Showing posts with label James M. Corrigan. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James M. Corrigan. Show all posts

Also See: The Trouble With Agency (Newer Version)

It Was Inevitable That Science Would Declare We Have No Free Will
Great Responsiveness Explains How Recognition Of Our Acts Come Only After Our Desire To Do Something Has Already Commenced The Action Desired
Nov 11·17 min read
Scientists have grown increasingly bolder in their claim that all human behavior can be explained through the mechanistic laws of strict cause-and-effect.
What this means is that scientists develop their theories, and confirm those theories, only through this single structural understanding. So when scientists observe their experiments, while their observations are facts, how those facts are interpreted is strictly through a deterministic lens.
That being so, given a focus on our daily experiences of free will, it was inevitable that Science would declare that we, in fact, do not have free will, because the mechanistic laws of strict cause-and-effect (determinism) have no room for the kind of indeterminacy that free will implies.
“Unmasked” by Autumn Skye (with permission)
Until the 1980’s the belief that we have free will was a fundamental personal and social assumption in our systems of Ethics, Morals, and Law, but it started to change when Benjamin Libet, a researcher in the physiology department of the University of California, San Francisco USA, did an experiment that, he claimed, showed that our assumption that we freely will our actions was false. A short video explaining his experiment can be seen here. In 2003, Libet was the first recipient of the Virtual Nobel Prize in Psychology from the University of Klagenfurt, “for his pioneering achievements in the experimental investigation of consciousness, initiation of action, and free will.”
Apparently, his research showing that we do not scientifically have free will, was something to cheer about, even though it reduced us all to deterministic mechanisms being entertained by baseless fantasies of our own moral and ethical agency. The phenomenon that his experiment exposed is now called “Libet’s Delay” in honor of the man’s research findings.
The delay in question in these experiments is the difference in the onset of a skin sensation and the reported consciousness of that sensation, or, as in the video linked above, in the initiation of a movement and the consciousness of the decision to make the movement. In both these cases, there is a delay between the brain responding and consciousness of that response arising, either as a decision, or merely an impression. The important point to remember here, is that, Science has not been able to establish what consciousness is, nor how it works; but Libet interpreted the reported delay as evidence that our conscious activity is not involved in the initiation of our physical activity or sensations — and it was inevitable that he would do so, given the strictly causal mechanistic understanding within which he worked. I will explain below how the delay is not unexpected, nor exclusionary to our having free will.
I witnessed an event some years ago at my university that sent chills down my spine. This event was similar to the Libet story in being that of a well-known scientist presenting a dénouement of our moral and ethical agency. It was during a talk by Patricia Churchland, a “neuro-philosopher” as she calls herself, that she gave at Stony Brook University (State University of New York) in February 2008. Her argument was to the effect that individuals with a body-chemistry associated — by neuroscientists — with violent or destructive behavior should be separated from the rest of society before they harmed themselves or others, or gave any indication that they were inclined to do so, since their body-chemistry effectively determined that they would do so at some point.
This included, she said, infants at birth who tested positive for the “violent or destructive behavior body-chemistry,” who should be separated from their parents and raised institutionally, because they were destined to be violent or destructive!
What was on display in her talk was the mereological reduction of the potential actions of a class of human beings to the chemical “makeup” of their bodies.
And she wasn’t laughed out of the auditorium! She received a standing ovation from many of the scholars in the audience.
According to a mainstream article in Psychology Today magazine:
The denial of free will is one of the major principles of the materialist worldview that dominates secular western culture. Materialism is the view that only the physical stuff of the world — atoms and molecules and the objects and beings that they constitute — are real. Consciousness and mental phenomena can be explained in terms of neurological processes.
Materialism developed as a philosophy in the second half of the nineteenth century, as the influence of religion waned. And right from the start, materialists realised the denial of free will was inherent in their philosophy. As one of the most fervent early materialists, T.H. Huxley, stated in 1874, “Volitions do not enter into the chain of causation…The feeling that we call volition is not the cause of a voluntary act, but the symbol of that state of the brain which is the immediate cause.”⁠¹
Modern Science opens up many technological avenues, which importantly, have quickly brought us to the ruination of society, culture, and our planet, after little more than 150 years. In general, scientists disavow any moral considerations upon their pursuit of knowledge, claiming that knowledge isn’t the problem, instead it is how that knowledge is sometimes used that is at fault, and scientists don’t determine the uses, they say.
Ok, but it’s a bit disingenuous given where a significant part of their funding comes from, and their acquiescence to find useful knowledge for their benefactors to use in pursuit of their oftentimes troubling goals, but let’s skip the interminable debate and respond to their defense: We are better off without the kind of knowledge you look for. Unfortunately, consideration of our concerns does not enter into the ruminations of the Scientific Workshop, or if it does, it is a private matter of some concerned scientists only, and not a collective concern.
