|2012-05-09, by John Ringland|
This is an edited version of my comments from a recent conversation with a good friend Glisten (with extra comments to clarify a couple points).
I do not deny the reality of the experiential context - it is a genuinely real and very necessary illusion. The experience is real, but the world of objects in space and time that is imagined to be portrayed by those experiences is an illusion.
BTW, by the term 'illusion' I in NO way imply 'unreality'. The term simply means that it is not what it appears to be or is commonly thought to be. The 'world' that we apprehend is not a physical world "out there", it is a virtual experiential context arising within consciousness.
To overlook this is to be blinded by the illusion (naive realism).
To know this is to recognise the illusion and the creative role that it plays in the actual situation.
Of course we are all naive realist in different ways at different times!
My point in regards to naive realism is that anyone who wishes to understand reality MUST get past naive realism in regards to their understanding of reality - otherwise they remain believing in the illusion. This point is clearly proven both philosophically and experimentally!
I'm not saying that people 'should' do this. People can do whatever they want to do - I make no 'normative' statements.
I'm simply saying that, for those who wish to gain an understanding of reality then they must get past habitually and uncritically assuming that the contents of their mind is an actual external world, and more subtly, they must stop assuming that appearances define reality.
That is the first step, which opens up the possibility of gaining deeper understanding. I am not speaking normatively, but of the necessary requirements for the journey. This advice is only relevant for those who wish to take such a journey - most people are not willing to stray so far from the familiar web of consensual illusions that we call "the world" - they have attachments and agendas in that world - their life-story is entangled with the world-story. This can cause problems when someone's life-story has a narrative of "understanding the nature of reality" but when it comes down to it they are too attached to their life-story to effectively work towards understanding the nature of reality, this creates enormous tension.
For those seeking clarity of understanding, to believe that the world "out there" is actually real is as erroneous as to believe that a TV actually contains another world (TV Land) - both are confusing the appearances with being a reality. If someone believes that TV Land is fundamentally real then they cannot understand the actual nature of television because they are not only lacking accurate knowledge, they are deeply entangled in false knowledge, which makes them strenuously (and unconsciously) reject the actual knowledge when they encounter it.
This is a very tricky dilemma for anyone who wishes to disentangle themselves and work towards understanding their actual situation. Hence it usually takes a life-time of inner work and sacrifice to attain a sufficient level of detachment from illusion to have the capacity for clarity to arise.
However, for those who wish to "experience life to the fullest", they need to cultivate and develop the illusions, which leads to more passionate participation in the 'world' - in the same way that one must forget the movie theatre and the movie to immerse oneself in the story that is portrayed by the movie. For these people naive realism is a definite asset and they instinctively strive to maintain it.
If people want to do that its fine by me - after all that is a big part of the dynamic that gives rise to the virtual aspect of reality - it is quite natural. But if people believe that the virtual is in fact actual, then they will never understand reality - and they will also subtly spiral into deeper confusion and suffering - because they are reacting to the illusion rather than the actual situation.
So it is only when I encounter someone who says they wish to understand reality that I attempt to bring the issue of naive realism to their attention. The fact that they react with denial is not my fault. Denial is the first line of defence for most people - it is quite natural. Those who get past their denial are the ones who are not just living out a life-story about discovering the nature of reality, they are the ones who are genuinely on their way to making the discovery for themselves - which is rare and difficult!
I don't keep raising the issue of naive realism as some kind of dogma - but because it is an endemic confusion that prevents accurate knowledge of the nature of reality - which is an issue for those who seek accurate knowledge. That is not to say there is only one way to approach reality. There are a vast number of ways but there is ONLY ONE reality.
Hence when fundamentally conflicting statements are made about reality then one or both of them are false. It doesn't necessarily mean that whole positions are false, although it might; depending on how 'core' the statement is to the position. Questioning these contradictory statements has little to do with "people being right or wrong" and everything to do with "clarifying things in order to help prevent the discourse from turning to mud".
I'm not talking about some "universal yard stick" or "omniscient perspective". I accept that could have been inferred had I been talking about single statements and their correlation to reality, but I wasn't. I was talking about comparing two statements with each other. In many (but not all) cases the contradictions are quite clear without any need for a deep grasp of the ONE REALITY.
For example, statement A says "actual reality is observable" whilst statement B says "actual reality is not observable". These two statements contradict each other in their semantic structure as well as in the metaphysics that they imply. This provides an opportunity to test them against each other.
Furthermore, I do not claim that the world is unreal and unimportant. It is as important to reality as TV Land is to TV. What I mean by that is that it is an integral feature of reality but it is not what it appears to be.
This doesn't mean that there is an absolute disconnect with "absolute reality" on one hand and "meaningless fantasy" on the other - not at all. The two contexts are intimately connected and the manner of the connection can be well understood.
But before one can do that one must recognise the difference between the appearances and that which gives rise to the appearances.
Similarly, before one can understand 'television' one must get past believing that TV Land is a fundamentally real world. Whilst ever one thinks that, one will never be able to accurately understand the phenomenon of television, which includes circuitry, electricity, TV stations, programs, episodes, etc, AS WELL AS the TV Land that is portrayed in the story.
