What is it like for nothing to happen?

Painting the Earth. By Ana Cooke, Farnham, England

Painting the Earth. By Ana Cooke, Farnham, England.

As befits my contrarian nature, and whilst risking irritating some readers, I want to begin by asserting something unlikely to appeal to reason; that is to say, if we are fully aware, maximally aware, then nothing happens. This is a non-perceptual, albeit meditative, state of mental pellucidity alone; it is not a state of consciousness. How so? Consciousness per se denotes being ‘with knowledge’ – Latin: Con Scientia – and is commonly assumed synonymous with awareness. Still, as we are not ‘with knowledge’ in this maximal state1, let us for now term it ‘awareness’, analogously denoting what is akin to an illuminative trait of consciousness, as if it were to radiate light upon itself, rather as a solitary lantern illumines both itself and all. In conceptualising awareness this way, we ought not to do so as if it were being projected onto a sense datum, which falsely renders a dualistic, spatially separated conceit.

In this conception, consciousness is the appearance of ‘lit’ phenomena; it is being ‘with knowledge of (or as)’ something, having an inherent aboutness, meaning it is like being a particular way. Whilst awake (cognition persists when asleep), it is our knowing we are undergoing experience, or as some call this, ‘metacognition’. Pervading this aboutness is an illuminative quality which itself is devoid of discernible attributes, much in the way that light is indiscernible save that it illumines objects – as does our lantern both itself and surrounds, yet its radiating light forever remains unseen. This ‘light’ of awareness is not susceptible to recollection; nor is it stratified perceptually, e.g. oil lantern, gas lantern. Marked solely by lucidity and potency – potent, as our entire conscious world springs forth from it – objectless awareness rests both prior to, and as a constituent element of, all conscious cognition.

But is consciousness illumined, so to speak? Why not assume it identical to quantifiable, reflexively responding and infinitely recursive nervous system states? Are they not sufficient for, or constitutive of, apparent subjectivity? Do qualia, our characterised instances of the way things appear to us, by their hidden nature lead us to regard them as immaterial, unquantifiable by any methodology? Do naïve intuitions deceive us; ought we rather to take physical correlates as our only measures of consciousness? Some theorists may seek to explain away even consciousness itself, let alone permit of any intractable awareness. Otherwise, absenting any correlates to bodily states, Cognitive Science is ubiquitously disregarding; its precept seemingly ‘no content, no consciousness’; so an explanatory gap then appears between theorisations and an objectless awareness functionally analogous to light.

Various phenomenologies, Husserlian as well as Buddhistic and Advaitan conceptions alike, deem methodological approaches prerequisite to our addressing appropriately why there is something it is like for us to undergo physical processes in typified mind/body problems of consciousness. These remedies result in a suturing of both sides of this explanatory gap within a radical, enactive2 actualising of awareness such that theoretical constructs of the nervous system never broach in their intended technical remit. That actualisation ‘sees’ the irreducibility of experience and utter redundancy of resorting to reification of either the mental or physical, neither does it bind to any object vs. subject dichotomy. No scientific representation grants us the first-person immersion into the enactive2 nature of awareness necessary to suffice for resolving what are in, essence, manmade existential problems.

Still Drying. By Ana Cooke, Farnham, England.

Still Drying. By Ana Cooke, Farnham, England.

Why does any of this matter? Firstly, if objectless awareness is actualisable, then it must conform to any comprehensive theory of consciousness, and yet how might it? Research typically hypothesises higher order information processing and correlations between brain states and experience, as if they alone give rise to the subjective. Yet awareness remains neither any state of cognition or knowledge, nor is it a sleep state. It obtains without interfacing to memory functions, is devoid of aboutness, and presents as a featureless pellucidity and potent ground for nascent consciousness. It is as if a Tabula Rasa to that regarded as the conscious mind. It prima-facie exists; yet is not like anything. Ergo, we must account for it. Secondly, to address mind/body dilemmas effectively requires more than consensus, a template; it demands experienceable verification of aware mind’s enactive2, non-localised nature.

What is it like for nothing to happen? Thomas Nagel is often paraphrased in discussions on consciousness. He posited3 that there is always ‘something it is like’ to be conscious. In other words, to be conscious is for there to exist a unique, subjectively felt experience. Whilst this intimate aboutness is never descriptively reducible to a materialist paradigm of functions, intentional states, and higher order information processing, as in doing so we jettison the very thing we are attempting to describe – our apparent subjectivism as conscious beings, our personally felt experience – neither is it sufficient in accommodating a de facto objectless awareness. Hence Nagel’s trope is no use insofar as the state has no characteristics, is not a set of proliferations, and is utterly devoid of aboutness. Here, we can say little more than that it obtains, is accessible to any contemplative adept, and that it is well proven.

Remember the difficult opening statement: if we are fully aware, nothing happens. To be fully aware means not having its potency occluded by or in mentation. Thought is a product of concentration – a coalescing of attention around serial perceptual streams. Distractedness too is a mode of mental focusing, albeit with a rapid oscillation of attention. Yet maximal awareness rests prior to all thought and focusing of the mind, its illuminative nature being revealed in pellucidity and beingness only. It does not know itself as a reflected thing, so is not ‘conscious of awareness’. Nothing ‘happens’, whilst a potent, intuited presence pervades it. It may be accessed via first-person perspectival phenomenology, progressively reducing mental proliferations until the objectless awareness presents. To become adept in this practise requires skill and the overcoming of thought’s deep fear of its own absence.