Given the mounting evidence that consciousness of our actions follows the commencement of our actions, which are already in motion before we decide to do them, and the positive and negative determinacy of our body chemistries, it was inevitable that scientists would declare we have no free will, no matter the moral consequences of convincing society at large that they were deterministic zombies completely driven by mechanisms in their body to do the things they did.
And the result of that? According to ​Stephen Cave, PhD, a philosopher, diplomat, and writer, who earned his PhD in philosophy from the University of Cambridge:
This research and its implications are not new. What is new, though, is the spread of free-will skepticism beyond the laboratories and into the mainstream. The number of court cases, for example, that use evidence from neuroscience has more than doubled in the past decade — mostly in the context of defendants arguing that their brain made them do it. And many people are absorbing this message in other contexts, too, at least judging by the number of books and articles purporting to explain “your brain on” everything from music to magic. Determinism, to one degree or another, is gaining popular currency. The skeptics are in ascendance.
This development raises uncomfortable — and increasingly non-theoretical — questions: If moral responsibility depends on faith in our own agency, then as belief in determinism spreads, will we become morally irresponsible? And if we increasingly see belief in free will as a delusion, what will happen to all those institutions that are based on it?⁠²
I wonder, do scientists themselves accept the implications of this paradigm of determinacy that they impose on all of us? The title I chose for this article makes clear the implication for scientists as well — they have no choice in what they do, so, given the structural limitations of their working paradigm, they had to come to the conclusion that we do not have free will. It was the inevitable conclusion — and its inevitable result is the reduction of humans to no better than zombies, and the ruination of the world. QED, Modern Science will be the end of us all.
Obviously, that cannot be the complete truth, and so, the assumptions that scientists work under must be wrong.
But scientists do not apply the same reductive outlook upon the practice of modern science, instead they hedge the application of strict cause and effect by introducing complexity and happenstance (“Chaotic Determinism”), which are the fundamental constituents of the ‘randomness’ that they assert — when it is useful to escape strict determinism — underlies the evolution of forms of life, for example, or the behavior of quantum waves/particles.
Yet, when scientists design their experiments, it is necessarily with the goal of observing strictly causal mechanisms. Why is that? Because there is no useful knowledge to be had of a phenomenon that is not strictly determinate, and thus, no predictions can be made with any assurance of the future manifestations of such a phenomenon. In short, it is a waste of time.
This was the reason that the idea of God had to die — having an intentional agent with unlimited powers behind every and any phenomenon undermined the ability of scientists to forecast anything at all, even if it seemed as if God wasn’t interested in manipulating a wide collection of phenomena that always seemed to operate in a law-like way. The point was: God could change it. And this insight adds a nuance to the rebuke by Albert Einstein that “God does not play dice!” in response to the apparent indeterminacy of quantum-level events.
You can’t calculate indeterminacy, so if physical reality is indeterminate, it is not ruled by mathematics, even if some phenomena can be statistically modeled. Therefore, the tension between classical physics and quantum physics is one between two irreconcilable models of reality, which explains the lack of movement over the past century in the endeavor to find a single comprehensive theory. It also explains the turn towards fanciful theories for which there is no evidence, but simply engender an aesthetic appreciation of their elegance; and, as well, the inevitable anathematization of any scientist, such as David Bohm, who presents a logically coherent theory that makes room for mind-like explanations for the indeterminacy. Desperation is in the air in the Scientific Workshop today — or should be.
Stephen Cave makes the point though, that quantum-level indeterminacy does not liberate anything from the laws of nature as promulgated by modern science. In other words, the evidence does not imply a mind that stands above or outside of these laws. But doesn’t that make these laws the inevitable conclusion of the paradigm scientists work under, and not the evidence?
…some other commentators point out that quantum mechanics demonstrates that the world is not straightforwardly deterministic. In this, they are right: quantum indeterminacy implies that physical reality has an irreducibly probabilistic nature. Other readers have pointed out that even classical physics does not always allow us to accurately predict what will happen: According to chaos theory, any of an incalculably huge number of tiny differences in initial conditions can lead to radically different outcomes. (At least, that’s the excuse weather forecasters use for getting it wrong.) This too is a fair point.
But neither quantum indeterminacy nor chaos theory give us free will in the sense of a special power to transcend the laws of nature. They introduce respectively randomness and unpredictability, but not free-floating minds that cause atoms to swerve, or neurons to fire, or people to act. So you could read instances of the term “determinism” in my article as meaning roughly “the belief that human action is the product of physical laws” and all the points would remain the same.⁠³
