aware of what is happening in the present moment. If we take one peaceful, happy step and we know that we are taking a peaceful, happy step, mindfulness is present. Mindfulness is an important agent for our transformation and healing, but our seed of mindfulness has been buried under many layers of forgetfulness and pain for a long time. We are rarely aware that we have eyes that see clearly, a heart and a liver that function well, and a non-toothache. We live in forgetfulness, ignoring and crushing the precious elements of happiness that are already in us and around us. If we breathe in and out and see that the tree is there, alive and beautiful, the seed of our mindfulness will be watered, and it will grow stronger.....
Mindfulness makes things like our eyes, our heart, our non-toothache, the beautiful moon and the trees deeper and more beautiful. If we touch these wonderful things with mindfulness, they will reveal their full splendor. When we touch our pain with mindfulness, we will begin to transform it. ...
Mindfulness is something we can believe in. It is our capacity of being aware of what is going on in the present moment. To believe in mindfulness is safe, and not at all abstract. When we drink a glass of water, and know that we are drinking a glass of water, mindfulness is there.
This is just a different way of formulating familiar ideas from Zen Buddhist philosophy. But it is an interesting reformulation indeed.
Mindfulness is the mind acting, and knowing exactly what it is doing as it is acting. Mindfulness is mindspace knowing that it is mindspace. In other words, and without stretching things at all, mindfulness is proprioception of thought. Bohm's is a scientist's formulation. It begins with the behaviorist view of the mind as a collection of reflex-arcs, the system-theorist's conception of thought-systems as self-producing, and the physiological fact of proprioception -- and it arrives at the same conclusion as Thich Nhat Hanh did, by pure intuition and experience, with ultimate simplicity. The conclusion is that, if mind were immediately aware of what it were doing, we would be a lot better off.
Mind cannot become aware of itself by logical analysis, or by feeling. Mindfulness is a matter of directing attention toward the lower realms: anandamaya, pranamaya, vignanamaya. But this "attention" being directed is coming down from the upper realms, from above manomaya. In this way mindfulness is in fact a form of deep contemplation, a form of intuition -- vignanamaya. Mindfulness is a bridge between the upper and lower levels, a shaft of light piercing the mental knots that bind up manomaya and pranamaya. Applying deep intuition to itself, the mind becomes aware that its internal systems are just held together by autopoiesis, without any absolute solidity or reality. The mind becomes aware that, in reality, its forms and patterns are just floating in anandamaya.
Zen is not the only wisdom tradition to arrive at the same conclusion as Bohm. Yoga exercises are largely exercises in proprioception. They teach control of breathing and heartbeat, and in their slow methodical body motions they teach body awareness, oneness with the body -- enhanced overall proprioception. The concept is that, through improved proprioception of the body, proprioception of thought will follow.
The reader versed in Western philosophy will note that mindfulness and proprioception are also very Schopenhauerian notions. True reality, according to Schopenhauer, was chiefly perceived through willing, through the feeling of the body responding to one's commands -- in short, through proprioception. Creation and appreciation of art, particularly music, was said to give a similar feeling of immediate awareness, implying that thought is most proprioceptive when it is most creative, a conclusion that makes eminent sense.
Thich Nhat Hanh, in the Zen tradition, promotes meditation (rather than, say, yoga exercises or mushrooms or artistic creation) as a path toward mindfulness. He places particular emphasis on mindfulness of breathing: "Breathing in, flower; Breathing out, fresh".... From mindfulness of basic body processescomes, gradually, heightened mindfulness of the abstract processes of thought. He focuses on mindfulness of body processes because these are simplest to understand. But he also talks about samyojama, mental knots -- which, we have seen, are basically nothing other than self-supporting thought-systems:
When someone says something unkind to us, for example, if we do not understand why he said it and we become irritated, a knot will be tied in us. The lack of understanding is the basis for every internal knot. If we practice mindfulness, we can learn the skill of recognizing a knot the moment it is tied in us and finding ways to untie it. Internal formations need our full attention as soon as they form, while they are still loosely tied, so that the work of untying them will be easy.
Autopoietic thought systems, systems of emotional reflexes, guide our behaviors in all sorts of ways. Thich Nhat Hanh deals with many specific examples, from marriage woes to warfare. In all cases, he suggests, simple sustained awareness of one's own actions and thought processes -- simple mindfulness -- will "untie the knots," and free one from the bundled, self-supporting systems of thought/feeling/behavior.
Now let us turn from Bohm to another stellar modern thinker, the transpersonal psychologist and psychedelic psychotherapist Stanislaw Grof. Among all the key thinkers of the discipline of transpersonal psychology, it is, in my view, Grof who has come closest to the essence of spiritual experience.