What use is this experience? Firstly, it contextualises the nature of thought and results in a disidentification such that we cease feeling as if inhabiting thought neurotically. In turn this exposes the put-up job of self-sensing, and we see the ‘self-of-me’ as the narrative-based stream of mentation that it is. We feel a dramatic lessening in isolative self-consciousness, and a resultant tendency to attune empathically, with less cupidity. Our past omnipresent mental proliferations – i.e. chatter, worry – make way for a tranquil sense of immediacy and presence, whilst both subject and object, as apprehended, are clearly understood as psychical constructs alone, and ‘though obtaining still, they cease distancing us emotionally as we know they arise in unicity. Lastly, the subtly relentless interplay of desire and aversion is increasingly pacified as our innately given, indwelling contentedness surfaces unbidden.

In conclusion then, the purpose here is to float a provisional notion that no matter the sophistication and accuracy of our scientific representations of consciousness, of themselves they can never produce anything other than a reflected and partial understanding, one sufficient for our advancement in many spheres, but in others paling against consciousness’ full realisation of itself, as itself, rather than as an image of itself. Any direct actualisation will bestow benefits upon individuals to whom it appears, even though in their descriptions of the same they necessarily, and can only, evoke paradoxical, and hence unsatisfactory, an accounting for it. As such, the explanatory gap spoken of earlier can exclusively be sutured in a first-person apprehending, and a significant advancement towards that is this esoteric exposure to a maximal awareness. I welcome hearing readers’ views on any flaws herein.

 

1 Related research paper:  http://dx.doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2014.00099

2 Enactivism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enactivism

3 T. Nagel: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Is_it_Like_to_Be_a_Bat%3F

 

256 thoughts on “What is it like for nothing to happen?

  1. Eloquently and scientifically [possibly a better choice of word would convey what I am saying a tad better, yet I cannot think of one right now] put forward – much of it beyond the ambit of understanding by this dwindling intellect of mine, yet as ever with such things they are either ‘genius’ or ‘Emperors New Clothes’ in the realm of the subjective. On balance, I agree with you.

    • Thankyou Mike. This one is something of a testing of the waters for me, as I say in my note just below to new subscribers here. I certainly make no claim to novelty with these thoughts, although it seems this idea of taking a more multi-disciplinary approach in attempts at getting to grips with consciousness is rather getting drowned out by the seeming fetishisation of cranialism. I do believe the contemplative adepts have much to offer the field, not least in this central idea of consciousness having a sort of substrate which itself is without content. Thankyou again for your interest and for offering a reflection – it all helps me to gauge what style works and what doesn’t.

      • To be first baffled, then made to think, is a rare thing I rather enjoy. Albeit drifting off theme, I have often contemplated consciousness (undefined, which probably takes the validity away from my train of thought) within the particle of time within which one, now dead, was then alive and kicking and what (hypothetically) a time-traveller would make of that person were he/she travelling back to the particle. Hardly philosophical thinking, I know, yet that’s me! Regardless, I enjoyed your post beyond measure.

        • We’re baffling each other here Mike! Are you talking about revisiting ourselves in the past? I can barely think of anything more horrendous, in my own case. I have a feeling I’m somewhat over-simplifying what you’re pointing to, so do please put me straight.

          • Forgive me, I am ‘crap’ at explaining myself. What I was trying to convey is that ‘if’ one could travel back in time one would find, at any given point in time, those who were alive at that specific point. Given that they are alive in their particle that means they (whether they, for just a moment, or for a full lifetime) would, and will, always be there. I knocked out a thing about this a while back:
            https://mikesteeden.wordpress.com/2014/11/12/the-particle-remains-2/

            In essence, should we ever succeed in backward time travel, then one and all from then and now are always alive. I haven’t taken drugs since the old king died by the way!

            • Aha, I see what you’re getting at, and shall visit your piece on the matter once I’ve worked through the backlog of comments here. You’re really on Mike at Self Aware Patterns terrain here: https://selfawarepatterns.com/ – you’ll spot him appearing below, ere too long. I have heard snippets about something called ‘retrocausality’ and which might at least touch on your subject: https://arxiv.org/abs/1510.06712

              “Some readers may raise a more global objection to retrocausality. Ordinarily, we think that the past is fixed while the future is open, or partly so. Doesn’t our freedom to affect the future depend on this openness? How could we affect what was already fixed? These are deep philosophical waters, but we don’t have to paddle out very far to see that we have some options. We can say that, according to the retrocausal proposal, quantum theory shows that the division between what is fixed and what is open doesn’t line up neatly with the distinction between past and future. Some of the past turns out to be open, too, in whatever sense the future is open.

              To understand what sense that is, we’d need to swim out a lot further. Is the openness ‘out there in the world’, or is it a matter of our own viewpoint as agents, making up our minds how to act? Fortunately, we don’t really need an answer: whatever works for the future will work for the past, too. Either way, the result will be that our naïve picture of time needs to be revised in the light of a new understanding of physics – a surprising conclusion, perhaps, but hardly a revolutionary one, more than a century after special relativity wrought its own changes on our understanding of space and time.”

              Source: https://aeon.co/essays/can-retrocausality-solve-the-puzzle-of-action-at-a-distance?

              I did also read an article somewhere or other which stated that theoretical physicists were working on why they couldn’t see the future, given that the future (i.e. all time) is pre-existent, according to current scientific theory. This is all way beyond my sphere of interest or knowledge Mike, you’ll not be surprised to hear, so I’d best leave it at that for now. I shall see you at your place ere long and perhaps get the beginnings of a grip on all this weirdness. Should I bring the Ayahuasca, or are supplies plentiful at your end?

