Writing as catharsis

Review of John Gray’s The Silence of Animals

Posted in Book review, Philosophy, psychology, Ranting and rambling, religion, Science by Lachlan R. Dale on February 23, 2014

John Gray's The Silence of Animals

A sense of bitter pessimism seeps through the pages of The Silence of Animals as John Gray confronts the darker side of human nature.

Gray’s aim is the dissolution of illusion; a desire to face existence as clear-eyed as possible in the hope he might uncover a key to more real and meaningful life. But first he must clear away the mythological debris in which modern thought has become entangled.

In the book’s first section Gray produces a wide-ranging commentary on society, religion and philosophy. He is ruthless in his pursuit of two targets in particular: belief in the irreversible progress of civilisation, and faith in rational, liberal humanism.

The two are somewhat intertwined. Liberal humanists believe that mankind is capable of overcoming it’s flaws through the development of rationality. They anticipate a transformation into a perfect, logical utopian man.

Belief in irreversible progress represents similar utopianism, albeit on a grander scale. It posits that civilisation has (or can) progress to such a degree that any further relapses into barbarism are impossible. The concept follows that we are gradually progressing towards a sort of heaven on earth.

Gray scoffs at both suggestions. He claims that the belief in the perfectibility (or even basic rationality) of mankind is a “dangerous conceit of reason”; naive and unrealistic. He points to countless instances of barbarism in the past century to argue that humans are only ever “partly and intermittently rational”, declaring:

If belief in human rationality were a scientific theory it would have long since been abandoned.

Gray says humanists delude (and flatter) themselves by crafting a mythological self that is more noble, controlled, rational and ‘good’ than sober reflection would allow. For instance; humanists would have us believe that all humans long to be free, and that, if given the chance, would choose to live rational and ethical lives. Gray’s response?

To think of humans as freedom-loving, you must be ready to view all of history as a mistake.

The man has a point.

While this first section is littered with strong historical examples, Gray’s use of the rise of Nazi Germany to demonstrate mankind’s irrationality en masse is particularly apt. Under Hitler the general populous submitted to a totalitarian ruler. The ruling class utilised propaganda to stimulate brutal, primitive sub-conscious urges in the public — the lust for power, fear of the other, and the ‘collective psychosis’ of the mob.

This approach was effective primarily because humanity has not managed to completely divorce itself from its animal past – and no amount of self-delusion on the part of humanists can change this. Through National Socialism the German populace were liberated from the terrible burden of freedom and personal responsibility; which, when left unchecked, can open up a chasm of meaninglessness to swallow one whole.

Much of the history of the twentieth century demonstrates how easily ‘advanced’ societies can lapse into barbarism. It is a century punctuated by horrific atrocities and barbarism, from nationalist fascist movements, genocide, ethnic cleansing and world war. It is also one littered with millions of corpses from failed social utopias, sparked by people who believed that, through reason, a perfect society could be conceived. Thus Gray is easily able to erode any notion that mankind has somehow progressed beyond the days of barbarism. Civilisation is, as ever, remains a thin veneer.

When we consider humanity’s recent past alongside other facts of our existence, the optimistic self-image shaped by humanists fails to add up (however it’s lack of accuracy does not prohibit it from being a useful fiction). To Gray, humanism is a human-centric delusion which fails miserably to encompass what we already know about mankind – and while secular humanism may prove a valuable stepping stone away from the irrationality of unreflective religious belief, it still fails to resolve any of the central questions of existentialism, and tends to atrophy into a particularly detestable form of pompous egoism – precisely the form of mental stasis Gray wants to avoid.

As an alternative to such self-delusion, Gray advocates a form of naturalism that undermines the notion of human superiority over other animals. He wants the reader to recognise that as a species we are equally capable of great good and horrific evil – and that we are unable to simply deny the darker side of our nature:

There are not two kind of human being, savaged and civilised. There is only the human animal, forever at war with itself…

Human uniqueness is a myth inherited from religion, which humanists have recycled into science.

I certainly find it hard to argue him on this point.



How should we respond to the facts of existence?

Throughout The Silence of Animals John Gray is preoccupied with facing and accepting chaos in the universe. As a result he can seem to excrete measured nihilism and negativity.

Gray spends much of the second part of his book attempting to sketch out a world-view in response to the facts and perspectives expressed above. In particular he draws inspiration from Sigmund Freud’s philosophy of ‘stoic resignation’.

Freud recognised that mankind is innately flawed. His psychology did not seek to ‘cure’ man, but rather teach him how to live with the conflict and cognitive dissonance in his mind. As Freud saw it, all of mankind is sick and controlled by the unconscious. There is no order to human affairs, nor to the universe. Chaos is final, and in such an environment all there is for man to do is to assert his will against the inevitable end; to trudge on, without hope of reprieve.

Gray is attracted by this note of bitter, heroic resignation. In contrast he has no time for the dreamy mysticism and mythology of Carl Jung, and spends a few pages cutting down a few of his key ideas and casting aspersions on his character.

Another key figure of inspiration for Gray is British author Llewelyn Powys. Despite facing an early death, Llewelyn refused to give in to pessimism or to lessen his lust for life. Instead, he hungrily searched out the beauty, meaning and experiences that made life worth celebrating. Gray reveals much in his disposition when he comments that “the fact that (Llewlyn) was never far from death left him free to follow his fancy, which was the sensation of life.”

This sort of world-view strongly appeals to Gray. Llewelyn is a man who admits that “at the bottom of the well of life there is no hope” – but this seemed to just make him all the more determined to enjoy existence; to search out and create meaning. It’s a romantic image of a man waging an unwinnable war and asserting the self against the pitiless universe.



Godless mysticism

Here comes the reveal. Despite all this rather sombre talk of humanity’s flaws and life’s innate meaninglessness, Gray ultimately seeks is a path for yea-saying; that is, towards a philosophy of acceptance and embrace of life. He desires more abundant life – not less – and therefore refuses to view life-negating nihilism as a legitimate, long-term response to the questions posed by existence (though one suspects this might be for purely practical reasons, namely self-preservation).

Gray seeks to build a new perspective from the ashes of mythology, one that he has called ‘godless mysticism’. Robinson Jeffers describes this concept as:

The devaluation of human illusions, the turning outward of man to what is boundlessly greater.

No other sentence could better encapsulate the essence of The Silence of Animals.

Godless mysticism meets at a curious intersection of Eastern contemplation, stoic, cynical rationalism and paganistic regard of nature. The sort of reflection Gray advocates fundamentally differs from most disciples of eastern philosophy. Gray does not aim to “dissolve the self into an imagined oneness”. Rather he firmly rejects the metaphysics behind just mysticism*:

The freedom that nature-mystics look for beyond the human scene is like the spiritual realm of the religious, a human thought-construction… Godless mystics do not look to merge themselves with something larger they have imagined into being.

Where “monks and mystics try to still the mind so that it can grasp what it eternal”, Gray seeks to do the opposite; to “sharpen the senses” and better perceive the current moment; to absorb and reflect on it. Judging by his affinity for nature writer J. A. Baker this likely includes reflection on the beauty of natural world – but Gray also stresses we should not romanticise nature’s brutal and unsentimental character.