It is only when the results, confirmed over-and-over again, show that the mechanism believed to be behind the phenomenon being studied does not match the facts, that problems of misinterpretation occur. And to be completely accurate, many times there is ‘play’ on the part of scientists in which facts will be considered to be verification that the expected mechanism has been correctly hypothesized, so to be confronted with facts that absolutely go against the assumed mechanism should immediately cause a reconsideration of the initial hypothesis of how the phenomenon works, and new ideas, no matter how outlandish should be considered. In technical fields this process is called brainstorming — and it works well.
But the one ‘outlandish’ idea that few scientists seem able to entertain, is that the laws of nature only seem to work, but in reality, there is a different process in play. This is to say, any solution that lies outside of the paradigmatic understanding that undergirds modern science will simply not be entertained.
While the experimental facts don’t lie, their interpretation by scientists can be completely wrong. Whether the facts and theory can align is a matter of the paradigmatic understanding being used to interpret those facts. Modern Science works under a paradigmatic understanding that increasingly cannot encompass the experimental facts being generated, and not just in Quantum Mechanics. For example, the reason why computers have a ‘clock speed’, for example, is because the operation of electronic chips of silicon, no matter how careful the design, are not deterministic in the duration necessary to perform an operation, although they show a ‘preference’, and thus computers need a ‘clock’ that signals the longest designed possible duration for any operation to complete, so that the operations of all the components of the device can be synchronized at the beginning of each cycle — very much like the hortator that gave a rowing drumbeat on the ancient Roman triremes (rowed ships) to synchronize the rowers.
This idea of a paradigmatic understanding in modern science was first suggested by Thomas Kuhn, an American philosopher of Science, in his influential 1962 book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” Kuhn argued that, rather than progressing through a linear and cumulative process, fields and subfields of science are typically dominated by widely accepted or dominant paradigms that define essential questions until anomalous research evidence leads to a scientific revolution and the emergence of new paradigms. This revolutionary process was put another way by the German theoretical physicist Max Planck in 1950:
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.⁠⁴
This provocative quote from Planck underscores that even the most celebrated scientist of his era understood that the pragmatic success of a scientific theory does not entirely determine how quickly it gains adherents, or its longevity.
An excellent example of this today, which is still ongoing after more than thirty years, is the controversy over the theory that an asteroid impact killed off the dinosaurs, in which an academic, Greta Keller, a professor of Geosciences, who counters the majority opinion with her factual evidence and logical arguments, is vilified, denigrated, slandered, and laughed at by her colleagues, rather than listened to.
In case you feel that Planck was not being fair to scientists and Science in general, whatever his standing in the scientific community may have been, you should know that his statement, and its shorter version: “Science advances one funeral at a time,” were scientifically proven to be true based upon the sudden uptick in papers presenting alternative viewpoints being submitted and accepted for publication — a yardstick for measuring the opening up of discussion of alternative ideas after the literal death of a promenant researcher who had been using their position to squelch those alternative views.
Paradigms are not value free, but incorporate values which work to structure the very foundation of the scientific enterprise. Whether or not these values include something equivalent to “Do no harm” is basically meaningless, much as Google’s corporate slogan of “Do no evil” once was, before being unceremoniously dropped; but Fritjof Capra, an Austrian-born American physicist, systems theorist and deep ecologist, in his review of Kuhn’s work, insists that moral responsibility is an incontestable part of doing scientific research, and presumably whatever paradigm Science adopts should include moral responsibility as a necessary value — although it is missing from the current paradigm.
In any case, there is no independent ‘medical board’ equivalent for scientific research currently, and thus no mechanism to ensure that moral issues have not been overlooked, or ignored, in the pursuit of scientific research and funding. Capra writes:
Kuhn argued that, while continuous progress is indeed characteristic of long periods of “normal science,” these periods are interrupted by periods of “revolutionary science” in which not only a scientific theory but also the entire conceptual framework in which it is embedded undergoes radical change. To describe this underlying framework, Kuhn introduced the concept of a scientific “paradigm,” which he defined as a constellation of achievements — concepts, values, techniques, etc. — shared by a scientific community and used by that community to define legitimate problems and solutions. Changes of paradigms, according to Kuhn, occur in discontinuous, revolutionary breaks called “paradigm shifts.”
Kuhn’s work has had an enormous impact on the philosophy of science, as well as on the social sciences. Perhaps the most important aspect of his definition of a scientific paradigm is the fact that it includes not only concepts and techniques but also values. According to Kuhn, values are not peripheral to science, nor to its applications to technology, but constitute their very basis and driving force.
During the Scientific Revolution in the seventeenth century, values were separated from facts (as we discuss in Chapter 1), and ever since that time scientists have tended to believe that scientific facts are independent of what we do and are therefore independent of our values. Kuhn exposed the fallacy of that belief by showing that scientific facts emerge out of an entire constellation of human perceptions, values, and actions — out of a paradigm — from which they cannot be separated. Although much of our detailed research may not depend explicitly on our value system, the larger paradigm within which this research is pursued will never be value-free. As scientists, therefore, we are responsible for our research not only intellectually but also morally.⁵