One of the common criticisms of psychedelic insights is that they are short-lived. More ofthen than not, they fade when the drug leaves one's body! However, one must not make the mistake of thinking that ephemerality dilutes the power of a mystical experience. In a very powerful sense, insight is eternal: once you are in hyperspace, the temporal continuum doesn't matter. Time is a creature of the physical, mental and body worlds: there is no time in anandamaya, and even in quantum-maya time only has a limited validity.
But even so, there is something very satisfying about integrating mystical insights into everyday life. This is important with all mystical insights, but it is especially crucial with drug experiences, due to their intensity and short lifespan. This kind of integration is the aim of Stan Grof's psychedelic psychotherapy. In this therapy, instead of merely talking about their problems, patients use LSD as a tool for seeing to the core of their problems. The therapist guides their trips and helpsthem, between trips, to gracefully meld their psychedelic insights with their daily lives. As Grof says,
The main objective of psychedelic therapy is to create optimal conditions for the subject to experience the ego death and the subsequent transcendence into the so-called psychedelic peak experience. It is an ecstatic state, characterized by the loss of boundaries between the subject and the objective world, with ensuing feelings of unity with other people, nature, the entire universe, and God. In most instances this experience is contentless and is accompanied by visions of brilliant white or golden light, rainbow spectra or elaborate designs resembling peacock feathers. It can, however, be associated with archetypal figurative visions of deities or divine personages from various cultural frameworks. LSD subjects give various descriptions of this conditions, based on their educational background and intellectual orientation. They speak about cosmic unity, unio mystica, mysterium tremendum, cosmic consciousness, union with God, Atman-Brahman union, Samadhi, satori, moksha, or the harmony of the spheres.
This peak experience is intended to help the patient transcend their psychopathology -- a radical shift in emphasis from conventional psychotherapy, with its focus on the verbal exploration of the roots of pathology. In LSD therapy the objective is to untie the knots directly, via immediate experience of their non-absolute, self-producing nature, rather than indirectly via talk.
Grof speaks, not of mental knots, but rather of "COEX systems" -- systems of compressed experience. A COEX system is a collection of memories and fantasies, from different times and places, bound together by the self-supporting process dynamics of the mind. Elements of a COEX system are often joined by similar physical elements, or at least similar emotional themes. An activated COEX system determines a specific mode of perceiving and acting in the world. A COEX system is an attractor of mental process dynamics, a self-supporting subnetwork of the mental process network, and, in Buddhist terms, a samyojama or knot. LSD therapy unties these knots, weakens the grip of these COEX systems. The therapist is there to assist the patient's mental processes, previously involved in the negative COEX system, in reorganizing themselves into a new and more productive configuration. This therapeutic process has been dramatically successful on many occasions, and has enjoyed especial success with alcoholic patients. The thought-systems causing alcohol addiction are, it seems, particularly easily "dissolved" by the ecstasy of the psychedelic experience.
Stan Grof's emphasis on the compression of thoughts and experiences is both interesting and important. For, if one takes a computational view, pattern itself is just a different way of looking at compression. According to algorithmic informationtheory, a pattern in some entity is just some process that allows one to produce that entity in a particularly simple way. Linguistic systems are patterns in the world in precisely this sense -- they simplify the world for easy memory and comprehension. Grof's concept of compression brings us back once again to the pattern philosophy, the linguistic nature of the world, and the psynet model.
To recognize a pattern in something is to compress it into something simpler -- a representation, a skeleton form. It is inevitable that we compress our experiences into what Grof calls COEX's. This is the function of the hierarchical network: to come up with routines, procedures, that will function adequately in a wide variety of circumstances. We can never know exactly why we do what we do when we lift up our arm to pick up a glass of water, when we bend over to get a drink, when we produce a complex sentence like this one, when we solve an equation or seduce a woman. We do not need to know what we do: the neural network adaptation going on in our brain figures things out for us. It compresses vast varieties of situations into simple, multipurpose hierarchical brain structures.
But having compressed, we no longer have access to what we originally experienced, only to the compressed form. We have lost some information. This is the ultimate reason for what Bohm calls the absence of proprioception of thought. It is the reason why mindfulness is so difficult. Thought does not know what it is doing because thought can do what it does more easily without knowing. Proceeding blindly, without mindfulness, thought can wrap up complex aggregates in simple packages and proceed to treat the simple packages as if they were whole, fundamental, real. This is the key to abstract symbolic thought, to language, to music, mathematics, art. But it is also the root of human problems.