  2. A note to new subscribers:

    The above piece is somewhat uncharacteristic of those which I normally offer here, being altogether drier and far lengthier than my more typically anecdotal offerings. In any case, your feedback would be welcomed, be it positive or otherwise. Many thanks; your interest is much appreciated.

  3. In this short video (c.15 mins.), Evan Thompson, Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia (ex-Toronto), discusses neurophenomenology, which brings neuroscience together with the perspective of first-person experience. Here, Thompson touches briefly on the nature of consciousness, the role of philosophy in appraising cognition, his work with Francisco Varela (the late Chilean Professor of Biology and Neuroscience), as well as his other collaborations among Western philosophers/phenomenologists, Buddhist contemplative scholars, neuroscientists, and others too within the field of consciousness studies. I like what he says and must read the book he co-authored with Varela: The Embodied Mind.

    https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/embodied-mind

        • You do know I just turned 93, so I predate hippies by some considerable margin young fella-me-lad! Besides, much more cheek from you and I’ll set Esme upon you and your prize dahlias; and you wouldn’t want that now, would you? 😡

          • Are you really 93 Hariod? When was the happy day? May I wish you a very happy, belated birthday? Best wishes. I hope all is well in that nursing home and there have been no more attempted escapes; although my guess is that you like to be caught . . .

            • Truth is, I lied about my age to get in here a few years ago; and now I’m not so sure. My birth certificate says I was born in 1898, but I’m hopeless at maths. Anyway, getting on a bit, but still pretty darned fit though, and I do like a night out on the town once or twice a week. So to hell with the bloody house rules, and if matron thinks I’ll not vault that razor-wired fence she’s had put up out there she’s another think coming, I can tell you!

              • That would make you 118 Hariod, if we are to go by your birth certificate. My mother, in her ultimate wisdom, once remarked that “habit is a cable you weave each day, so that it becomes so strong it is hard to break”. I very much suspect that the same can be said of lying, H, but as it’s you and you do it so well, I am going to overlook it, much as I suspect matron is doing with your night-time shenanigans. 🙂

                • Ah, 118 is it? Right, I’ll try to remember the fact; thankyou. As to my lying, then it’s definitely all in the past now. We cosmonauts lead quite an uneventful existence up here on the ISS. I tell you, Marie, the nothingness all around is quite something nothing to behold. I shall be passing over your house around midnight, so do look up at the sky and lend me a wave as I pass, my dear, will you? 🙂

  4. Dear Hariod,

    First, I am quite smitten with your thesis, and love the paradox you have presented to us. I agree completely with your assessment(s), and in particular think that it ought to be troubling to try and imagine an algorithmic process of consciousness able to produce the awareness you have described. For me it is the cognitive equivalent of asking a computer to divide by zero.

    Your discussion here reminded me somehow of my initial studies of A Course in Miracles, and the experience of what is described as peace therein. A friend had asked me to explain what I was experiencing, because it was obvious from our discussions that I was feeling something, but it was impossible to describe really. A sublime and objectless potency is one attempt. A lack of clinging or attaching to thoughts that have a weight to them, or that constantly nag for a response. You don’t even have to ignore them, or shoo them away. They’re simply not there yet. I think it is quite a profound awareness.

    A central theme in A Course in Miracles is a concept that is described as level confusion. This is when we get confused about the order of precedents in our process of cognition – though it doesn’t say it in precisely that way, I believe this is what is meant. To borrow some of your beautiful language, we mistake the mental proliferations as being the ‘content’ of us, the essential part of us, the ‘real’ part of us, when in fact nothing could be farther from the truth. When we make this mistake, then the state in which nothing is happening is abhorred. We’ve got the whole process of cause and effect, as manifested cognitively, upside down. In fact, the ‘real’ content is this state of nothing happening – this sublime peace, this potent awareness without which, nothing else may conceivably arise.

    I will just close by noting that the idea is also offered in ACIM that the content of who we are is unchanging. Not only does it exist in unity alone, but it is changeless. And I think this awareness you have described is very much like that. It isn’t itself changing, dashing around, different in one moment then the next, though the phenomena that follow from this unchanging foundation certainly acquire all sorts of ever-changing attributes in their movement into form and being.

    So yes, I can see it: the heart of the matter is that nothing is happening. And the sooner we discover this as the authentic condition or nature of our existence, the sooner we are able to put the ever-changing phenomena into the proper perspective, and begin to interact with them sans the weight of asking that they provide us with the permanency we seek, and already possess, but have misplaced into the phenomenal.

    With Love.

    Michael

    • Dear Michael,

      Thankyou for coming to my rescue with such conviction and not a little flair. I am expecting a lot of blank stares on this one – which may even be fitting! – or perhaps a deafening silence (equally so). I was, to some extent, led down this path of pondering a multi-disciplinary approach to grappling with consciousness by the late Zoltan Torey, a Hungarian clinical psychologist and philosopher of mind, and a man who led an extraordinarily eventful life. He kindly sent me a copy of his book and I have now read it very carefully twice. His take is essentially computationalist, but the fascinating insights as to how and why self-awareness – meaning the aware idea of us constituting a self – are quite wonderful in my view. His firm conviction was that a syncretic blend of biology, neurophysics, psychology and phenomenology were the means by which we come best to formulate a greater sophistication in our conceptions of mind/body problems. This theme was also taken up by the late Francisco Varela, who is mentioned in the video I posted above of Evan Thompson, whose views I think you may warm to in part.

