Wednesday, April 21, 2021

(Note: This is the final chapter in the series I have intended to post here.  I plan to add three more possible chapters to the book: 1) The Mind-Body Problem; 2) Other Persons (Minds); 3) Privacyand 4) My article on The Living in the Present in my proposed book as Parts II and III.  As they have already been posted in this blog, I am not repeating them.  If you notice any errors, or have any comments, suggestions or advice as to the compilation of the book, please leave a note and I would appreciate it.)

Some Final Thoughts:

Relating the Discussion to UG

The self being an Illusion:  The effects of the self may be quite evident, but it’s not so evident that it’s an illusion.  If it is a put together, as it must be, there is no special entity (a ‘ghost’ inside the machine) which puts it together or synthesizes it. Although all our thinking, feeling and behavior presume such an entity, actually there is no such thing.  As more than one philosopher pointed out, there are only thoughts, feelings and impressions succeeding one another, giving the feeling that there is a center or an agent behind them.  That’s where probably UG’s analogy is germane.  The computer runs by a program, and it can do the putting together of various sorts of information.  We too are run by programs contained in our genes and modified to varying degrees by environmental factors that govern our behavior.  That doesn’t mean there is a self behind the behavior. [1]

True, we don’t find any such thing as the self in introspection.  Does that mean it is an illusion?  How come all the thoughts, our behavior and our relationships to the world as well to life in general are as if there is one?  You could perhaps say that thought is the source of the self and if thought is not there, then there would be no self.  But even without thought there is self-preservation and propagation, and thought only extends these beyond the immediate present, creating the past and the future, mentally speaking.  But even animals remember the past and act on it.  So where’s the catch? Even UG has to admit that we cannot live without thought, and thought inevitably brings the idea of the self, self-centeredness and selfishness, only UG can tell what it would be to live without the stranglehold of thought.  I think that’s where the catch is.  The fact that UG uses all the benefits of thought, include money transactions, accumulation, bequeathing, (not to mention attempting to set up a virus research fund), travel plans, making arrangements for friends, or offenses and defenses, we just have to somehow take his word for it on faith that somehow we can be free from that stranglehold, and that if we do, we are somehow free from the self.

The most I could imagine is relative freedom from attachment to things, which is what makes us more or less self-centered or selfish.  But this may be a far cry from being free from the stranglehold of thought, which seems to be an either-or proposition.

Here is the final thought on the matter:  Freedom from the stranglehold of thought means acting and living without questioning, i.e. without the second level of activity of thought, i.e. self-consciousness, going on.  As, UG would say, unquestioning action is morality.  Then UG doesn’t need explanation of why he does what he does.  He doesn’t question it himself and has no answer to others’ question.  Any reference to self or awareness of what’s going on around him or inside him are all part of the movement of life, and he never questions it.  I think that’s more satisfactory an answer than anything else I have pondered so far.  The questions of self or self-consciousness, etc. all fly in the face of such a life.

The Nagging Question:  The perpetual intrusion into consciousness and the ‘I’ who manipulates the contents:

The whole discussion about the self is vitiated by the nagging question of the ‘willy-nilly’ intrusion into consciousness of various contents such as memories.  As they are already in the ‘intentional’ form, there is an observer of them, and ipso facto a manipulator.  And each time the manipulation takes place, the self is reinforced further and further.  This factor alone seems to override all the above discussions about the passivity, zero self, and what not.  This is truly where there is no ‘way-out’!

The Self intruding in recall or recollection or sheer memory in the form of (inner) speech:  Here it’s not clear to me whether there is a mechanism (like the ‘I’ physiologically speaking) that takes an active role in remembering or recalling, of course, using its past knowledge and experience, or if it is just knowledge or experience(s) from the past ‘looking at’ (reflecting on) what is present in or to consciousness and commenting, changing (using the thinking process) and projecting from it.  To use William James’s term, what is the ‘cash-value’ of saying that there is someone or something that does the watching, observing, reflecting etc. except the acts themselves?  As UG would say, we would never find anything that actually ‘does’ the action, except the activity itself.

