I started my writing here to help myself reduce the jumbles of thoughts in my mind into a linear stream, and so now I want to do this with some thought experiments that I have been working with about nature of consciousness and how our consciousness is attached to our material body.
I started this study, unintentionally, in about 1997 when I read Ayn Rand’s classic Atlas Shrugged. That book introduced me to the very persuasive philosophy “objectivism” and sent me down the path of atheism for several years. There was always, in the back of my mind, a gnawing awareness that Ayn Rand died by suicide, so maybe its not the best philosophy, but it was persuasive.
The whole things starts with a pretty simple idea, which she claims is irrefutable, and that goes something like this. The first step is “I think therefore I am”. I think most people are familiar with this and find it to be persuasive. Whatever the “I” is that is thinking this, that is generating these words and typing them into the page here, whatever that is, it is, and it is me, and I therefore must exist. I AM.
The next step in this chain is that the I AM is typing on this computer, so there is an I AM, and then there is a computer. From there objectivism reduces existence to the material world. All the people out there are a bunch of little separate “I AM’s” and we are all interacting with material objects in a material world. And according to Ayn Rand, that’s the nature of our existence.
I do not remember all of the steps in her logic, but I do remember Occam’s razor, which is a concept in science (and philosophy) that requires the simple solutions to be preferred to the complex solutions. This principle has been employed to undermine any spiritual understanding of the world, because with our existing technology, we are not able to directly measure the presence and action of spirit, and Occam’s razor therefore requires that we reject everything spiritual or religious as an unnecessary complication. This is because everything can be explained by the interaction of objects in the material world. Inserting GOD or Consciousness or spirit into this material view would be an unnecessary complication, and must therefore be rejected.
So in summary, the concept is this… you are an “I AM” reading this post, and you exist, and the “this post” that you are reading exists too, and you are therefore separate objects in a material world, and any thought of God or spirit is unnecessary to understanding our material reality and should therefore be rejected as extraneous.
I embraced this theory with such gusto and arrogance. Anyone who would degrade their reason with nonsense like spirit, religion, astrology, whatever, anyone who would do that, was soft minded and weak. I told myself repeatedly “I am my body” and I believed that my consciousness was produced by the reactions inside my physical brain, and when that stopped working, well that’s death and that’s it. I thought any belief in a soul or spirit or afterlife was a nice story weak minded people told themselves because they were afraid to die.
And I hardened myself into this belief over a number of years. I read books like “The End of Faith” and “The Bell Curve” and I ate up every word. I felt, if a little empty, at least superior because I was disabused of any idealized notions of life after death. At least I knew that I was a speck of biodegradable organic matter on an insignificant planet that would exist for just a flash of time and then be forgotten forever by the universe.
The cold pit at the bottom of this philosophy, and what I now understand drove Ayn Rand to suicide, is that in this type of world, nothing has any meaning. Life in that world is just a pointless burst of effort that will produce no long term benefit.
But I still had a softness in my heart. I still loved sunsets and nature and swimming in the ocean. I loved animals and mountains and adventures. All meaningless perhaps, but maybe meaning then had to come in the context of small meanings. I am here, I may as well stay for the duration of my time here, and if I’m going to stay, I may as well enjoy my time. That was all there was.
I had my spiritual awakening in 2009 when I realized that I am a spirit incorporated in a material body, and that when my body stops working, my spirit will disincarnate and leave this body. I have come to understand this in a very personal and fundamental way. This frame of reference gives me so much more meaning in my life! Suddenly the question of “why did I come here” or “why was I sent here” makes sense. The realization, and the in my body understanding, that “I AM” a spirit having a material experience opens the door to meaning in my life.
But what about all the people in my life I had surrounded myself with who basically argued that there was no evidence of any of that, and therefore it must be rejected?
I remembered a Hawaiian philosophy around the Ho’oponopono Prayer which asks us to take responsibility for everything that occurs in our experience. I remember when I was out for a run one time, and someone randomly threw an egg at me from the car. According to this Hawaiian philosophy, I would have to accept responsibility for that occurring in my experience. This was a little too much for me to accept! How could I be responsible for someone throwing an egg at me out of the car window? I had not done anything to provoke or deserve it and so on.
All of these ideas have been swimming around in my mind for years, bumping into each other. The idea that I am responsible for what occurs in my experience contradicts the Objectivist view that I am a separate actor in a world full of actors. Occam’s razor, of course, demands that we accept the view that bad things happen to good people, and that we are separate actors and therefore not responsible for what happens in our experience.
So how to resolve this? I was at a loss. I could not reconcile the notion that I am responsible for what occurs in my experience with the notion that I am a separate actor in a material world. And then I had a spectacularly vivid dream.
In this dream, I swimming with a polar bear in series of terraced ponds that went up a steep mountain. The ponds were like rice paddies about six feet deep, and they had a wall at each end. I was trying to get the polar bear to swim with me across the ponds, and then at the end of a pond, I had to get him out of the water and walk him around the wall and into the next pond. Then we would swim across that pond an up the next wall. In this manner, I was to climb the mountain with this polar bear.
I could see him swimming, rather like an enormous white Labrador retriever. I could see his huge polar bear paws under the surface of the crystal clear water paddling along. He was perfectly friendly, but not at all interested in my agenda of climbing the mountain. I had arrived with him at the end of one of the ponds, and to climb up the steep bank, I had to momentarily let go of my grip on him so I could get out of the water. By the time I recovered my balance, the polar bear had swum off, and so I had to go back and get him, and coax him up the bank. This was going on for a while. It seemed like a long dream. Finally I woke up in the middle of the dream. It was so vivid. I can still see it today.
At no point during that dream did I have any recollection that I was dreaming that dream from my bed, somewhere else. Does that make sense? My experience of dreams is completely immersive, I have no awareness that I AM also in bed. Sometimes one of my sons talks of lucid dreaming. He told me of exercises he was doing the daytime to aid in lucid dreaming. He would look at his hands every time he walked through a door and ask “am I dreaming right now?” The idea was to develop a habit, so one day, in a dream, he would remember to do this when he dreamed of walking through a door and then realize he was dreaming while in the dream. I have not heard any report of success, but I get the idea.
But for me, I was immersed in the world with the polar bear. And I have learned so much from this dream. Here is one thought experiment that comes from it. I imagine that on the side of the pond with the polar bear are Ayn Rand, and objectivism, and Occam, and Steven Hawkings, and Jodie Foster in the movie Contact (still one of my favorites–I’m ok to go!) If I were to engage in a philosophical discussion with this little panel, they would tell me the same logic. They would tell me there is a me, and a polar bear, and we are separate objects, and the thought that I am actually dreaming the entire thing from somewhere else, well that would be a needless complication. But if a wise Kahuna were on the bank of the pond, he would say, everything in this experience was my responsibility.
I realized there are two ways in this dream to resolve my situation with the polar bear. One is to chase him around the pond and coax him up the hill. The other would be for me to go sit on the edge and connect with the vibration of cooperative polar bears going up mountains. Ask yourself, which would work better in the dream world? Which works better here?
I do not, as I sit here now, even pretend to know the “TRUTH” about the whole nature of the Universe and our experience in it. I can’t explain why there appear to be people separate from me in my dreams, and I can’t explain why there appear to be people separate from me on this material plane. I don’t have to be able to explain the entire nature of everything to know that Occam’s razor is completely counterproductive in trying to understand the nature of our consciousness and our place in the world.
This is the beginning of a whole line of thought I have been working with around the nature of myself, my spirit, god and the nature of existence.
It boils down to one question. Where are YOU dreaming this from?