But there is another way of interpreting the facts Libet and others have obtained through their experiments, when seen through a different paradigm. Having spoken about the Buddhist idea of Great Responsiveness in my earlier “Axiom of Great Responsiveness” article, I now want to show how Free Will works in this responsive reality — our reality in fact — and in such a way that our ‘consciousness’ of a decision is neither the driver of the action, nor an illusory belief in our own agency.
Because we have let go of the idea of a causal determinism in which things happen because something makes it happen, and have replaced it with the idea that the activity that fills our universe is, in fact, a coherent response to extant conditions within each context and the possibilities they engender. So we mustn’t focus upon what our recognition of our acts seem to indicate we did, but rather upon what our desires and focus of attention — preceding the activity — have added to the contextual conditions which define the possibilities in each moment.
This is our free will in action. It is not some mental decision-making before an action, but rather our desire and focus of attention that is what opens the immediate possibility of an action being manifested by the naturing that is called Great Responsiveness.
So it is through our desires and what we pay attention to that our freedom to choose becomes operative before any actual brain activity occurs. The brain activity that arises in the case of sense perceptions, as described in the previous article, “Why Do We Have A Brain If We Also Have A Mind?”, as well as action decisions, whether ‘chosen’ or ‘instinctive’, are recognized as they are being done, so a slight delay for the apperception of the recognition is totally expected, as was explained in the article “Why Awareness Will Never Be Found.”
We have already made our decision by desiring a particular outcome, while focusing our attention on that outcome. Our recognition of the action being performed has nothing to do with decision-making — and we all know this to be true in our lives. We recognize the coherent continuity of our body’s biological activity which is what gives rise to our actions, while our recognition of what is done is our acknowledgement of our ‘decision’, when seen from the perspective of the paradigm of Great Responsiveness.
Thus, scientific observations of nervous system readiness potential already occurring prior to a ‘conscious decision’ are true. But scientists are misled in their interpretation of the meaning of this sequence when they declare ‘free will’ to be false because of their paradigmatic understanding of what ‘should’ be happening.
And this understanding of Free Will is literally ancient, so it’s disconcerting that modern scientists haven’t already given it some credence. As Saint Augustine put it:
… there is nothing that I feel so deeply and strongly as that I have a will, through which I move to enjoy something. I find nothing which I can call my own if the will by which I accept or reject objects of choice is not my own will. Therefore, if I do any wrong through it, to whom but to myself can the wrongdoing be ascribed? Since, indeed, a good God made me, I cannot do any good except by my will. It is quite clear that a good God gave me the will for this purpose. If the movement by which the will is turned this way and that were not voluntary and within our power, we could not be praised when we turn toward higher things, or blamed when, as if on a pivot, we turn toward lower ones…⁠⁶
It was Science that decided that our Free Will had to be something that made things happen in their deterministic mold. And thus it was Science that setup the fall from grace of us all, by trying to convince us that our free will did not exist, once it failed to operate as they had decided it must.
We have a choice between adopting the worldview imposed by the modern scientific community, while trying to fit new phenomena into it that is challenging that worldview, or accept the phenomena as facts, which they are, and adapt a worldview that best supports the facts. And where better to start, than the hard-won wisdom of our ancestors, who, not to make too fine a point here, thrived for untold millennia, while the advent of modern scientific practice has coincided with a rapid descent into impending ruination.
It was an epiphany to realize that there was another starting point; that I didn’t have to wrangle with modern constrained and malformed ideas, just because new phenomena were being documented by adherents to those ideas. The choice is to adopt the worldview and try to explain the facts challenging it, or accept the facts and adapt the worldview to fit the facts. My preference was to stop trying to correct modern scientific misunderstandings, and go back to the great minds and their discoveries with respect and a yearning to understand what they went to such great pains to describe. That was my free will in action.
This is how humanity seems to have always worked in the past — before the institution of the modern Scientific Workshop. Maybe it’s not to late to change.
ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།
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¹ “Benjamin Libet and the Denial of Free Will,” Steve Taylor Ph.D., Psychology Today, Posted September 5, 2017
² “There’s No Such Thing As Free Will — But We’re Better Off Believing In It Anyway,” Stephen Cave, The Atlantic, June 2016
³ “Free Will Exists and Is Measurable,” Stephen Cave, The Atlantic, June 2016
⁴ “Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers,” Max Planck, 1949, Philosophical Library
⁵ “The Systems View of Life — A Unifying Vision,” Fritjof Capra & Pier Luigi Luisi, Cambridge Press, 2016
⁶ “On Free Choice And The Will,” Saint Augustine, 1964, pg 88, Bobbs-Merrill The Library of Liberal Arts