Conclusion

What John Gray strives for is an increased receptivity to reality. He is driven by a deep desire to break out of automatic existence, and to experience the present moment with more clarity and intensity.

Gray recognises humans tend to create abstract realities in which they can become trapped. The result is a barrier between the individual and the ‘real’ world. While Gray certainly refuses to entertain the notion that humans are capable of experiencing pure, undiluted reality (it would go against his strongly skeptical nature) he does believe that at times the sleep can get lighter.

The Silence of Animals has huge value in helping us think about the true nature of humanity, society, and the world in which we live. However, we need to recognise that Gray’s response (his affinity towards ‘stoic resignation’) is based on temperament. He would have us, the reader, praise and embrace existence in spite of it’s inherent meaninglessness – but warns us not to over do it. It would be equally valid to accept the same premises as Gray and be filled with joy, inspiration, love and gratitude for the chance to exist; and this would be no less valid than Gray’s sterner, strained reaction.

I admire strongly admire Gray’s resolve. While he embraces one of the most negative, cynical and sober perspectives I have encountered, he still looks beyond the horizon for a life-affirming state of mind. His naturalistic streak sees him searching for a deeper connection with the natural world, and ways in which mankind can live in harmony with the universe.

The book itself is a pleasure to read. At times Gray’s writing style seems almost stream of consciousness; he tosses up ideas as they spring to mind, and moves on as quickly as he had begun. From one perspective this makes The Silence of Animals a constant source of interest – the pacing is reasonably fast, and we are never bogged down in one strain of thought for too long – but it also means that some ideas or statements aren’t given the elaboration they require.

Some critics have lambasted Gray for over-use of citations (they run at about one-third of the book’s two hundred pages), but I’m quite comfortable with this approach. Colin Wilson utilised a similar citation-heavy style in his much-cherished portrait of the challenge of existentialism in The Outsider – and I will thank him forever for it. Throwing in passages from Conrad, Nietzsche, Borges, Freud, Schopenhauer and many more obscure writers and thinkers keeps reading fresh.

Gray’s is often thought-provoking. He touches on countless other ideas I have not been able to cover here for brevity’s sake. While Gray’s bouts of misanthropy, and his tendency to grimace might scare some off, for many this book will provide yet another useful perspective to consider the most important questions of our life.

The Silence of Animals is recommended reading to those who, like Gray, seek inner peace and freedom from delusion.

* Though I should note his argument against such ideas leaves much to be desire; he simply rejects them, then moves on.

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The delusion of separateness

Posted in Buddhism, Philosophy, Prose, psychology, Ranting and rambling, religion, Science, self-knowledge, Zen by Lachlan R. Dale on December 22, 2013
The Lotus by Nicholas Roerich

The Lotus by Nicholas Roerich

In this piece I hope to define what I consider to be the most useful philosophical perspective I hold. 

In my early twenties and late teens I struggled to reconcile the immense suffering found in conflict, war and genocide with the shallow aims and pervading sense of self-satisfaction I found amongst my peers. For me, the existential issue of large-scale suffering (the likes of the Rwandan massacre) pressed on my mind with intensity and regularity. I could not comprehend how so many seemed content to occupy their lives with trivialities in the face of such a moral challenge; did not their minds not seek to understand humanity and existence? Were they not hungrily searching for meaning too?

I was consumed with a desire to find out how to live a full, ethical and contented life. I observed many around me whose lives were in tatters – elders usually, who had awaken from the daze of their lives to find themselves locked in an unhappy marriage, surrounded by children they considered a burden, weighed down by debt, and damned to work the rest of their days in a monotonous, unfulfilling job. They were completely miserable but lacked the sufficient consciousness to identify and alleviate the source of their misery. Even if they could perceive the life-change their circumstances demanded, the strength or courage required would likely be too much for them. Instead, they resigned themselves to waging a bitter war of small miseries on their family, co-workers and friends (if they have any). These unhappy, twisted men poisoned those around them, and in their self-pity they wallowed.

But I digress. What is of importance is that I struggled heavily with the moral challenge posed by acts of genocide in the recent ‘civilised’ past. I was also baffled by people’s complete indifference to these atrocities (though the severe limitations of the average human’s psyche is far more familiar to me these days).

I struggled in part because my foundations were rotten. I was raised as a Roman Catholic, and so had at least entertained the notion that God is essentially good; that he intervenes in our lives to mete our justice; that suffering is rare, and that unfairness is merely a mistake awaiting correction. It featured a sort of deluded optimism that left me completely unprepared to confront the true nature of the world.

Gladly, these days I feel as though this issue has been largely reconciled. At the very least I do feel like I am succeeding in living a contented life, and in spending my time and energy on things I consider meaningful. At this stage the threat of the total failure of my life is small (though the fear still lingers in the dark corners of my mind). I’ve tried to define exactly what it is I have gained since those early years.

Above all I have attained a significant amount of self-knowledge. What defined my life back then was a sense that I was somehow a stranger in the universe. I felt safe in my suburban home, but my attitude towards nature was largely that of contempt or indifference. I was possessed by a simple, egoistic delusion that arises when one lacks sufficient understanding about oneself and one’s relation to the universe. I believed (or somehow sensed) that I, as a conscious being, were somehow separate from – and not part of – the universe in which I existed. I felt outside of it – beyond it. Sure, I existed ‘within it’, but I was an alien. I lacked a sense of kinship with nature, and as a result I was possessed by an absurd feeling of entitlement. As far as I was concerned the natural world was there for exploitation, or at best it had a place as a sort of trivial museum of the Earth. My ignorance and lack of self-awareness was astounding.

Today, at 27 years old, this notion seems absurdly naive and misguided. It seems that we are armed with sufficient information for a refutation of this delusion in our high school science class. I appreciate now, however, that it is one thing to acknowledge the truth of a proposition, and another to feel it. The latter requires the individual develop a degree of consciousness beyond that of selfish immediacy.

This delusion is one that I have found quite commonly suffered. In this piece I want to try and accurately define this delusion and chart the series of experiences and epiphanies that helped me lift me from it. If I have the mental clarity, at a later date I hope to move on to psychological, religious and social observations – but for the time being I will consign myself to definition.

Defining the delusion

The problem is this: certain members of our species have somehow convinced themselves that human beings stand outside the natural world and it’s order. They believe this in spite of the basic facts of nature; that we are the product of Darwinian evolution, and that we are demonstrably part of the same process of organic life as any other animal. Perhaps they have convinced themselves that we are not of this universe; that we were created after the fact by a bearded Creator – but the specifics are not hugely importance at this stage. What is important is to recognise that this belief has serious consequence in the way that we live and view our lives, not to mention our perceived moral obligations and personal aspirations.

Carl Jung once wrote:

People who know nothing about nature are of course neurotic, for they are not adapted to reality. They are too naive, like children, and it is necessary to tell them the facts of life, so to speak – to make it plain to them that they are human beings like all others.

(Memories, Dreams, Reflections, p. 166)

By this Jung meant that humans need concrete, physical contact with the natural world to remind them that they are animals of nature. Huddled in cityscrapers and in constant engagement with abstract ideas and environments of our own construction, we tend to forget this fact, in spite of it’s self-evidence. The delusion of which I speak is a common manifestation, and one which inhibits psychological wholeness.