Thus we arrive at the conclusion that intelligence, itself, rests on the lack of mindfulness. It rests on compression: on the substitution of packages for complex aggregates, on the substitution of tokens for diverse communities of experiences. It requires us to forget the roots of our thoughts and feelings, in order that we may use them as raw materials for building new thoughts and feelings. But this forgetfulness, after it has helped us, then turns around and stabs us in the back. It works against us as well as for us. Intelligence is a mixed bag. Intelligence requires the coordination of hierarchical and heterarchical networks -- but the insight given us by the heterarchical network is systematically blunted by the compression intrinsic in the hierarchical network. Perfect coordination is never possible.
A mathematical perspective may be useful here -- as we reach the crux of all the issues raised in the previous pages. Proprioception of thought, in the end, is the same as reversibility. It is timelessness. And I have already pointed out that timelessness is only possible for two state-of-consciousnessstructures: the quaternions and octonions, as reflected in the Perceptual-Cognitive Loop and the loop of spiritual awareness. These states of consciousness embody proprioception of thought. Within the present moment, as embodied by either of these structures, there is proprioception. But when one moves to more intricate structures, making up complex objects in the mind and world, one loses this reversibility. It is no longer possible to move backwards as one moves forwards. The loss of proprioception is, in essence, the introduction of reversible time.
In other words, compression is inevitable if one wants complex structures: it is not there in the moment of consciousness, rather, it constitutes the movement from consciousness to unconsciousness. Proprioception is an ideal which exists in the moment: the message of wisdom traditions is to focus on the timelessness of the moment, instead of on the time-bound forms that are created by the moment. On the inside of the moment rather than the apparently real forms that are constructed in the movement from one moment to the next. Compression is irreversibility is pattern; pattern and timelessness are bound up, each one leading to the other; and the recognition of this binding-together it itself both a pattern and a timeless, spiritual intuition.
Bohm and Thich Nhat Hanh are optimists, in the sense that they believe proprioception can be indefinitely extended. This is an admirable point of view, but in the end, it is not quite a correct one. It ignores the presence of the sheaths, their palpable existence in the domain of hyperreality. It is just one side of the coin. Proprioception is always there, but it is always absent too. You can't ignore compression, irreversibility and evil, any more than you can ignore wisdom, insight, timelessness and good. They are all there, and all part of the same continuum, transcending the individual and the universal -- the same continuum which is revealed by the guiding light of Being, the pattern flow of anandamaya.
Thich Nhat Hanh, whose views on mindfulness I have quoted above, goes along with many other commentators in blaming modern society for the rampant lack of mindfulness he observes around him. Alcohol, TV, junk food and the commuter culture are pinpointed as the culprits. But surely this misses the main point. The ancient Orientals were not such a universally enlightened people. China's bloody and tumultuous history is evidence of this, as is the repressive nature of traditional Oriental culture. Thich Nhat Hanh's own country, Vietnam, is hardly a paradigm case of peace, balance and harmony. The truth is that, while aspects of modern culture certainly work against the quest for deep insight, the real problem lies in the nature of mind itself. Modern culture is not responsible for the sheaths obscuring Pure Being from itself. Even primitive tribal cultures lack mindfulness to some degree -- though they are closer to Thich Nhat Hanh's ideal than Oriental or Occidental culture. In terms of Combs' reading of Gebser, none ofthe structures of consciousness escapes the fundamentally irreversibility of compression, the non-proprioceptiveness of the unconscious. They merely express this compression in different sorts of ways.
This said, however, it must be admitted that there may exist differences of degree. Mindfulness may be easier in a tribal setting because life is simpler. We, in our culture, rely on intelligence for nearly everything. Twelve or more years of school are required in order to teach basic cultural competence. This reliance on the symbolic and abstract seems to carry with it a systematic lack of mindfulness. Essentially, the more complex the tasks one has to carry out, the more difficult it is to be mindful of one's actions. It's not so hard to be mindful while walking, or picking strawberries, or washing dishes. Much more difficult when, say, writing a book like this, or solving an equation, or manipulating columns of numbers in a spreadsheet. In these instances one has to think fast, and strain one's mind to encompass more and more ideas, operations, transformations. One's mind is strained to the limit already, without the additional task of monitoring itself. In a sense, it seems, cultures based on pushing the mind to the limit naturally work against proprioception of thought. Modern culture embraces the hierarchical and tries to ignore the heterarchical.
But there is also a sense in which mindfulness is necessary for a complex culture like ours. TV, books, cars and movies are all the products of intensely creative minds. And the creative process relies essentially on deep awareness of mindspace. In order to carry out deep creative innovations, the mind must be self-proprioceptive, to whatever degree of approximation it can muster: it must be intensely and probingly aware of what it is doing. Mindfulness is not useful for rote brainwork, but it is crucial for creative brainwork. As we push toward a more advanced culture, it may be that work will become more creative, and mindfulness will once again become economically useful as well as personally and socially important. We may eventually work back to the level of mindfulness achieved in early tribal cultures. Or perhaps, we may attain a yet higher level -- though never perfection. We have a greater challenge to meet: the mindfulness of highly complex shared heterarchical process networks, which carry out amazingly intricate tasks.