Agency implies an agent that is doing something. If there is no agent, there can be no agency.

Original art showing THE SELF-OPERATING NAPKIN by Rube Goldberg from the regular series The Inventions of Professor Lucifer G. Butts, A.K. (Courtesy of Heritage Auctions. Originally published in Collier’s Weekly, September 26 1931)

Agency, of course, is the action or intervention of a thing, or person, to produce an effect. But what happens if there is nothing that has an inherent self-existence? For some reason, although this is a normal and fairly early meditative insight that comes as a result of a direct meditative experience, it is often overlooked that if there is nothing with an inherent self-existence, then there is nothing that can be the cause, or agent, of any change.⁠¹

To say that language can’t capture the truth is even more true when silly things are being stated. So when someone talks about “causes and conditions” in the same breath, they are being silly because these are not the same, and do not operate in the same way.

A cause is that which makes a thing happen. It implies an agent and its agency. The agent is the cause, and its agency is the action or intervention that it performs to effectuate something in, or to, something else.

But if there is nothing that has an inherent self-existence there can be no agents, and thus no agency.

A condition, on the other hand, is that which only opens the possibility of something happening. But conditions can never cause anything to happen, therefore, they are neither an agent nor have agency, and in fact, are never directly anything at all (because, as I mentioned, this is a rather early meditative insight that comes as a result of a direct meditative experience of the lack of an inherent self-existence — thus no “self” — in anything).

So try to make sense of conditions, not as any kind of interaction between entities, not even in a metaphorical sense. Instead, think of how a seed grows. The sun doesn’t cause the seed to grow, any more than rain does, or the soil, or all the bacteria, nutrients, animals, and other plants do. Yet, for the seed to grow, all of those conditions need to be right, including the condition of the seed being present.

As to what causes the seed to grow, well, just let the idea of causes go because there is nothing to be the cause. Understand instead that when the right conditions needed for the seed to germinate are present, the possibility of genesis is present, but what actually happens is uncaused by any, or even all, of the contributing factors that open up the possibility of it happening.

If you divest your life of any sense of “things” inherent in it, you will find yourself at a loss as to how what does happen arises. In fact, it is not always the case that people think that they are responsible for what arises in their lives. Some think it is God doing it, in which case it is either God’s grace or God’s punishment. Others think it is random chance doing it. There is even a mental illness that is specifically diagnosed for the presence of a belief that everything that happens is being caused by one’s self. However, there is another way to account for what happens, a way that doesn’t require God, or Random Chance, or even an omnific self doing it.

But the real issue here is not how to account for why what happens occurs, but rather to account for spontaneity — for when things just happen, and can’t happen in any causal way. Because if you settle on the idea that all things are caused, and there is something that is not caused, and in fact, cannot be caused, then you have a problem in your understanding.

On the other hand, if you settle on the understanding that everything that occurs, does so spontaneously based upon the possibilities that current conditions open up, then even if the same thing happens in every case, it can still be spontaneous, i.e., uncaused. It could be happening spontaneously in a reflexive response to those conditions, and not in a creatively spontaneous way. These are both spontaneous and, thus, uncaused, even though something particular happens every time.

Perhaps this surprises you. But think about all the things you thought were going to happen in your life that didn’t, and all the things that did happen that you never saw coming! When we think we are doing something, what we are doing is conflating the opening of possibilities in our life with one’s directly causing whatever does show up in our life to happen.

For example, you may pursue a college degree, but that doesn’t cause you to get a better paying job, it only makes it possible. Getting a better paying job may happen as a result of the preparations that you focused on, hoping for happy results — and the possibilities those preparations opened up — but you don’t get a better paying job because of your actions, or your hopes.

However, it’s not the case that our efforts are useless or inconsequential. Instead, this is about our confusion regarding what requires our effort — and that is specifically our decision to turn our concerted attention towards something, or to turn away from it. We may want a better paying job, but unless we turn our attention towards opening the possibility of that happening, it will most likely not happen. I would not go so far as to say it won’t happen because what does arise is often surprising, and is limited only by what is possible — and it’s always possible that you might get a better paying job, although that is normally not assured.

Scientists call this spontaneity, stochastic behavior — it extends all the way down to the quantum level of reality, where it is most obvious. It’s the reason why, for example, a computer needs a “clock,” that coordinates all the stochastic behavior of its electronic components so that the device can actually accomplish the tasks it has been engineered to allow to happen. Notice I didn’t say “make happen,” because sometimes things don’t. And we’ve probably all experienced that — and not just with computers.

Often, in our attempts to make sense of reality, we fall into old habits of thought that arise from an understanding in our heads that “things do stuff.” Exorcising that understanding happens naturally when a certain point in mind-training is reached, but without that direct experience, silliness abounds.

Parmenides, an Ancient “Pre-Socratic” Greek philosopher and shaman, who is sometimes credited with the label of “father of logic” in the West, once wrote a poem about his insights into reality. He didn’t use any pronouns in it, and few, if any, nouns. Smart people, thinking they knew what he meant, supplied a lot of additional wording in the form of pronouns and nouns that made the poem easier to read once it was translated, but also emptied it of the truth Parmenides had gone to great pains to express, because they didn’t understand that his words were an apophatic performance.