Our scientific understanding of the nature of the universe can provide us much to combat this delusion. I ask you please indulge me while I spell out the obvious (that we perhaps ‘know’ but might not yet ‘feel’):

We are animals.

Our species and our selves are the result of the process of evolution of organic life.

The universe is the meta-process that enables and makes possible our very being.

We are comprised of the same stuff as any other living creature – and of any matter in the universe; atoms.

When we die and our bodies decay those atoms are recycled into other materials, forms and being.

These facts are non-negotiable. Any conclusions we wish to draw from the above might invite a variety of interpretations of varying validity, but we cannot reasonably discount our understanding of the above. It would serve us well to regularly repeat that thought for grounding and perspective; this is what is known, so let us start building our morality and worldview from that.

Escape from delusion

But again we come back to the crux of the issue; we might ‘know’ or acknowledge the above – but acknowledgement is not enough alone. We must feel this to be true; or, in other words, we must couple a scientific/rational understanding of our relation to the universe with an emotional or spiritual one. And this is crucial, because the absence of an existential foundation has great potential to warp our psyche and leave us with a permanent psychological limp. How can we be expected to maintain a balanced mental state if we are unable to recognise the most basic truths of our existence?

We cannot. Instead the narrow limit of our consciousness consigns us to be blown about by shallow emotion and egoistic drives. We would exist merely on the surface of life, with deeper forms of contentment rendered inaccessible. We would also lack a firm moral grounding – for how we view the context of our lives effects a huge amount of the small actions and decisions that make up our day-to-day.

The ultimate consequence is, in short, is misery – both personal and more general. We will be damned to live out our days without ever knowing how to access deeper states of contentment and happiness. Thus we are left to blindly discern aims merely guided by our wills; constantly goal-seeking – but when we achieve our goal (or if our will falters) we experience a moment of profound panic or fear. While the goal has been met, that feeling of a deeper satisfaction still seems to elude us. We ask ourselves: ‘Was that it? What now? What comes next?’ And so we might be led down a false path, building up a series of goals and achievements in an attempt to hopelessly chase a longer-lasting satisfaction – but if we lack a proper understanding about who we are and how our minds work, then we will never find it. And so we risk ending up like those miserable husks of humans I mentioned in my opening paragraphs.

And this, friends, is surely what we would like to avoid.

To me it seems our failure to recognise some that we share a common essence with the universe – or a failure to we feel we ‘belong’ here – is the root of all nihilism. To feel as though we are unwanted strangers whose cries echo endlessly in the halls of a cold, unfeeling world that cares not at all whether we live, suffer or die — this is a severely traumatic experience, especially for a species as psychologically fragile as we.

It is for this reason that I feel this delusion is the defining spiritual sickness of our time – but if think back to those foundational scientific claims, we can defeat this delusion. It is so clearly inaccurate given the facts at hand. Human life is like any other form of organic life; a process of the universe. Human beings are so obviously of life and of the natural systems on earth – so what stops us from recognising this?

Overcoming the delusion

It is our ego, the teller of lies, that fuels this sense of estrangement. While it certainly plays a useful psychological role, it also regularly infects our minds with delusion. It is like a parasite that will whisper endless untruths for the sake of its own survival. It would love nothing more than to endless bloat itself with self-satisfaction until we are completely consumed by a sense of arrogant entitlement. We ultimately suffer for the over-indulgence of the ego – and so too the people that we love and care for.

So, how can we combat the influence of the ego? Well, most importantly we need to be able to properly identify it’s influence. This requires the purposeful cultivation of detached self-awareness, introspection and reflection. To paraphrase Alan Watts; take care to watch your thoughts like an impassive observer – do this especially whenever you feel yourself in an elevated mood (say in a moment of anger of jealousy) and try to discern why this is taking place. The idea is to think about your thinking, and through this method you will begin to understand how your mind works, and from there gain the power to question the validity of the ego’s influence.

So now we have come full circle. The most desirable trait we can accumulate is knowledge about the self. Through this process we can gradually become aware of our ‘true’ selves (of which I feel I am beginning to get glimpse). The result is a pervading sense of contentment, the cultivation of meaning, and the avoidance of the bitterness of triviality. Above all, we greatly reduce the risk that we might wake up one day to find our life a failure.

It is one of the great ironies that the deeper we delve deeper into ourselves , the more the universe outside becomes illuminated. As Carl Jung wrote (and as I tend to quote endlessly):

Who looks outside; dreams.

Who looks inside; awakens.

Reflection and self-knowledge are the key to better understanding and connecting-with the true nature of reality – and in discerning how to live a more fulfilled and meaningful life. This is the most useful proposition that I hold.

The product of nine months spent attempting to define and refine my current line of philosophical, religious and existential thought.

Posted in Philosophy, Ranting and rambling, Science by Lachlan R. Dale on April 12, 2011

“The implications of quantum theory and why they have led prominent physicists to believe that there may not be any deep reality, or that reality only exists when an intelligent observer is looking, or that all things are interrelated in a manner that allows “action at a distance” to travel beyond the speed of light (actually instantaneously), or that there are many parallel worlds continuously being created.” – Dr. Fred Alan Wolf

“Space, like time, is not an object or a thing. Space and time are forms of our animal sense perception. We carry them around with us like turtles with shells… there is no absolute self-existing matrix in which physical events occur independent of life.” – Robert Lanza

“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.” Arthur Schopenhauer

“The man who comes back through the Door in the Wall will never be quite the same as the man who went out. He will be wiser but less cocksure, happier but less self-satisfied, humbler in acknowledging his ignorance yet better equipped to understand the relationship of words to things, of systematic reasoning to the unfathomable Mystery which it tries, forever vainly, to comprehend.” – Aldous Huxley, The Doors of Perception

*

Introduction

I will be twenty-five in fifteen days. At this point in my life my struggle of belief regarding traditional religious institution is long over. Nowadays it seems absolutely absurd for me to debate the finer points of archaic and failed religions. Questions about the exact nature of God’s omnipotence or omniscience are fundamentally useless to me, since the basic proof (or feeling) or his existence is so distinctly absent. No, I gave up on traditional religion a long time ago, and I maintain that I have flourished spiritually and morally since that day, unrestricted by the weight of unmalleable and unwieldy superstitious doctrine. I no longer try to define myself and my morality by someone else’s translated, abridged and edited set of (often contradictory) rules. Now I only have my own conscience and my own sense of self to account for – and it has led to a deep personal growth, a sense of purpose and a sense of responsibility.

I have arrived at a point of complete and utter gratitude for every moment that I am alive. I have managed to ‘take the whole world into (my) soul’ (Nietzsche); to accept everything – death, life, uncertainty, chaos, powerlessness, random chance, cosmic injustice. I try to harbour no regrets, and I have long been convinced that at the point of which my life ends, I will be nothing but grateful and joyous for having lived even an instant on this plane of existence. To dwell on the loss of life seems to me a great insult to its majesty and complexity – ‘a great misappropriation of awe’ (to steal from Christopher Hitchens). For so long, I have been filled with one consistent image in my head when it comes to my death. I only know I am filled with a sense of gratitude and pride for even having lived a single day.