      I am encouraged by your picking up on the idea of potency – an objectless potency – and it appears to chime with your own investigations and experiences as assisted by ACIM. I haven’t heard others use that precise term ‘potency’, but it is what strikes me as most fitting, it not being suggestive of featured phenomena, but something prior to that. The objection I have at times had thrown at me in response to this ‘objectless awareness’ concept is that in fact it is an experience of consciousness, though one with an extremely refined object such that it’s undetectable. That’s fine, and as I make clear in the piece, I’m not suggesting some different ontological category of awareness that stands apart from consciousness. Nonetheless, to term it ‘consciousness’ is misleading as there is no object of knowledge within it – it isn’t a conscious state carrying an object of ‘awareness’, or of ‘potency’, as a psychical representation, an image forged by the brain. I can’t convince detractors of that case, and we unavoidably come back to the business of first-person experience being necessary.

      The ACIM teaching appears to offer strong parallels with this changelessness, or ‘nothing happening’, state of affairs behind appearances, and that runs back to the writings of contemplative adepts of most traditions, I think, even those not specifically embracing a phenomenological philosophy. It always seems ironic that through phenomenology – through rigorous examination of lived experience – we may come to a point of there being no phenomenon at base. There again, I run up against readers (but not practitioners) of phenomenology who can’t buy into ‘no-phenomenon’, rather echoing the dictum of cognitive science: ‘no content, no consciousness’. So, here we see the importance of listening carefully to contemplative adepts to see if we must revise or abandon our base assumptions. And that is where philosophy excels, of course, in rigorously unearthing the right questions, and ensuring we don’t venture into them preloaded with half-answers in the form of presuppositions.

      In closing, I must express my deep gratitude for your interest, your reflections, and for the encouragement they give me as I progress along my own narrow path of understanding, Michael. To have such companionship along the way is indeed a blessing.

      Ever grateful, and with love,

      Hariod.

      https://mitpress.mit.edu/blog/memoriam-zoltan-torey

      • Hello Hariod,

        I do think the term ‘potency’ is very apt, and befitting the awareness you have sought to describe. I will look forward to following some of these links and sources, and was interested to see Varela’s name used, as I ran across it a number of years ago in the context of holonomic biology, and the idea of autopoiesis. It makes sense to me that his investigations into the nature of life itself would have included consciousness and the issues you’ve taken up here.

        I was reminded of another sentiment from A Course of Love – and I apologize for the continuous references, it is merely my ‘go to’ spiritual/philosophical work right now and I like to explore overlapping insights between things I’ve learned, and other places where they may appear in differing contexts – but anyway, there was a line that said it is not really possible to distinguish everything from nothing. The two are in some sense synonymous when you examine them carefully, and so creation necessarily requires the endless gradation of relatedness from which to form a palette for use in the production of phenomena. That is in a sense this autopoietic idea – this self-maintaining characteristic of the world, this ongoing exchange of phenomena and thought, each dissolving one into the next, but always linked by their unbreakable relatedness, for at the root is nothing at all. Or everything. I wasn’t sure how you’d take to the idea that the nothing happening was also the ‘everything’, but I think that relates to this idea of potency. It certainly seems related to the idea of being ‘maximally aware’.

        Lastly, another connection, this from Walter Russell’s book The Secret of Light, “Change is an illusion of the senses due to motion. There is no change whatsoever in the conscious universe of knowing.” I have always felt that potency related to this idea of ‘knowing’, but it would be an objectless knowing, a knowing of everything and nothing, in a sense.

        I think accepting this notion of ‘nothing happening’ being equatable to maximal awareness, and also to the notion that it cannot be explained in terms of physical neural correlates alone, comes down to a basic question each of us must answer: do I insist that my experience consists only of those objects of consciousness that I may look upon [e.g. those that are representable within a subject-object dualism] and may therefore be computed, reported by language (of whatever form) and thought about by me, or do I accept the validity of an awareness that is simply not available for study, as it cannot in fact be thought about except that one may return to it directly? And yet! In the moment of this direct return, it cannot be thought about, as to think about it is to step outside of it once again. If one accepts the possibility that such a state exists, and one acknowledges that one has been in it or known it, (or however one wishes to attempt to describe the recognition that one is not, not that), then I think one accepts existence itself, and if one accepts existence itself in this way, while recognizing that one does not exist quite the way one thought, even as one knows of this existence, it is not then possible to discern anything that does or does not exist in and of itself. And one realizes no amount of change can ever change this most basic ground of being.

        Peace.

        Michael

        • Wonderful Michael; you’re going deeply into matters related to my article and with perspectives that are fresh to me. If you will forgive me, I shall return to this tomorrow as it is currently close to 1.00 a.m. here and so time to retire for the night. See you tomorrow!

        • Hi Michael,

          Apologies for the delay in responding to you here further, my friend; I’ve had a few distractions and also readers’ incoming original comments have needed to be attended to.

          That’s interesting that you’ve come across Varela in the past, and I may write a post at some point in relation to his ideas on consciousness being a kind of Externalism, or Enactivism – that seems on first acquaintance to fit with Advaita Vedanta, and a worthy extension to what feels the rather narrow conception of Cranialism and this ‘everything happens in the head’ business. I like to dabble with others’ theories and conceptions of the conscious mind, and recall first reading Ted Honderich’s theory of Radical Externalism, feeling it seemed to chime once again with the Advaitan theme which is familiar to me in its conception.