The bottom line is, there's no easy way out. As Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, we may work to live as mindfully as possible. As Grof suggests, we may use chemical means to help the exceptionally unmindful to transcend their more acute problems (although, since LSD was made illegal in the US, Grof has in fact shifted to a breathing-oriented therapy technique). But we can never completely solve the problem of non-proprioception, because it is intrinsic to the dynamics of mind. Mindspace is pattern space, it requires compression in order to generate complex forms; but with compression comes unmindfulness. Thus the very intricacy and complexity of mindspace is responsible for its reflexive blindness, its partial inability to see itself.
The parable of Goethe's Faust is thus seen to be incredibly apt. Faust sold his soul to the Devil, in exchange for an understanding of the world -- i.e., in exchange for the development and flowering of his own mindspace. And this is exactly what the universe itself has done. The universe has bought its immense beauty and intricacy, at the cost of selling off fragments of its soul. It has created forms using autopoiesis -- and these forms then stick in its throat, prevent its parts from seeing the whole, from seeing their true nature. But fortunately, there is still some soul left! There are still enlightened minds, tremendous experiences, perfect moments. There is still the experience of the world as hyperreal -- the infusion of anandamaya into the mind, loosening up forms and creating a smooth two-way flow of information throughout all the levels of being. Slowly, and in a way we can hardly understand, we may be able to help mindspace to heal its self-inflicted wounds -- bringing the universe to a point where the structural identity of individual and cosmic awareness becomes more dominant, and the sheaths that create forms and cloak being melt a little further into the background.
Philip K. Dick expressed this same feeling by saying that the universe, which was perfect and healthy, also had a sick twin universe -- a universe with a flaw. We, he said, live in the sick twin universe, Hyperuniverse II. But the divine entity has invaded our universe, and is attempting to cure things. This theme is explored brilliantly in his novels The Divine Invasion and Valis. Although the details of his visions are odd and often amusing, I sympathize entirely with the core feelings underlying them. I would add only that we are all this divine invader. We all have the power to put more self-awareness back in mindspace. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, "A bodhisattva doesn't have to be perfect. Anyone who is aware of what is happening and who tries to wake other people up is a bodhisattva. We are all bodhisattvas, doing our best." By experiencing hyperreal ecstasy in its various guises, we are all psychedelic psychotherapists -- healing ourselves, each other and the world. We are all mental knots, blocking the free flow of information -- and we are all untying these knots, enabling and surfing on this free flow. This is the wonder and the paradox of being.
We have worked up, fairly gradually, through the levels of the hierarchy of Being. Having finished with Intuition and Bliss, it is time to tackle Being. But Being does not deserve its own chapter, for obvious reasons. I have nothing to say about Pure Being at all, because Pure Being is, by definition, indescribable. It is the same as pure Nothingness. It has no qualities, and hence it has all qualities -- because it does not have the quality "not-X" any more than it has the quality "X".
Pure Being is a singularity in the Circle of Being, in that it contains all elements of the hierarchy, and is contained by all elements in the hierarchy. It interpenetrates everything, turning Mind to Intuition, World to Quanta, and Body to Bliss. Yet this does not eliminate the particular appropriateness of Being's place in the hierarchy, next to the two realms of Quanta and Bliss.
Quantum gravity studies the emergence of the physical universe out of Pure Being. It studies the emergence of the universe, and particles with properties, out of utter Nothing. Pure Being/Nothingness, however, is an emphatically unscientific concept, quite different from the "vacuum" as studied in quantum theory. It does not admit to experiment, only experience.
Wisdom traditions study the emergence of the mental, intuitive, experiential universe out of Pure Being. Pure Being pushes the fuzziness and chanciness of anandamaya to an ultimate extreme, in which everything is so fuzzy and chancy that it is not really there any more, not in any tangible way.
Each of us can recognize Pure Being, within and outside ourselves. Pure Being is there in the timelessness of the present moment -- in the reversible structure of the Perceptual-Cognitive Loop and the loop of spiritual awareness, which guide our minds and lives. Pure Being is there, in each instant, as the Perceptual-Cognitive Loop creates the forms that obstruct Being from itself. It is Being which obscures itself from itself: and the question " why?" is the greatest koan of all, the mother of all koans, and a perfect point at which to bring these diverse explorations to an end.