For a while now I have wanted to undertake my own little personal project in attempting to map out the growth (or perhaps it’s better to say ‘shifting’) of my philosophical, spiritual and religious beliefs – to attempt to weave and follow a rational thread from my experiences being raised as a Roman Catholic to the state of mind which I now find myself in. Today on this cloudy afternoon in Oxford, I will attempt to do just that. I am unsure whether I can class this thread as an evolution or progression of thought. From my experiences (or various cognitions from the vaguely recollected past) I can say that things have gradually seem to become more clear, though at a glacier-like pace; and one that still weaves down many false roads. I have found the fog has very, very slowly dissipated – though I am only a few paces down an infinitely long road. I hold no illusions that this fog should dissipate completely (to be honest I’m not sure that is even technically possible – why does it always seem that those who seek enlightenment are always so sure that such a state can even exist?), but nonetheless and despite the unlikelihood, the stars continue to align ever-so-slowly, and I find myself affirming again and again the personal ‘truths’ I hold even in the face of true and honest questioning of the self.

Now to determine where my path began, where it led me and where I feel I stand currently. Maybe my own trajectory will prove useful to others – or perhaps it is nothing but a useless indulgence. In any case it does exist and I have spent countless hours revising, rewriting, expanding and editing this document. Will it ever really be finished? Of course not.

*

Questions unanswered: a slow awakening to the short-comings of traditional religion.

I have some fairly vivid memories of being a young boy of around eight or nine years old. To my recollection I was a believer in God back then – as well as Jesus and perhaps even Mary and the virgin birth. I can remember sitting the pew of our local Catholic Church and honestly believing that Jesus – perhaps in some spiritual, if not physical form – was watching over my every thought and action.

The very act of sitting on that hard, unforgiving pew inside of that stern and strangely ornate build-ing seemed to create a certain gravity for our prescribed weekly act of piety. It crystalized my feeling and fear of being watched and of being judged. I used to stare – half in wonderment and half in dread – at the little clothe covered brass compartment that the Communion was stored in. I saw the priest solemnly enacting his rituals to remove the Communion from its metallic case. I theorized that perhaps if he did not follow those precise movements exactly he would be struck down by the horrible vengeance of the Almighty One. I believed – and feared – that that box contained some essence of God and of Jesus; that if I could just sneak a look inside I would see Him for myself and have all my doubts obliterated in a single instance of truth irreconcilably intertwined with ultimate sin (how ironic such a situation in my childhood would run parallel to the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden). I never did look. I was light-years removed from such a bold act at that age, and I truthfully believed that if I dared to look myself I would be reduced to ash.

There was certainly one emotion above all others that was streaked throughout my early religious beliefs, and that was fear. I was afraid that God was watching and that he could hear my thoughts. I was afraid that some awesome and incredibly vengeful power could be unleashed upon me at any second for the most minor transgression. The stories I had heard from the Holy Book seemed con-fused and muddled; people turned to salt for the act of looking back, almost the entirety of life on earth drowned in a storm… I had weighed up and calculated the cost and decided that I had best confess my sins to the Priest lest a far more terrible punishment be wrought upon me. Surely this is not a book-keeping exercise that a child should learn; and surely this does not represent our best method of moral instruction. I can distinctly remember many occasions in which I sat in church trying to silence or reprimand my thoughts for venturing into an unbecoming or obscene tract while inside of the ‘house of God’; looking at a pretty girl, cursing inside my mind or even following a vaguely undesirable train of thought.

I can also remember in the years that followed having some vague sense that ‘faith’ was leaving or had already left me. There was some point at around 12 or 13 years of age that knew I could not ‘feel’ the presence of God, no matter how hard I tried or how much I wanted to. The words of the priest and of my prayers had begun to ring hollow – and I very much felt that hollowness inside. No one seemed to have any answers. I had been instructed to base everything on my faith in God – that he was the source of my joy, my hopes, and of course conversely, he was the source of my punishment. Now I began to wonder; had I ever really believed, or felt ‘Him’? Were my early pious actions a purely mathematical outcome of trust and fear from a child who had not yet developed rational thought? Did he ever exist for me? Even today I do not know; but I would not assume it to be so.

It was a long and arduous process to fall entirely from religious belief, as anyone who has experienced it themselves can understand. It is not some sudden or immediate thing – if only it were that easy or simple! The process is far more awkward and painfully drawn out. You dwell in a state of confused ambiguity, often feeling completely isolated in your thoughts. Didn’t all the others lack such doubts? Didn’t they all believe? I must admit that it took me an extensive amount of time and mental effort to reconcile a realistic (and possibly cynical/pessimistic) world-view with the expectations instilled in me as a child. I’m sure most semi-intelligent individuals have had a similar occurrence. I underwent a very complex and painful thought-process in an attempt to absorb and process the gravity of the situation. I had to come to terms with the notion that, essentially, everything I had been so classically conditioned through repetition and authoritative gravity to regard as the absolute and unquestionable truth was in-fact nothing more than a series very poorly covered fallacies – obvious fallacies, which have not even developed a strong network of defences, but have rather been left in the hands of those totally incapable of a protracted debate. It is a very disorientating realisation for a young child to go through. You find yourself wondering how far this deceit-through-misguidance has seeped into other areas of your life and education. If all this – the most basic elements of life purpose, morality and spirituality – is untrue, then what else? It cannot be helped but be regarded as something of a betrayal by your peers. You cannot help but be confused; and just a little bit paranoid. It is no wonder so many don’t cope with the transition well.

My reaction against traditional religion (specifically Roman Catholicism, but I was also exposed to a variety of other minor religious institutions, many of them quite bigoted) led me down a certain path of inquisition. I began to question my teachers, my priests, my parents and anyone else who would listen. If they brushed me aside, refused to engage me or condescended me, then they would lose my respect – that too I began to learn that respect must be earned, and not simply intimidated through authority. My inquisition picked up more and more speed as the questions became bolder. I began to regularly question myself and all the concepts I had thought true. I came to view my old religious beliefs in a light of a system of rhetoric and cultural indoctrination; an essential cultural mutation encouraging social stability. I began deeper inquiries into the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ – of absolutes and of the complexity of conceptualisation. I questioned why there must be a god and why he must be necessarily ‘good’ – especially given the traditional definitions, words and acts associated with him in his Holy Books (that people seem to take very literally, despite the ironic fact that their literal faith is places then in a whole succession of editors, revisers and translators). Cannot it be such that incidents, which may on the surface seem like a negative event, not ultimately change an individual’s life for the better? Cannot tragedy steer people to overcome their position and achieve heights previously unimagined? IF so, then why do most assume such a drastically simplified perspective? “John lost a limb because he was bad; he is paying for his sin.” Must one maintain such a delusion to stay sane? What then of the common definition of sanity? Who is in any position to judge – and on what grounds do they have the power to judge? Why should there be an obsessive fear of death? Isn’t it obvious and inevitable? And why must we be unquestionably pre-occupied with extending one’s life for as long as possible – forcing an obsessive cult of life-sustaining? Why do people not think about death? Or fear to mention it? Why can’t the majority of the human race the inevitability of death?