          There’s no need at all to feel reluctance at making reference to ACIM here, although my impression is it’s more or less an American thing, so may not be recognised by others here. Anyway, on that, you refer to it “not really [being] possible to distinguish everything from nothing”. If one were to accept my conception of awareness as being prior to, or a kind of substrate of the conscious endogram, then that fits, because awareness isn’t a ‘thing’, and ‘nothing happens’ in it in the way that nothing is illumined by light except things other than the light itself. But if we look around the room it’s impossible to distinguish the no-thingness of light from the thingness of things. That said, then there is what Buddhists call the Formless Jhanas, the most refined of which could correctly be said to be no-thingness. Still, it isn’t ‘distinguished’ (per ACIM) in that it isn’t marked out as something ‘other than’; it isn’t a sense of seclusion or interiority, far from it.

          The words you go on to use in respect to that, and each phenomenon dissolving into thought in an ongoing relatedness, reminds me of the words of Theodor Stcherbatsky in his volume Buddhist Logic:

          “And at last, ascending to the ultimate plane of every philosophy, we discover that the difference between Sensibility and Understanding is again dialectical. They are essentially the negation of each the other; they mutually sublate one another and become merged in a Final Monism.”

          Your closing paragraph is a perfectly beautiful expression of understanding, and needs no elaboration for me in the least. I would commend it to readers here, to savour, without hesitation.

          Huge thanks to you, Michael, for rising to the challenge of this offering, and in going beyond it in understanding.

          Hariod

    • The heart of the matter is that nothing is happening.

      Mike, I wonder if nothing is happening, or perhaps, something is happening, but not to ‘me’. If the experiencer (me) is removed from the equation, is there any experience? This begins to move into a conceptual notion very quickly with the return of the experiencer. Very tricky stuff trying to explain all this. Perhaps not really possible to explain it?

      • Hi Jeff, I’m just checking to see if you’re addressing Michael, Mike, or on fact myself as author of the piece? Could you please confirm in case there is any confusion? Many thanks, Hariod Brawn.

        • My comment was addressed to both you and Mike, not the ACIM Michael, but the Mike who made the statement ‘the heart of the matter (etc.)’, and which I cannot find anymore! But, I can start over:

          How can one explain ‘nothing is happening’, or ‘nothing has ever happened’, as you hear in so called ‘non-dual speak’? My suggestion of substracting the experiencer (me) from the equation is the only likely scenario for this. But, if I am not present, then there is no experience being experienced. Something is still happening but there is no evaluator and therefore no identification with the happening.

          Further on, you make the comment that you have had this experience of ‘no experience’. How would you know this? And, how would no experience be an experience that you could recognize? Still with me, Hariod? I have to wonder if you’ve really experienced ‘non-experience’ or is this just your interpretation of a mental state that you think is similar to a Buddhist concept that is occurring in consciousness. I’m very curious to hear your reply. Thanks.

          • Hi Jeff,

            I think it best that I respond to this, as the ‘nothing happens’ conception is mine, not Mike’s. Still, you can find a detailed discussion along these lines continued at Mike’s place if you’re interested. Please note, though, that Mike does not ever concern himself with so-called Nondualism in the sense that I think you mean it.

            The state of TE awareness should be understood as a condition of meditative absorption, Jeff. You can read the study on it that I linked to at the base of the article. Similar, if not identical, states are documented in Buddhist psychology, and have been for hundreds of years, albeit couched there partially in quasi-religious cosmological terms.

            I don’t really know what you mean by ‘so-called non-dual speak’, but suspect you’re pointing at Neo-Advaitan authors and practitioners, and I have no time for all that. There’s an awful lot of nonsense spoken there, and a tendency for advocates to lapse into what I might call Transcendental Idealism – i.e. nothing exists other than as an appearance in consciousness. They’re not saying that the world is known solely in consciousness (obvious), but rather that only consciousness exists. In other words, their conception posits that the physical world is left behind, or transcended (as only ever having been a false belief), in the highest understanding. Ask such a person if the moon disappears when they draw the curtains at night, and suddenly their blank stares indicate they’re not quite so sure, after all.

            A genuine experience of non-duality, or Anatta (Buddhist non-self) does reveal that your ‘experiencer of experience’ is a psychical construct alone, a mind-made superimposition. Nonetheless, the senses continue to operate as they must in consciousness, and hence ‘things happen’ as an appearance within consciousness – the place where they always did ‘happen’ for us as apparent conscious subjects, or individuals. Your conception of “subtracting the experiencer (me) from the equation” changes nothing. Only the state of meditative absorption stills mentation such that for the individual ‘nothing happens’, and yet they remain highly aware. There being “no evaluator” has no affect upon conscious displays per se – eyes and mind still see, ears and mind still hear, etc. The subject-object dichotomy can dissolve, and with things still happening – that is precisely what an experience of non-self or non-duality is.

            As to how one knows of the experience of TE awareness (i.e. nothing happening) then I have covered that in my discussions with Mike here and at his place too. In brief once again, then one might conceive of it as awareness knowing itself as itself, rather than as an object known within itself, such as a mood or mental state, both of which are states of consciousness, not TE awareness. There is, loosely speaking, a sense of knowingness (but not objects known), or beingness and presence. Analogously, one might think of it as lucidity and lucency, but really only in contradistinction to visual darkness – a phenomenal object. Nothing happens, because there is no serial perceptual stream, as there is in consciousness. For things to ‘happen’, there needs to be phenomenal change in order to perceive the very happening, and TE awareness is when this knowing presence and lucency obtains fixedly.

            As to whether I’m imagining all this, then it’s a fair enough observation, though I do have some meditative experience – I practised formal meditation for between 4 and 8 hours a day over a period of some 25 years in the middle of my life. This was for the most part under the auspices of a Buddhist monastic setting, and certainly that was where I was tutored in formal practices before being able to stand on my own two feet and be ‘a lantern unto myself’, if you get the reference.