That world "inside the box" is an illusion, it is not a world, it is a series of sounds and images that portray a world. The 'world' that is portrayed is a real phenomenon, but its actual nature is virtual, not physical - it exists in our minds and culture - not in some other dimension that we can see through a TV screen.
Likewise, if a person can get beyond believing that the phenomenal contents of their mind is a fundamentally real world "out there" then they have a chance of understanding consciousness and thereby reality. The 'external' world is a real phenomenon, but its actual nature is virtual, not physical - it exists in our minds and culture - not as some "physical universe" - out there - that we perceive through our senses.
There are lots of things about reality that we can infer and intuit based on our experiences - that is the essence of science - but the experiences are just the phenomenal contents of the mind and are not the reality itself. Nobody has ever observed reality directly because whenever one tries, what one apprehends is an experience in consciousness that represents an impression of reality when it is observed from some particular perspective (i.e. through some particular observation process) - one doesn't apprehend the reality itself.
Trying to understand reality in terms of observables is like trying to understand television in terms of the objects and events within TV Land - it is not possible and only leads to deepening confusion. Likewise, experiences are the phenomenal content of consciousness, whilst consciousness itself is not "made of" the contents of consciousness - instead, consciousness is a primary animating essence of reality, which provides the context within which virtual worlds can emerge. We do not exist within the world, the world exists within consciousness and we (who we 'think' we are) are a manifestation of consciousness.
Different people seek to liberate themselves from illusion for different reasons. Ultimately it has little to do with people or their reasons - it is reality engaging with reality - that is why it has persisted throughout human civilisation since ancient times - and will continue to do so. However, the narrative of "people and their reasons" is an essential part of the mechanism by which the process unfolds.
Liberation from illusion naturally and spontaneously emerges in individual lives and societies, occasionally becoming institutionalised as cultural practices, whereon it becomes gradually re-interpreted in naive realist ways and slowly turns into religion and eventually superstition. This "decay process" is balanced by the "renewal process" whereby individuals and emergent groups reconnect with reality through themselves as themselves. It's an ongoing process; an essential aspect of the ongoing-process-of-the-real.
Given all of the above, I guess an obvious follow on question could be: If the world is an illusion then how can it not be meaningless? Or in other words; in what way can an illusion be meaningful?
I'll use software as an analogy; consider some software interface, such as a comment box on a social network. I'm not saying reality is a comment box, what I'm saying is that the phenomenon of meaningful illusions playing a role in the emergence of phenomenal contexts can be understood by considering a software analogy.
Often there is a button near the comment box labelled 'Submit', which one presses to submit the comment. At least that is the narrative of the virtual world - a narrative that serves a useful purpose.
Aside from this there is another way of conceiving of the situation by considering the computational process that is manifesting the appearances.
In this situation the sentences, comment box, button, etc are all entirely virtual entities. For instance, when you look at the screen you are NOT looking through a window into a physical space in which there is a physical button that is connected by some physical mechanism to other physical components... and so on - even if the interface is drawn in such a way that implies that. There is only the appearance of a button and an underlying (imperceptible) process that manifests the appearance of the button and that responds to button press events.
In this situation:
To believe that there is a fundamentally real button there is to be blinded by the illusion.
To believe that there is the appearance of a button there is to be informed by the illusion.
To say the button is actually real is false; and to say that it is unreal is also false. It is NEITHER - it is virtually real.
One can still use the button without believing it is an actual button, just as one can play a computer game without believing that one has been transported to another world. Similarly, one can live life and participate in the world in meaningful ways without needing to believe that it fundamentally exists as it appears.
What we experience in all these cases is the surface appearances of something that is vastly greater and more subtle than what it appears to be. The appearances arise from and hint at the underlying reality that we are, but we never directly experience that - it is what makes experience possible.
If one is just a basic level user of the software then it's not necessary to distinguish between whether it is a fundamentally real or virtual button - there is no need to overcome naive realism. However if one wishes to understand the situation in-depth, then one must understand the illusion, i.e. how and why the illusion arises and what role it plays.
Furthermore, the same principles that I discussed above, in relation to the virtual nature of the outer world, also apply to the inner world and the virtual nature of the personal-self. I usually discuss the outer world first because, understandably, people find facing up to this 'inner' aspect to be more challenging because it brings into question the reality of the person who they think they are - hence the mind finds many reasons, distractions and prejudices with which to avoid any such enquiry.
In brief, the world is not what it seems to be and neither are we. We are, in a sense, the ongoing-process-of-the-real experiencing itself through a virtual perspective.
BTW, all of this is "just another narrative", I do not claim otherwise - I claim that it is a very useful analogy because it reveals certain things about the nature of reality - the same things that are being described by the cutting edge of quantum mechanics, mystic wisdom and many other useful narratives.
It also helps to elucidate the limitations of various other narratives, such as naive realism and its descendants; common sense, materialism, empiricism, egoism, anthropocentrism, scientism, religion, etc. These can be useful narratives, however we must understand their limits if we are to avoid their potential dangers.
Big thanks to Glisten, for her subtlety and persistence.