I was recently told by my father that when I was moved from Blakehurst Public School to the private St. George Christian school at the hint of being ‘gifted’, I initially did quite well. After a short time however, I continued to question and continued to ask more and more of my teachers. The answers given – particularly the ones I felt most important; that of life, religion and mortality – were far, far less than adequate. I was often forcibly discouraged from such uncomfortable questioning and punished. The more this happened the less I respected my teachers, and the more I rebelled.

*

The devaluation of all values: a growing sense of nihilism.

By some absolute stroke of luck, my parents once more perceived that my poor behaviour was not a simple result of me being a ‘bad kid’, but once more I was not being challenged enough mentally. Again, here is a point at which it becomes obvious of my luck. What if I had not such parents? You can quite easily imagine a spiralling pattern of descending dissent stemming from mismanagement of such a pivotal period.

At the end of Year 7 at St. George Christian School, my parents very hurriedly took me to visit a number of other private and selective schools; Trinity College, Sydney Boys High, Sydney Technical College, Endeavour High School and finally Newington College. I was given a say in where I wanted to go, and I chose Newington College. There I was exposed to a school perhaps 10 times larger than my old one, with so many options, so many classes and a number of very talented teachers. At Newington College we were taught all the major religions without bias. We had Chaplin’s who would not force their views on students, and instead choose to engage in respectful and constructive philosophical discussions. They empowered us rather than cut us down. A friend got full marks for a paper in religious studies entitled “Why God doesn’t exist’. All of this just helped to fuel my notion that questioning things is good and correct. If anything is to be learned, questions must be asked – and in the most honest, reflective way possible. Without that, surely progress would be greatly inhibited.

There was also a distinct period wherein I became acutely aware of the immense and unchecked suffering that goes on in the world on a continual and relenting basis thanks to A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide (Samantha Power). I learned of the various wars, genocides and horrific acts undertaken in the name of a great many causes – nations, individuals, corporations, races and religious sects. What impacted me the most (alongside of cour the immense scale) was the sense of regularity and above all the recency of these events. They were pointless, abhorrent and completely avoidable. The sheer scale of an event like the Holocaust and the Rwanadan genocide shocked me deeply. So too did the absolute corrupt immorality of large-scale capitalism; the exploitation of the Third World just being the most obvious starting point. Was I expected to believe that this, too, was ‘God’s work’ and all part of a ‘great plan’? Wasn’t a large amount of this mayhem undertaken in the name of God (or various other gods)? If we could not protect or help these people – whose suffering could so obviously have been avoided – then how can we really consider ourselves the ‘good guys’ in such an oversimplified, two-dimensional world?

I was extremely fortunate to find an appropriate emotional outlet during this period. I had discovered music as a brilliant means for catharsis. I was instantly attracted to grindcore, which seemed to best represent the discordant chaos of the world around me. It spoke to extremes, being intensely fast-paced, hyper-active, angular and grating. This, I felt, was exactly the expression I wished to use, and it provided a fantastically healthy outlet for an enormous amount of anger, outrage and confusion. As time moved on it would literally take mere seconds for me to go from a state of frustration to complete relaxation. The absurd level of intensity in the music cleansed those emotions from me. I would not like to think what may have happened had I not found such an invaluable outlet.

My education in the world history of humanity’s cruelty was the final nail in religion’s coffin. Not only had religion failed to produce the answers under analysis that I demanded, but I could also find no demonstrable balance; no universally governed sense of justice. My path of thinking led down a path which would have me question and dismiss the concepts of nationalism, various political systems, the illusionary rhetoric of politicians and so forth.

I entertained what seemed to be a sense of nihilism – a natural result of my devaluation of the religious values instilled in my youth. I had found the world not perfectly ordered by a divine personal god as I had been led to believe. I found a place of suffering and chaos; where cosmic balance on a personal level is demonstrably an absurd concept; personal judgement usually never paid; a moral balance never met in any meaningful sense. So if the Christian concepts were incorrect, then what else was there for me? There was no rational basis for simply halting the ever-successive series of inquisition, to find a nice dark corner to curl up into and give up – so I continued with the questioning that had served me so well thus far.

I can recall a quote I quite liked from the period from Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai (a gift I believe from the father of a Balinese man; he was simply ecstatic to find anyone even mildly interested in the spiritual side of traditional martial arts):

“Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily”.

I found this a very useful and necessary thought. Perhaps it was that I had found the phrase coming to mind frequently; it had some kind of resonance, perhaps some sense of truth to it. Or perhaps it was just a strange though for a child to come to try and understand. I do know that in the years that followed I experienced several seemingly meaningless deaths; perhaps that’s when it fully came into perspective. [details omitted] It is left what it is; a meaningless, painful tragedy. Immovably so.

Then came the death of my ten year old cousin, who was one of the most fundamentally beautiful and good-natured human beings I have ever been so lucky to meet. He died of cancer at age ten following twelve months of chemotherapy. What purpose did his suffering serve? To dare to believe that this was part of some ‘divine personal cosmic plan’ against those experiences would seem disgusting, absurd, cruel, stupid and an absolute disservice to reality. It would be stupid and despicable to claim either of these losses had a ‘point’ or some concise moral we could recite as if in a nursery rhyme (ed – I find myself adopting Christopher Hitchens sense of insult at such a rationale). I continued to meditate on inevitable death, and eventually found that I could put these events into perspective without appealing to supernatural powers or religion by cultivated a certain sense of realism and acceptance. To date I have found such a perspective has helped me absorb these incidents far, far better than anyone else I have come to meet.

I came to a point of acceptance such that I not feel a particular fear of death what so ever. I feel no overt concern for age or time. In short, I felt I could confront reality – whatever it may be – and accept it. But I had to move beyond nihilism; I had to move beyond that wholly non-constructive anxiety concerning my initial loss of my religion. What sense did it make to discover that fact and then cease to continue looking?

Really, nihilism is an extremely understandable – if not inevitable – condition; if you are taught to base your life, love, spirit and morals on scripture, then find scripture to be untrue then you cannot help but feel as though that base has been torn from you. The very ground on which you stood is no longer there – and you had barely time to notice the grass. For some people this realisation is quite traumatic; they seem unable to accept the situation and might give-up their search out of despair – but what rational sense does it make to discount one explanation and not ponder the infinite alternatives? Does this line of thinking really stem from enforced self-denial?

Blaise Pascal once wrote:

The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me”.

It can be terrifying perhaps; if you cultivate an unrealistic sense of self that is incompatible with infinite space and infinite time – but I do not find myself in that situation. In any case, nihilism really does require a drive to continue seeking; to continue the quest for answers and to move far beyond the wreckage of your past beliefs. I accept that I will probably never find ‘truth’ (if such a base concept exists – let alone can be perceived by us!), but the process of seeking has proved immensely rewarding and very useful.

*

Beyond nihilism.