            Many thanks for your interest and engagement, Jeff.

            Hariod

            • Hariod, I think I have a good familiarity with what you are calling TE (Thoughtless Emptiness) and the way you describe your own experience of meditative absorption. But, who knows? 🙂 I did read the articles you linked to and found a lot of interesting stuff that I hadn’t conceptualized in the way it has been put forth. I also found some of the discussion at Mike’s website very illuminating, challenging me to look at all this in a different way than I normally do. Much of it fits with my own experience.

              Yes, my reference to ‘non-dual speak’ is exactly to the Neo-Advaitans and the traditional Advaitans who espouse a Consciousness=Absolute dogma. I lean much more to the Buddhist way of looking at things, which brings me to the point that I originally made about a ‘self-entity’, a ‘me’, who insists that it is experiencing everything. I wholeheartedly agree that the subtraction of this ‘entity’ changes nothing but how we view what continues to arise, its nature being thoughtless emptiness.

              I’m curious to know if your own ‘experience’ of this is ‘on again, off again’ as many Zen practitioners report of their ‘Kensho’ or ‘Satori’ moments of lucidity, only to be dissolved back into their habitual ways of looking at things. Does the light switch go on and off? If it does, are we perhaps fooling ourselves in believing that somehow this Thoughtless Emptiness [TE] is to be achieved 24/7, for eternity? Are we continuing to trap ourselves into subtler states of mind that give some comfort for a time, only to realize that we haven’t moved an inch?

              I hope you are getting my point, Hariod. We can fool ourselves in a myriad of ways in thinking we understand that which is not understandable. We want to uncover mysteries with a mind that is not capable of doing so. Consciousness is a conditioned dimension, conditioned by our past, personally and collectively. It seems to me that it is just an instrument of survival for the human being and its continuity. It can only deal with what it knows. If it encounters what it doesn’t know, it will create something it can relate to out of its own ‘reservoir’ of imagery and thought/memory. It constructs models and possibilities out of itself including hierarchies, absolutes, religions, and philosophies that have little to do with the way things are.

              Sorry for being so wordy. You are much better at verbalizing all this than I. Perhaps it is my lack of experience trying to do so and hope you will be patient with my attempt to do so and go along with me slowly in this dialog.

              Jeff

              • Many thanks Jeff, and I will come back in response later with your permission – possibly this evening but certainly within the next 24 hrs. Do please send me a link to your website in the meantime if you have one.

                • Hi Jeff,

                  I’m back again, and apologies for the delay. Anyway, to get to the point: I think there’s something of a misunderstanding of my words if you’re taking TE Awareness as being synonymous with a Satori experience – it definitely is not. A Satori experience is precisely that – an experience, and ‘things (appear to) happen’ within it. In other words, it is a state of consciousness, not pure awareness on its own. The misunderstanding, if it’s there, probably comes about due to my use of the word “emptiness”. In TE Awareness, then the state is empty (meaning devoid) of all conscious objects, all mentative displays. I used the phrase ‘Thoughtless Emptiness’ only because the study paper I linked to uses it. In Buddhist philosophy, and as you may well know, the term “emptiness” more generally connotes “empty of self”, meaning that all things (all phenomena) arise dependently upon other linked phenomena, and are not instantiated in isolation from them. In that sense they are empty of their own essence, because what they are in themselves is inextricably bound to the chain of causation, to other things, and cannot be fully understood in themselves without reference to other phenomena; nor can they subsist in themselves alone. To see anatta (non-self) is to see this interrelatedness very clearly, and for the mind to know that its conscious displays are each contiguous with a temporal otherness to itself, and can only ever be so. The assumed construct of the ‘self of me’, for example, can be seen to be a mentative stream, one which is related to inner convictions that it enduringly instantiates as some putative ‘self’ or ‘soul’ that of themselves we can never quite contact – because they simply do not exist.

                  Moving on now to the other part of your query, and how I conceive of this binary ‘on-off’ business. That applies to TE Awareness, and I made that analogy in reference to that alone. The meaning is that when mentation ceases, it is obvious insofar as nothing presents within awareness, and there are no conscious representations – such as percepts, thoughts, images, feelings, etc. It is, as I suggested, just as if awareness knew itself as itself. When this state is occurring, then it can be thought of as the 'on' state, and when consciousness supervenes, then it can be thought of as the 'off' state. There is no in-between state, no 'almost it' state. Coming back to what is behind your 'on/off' question, then my guess is that you're alluding to so-called 'enlightenment', and whether this (however conceived) can be a permanent state. Most typically, so-called 'enlightenment' is conceived by seekers as being the acquisition of a knowledge-object by a knowing subject. Or, we could say it's conceived as the absorption of a subject ('me') into an object ('enlightenment'), or perhaps its opposite – an object absorbed into a subject. That is because the mind has not yet seen its erroneous (and mind-created) conception of the subject-object dichotomy, and so can only conceive in that way. Enlightenment is seen as ontologically 'other', some state that stands 'beyond me', but which may be accessible 'by or to me'. This means the seeker both creates and perpetuates their own trap. Huge benefits accrue during and as a result of the search, but until the seeker-entity dissolves, and along with it all seeking, then for just so long does the trap persist. I think it best to leave it there, and see if you would like to respond or reject anything yet said.

                  With all best wishes and gratitude to you for your interest,

                  Hariod.