The self-dialogue or self-talk has a lot to do with this question:  thoughts arising quickly in succession can surely create the impression of an active self conducting all mental activity in the background (with all its life, knowledge and experience at its disposal).  And yet, upon examination of the phenomenon of the will, we might think twice about this:  When we deliberately say, “I want this, I want to do this,” you might say that’s just a thought looking at something and saying this.  But yet the thought has the potency to control the body and its activity.  Therefore, it’s easy to conclude it’s not just an inert thought that’s doing the willing, but an active agent of some sort. The question cannot be resolved introspectively, for both sides seem plausible.  And it’s unlikely that neuroscience might be able to do that.  How would a bunch of neurons acting in unison create such an agency, or at least a sense of it?  The neuro-scientist, at best, can say there are such-and-such changes in the neuron clusters such as electrical and chemical changes, and then there are these other changes taking places in them.  But unfortunately someone has to make sense of these changes as actions.  The neuro-scientist is only supplying the neuronal correlates.

*                      *                      *

The ‘Thought Sphere’: Also, commenting on UG’s statement that he is freed from the all the experiences mankind ever had, seems like a hopelessly and dangerously vague and over generalized expression of what might have happened to him.  It seems rather farfetched.  You don’t even access to much of your own experiences, how could you even be free from them unless you know what they are.  Perhaps what he experienced in some process was myriads of images, visual or otherwise, of not just people whom he had known in his life (even that is an exaggeration), but other people like Buddha, Jesus, as well. 

Here what Krishnamurti describes as ‘cleansed of the past’[2] makes much more sense: in some moments you mind is not traveling into the past or future, and everything in you and around you becomes alive, raw and uninterpreted.  You ‘fly like a feather’.  May be I am putting words in the mouth of UG.  This may not be what he meant.  But being free all the experience of mankind doesn’t make much sense either.

When you recall or remember an experience, it is always tainted by your background, your idiosyncrasies, and so on, and never without a comment.  In order to be cleansed of some experience, you must first be aware of it.  It must be your experience from some time in your past.  How could you be aware of others’ experiences, even if you are familiar with those persons?  And to be cleansed of all the experiences of mankind you have to know or at least be aware of them.  How is that even possible when you can’t even be aware of much of your own past experiences?

One other problem is that somehow this is connected with UG’s idea that there is a thought sphere of some kind where all of mankind’s thoughts and experiences from times immemorial are stored and we draw from that sphere when it is appropriate, like a radio antenna receives vibrations from radio waves. 

There is also the ambiguity in the term ‘experience’ or ‘thought’.  UG seems to use these terms rather interchangeably.  Are they the same?  Thoughts may be ideas, but then they are different from experiences which more often than not involve our person one way or another, while ideas seem rather impersonal. 

I think there are plenty of problems in this area (of thought or idea) as well. To compound the problem, even in the dictionaries there is no clear definition of ‘thought’ or ‘idea’.

We make an attempt to understand what thought is by looking into what happens when we think.  There is some image, auditory or visual, (or simply said a sub-vocal sound or an image). We can call this a ‘token’ for something.  This something has to arise from our past experience (where else could it come from?).  There is the ‘seeing’ of relationships between items of thought, such as a thing and its property, its proximity to other things or to what I myself have said or done in the past, or what someone else has done or said in the past, and so on.  The list is literally endless.  This seeing is what is contained in a thought whether it is explicitly spelled out in consciousness (say subvocally or verbally) or implicitly ‘understood’. 

For example, I see two people standing next to each other.  And I see that one of them is taller or shorter than the other, or smarter or stupider, or whatever.  This comparative ‘seeing’ is a judgment and that’s what we call a thought.  The judgment, to repeat, may  or may not be made explicitly. To understand, to give another example, what another person said about what I said or did as an insult or compliment, is thought and my reflection on the understanding is another thought.