I can remember very early on discovering the concept of self-actualisation through self-discovery and self-questioning – the framework developed by Abraham Maslow, the idea that you should always attempt to discover more about yourself. Slowly all of these ideas were melding together; to question everything – even your own thoughts, desires and emotions. The concept seems to define a movement from a person being trapped by only blindly and emotionally reacting to situations, but to have a sense of objectivity or self-awareness that would assist in by-passing such a surface-level thought process (or lack thereof). First you think, then you think about your thoughts – when you think about you thinking about your thoughts, then you’re getting it. They are layers of separation, of objectivity and of disconnection. If I come to a conclusion I feel sure of after thinking about a situation for an extended period of time, then the following thought usually runs through my mind: “Is my fallible mind just leading me to this conclusion as some kind of limited coping-mechanism? Have I failed to actually grasp and grapple with this?” The answer is usually “probably”.

But again, I never saw this as a point of negativity – only through being completely and brutally honest with myself was I ever going to learn anything about myself or this world. Honesty and acceptance did away with negativity. I saw that many people’s anxieties and behaviours stemmed from a kind of cognitive-dissonance. I tried my best to apply what I knew about myself to counteract the grooves my mind ran in – for instance, I frequently wash any thought process with the notion that any thought or conclusion I reach that boosts my own sense of self-worth is more than likely just a delusion created in order to do just that.

Colin Wilson‘s very important essay The Outsider essentially defines the question of post-nihilism as one of eternal yea-saying or nay-saying – whether your response and answer to the question of life is positive or negative. Nietzsche in Thus Spake Zarathustra seems to indicate an acceptance of nihilism and the meta-physical meaninglessness of life. He begins with the concept that ‘God is dead’. He sees no truth in Christianity and feels – like all religion and all philosophy – that it is an invention of the mind to keep us sane. But he also sees it as more than that; it is an enabler. In Nietzsche’s eyes it is the creativity of thought within the religious idea that allows man to surpass himself – philosophy, religion, morality and ethics are all just tools which helps mankind surpass his limitations: through dedication to the Christian ideal mankind built inspiring cathedrals. Recent research also suggests that the Egyptians quite willing built the Great Pyramids – not, as the popular narrative goes, built by an army of slaves. It seems now more plausible than ever that these monoliths of history were created out of spiritual devotion and inspiration.

Concepts and thoughts such as these have allowed man to achieve great heights he may not have otherwise achieved. It is from here Nietzsche (in the form of Zarathustra) preaches his Übermensch; the man who utilising his creativity to further enable him to depart from destructive concepts like Christianity – which values death over life – and instead bring the natural world into the highest regard. He does not speak of truth; but of aspiration:

“Man is something that shall be overcome… All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man?”

When I left school I had understood that there was a fundamental chaos in the world; that things could not so easily be labelled as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, nor could spiritual questions simply be solved by a set-as-standard spiritual doctrine. I had used marijuana for some time, smoking most weekends in the second half on Year 11 and in Year 12. I used the drug to help me dissect and hear music – it definitely helped me define and appreciate sound textures – as well as help fuel my introspective thought processes. My mind would go into overdrive, revelling at the idea of running with thoughts and questioning everything. I actually used marijuana to assist me with my work in English, developing and mapping out essay concepts. Of course, there was a threshold where my use increased and its usefulness decreased. I’ve crossed that threshold many a time, and continually have to improve my self-discipline to limit my usage within the realms of productivity and my general good health.

*

A sense of universal perspective.

I have always been fascinated with space. I have fond memories of my mother taking me out to various observatories as a child. I found that the science of the cosmos was infinitely fascinating – far more than tales of burning bushes, of people turning into salt and of profoundly irrelevant parables. I think one of the major shifts in my perspective of my place in the world came when I began to sense the awesome scale of the universe – and also of the awesome amount of the time that has passed since its birth.

Our solar system makes up only one pathetically small part of the Milky Way galaxy. If we gaze out into the clear night sky from Earth, there are 2,500 stars visible to the naked eye at one point at any one time. However, the estimates of astronomers tell us that there are some 100 billion to 400 billion (100,000,000,000 to 400,000,000,000) stars contained within the Milky Way alone. Remember also that stars are not planets; they are producers of nuclear energy – like our sun. The smaller bodies of planets orbit around stars.

In any case, that would make our sun 1 of (let’s say) 250,000,000,000 within our galaxy. We can pull that perspective back even more; using the images and data sources from the Hubble Ultra Deep Field (god I love that device), our recent estimates places the number of galaxies in the universe at around 100 billion to 200 billion (100,000,000,000 to 200,000,000,000). One German super-computer even suggested a number of 500 billion. It is worth noting we have only directly observed a fraction of this number; perhaps only 20,000.

Now these 200 billion galaxies have on average 100 billion to 1 trillion stars each, placing the estimated number of stars in the universe between 10 sextillion and 10 septillion – or between 10,000,000,000,000,000,000 and 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. Are you getting all this?

That would make our sun one of 1 of around 100,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars in the universe. Who knows how many potential planets there are – when you begin talking in numbers this large it is beyond absurd to attempt to imagine. What should be inspired however is an appropriate sense of awe for the sheer scale of our universe, and of our unimaginably small position in it. Our understanding of the universe has come a long way from the heliocentric model of ages past, and I believe this understanding should be a requisite component of all attempts to address the human condition, our place amongst the stars and our own sense of self-importance and self-worth. This is the perspective that I find immensely important; against such an immeasurably vast backdrop the petty everyday squabbles of humankind seem absurdly unimportant. How can you possibly entertain narcissism or self-obsession or arrogance in the face of such terrifying insignificance?

We’ve covered a universal orientation regarding space; now let’s do the same regarding time. Estimates put the age of the universe at somewhere between 13.5 billion to 14 billion years old (13,500,000,000 – 14,000,000,000). Organic life on Earth is estimated to be 3.5 billion years old (3,500,000,000). The species of which we are a part – homo-sapiens – are thought to be 100,000 to 250,000 years old.

So let us then consider homo-sapiens existence on the grand scale of the universe:

Our species existence represents 0.000185% of the universe’s age.

Or another way: if the timespan of the universe’s existence was 24 hours, we would have come into being only in the final 16 seconds (16 of 86,400 seconds).

For me, this timescale makes it absolutely impossible to glorify the human race as some kind of crowning achievement of creation. We know many would like to place us at the centre of this infinitely vast universe (“if you believe this, I think you have a self-centredness problem” Christopher Hitchens – the author and my hero, now dying of cancer – once quipped). When you consider those numbers I am at a loss how you can still maintain that we are somehow the absolute pinnacle of evolution.

The process of evolution continues today – that is an established fact. We are not special, but merely one of the later and more complex expressions of the experiment of life – and even that is perhaps not true. Humans have ~30,000 to 40,000 genes. Worms have 20,000. We must remember we too are a species subject to the process of evolution which continues its slow monotonous drag up the impossibly steep gradient of infinity. To put it bluntly: we are clearly not some grand sum product of evolution – a finale; a crowning achievement.

As Sir Martin Rees attempted to give this concept the appropriate gravitas with this:

Consider this: the beings that watch the death of our sun – should there still be beings in 5,000,000,000 years time – will be as different to mankind as you or I are to bacteria or amoeba. Or more so.