                  • Hariod,

                    Thanks for the reply. For me, it’s quite difficult to follow your verbose explanations about all of this as most of it seems to be based on your background and belief of and in monastic Buddhism. What I see is your ‘acceptance’ of Buddhist psychology and how you’ve made it your own view and have incorporated a meditative ‘ladder’ of states of mind that can happen through inner practices. That’s fair enough, as all of us have only our backgrounds to draw any cosmological model or simulation of how we see our phenomenal world. What I don’t see from your writing is any kind of resolution of the dichotomy of the self sense other than in your mentation ‘about it’. This is what I was referring to when I mentioned the on/off switch. We have this experience of emptiness, vastness, spaciousness in which all things arise and are not dichotomized in their flow (non-duality), yet in the next instance, that switch is turned off again and we are back sitting on our zafu with very little that has changed but for a very unusual experience of emptiness. This sequence of events seems to repeat itself endlessly.

                    You call the cessation of this, Enlightenment. Okay. For me, I see ‘value’ in this, enlightenment, as opposed to the emptiness and other intuitive, deep experiences that one could have but inevitably don’t last, making them part of an ever widening menu of forms of seeking to be free from this mundane life that we live. Isn’t this part of your experience, Hariod? Isn’t there some kind of movement in all of us that wants to escape/change what is right in front of us and that stalks us like a shadow no matter what one thinks or experiences? Even the idea of enlightenment is part of this movement.

                    When I observe all of this, there is a powerful, energetic sense of being that is not apart from me, nor me, that is present. It is not localized in my mind or body but felt everywhere but seemingly centered in my gut. In spite of this overwhelming sense of presence, which is a kind of unity of mind/body, the sense of self still persists. No experience or effort has ever touched this sense of me. Philosophically, we can invent anything we like to explain what this sense of me is all about and how to ‘go beyond’ it. But, they don’t work, they just give you hope and that is what continues to drive the carriage. Being present to all of this does give you insight and ‘benefits’ that help your neurotic burden lighten up and stop you from seeking that which is not helpful and healthy. However, it does not touch that sense of self deep in the core of your being. Is this why man has invented the gods to intervene and help him be free of himself?

                    • Thanks Jeff. I’m going to respond to this in a new thread as we’re several nested layers deep already and it’s all becoming visually very narrow on most displays. If you can check in here towards the bottom of the comments in a couple of hours there’ll be something there.

  5. Smiles to you, wise Hariod! At first, this notion of nothingness upon full awareness did, well, nothing at all to my curious consciousness. While attempts to isolate consciousness’s existence from the rest of this form & formation were met with kicking & meditative screaming, it was, somehow in the letting go of whatever this all means, in theory or practice, that a simple experience of content nothingness illumined, according to this cat’s scan. 🙂

    • Thankyou for the smiles, sagacious David, and I’m pleased to hear my radioactivity was received in harmlessness. I think you’ve nailed it in mentioning these ‘attempts’ you made, and how they seldom produce much but mere thought entanglements. How to stop thinking about stopping thinking whilst not stopping the thinking with unstopped thoughts? o_O

  6. Hariod, as always a thought provoking post. Let me admit right up that I may not be understanding what you’re driving at here. But a few questions:

    Have you ever felt like you were in this state of maximal awareness with no “with knowledge” state? If so, what was your awareness aware of? Or was it aware of its own lack of awareness? Or am I being too literal with the word “awareness”? Is there a limitation of language here?

    “No matter the sophistication and accuracy of our scientific representations of consciousness, of themselves they can never produce anything other than a reflected and partial understanding, one sufficient for our advancement in many spheres, but in others paling against consciousness’ full realisation of itself, as itself, rather than as an image of itself.”

    My question here is, how sure can we be that consciousness’ full realization of itself is accurate and something that we should privilege? We know consciousness can have inaccurate models of the world. What prevents it from having inaccurate models of itself? And if those models present us with something scientifically unverifiable, how much should we trust them?

    • Thankyou very much Mike, and I’m appreciative of your appearance here, not least as I mentioned you and your fine site to another ‘Mike’ at the top of the comments. Anyway, your two queries:

      Yes, I have experienced this non-experience, and I linked to an article below my piece which may or may not be of interest. From that: “TE (thoughtless emptiness) expressed decreased alpha and beta amplitudes, mainly in parietal areas (p < 0.01). TE presented significantly less delta (p < 0.001) and theta (p < 0.05) waves than a wakeful closed eyes resting condition." So, naturally enough, there are measurable correlations with brain activity. I think your question envisages my conception of awareness as a sort of refined state of consciousness. I don’t think that’s appropriate because there is no knowledge, no being ‘with knowledge’ – ‘con scientia’. Awareness (as I conceive of it here), or maximal awareness, isn’t a dualistic conception as consciousness is. For consciousness, there is the knowing, and there is the object known. For awareness, there is neither, save that it is aware of itself. We have to be careful here, because in saying ‘aware of’ it immediately evokes that same dualistic conception I’m trying to avoid. That is why in the piece above I mentioned it (awareness) is not ‘aware of consciousness’. It is fair enough to lump all this into the ‘consciousness’ basket, but it perhaps is vaguely analogous to persisting in calling the empty bottle of wine which has had the label removed any sort of ‘bottle of wine’. There’s no wine in the state of affairs, and in maximal awareness there’s no being with knowledge. There’s no ontological/objective distinction between the two traits of the one existent, but I want to acknowledge what it seems most of cognitive science doesn’t, which is to say there is a state of lucidity with is devoid of content. You’re right, language is definitely a problem here, and we soon get into how do we know that we were maximally aware when there was no knowledge at the time? Here, I talk (however unhelpfully) about awareness ‘knowing itself as itself, rather than as an object representing itself, or as an image of itself’ – which would be consciousness of an object. So, when you ask “what was your awareness aware of? Or was it aware of its own lack of awareness?”, then those are both dualistic presuppositions by virtue of the ‘aware of’ phraseology. In my conception, only consciousness is ‘conscious of’ objects.