Then, once that was done, they realized that Parmenides hadn’t said the “right” thing in the “right” way, so they fixed that too. When Parmenides said: “the same is to perceive as well as wherefore is the perceived” (“ταὐτὸν δ᾽ ἐστὶ νοεῖν τε καὶ οὓνεκέν ἐστι νόημα”), equating the source (or the “wherefore”) of manifest appearances of the world with the faculty of perceiving them, which we call “awareness” today, they clarified it, equating “perceiving” with “thinking,” turning it into a kind of “I think, therefore I am” statement instead: “the same is to think as well as wherefore is the thought upon.” Which was silliness, of course — neither the Greek word for thought, nor for thinking, appears anywhere in Parmenides’ statement.

Parmenides seemed to be saying that it was what we today call awareness, and its focus of attention, which was the condition for that which was known, to be, and his interpreters didn’t like that because they knew that it was our actions, rather than our focused awareness, that makes things happen. So they ignored what Parmenides said, and put their own understanding into his translated words. Treason!

So let’s take the treason of Parmenides’ translators and commentators over two millennia as a suggestion and let’s see if their correction to Parmenide’s statement could even possibly be true. Is it possible to think our thoughts? What do you think?

ཨེ་མ་ཧོ། ཕན་ནོ་ཕན་ནོ་སྭཱཧཱ།
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¹ We live in an age today where “facetalking,” i.e., talking at someone, and only listening to ourselves, is so rampant it is assumed to be normal, so I feel it necessary to point out that although I have said there is nothing that can be the “cause, or agent, of any change,” it will be taken by some that I have just said there is “no change.” That is facilely untrue — both that I said it and that it could be the case.

 by James M. Corrigan


In INNER KNOWLEDGE by StillJustJames1 Comment


We must never forget that a greater self is a greater error: there is just naturing, and the essence of this selfless naturing, is selfless knowing. Thus naturing and knowing are completely synonymous terms. It is not even that naturing and knowing are coextensive, they are one and the same activity. Look within what you experience as you and realize that all that you are cognizing is manifesting presentially, by appearing, being present in the now. Then, look outwards towards your experience of the world and realize that everything you are cognizing is manifesting presentially here as well. It’s still just the same naturing, but it evidences something really important. I’ll let the venerable Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche introduce it:

The I that we are emotionally attached to seems to step back and look on life, evaluating experience and wishing to avoid suffering.
—Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness.

In a dualistic structure we see experience as the awareness of what is happening, but this cannot be true in the absence of a separate, independent, lasting self, an entity that is you. Yet evaluation occurs, in the same way that phenomena appear, and it is just more naturing. Yet I noticed something more subtle to grasp: the naturing is affective so that the process makes a difference to, or has an affect on what is natured next. I believe this is the true ground or basis for karma as this affectivity conditions what arises.

What happens matters! And this is the reason, I feel, for a needful focus on compassion and self-less loving acceptance of oneself and all that is other than yourself. Merely the movement of attention changes everything. We let advertising move our attention to things we don’t have, leading us to desire them. We focus on memories and thoughts of what has happened, rather than being present. We get stuck going nowhere in our lives, because we try to change what is, and we can’t.

There is nothing other than this. I call it sciomorphogenesis, literally knowing through the generation of form, but you can call it what you like. The important thing is not to think of this manifesting as being anything other than the naturing of all that exists. This naturing is the activity of reality, and at some point you may have the additional meditational insight that nothing that exists can exist separately, apart from this naturing, so that when you speak of reality you encompass it all.

Just please, don’t think of reality as some thing because it is processual rather than substantial. This, then, is my fourth guide: What happens matters. Obscurations of our true naturing, which are also only manifestations conditioned by karma and primordial activity, that which came logically before, can be systematically removed through meditation and the progression of insight that it brings. The idea that “There is no one, so nothing to do” is just another obscuration. The understanding that for something to happen, some actor must do something is a false understanding.

Naturing happens without a thing called Nature doing it. This is hard for us to accept, because we are steeped in the idea that all action needs an actor. When we suddenly realize the lack of an enduring self during meditation, we have an unfortunate habit of creating an understanding that this means there is nothing to do, even while a universe of stuff happening swirls around us! We can’t seem to escape it, except through dedicated meditation, which is a way of quiescing the continual arising of obstructions of our true naturing.

This leads me to my fifth guide: Buddha was correct when he said there was conventional truth and real truth. Our lives unfold and we experience them in a conventional way. Speaking about our life and experiences using conventional language filled with nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc. is correct and proper. Why? Because of the conventional truth that we live. If we didn’t have language, and we didn’t have the higher mental functions that defines our species, we would still be living in a conventional world, all beings do. This conventional world structures speech.

We cannot speak about the real because it is directly unknowable, and yet, there are ways to bend language so that it points beyond the conventional truth we live, as Plotinus did in the quote above. But language itself, and the mental formations it is based upon, can never encompass reality, so there is no need to make believe we are speaking from somewhere beyond. Yet, language can, in some impoverished way, help us tell others what happened along our path.