One might say that these understandings are experiences or ideas.  I think we tend to use these terms rather interchangeably.

Given this background regarding the terms, how can we give weight to UG’s claim that there is a ‘thought sphere’.  My answer is simply that these thoughts are so personal that it makes little sense to assign them an independent and impersonal status[3] such as a ‘thought sphere’

How does all this relate to the nagging question of the self?

*                                  *                                  *

From this above discussion I am tempted to conclude that the question of whether there is an active self is a metaphysical question, much like the question of Kant’s Transcendental Self, and is best left alone.  For practical matters of living, we can surely assume that you and I can by awareness, and actively withdrawing or detaching oneself and such, carry on the operations I described above to become at least relatively free. 

More on Thought, Self and Experience:  Any ‘objective’ discussion about thought is going to miss the crucial element of subjectivity:  the ‘interiority’ or ‘theater’ in which a constant dialogues take place.  If we don’t call these ‘dialogues’ then we will have to take, like UG, the objective approach saying that there is no one thinking the thoughts, only thoughts occurring in succession.  It will also miss the ‘ownership’ element of thought.  Each thought is ‘my’ thought.  And I am not only doing the thinking, but also feeling, willing, imagining a future or remembering a past.  Thoughts occurring in succession do not cover any of these items.  I am afraid there is something fundamentally wrong with this approach. 

UG must have been utilizing both these approaches, i.e. the subjective and objective, to arrive at his conclusions:  when he says each thought splits itself into two, thought is matter, thought is sound, he seems to mean that it is physical. He also says you can’t observe thought directly, but only through another thought, and so on. He must have seen this in his personal observation, which is introspective.  Yet in this and other statements like there is no mind or self, he has to be taking an objective approach. 

*                      *                      *

One other reflection I need to mention about thought: When I notice something in my present world, or within my body, or in my consciousness (i.e. in my mental theater), I recall my past comments on it.  And that comment is form of thought.  Extend this notion of thought to imagining a future situation and commenting on it, or recalling a past experience and reflecting on it, and building on these.  These are also functions of thought.  As a calculating, reasoning mechanism, I (my self) can solve problems, device mathematical derivations or furnish proofs, and so on.  All the mental functions such as comparing and contrasting, analyzing, synthesizing, estimating, abstracting, generalizing and hypothesizing are all part of these functions. My thinking is also imbedded in my feelings and emotions as well as my desires, daydreams and fears. 

So thinking is this activity: the response of the background in the form of a comment or judgment to a given situation. And we call the verbal statement or comment which expresses that judgment a unit of thought. 

To come back to where we started, if this is what is meant by thought, by virtue of the fact that these thoughts are so personal, it doesn’t make any sense to say that they are all part of a ‘thought sphere’.

*                      *                      *

I notice in the above that I (as much as UG or anyone else) have combined the subjective or introspective approach with the ‘objective’ approach, especially when I am talking about the sub vocal speech or other movements of the body.  I don’t see how one can escape it, unless one takes a purely behavioristic or neuroscientific approach, neither of which adequately explain the many phenomena that we know.

No matter what approach we take, the one thing that any analysis or explanation can do is to actually capture the truly personal, the ‘I’, which is a residuum left over.  In other words, the truly subjective cannot be objectified. 

*                      *                      *

Two remarks to be added to the above:  1) By Experience I mean not just any situation that I recall or remember, but more often than not, the situation as it pertains to me – for example, it’s not just that someone said something to me or someone else that I remember, but the situation that includes its significance to me.  For example, someone’s words of praise about what I did.  I tend to recall these over and over and build on them, and react to them in different ways.  That’s also why someone’s saying something about me is not just remembered, but the pleasure or hurt it caused.  That’s what makes the memory personal.  It makes the experience ‘my experience’.