After Hitchens recited this quote at the Sydney Festival of Dangerous Ideas in 2009 he commented “Now if that isn’t awe inspiring, then you don’t have the capacity for awe.”

All of this talk of universal perspective brings me to one of my core beliefs; the need for an appropriate level of humility. Humankind has a tendency to believe (or pretend) that it knows much, much more than it really does. Some pretend they know the absolute meaning of life – even the afterlife – as if they had a 2-way radio to God. I’m sure this misappropriated confidence is likely some by-product of our own evolutionary track; I doubt our species would have progressed very far is we were paralysed by a sense of supreme insignificance as opposed to say, unhinged self-belief or irrational fear.

Another core concept; Richard Dawkins has spoken at length on the idea of our species having evolved in ‘middle world’. His concept essentially states that organisms simply develop imperfect models of the world with their imperfect senses to suit their survival needs – obvious enough, I know.

From that, I think it is clear we need to recognise and understand the biological limits that evolution has placed on us, and adjust our minds accordingly.

*

Acknowledging the limits of human perception and the quantum spanner in the works.

It should be said that I hold absolutely no illusion, I realise that every one of these personal truths that I’ve held in confidence could be entirely obliterated in an instant. I do not assume that these past eight or so years of continuous seeking, questioning and absorption holds any definite value – and I am of course, quite prepared to discard them should a more apparent truth come my way – that is one of the basic tenants of my thought process. I think the most valuable thing one can do when trying to discover truth – especially regarding the self – is to leave nothing off the table. It can be a scary thing – leaving yourself vulnerable to the chance that your entire ego and all your beliefs could be whisked away and left baseless at every moment, but it is always the most rewards. Another Christopher Hitchen’s quote; “I think the attempt to live without illusions is the most rewarding things one can strive for”, but again I do not possess the arrogance to believe my vague answers hold any ultimate truth. By definition how can I? Science would have us believe that we perceive only a small fragment of reality; with our senses – we see only the tiniest band of the electro-magnetic spectrum (we see from 0% and 0.015% of the universal range).

I think that Ralph Emerson summed up this concept best:

“We have learned that we do not see directly, but mediately, and that we have no means of correcting these colored and distorting lenses which we are, or of computing the amount of their errors. Perhaps these subject-lenses have a creative power; perhaps there are no objects.”

It is the ‘coloured lens which we have no means of ever correcting’. There are many frequencies of light and sound waves that we simply cannot perceive. Some estimates say we can only directly experience one millionth of reality (though I’m not sure how that is quantifiable, I’m sure it’s just a metaphor).

But consider; if we are experiencing the universe through our imperfect perceptions, and processed through an imperfect model representation of reality within our fallible brains, how can we hope to truly experience ‘reality’? How can we ever place immovable weight and faith on the rationalisations of such an imperfect system? Of course one of my major points of development was a strong investment into the power of rationality, of scientific process and of truth through logic – but then came the question of Quantum Mechanics, which of course throws our entire notion of an entirely rational, ordered and predictable world into chaos.

I think there is one obvious development of thought that comes with just an investment into systems of rationality and the empiricism of science; scientists don’t claim to be correct as such, they rather claim to have formed the best current model within the limits of our current understanding. The most illuminating example of this are the conflicting laws of quantum theory and our understanding of the other fundamental forces at work in the universe – they are technically incompatible, yet both appear to work fairly well in spite of this. We search for a theory of everything; but we should also consider the possibility that should one exist, it is probably far beyond our limited powers of cognition.

“No our problem is this: our prefrontal lobes are too small. And our adrenaline glands are too big. And our thumb finger opposition isn’t all what it might be. And we’re afraid of the dark, and we’re afraid to die and we belief in the truths of holy books that are so stupid and so fabricated that a child can – and all children do, as you can tell by their questions – actually see through them.”

Yet more Christopher Hitchens.

The stupidest assumption one could make, is that we are experiencing true reality – my God, our own perceptions and thought processes in everyday life vary so enormously that the mere thought is absurd. I have found the most destructive and ridiculous concepts are often the one where man has created a pedestal for him to place himself on; God exists and can do anything and he created the earth and he said we’re boss and fags are bad.

I do actually think the single most important lesson I have learnt is this: be wary of any proposition that would have you placed above others. That is surely the most obvious sign of a trick; of a mere unconscious mental sleight-of-hand that keeps this stupid mammalian species alive. As we’ve seen above, we’ve existed as a species an absolutely pitiful amount of time. To assume that we are the culmination or evolution of God’s chosen or soon-to-be masters of the universe for all eternity, then we have another thing coming.

What I have been getting at is this: we cannot perceive true reality. We have no hope of ever perceiving true reality perfectly. We will do the best within our limits, but mankind should have absolutely no place for smugness – at this very moment it is estimated that we have approximately 25,000 nuclear warheads placed over the Earth. Pondering a futurist, enormous data-driven model of reality, as The Meaning of the 21st Century, will quickly demonstrate just how very many ways we quite easily slip out of existence – and the eternal stars will not have even known we were there. Our chance of survival is slim. Most are clearly not gambling men.

All this in an attempt to reinforce this maxim: be humble. Admit what you do not know. If you cannot give concessions and you cannot address things with humility and honesty, then you are ultimately without value in the realm of rationality.

Beyond that idea, a slow awakening to epistemology has brought me to the notion the scientific theories in themselves represent only one tiny portion of the world – again through a generalised, simplified model that could never hope to truly represent reality. At least the models are constantly improved and updated to the best of our understanding, but it all comes back to process of abstraction that the human mind is so comfortable with. Our minds, our perceptions and our rational though processes never can, by definition, achieve the ultimate goal we seek: imperfect data placed into an imperfect machine that results in imperfect rationalisations.

I was heavily absorbed by the rational/scientific world for quite some time. I think that a large portion of my reading in the past 2 years has revolved around scientific theory, quantum mechanics and it’s epistemological implications. Evolution and rational-Atheist arguments against (a small window of) traditional religious thought, but slowly the limitations of our mind and our perceptions caused me to slowly cast doubt on the absolute infallibility of science and science alone. Any semblance of belief in traditional religion may have long ago extinguished from me, but slowly I was become aware of spirituality for the first time. Many scientific-rationalists see god in natural world through understanding and dissecting it, studying it in all its chaos. And it is that chaos that they too embrace and see as beautiful. Some of the more prominent scientific-Atheists are intolerable; they go about interpreting symbolic texts as literal then set about hacking them apart with logic and rationalism. To be certain there are large proponents of Western religion who do take their beliefs and their holy words literally, but the attacks of people like Dawkins seem to only focus on soft targets. Sam Harris would be the only exception I can bring to mind; he touts rationalism in defeating narrow religious views, but it careful to stress the importance of spirituality (though to my knowledge he has not actively defined why his skepticism ends essentially with Western religious thought and has not adequately managed to express this fundamental concept).

*

A psychedelic encounter.

There was another marked experience that I found changed me immensely. It was Boxing Day, 26th of December, 2008. A close friend had brought some magic mushrooms for and a few others in a quiet, well-controlled area. The weather was gorgeous in that intense, mid-summer sense – aggressively hot, vibrant and alive. We had a pool; ample shade prepared; chilled drinks and a near endless supply of music.