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James is a writer, philosopher, contemplative practitioner and theorist, living in the Dordogne region of France, where he runs a Bed & Breakfast. He was formerly a software engineer in New York, as well as a university professor of philosophy where he taught Ethics, Metaphysics, Philosophy of Nature, and meditation. Other LEVEKUNST articles by the same author.


A mirror is not cognizant of what is appearing in it. The opposite of cognizant would be ignorant, or oblivious, or “unaffected by”


The allegory of a mirror is often used to help individuals understand what awareness truly is like. It is said that, like a mirror, awareness reflects all manner of things and yet is never affected by what appears.

Unfortunately, there is a misleading problem lurking within this allegory which instills a very false understanding of awareness in those that take this allegory to heart, in the absence of direct meditational insights of the nature of awareness and of mind. Granted, the misunderstanding is already held to be the truth by most people who have not yet trained their minds, so they find this allegory very acceptable.

While awareness may be like a mirror which is unaffected by what it reflects, awareness isn’t reflecting anything, and in this important way, it is not like a mirror at all. That unaffectedness that is part of this allegory is ultimately true of awareness, but the image of reflections in a mirror is completely misleading.

It is true that a mirror reflects what is before it; but it also reverses that image relative to the viewer. Perhaps we should focus more on that reversal aspect of a mirror’s reflection than we do on its reflectivity, because describing awareness as being like a mirror — even allegorically — conveys an understanding of awareness that is completely opposite that which is necessarily true.

Awareness is not reflective. Images of things are not reflected in awareness. This would imply a dualism of subject and object, which is ok if we are talking about a video camera, or a set of eyes — mundane things, in other words— but it’s not ok when we are speaking of that which can be directly known (imperienced) as the ground or origin of all manifested phenomena, and which is nothing other than the very naturing of all those phenomena. But most of us miss that rather significant bump in the road to enlightened speech, in part because we are taught the allegory before we can counter its false structure with actual insight.

Yet, even in relation to its unaffectedness, this allegory is contrary to our everyday experience and leads us to a proliferation of reified “minds” which are used as necessary explanatory devices to get around the initial error of holding that awareness is unaffected by what appears “in the mirror.” This whole concept of “mind” is a fundamental error which causes us to impose a dualistic structure on a necessarily nondual reality.

Awareness is essentially the aspect of cognizance of the activity of this nondual reality — its responsiveness — and cognizance is not reflectivity. It is what it says: knowing; but not in the normal sense of someone having knowledge of something, especially something abstract, but rather, as a performance in which what is known is shown in the performance. Knowing how to dance is not a set of instructions on how to move — instead, it is the ability to move in certain ways. And having a trained mind is not the accumulation of facts and instructions on how to train your mind, read from some source text — rather, it is having done the practice for some length of time and thereby having accomplished the training of your mind.

So what is it that reality knows? Well, everything — you, me, this planet and the sense of beauty we discover when we see it for what it is, these words, every living thing, even those that we, because of our misunderstanding of reality, call ‘inanimate objects’. This world is the immediate expression of, and the ‘state of awareness’ of, reality — from the entangled perspectives of what is Now.

That idea of reflectivity splits the naturing of this display into two parts and then asserts that one — the awareness of the other part — is not affected by it; yet both are one and only one activity of naturing all that appears. Of course it is affected by the appearances; they are the natural activity of this naturing. It doesn’t mean that this nondual reality is permanently affected by anything at all, as all that appears is impermanent.

Unlike awareness, a mirror is not cognizant of what is appearing in it. The opposite of “cognizant” would be “ignorant,” or “oblivious,” and even “unaffected by,” and that last antonym is exactly what this allegory seems to convey, and is touted for conveying — thus this allegory illustrates the very opposite of awareness’s essential character and confuses all that hear it and try to make sense of what is being said, by imposing a conceptual understanding in the place of a direct imperience of the truth!

Awareness is affected by what it cognizes; unlike a mirror that is “unaffected by” its reflections because it is not cognizant of them — awareness is cognizance in essence and has no other nature.

We are told that awareness is unaffected by what appears in a misleading effort to convey an important point about what is more properly called “pure presence” and this leads me to the first proof that awareness is affected by what appears:

Pure presence is directly known once cognizance of the Now — the Now that is pure presence — is recognized. This recognition is a breakthrough, and the cognizance that marks its arrival is necessarily called awareness. That is to say, the meta-cognitive state that accompanies the direct imperience of the presence that we normally refer to as Now, is nothing other than awareness of the naturing of the appearances arising in that moment of insight. It is pointed out in Dzogchen, for example, that once we become aware of the Now as nothing other than pure presence we are liberated. What is liberated? The cognizant aspect of our naturing — which is what we are referring to when we say “awareness.” This is what is liberated from our normal absorption in the appearances — our forgetting that which we truly are. So what are these appearances? They are the collection of reifications that we hypostatize into our “self” with all that identifies ourself, and to which we have an emotional (egoic) attachment to (i.e., our thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, and perceptions).