A corollary to this is that when I reflect on something, it’s not just another thought reflecting on that, but a thought which is ‘my’ point of view and which runs on the background of the vast knowledge I have accumulated over my life time.

*                      *                      *

Whatever be the discussion about the self, it must also include the idea of the person, as well as the considerations of how both of them are ultimately rooted in the body.  

It’s pretty obvious that if our notion of the self is based on our thinking and thought processes, they in turn are based on sub-vocal speech movements and other bodily phenomena as well as cerebral or other bodily processes. 

On the other hand, the happenings in our intentional, i.e., mental world, are bound to effect the body in terms of how we feel, our glands responding, heart-rate changing, or how they spur us to act in various ways, including further thought responses. 

Western philosophy muddled and complicated matters by creating the phony mind-body problem, by not recognizing the dimensions involved in the complexity of the human being, as if there are two different ‘things’ to be related.  There aren’t.  There is just one human being with a body and capacity for thought.  Thinking is a property of the brain.  That among other things is what the brain, especially the cerebral cortex, does.  This function also has the additional capacity to create the intentional world, in an attempt, in some ways or other, poorly or more accurately, to represent the world.  Once created, the human being feels on the one hand he is in this (‘objective’) world comprising things, people, events, relationships, and so on.  On the other hand, he also feels that he has his own private feelings, thoughts, intentions, desires, hopes and fears, thus creating what we might call the ‘personal’ or ‘subjective’.  Only when he sees a discrepancy between what his ‘subjective’ world and what he and other people as well see as the ‘real’ or ‘objective’ world, is he aware that there is a distinction between the two, and that his subjective world is really his own ‘interpretation’ or ‘construction’ of whatever is ‘out there’. 

Thus other people see his responses also as subjective or personal, i.e. special to him, and not necessarily shared by them.  I need not go into details as to what happens when the discrepancy between the two worlds grows wider and deeper and a person loses touch in various degrees ‘with reality’.

I can look at myself as a person living in my world, with my body, my mind, my thoughts and feelings and son, while at the same time be aware that from your point of view I am just another being, a person (by virtue of the fact that we can both converse with each other through language, giving meaning to symbols and sounds) or just another body (if I am dead, or am a patient in the hospital, and so on). And the ability to look at myself in both ways is in turn generated by virtue of my ‘intentionality’, this too being part of ‘my world’. 

(Notice that this theory or theoretical explanation is also part of my ‘intentional world’ or ‘personal point of view’, if you will.)

Although thought or thinking is a property or function of the brain, the intentional world created by thought should not be treated as something physical or mental.  To treat them as such, is to render them ‘objective’.  It’s not an objective entity or objective anything.  It’s something that exists only as ‘intentional’ i.e. as part or whole of the ‘subjective’ world.  The subjective world is not a ‘world’ to be reckoned as part of the furniture of the universe, although it’s the source of all products created by thought, such as culture, civilization, and its products, as well as social relationships and typically human enterprises, such as institutions and organizations. 

For just that reason, it’s tempting to treat the subjective world as another world.  Once again, I think that would be a mistake.  Yet, for each of us that’s the only world that’s available, although we don’t think it’s merely subjective. 

The discrepancy between my world and the inter-subjective world, i.e. the world we all share in, is not easily reconciled by appeal to the so-called facts, for they too are subject to interpretation and have to be accepted as facts, in order for them to be successfully utilized as the bases for reconciliation. 

In view of this, one might come to the conclusion, as UG would that the world, that my world only exists as my interpretation of it.  In fact, one might even go the extent of saying even the so-called sensations out of which one composes the world, are themselves products of thought.  In order to recognize something as a sensation, one must be able to point (even to oneself) that it is such and such, for which we need thought. 

Thought, in this context, would amount to nothing more than our past.  In other words, unless some mechanism in me translates the so-called sensation into something I can recognize as such, there is no such thing as sensation.  In fact, there is only an undifferentiated blob, a mere ‘nothing’,

But then, UG would jump in and say, even thought and your past are themselves constructions. They too have no existence before they are recognized by thought as such.  Here we get caught in a vicious loop and can never get out of it.  UG would leave us with no alternative except to raise our arms and give up.  In sum, we don’t know anything.