We took our doses. My friend had thought he had been given enough for two people, but decided to share that amount between the four of us. You can certainly never, ever tell with magic mushrooms. The other two halved their dosage again still, while the original and myself consumed all of ours. I ate mine with BBQ’d sausages and a bread roll. Others opted for a ridiculous bread and garlic dip combination.

We were told it would take some while – an hour perhaps.

We waited. We talked and waited. We smoked joints, and waited.

After nine minutes I felt a little sluggish and a little light headed. I found it quite hard to move around. To walk around caused great effort. I walked inside and look at one of my pals crazy mind-bending puzzles. The patterns gleamed at me; their complex intertwined nature was mesmerising. I found I could barely take my eyes off the patterns – they demanded so much attention. I showed my pal, who did not seem as impressed as me. We confessed to feeling a tad strange.

We sat back down outside and started talking. Discussion moved smoothly from topic to topic. Everyone understood. We were completely at ease with each other. Then suddenly seemed extremely funny; to laugh was so easy. Our conversations frequently halted in fits of laughter.

I can remember from then on things got a bit more serious. We commented on the various planes of existence distorting for us. Slowly we separated around the backyard. The comments and conversation became less frequent and we became more absorbed in what was happening. Past and future were removed; we were slowly brought into a timeless state – into what some might call the Eternal Now. We live completely in the moment. All perception of the passive of time vanished. We were all very comfortable in letting this happen, and all free enough in ourselves to not worry about what others would think.

Things continued to get serious. One had to bail out and go sit in a quiet, dark room with some soothing music. The rest of us remained outside. I was in absolute bliss. I knew myself; I was comfortable with myself, and I was in no way afraid of where my mind my take me – this was ground I had trod before, although in different circumstances. Still, as I slipped deeper and deeper into this very strong mushroom trip I got a growing sense of affirmation. My mind became to question itself intensely and with ego-shattering honesty as it had done many times before. I found myself affirming many things, but also learning a great deal too.

I could feel no time. I existed completely in the current moment. Music still played, but it was bizarre to try and listen. On multiple occasions I complained to my other friend that a song was too long, or that I felt like a whole album of this artist had played out. It turned out we were about 17 seconds into a song – time was that warped. As I stood in the pool in the sun, a leaf fell from above me. It fell impossibly slow as I absorbed absolutely every moment of that short passage of time. Watching it all felt like an eternity. It slowly drifted through the air to land upon the water surface, causing subtle, perfectly round ripples to fill the pool. I was in a state of absolute wonderment and elation. Existence and nature were beautiful. I look up into the sky, and saw like the ripples that four-dimensional patterned connections joined every atom in the universe. I felt as though I could sense space-time; the very essence of this play pen we call reality. Everything was connected. Didn’t that feed back into quantum theory? Didn’t that seem to venue back into almost religious territory that I had abandoned so long ago?

The four hours of its height brought many revelations as I searched every inch of the self while revelling the beauty of seemingly unmitigated reality. It remains the greatest and most profound experience I have had. Many doses of LSD before and after in no way produced the same effect, and subsequent mushroom experiences had proven pitifully mild. I had not been out of my head; I had been outside these four dimensions. I had transcended time.

This is what I would call my awakening to nature. Beforehand my eyes were closed to it. I was indifferent and wholly a product of cityscape and comfort. Now I feel like I have a far greater awareness of the natural world and our important connection too it – and I think that reconnection is such an obvious one that needs to be made.

*

The end (for now).

From here I really wanted to tie up all of these concepts into an extremely coherent, unifying concept – and I was stuck on that ambition for most of the last few months. I realise now that reconciling rationalism, spirituality, anthropology, cosmology, quantum mechanics, religious tradition, the history of philosophic thought (and so forth forth) is extremely fucking difficult.  I am actually not in a position to be able to tout some ‘final’ clear and concise philosophical concept to wrap things up into a nice, neat little package. I am still searching and still trying endlessly to understand; to apply different perspectives to my own mode of thoughts; to develop self-awareness; to counter-act the biased grooves of my own mental processes; and to reconnect with some kind of fundamental spiritual essence which seems devoid in a lot of Westernised societies in advanced staged of consumerist hyper-capitalism.

The journey to get where I am now was a very long one. Naturally there is no end in sight. I feel I have at the very least begun to actualised my existence, and begin to understand the limitations of our imperfect senses (and, ironically, all rational thought processes). What is the next step? From where do I progress?

Perhaps I should end this by summarising the major concepts in my current worldview;

  1. The scale of the universe should distill our all-too-human narcissism, and give reason to adjust our behaviours to people and nature.
  2. The sheer fact that we cannot directly perceive reality should convince us that we probably do not know the answers, and dispel any arrogance surety alongside close-minded bigotry.
  3. Science and rationality are extremely useful tools, but are not the answers in-and-of themselves. They too have very apparent limitations.
  4. Observation of world events should distill blindly optimistic and an out-right misleading be-lief in the ‘balance’ of ‘good’ and ‘evil’.
  5. Even a simple understanding of psychology, morality and motivation should distill the painfully inadequate black-and-white concepts of ‘good’ and ‘evil’.
  6. We should be eternally grateful for our lives and exist in humility and good spirits, for we need not have existed, nor should we by rights exist – and we certainly do not deserve the comfort, wealth and profit of modern capitalist societies at the expense of those in the third world.
  7. We are clearly too disconnected from nature, which has lead to spiritual void and a bizarre literalist interpretation of religious texts. That is not what the mystics spoke of.

Thank you for reading my ranting and raving. More than happy to discuss anything below, in email or in person. I don’t get the opportunity to discuss these ideas anywhere near enough.

Content in quantum storms

Posted in Philosophy, Poetry, Ranting and rambling, Science by Lachlan R. Dale on December 12, 2010

Content in quantum storms

Dwarfed like insects we strive as I gaze at the stars at night.
Their distant light gives me the perspective to fight the hollowness of our monumental plight.
Instead of turning away in fright, I gaze hopelessly at the sheer unobtainable heights.

Wealth and possessions mean nothing to me
_____I let art and words carry their weight.
People dissolve into white noise.
_____As vague spectres I let them dissipate.

Tiny men go about their tiny lives, tugged by the dull drag of monotony.
They are a distant hum just within earshot;
_____reverberating endlessly – accepting unquestioningly.

I long to see through the haze;
_____to crawl along and face the sun;
_____to see the patterns which govern our world and our recycled flaws to which we are all numb;
_____the mistakes which we’re doomed to repeat;
_____that our ape-brain narcissism demands to play out eternally.

We are blown about by quantum storms of chaos.
We are the ashes of stars rearranged; the playthings of the cosmos.
What is it we think we stand above?
_____The resonant sun?
_____The droning earth?
We stand confronted by benign indifference;
_____of our endeavours and dreams the universe does not even flinch.

Dwarfed like insects we strive as I gaze at the stars at night.
Their distant light gives me the perspective to fight the hollowness of our monumental plight.
Instead of turning away in fright, I gaze hopelessly at the sheer unobtainable heights;
_____Contented.