This reveals that awareness is affected by what appears. How is awareness affected? Three ways: by remaining attentive in approval; by turning away in disapproval; and by remaining neutral, or unattached, so that neither approval or disapproval arises. These two affective responses, and one neutral state, guide, or condition, what can appear next as the coherent natural display of reality.

The second proof that awareness is affected is more subtle, relying on a clarification of exactly how awareness cognizes.

Awareness is not something other than the “presencing” (i.e. naturing) of appearances in the pure presence of the Now. The Now is not a time, and Awareness is not some thing. Awareness is not part of a thing. It is not even an “aspect” of a process — it is the process.

Fortunately, the very word itself, with its “-ness” suffix, signals that it is a conceptual abstraction of some characteristic of something, and that is completely wrong in structure in this case — a dead-giveaway that confusion reigns.

First, there is no entity to have an aspect, and second, because abstracting awareness away, making it a thing-in-itself (which is the linguistic meaning of “-ness”) completely obfuscates that it is not only the essential character of a process, it is the only character of the process, thus it is the process — not some aspect of it.

This is why when awareness is said to be the “ground” of all that arises a subtle erroneous understanding also arises because it is confusing “knowing” for the unknowable “ground” that stands under (understands) the appearances. This may sound like a word game, but what it means is that we can not know the ground, but only the appearances — because the knowing is the appearances.

Effectively, abstracting awareness removes the natural process (from itself), confusing us into thinking that something substantive has been uncovered. And by giving that abstraction substance in our minds we are led directly away from the Truth.

In regard to “pure presence,” awareness corresponds to the arising activity of “presencing,” which is pointed out to us — our first pointing out instruction — as the “knowing” of appearances. Unfortunately, the concept of knowledge is completely dualistic today, so awareness becomes a subject entity and the appearances become an object entity. This very subtle dualism starts the confusion, which snowballs as we go forward.

Pure presence is not something to be known in a positive sense, and is only recognized via this naturing or presencing of appearances Now — the Now being the perspective that we call “self” and take as evidence of the reality of things, but which is not any thing.

Why? Because the essence of pure presence is that (it) is empty of any characteristics or identity, thus there is nothing intelligible at all about (it), and yet, (it) is the presencing of all that appears (note the deficiency of language with its need for a subject in this last group of statements). And it is this point which does not entail awareness in the sense that is normally meant when we use the word “presence” in conjunction with the appearances — what, after all, would there be cognizance of?

Is this Idealism? No. There is no “mind” that is “minding the store” here. No “mind” creating fantasies, nor realities. Certainly no “mind” that is aware. And yet the word “mind” is so often used; but not to denote any actual thing that can be pointed to — it’s used simply to point you away from your foot, brain, and everything in between.

Thus the “purity” that is pointed to is the unknowable ground, since nothing positive can be said (or known) about it — which most mystical religious traditions refer to as “Godhead.” We cannot know if it is a chimerical artifact of our reasoning when we say or understand “Godhead,” or if it is an absolute Truth.

What we may suddenly recognize, however, is the Now in which all appearances present — the appearances that are ephemeral and are void of any inherent self nature, but which are, however, evidential. That is, evidence that can lead us to recognize — when we suddenly notice the “clearing” of the Now (of pure presence) — that the Now is not a time, but is the venue of all that appears.

“Now” is never affected by what appears — what, after all, is there to affect? But “Awareness” is always affected by what is appearing because this abstraction points to the very essence of cognizance, and thus the very essence of the process of naturing, which is always responsive. Or more literally, awareness is the cognizing of appearances now, limiting and guiding the possibility of what can arise “next,” and this is the sum total of the process.

To conflate awareness with pure presence is a mental crutch that conflates knowing with the unknowable — expressing “facts” about that to which no facts apply. When recognized, the Now is known to be pure presence. But pure presence is not a thing — there is no entity in the naturing — so what could be stained by what appears as cognized?

Thus, the problem is that in making awareness something, in the allegory of the mirror, we subtly separate it from the naturing of all appearances — of which it is the only essential character. Then we find the need to prove that it is unaffected by what it cognizes because otherwise there is no “pure” state. Yet we know that the essence of this naturing is cognizance, and cognizance is not the “nature of the naturing of appearances.” Such a construction is mentation gone wild.

In reality there is no entity; so how could there be any entities in the appearances that arise? And these — appearances and reality — are not two things, so why do we make awareness into something that must be kept clean? Perhaps it is only a lack of recognition directly imperienced that provides the fertile soil for the genesis of this confusion.

And finally, if you are not yet convinced, let me ask you: “What do you think happens when you become conscious of something that you have perceived or thought? Where, exactly, is the location of the cognizance that you are trying to describe and how does it come to be?” For in each proposed solution, you will always already have cognizance implied in the structure of your answer, regardless of what you are pointing to.