2) Thought as Matter: UG always said that thought is matter.  Yet, he too was not free from the intentional world or the world created by thought, for he used it all the time.  As he himself would say, he would not have been able to function in this world, which he very well did, without using thought and its products.

However, it is hard to understand how the intentional world, created by thought, is itself matter, if by ‘matter’ we understand something insentient, unthinking and unmeaning.  The intentional world is a world of meaning.  For anything to have meaning, whether it is sounds that I hear, or marks on paper, or gestures or sensations – anything – they must be understood, seen and responded to as such.  This can never happen in a material world. 

Once again, when we have to confront the very process that gives meaning to things, we have no clue what it is.  It just happens that things have or do acquire meaning, like symptoms in a diseased person give rise to their being interpreted as a symptom complex (a syndrome) that’s characteristic of a certain disease.  Outside of this mechanism of ‘interpreting’ or giving meaning, nothing would, and could, possibly make sense.  And only a hypothesis or a theory, which generally is a construct of the mind, can make a statement like this.  When we go to a higher level to make sense out of this mechanism, we are again at a total loss.  We don’t really know what it is that does the interpreting, except perhaps saying that our past somehow ‘sees’ it as such. 

*                                  *                                  *

Different Perspectives or Points of View:   Notice how the things get complicated by the introduction of various points of view or perspectives in the discussion of the various worlds:  1) there is the world as I see it, know it, believe that there is, operate in and talk about.  2) There is the world in general about which I have been hypothesizing and theorizing, talking about and discussing, which supposedly you understand as well, and relate to, because you can, at the least, reconstruct what I am saying, of course by interpreting it as meaningful, in your intentional world and evaluate it, and agree or disagree with it.  3) And there is the world from your point of view, which is part of the world I am theorizing about, which you create and interpret, and within that is the world you theorize about, just like I do within my world.  And there is the physicist’s, the artist’s, the scientist’s, or the architect’s world which they theorize about, based on what they consider to be facts, which in turn are part of their subjective worlds. 

4) And inter-subjectively, we all supposedly share a common objective world, which each of us interprets in his or her own way, from his or her point of view, the Kantian ding-an-sich (thing-in-itself), which he calls the noumenon. In this morass of interacting and intersecting worlds, myself as a self never really occurs as something we can perceive or deal with tangibly as an object.

5) If thought is matter, as is the brain of which it is a product, it seems as if we are not only doomed to be subject to the control of thought, including its byproducts such as the self with its various properties such as self-defense, offense, self-protectiveness, and so on, but also it would not make too much sense to talk about becoming free from the stranglehold of thought, unless there is a physical transformation of some sort.  Such a transformation does not, and cannot take place through any spiritual practice.  Any such possibility may arise in someone who is so genetically disposed to certain ways in which the brain functions are disabled.   Now we are going way beyond the realm of the known, and UG may very well have been so genetically disposed, the potential being realized gradually in course of his life time.  Who knows?

6) UG’s normal response to people who ask questions about being free the stranglehold of thought, not seeking goals, etc. is “do nothing.”  But if we are primed by nature, i.e. by our physiology to necessarily use thought, which cannot function without seeking goals, how does this admonition help?  He might possibly say, ‘understand’ the futility of goal-seeking.  What kind of understanding exists, which does not involve thought and thinking? 

Of course, all this has to frustrate the reader or listener.  But he and many others of his listeners do so that as they listen to him over time, their ‘baggage’ will become lighter.  But that still is a far cry from being free from the stranglehold of thought. 

7) i) The one thing that bothers me most is the question of thought:  UG says you cannot know thought; what you know is only about thought. It’s not clear how to take that statement.  The first question that comes to mind is, Isn’t knowing too a mental activity involving thought?  In which case, you have only a thought knowing another thought.  But that doesn’t mean that you can’t know thought.  How else would you know except through another thought?  Or rather, how else should you know?

But I think here I should mention that for UG knowing really means some sort of direct apprehension of the object to be known.  As soon as the object is recognized it becomes part of the known, i.e. it no longer counts as something we know.  UG is putting us in a contradictory predicament:  if you recognize something, which can only be done through thought, it is not knowing, since it’s only knowing through another thought.  And you don’t recognize it, then there is no knowing either. What a predicament!

ii) Also, to all appearances, UG doesn’t seem to be bypassing the meaning-making mechanism.  Yet, his speech, actions and responses all seem to operate in the realm of meaning.  No wonder he says that it’s all our meaning-making that’s going on.  He has no part in it.  It’s all a giant interpretation on our part.  He even reports sometimes his own thoughts, such as his telling himself, “Buddy, you are not going to live that long, why bother to accumulate?” and such other things.  Are we supposed to take these as thoughts as nothing but noises he makes to himself?

It’s of course hard to fathom exactly what goes on in anyone’s mind from outside, especially in UG’s (if he has a mind at all).  In that respect, UG is no different from anyone else.  We all share the same fate toward each other.  Yet, in my own case, this intentionality seems to operate in a way that my world is a world of meaning, and I recognize and respond to people as though they are persons, and not just “dogs barking”. 

Actually, sense and nonsense, meaning and noise are all part of my world of meaning.  The world I have created for myself is my world of meaning.  Outside of that, I don’t really seem to have any way of knowing anything else directly, except through conjecture, inference or pure guesswork.  Does the inquiry end here?

iii) Just suppose there is no meaning mechanism or intentionality in UG.  How could then his responses and actions be explained?  Most importantly the move he makes.  His explanation is primarily to say that he is not doing anything.  Things just get done.  It’s life acting through him, and he has no say in the matter.  Part of his explanation is that he has no ‘interior’. 

This answer simply defies any explanation either in terms of intentionality, or in terms of any neuro-scientific methods. 

UG would also say he is not concerned about explaining anything, because by using the intellect you don’t understand anything.  And there is no need to understand.  Worse, there is nothing to understand.   All the questions I or you have about him or what he says or does are simply projections on our part to maintain our own ego or self. 

And that’s about where the discussion ends. 

On the other hand, notwithstanding all this, just suppose we try to devise a theory to explain all the factors known about UG.  What would the picture look like?  Just imagine UG to be a computer:  there is the input.  His brain cells, i.e. neurons in particular, organize themselves as a response to the stimuli.  The responses simply appear as recognition, judgments, actions (i.e. organized body movements), speech responses, attending to the needs of the body and situations as they arise, and so on.  And there is no further explanation as to how the neurons organize their responses, without any patterns of meaning, without intentionality, and without a need for an interior.  No picturing anything from the past or projecting into the future.  (Notice, how UG says he cannot form images).  All the seemingly introspective analysis of thought, self, matter, human problems, and his own behavior are all just responses thrown out by the computer called UG. 

And what’s more important is that the computer doesn’t respond in terms of a self.  There is no self-making mechanism present.  Only momentary self-consciousness or awareness.  All the products of intentionality are removed from the picture.  These include the fears, anxieties, depression, acquisitiveness, desires for fame, property, power, and so forth.

With this simple exception:  the ability to empathize.  This is explained by UG as “What happens there happens here.”  He would explain this further by saying there are no barriers between him and the rest of the world created by thought, although thought in terms of computer operations performs its functions necessary for survival. 


[1] Susan’s comment:  Looking again at the self-assembly model used in genetic research and especially in the use of technology being engineered by computerized genetic self-assembly,  it seems to me that this is the self--the program contained in the genes and modified to varying degrees...


[2] In his Commentaries on Living, 2nd Series.

[3] Philosophers would call that the ‘ontological’ status.

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