      Your second query, which I have partially addressed already, touches on the validity of such a conception, and whether it mistakenly reifies ‘thoughtless emptiness’, ‘maximal awareness’, ‘objectless awareness’, ‘nothingness’ – call it what we will. I think we should, and must, account for such states somehow, if only as particularised forms of consciousness, and ones which hold no content and have no object which it itself has ‘knowledge of’. You see why I want to call such states something other than ‘consciousness’, by virtue of their absence of knowledge, and also by virtue of their not being susceptible to memory? I think it’s true to say that all objects of consciousness – all instances of being with knowledge of a phenomenon – are susceptible to memory. In contrast, objectless awareness is not. At best we can say it knew it knew itself, and now consciousness knows that it knew it knew itself (but now the whole knowing is an object). If this objectless awareness is, to use your words, ‘an inaccurate model’, then one would think it would be susceptible to memory given that all other states of consciousness are. This would be the one exception, and by dint of that alone marks it out as needing accounting for. Besides, what is there to be inaccurate about in something that is completely devoid of features? Finally, then as regards the scientific verification, as I suggest in the piece, I think we need to account for this state within cognitive science and escape the error of ‘no content, no consciousness’. And again, it would seem steps are being made to look at this (non)phenomenon, and I point back to the link I left at the end of the article as an example of such.

      I do appreciate that this is controversial, Mike, or could certainly appear as such if we believe consciousness must necessarily be a configuration of a knowing subject being with knowledge of an object – and that is indeed what consciousness means. How then, to account for what is being discussed? It seems one way may be to mark out and designate a trait of consciousness that is ubiquitously overlooked, namely ‘awareness’, or ‘pure lucidity’, or its ‘illuminative aspect’, or somesuch. Either that, or accept that consciousness can exist without content, which seems altogether anomalous or a contradiction in terms.

      • Hariod, I’m always grateful for the mentions of my site to your many readers. Thanks!

        The fact that this mental state is associated with a measurable change in brain waves, particularly in the parietal region, is very interesting. I think maybe it gives me an idea of what might be happening. (Although a thorough reading of that article may shoot this idea down.)

        What we call consciousness, I’m beginning to think, is our brain running simulations. The simulations could be recreations of past events (i.e. recalling episodic memories) or evaluating possible actions. This is likely initiated by the prefrontal cortex, but it utilizes the parietal lobe and sensory processing centers “from behind” or from a direction opposite of the sensory input streams. We generally do these simulations constantly while we’re awake.

        This “thoughtless emptiness” might effectively be putting this simulation engine into a low processing state, where the simulations usually involving sensory subsystems are replaced with a simulation of visual darkness, auditory quietness, and other low sensory stimulation, in other words, simulating emptiness, essentially equivalent to emptiness itself for all intents and purposes.

        If I’m right that consciousness is the brain doing simulations, then whether the emptiness counts as a state of consciousness depends on what you think is actually happening. If the above is accurate, it’s still consciousness, albeit an unusual state thereof. If the emptiness actually is silencing of the simulation engine, then it wouldn’t be. But I think silencing the simulation engine would likely require putting the relevant parts of the brain in a deep sleep like state, with theta waves being prominent, but it doesn’t sound like that’s what’s happening.

        So that’s my speculation. An interesting topic. I do have one question. When you use the word “dualistic” in this context, what are the two sides of the dualism? Just want to make sure I’m understanding.

        • Thankyou so much Mike. Firstly, to answer that closing question, my comment reference to a dualistic state was this: “For consciousness, there is the knowing, and there is the object known. For awareness, there is neither, save that it is aware of itself. We have to be careful here, because in saying ‘aware of’ it immediately evokes that same dualistic conception I’m trying to avoid. That is why in the piece above I mentioned it (awareness) is not ‘aware of consciousness’.” I suspect you queried this in case I was positing a ‘thing’ called awareness which was possessed of illuminative qualities and which stood apart from consciousness à la Substance Dualism.

          That was not my meaning, and I was concerned in writing the post itself not to convey that idea, whilst keeping things reasonably concise. From where I currently stand – with much learning to do – I’m hesitant to narrow things down to a mind/body dichotomy and gravitate to setting consciousness within that paradigm. I like the ideas of Enactivism, and of Honderich’s Radical Externalism, without being fully subscribed, and I’m hesitant as regards Cranialism. From a first-person perspective, then I’m a Monist in the sense that (what I’m calling) awareness is the ground of my entire lived experience, and I’m ‘conscious of’, though not ‘aware of’ holding that perspective.

          My conviction here comes (I think) from decades of Buddhistic phenomenological investigations which resulted in experiences when the subject/object dichotomy fell away for periods and this ‘maximal awareness’ ran alongside, or rather overarched, the conscious endogram, or meta-level representation. So, that is something different to what I wrote of within the article, and which I described as a non-perceptual state of mental pellucidity alone, and the Monistic conviction is as regards this overarching awareness – albeit however predominantly occluded by the conscious endogram most of the time.

          As this ‘state’, then as I said, the subject/object dichotomy falls away in the sense that one normally takes it as Naïve Realism. Consciousness continues to (re)present phenomena of course, spatially referencing them against themselves and the apparent subject of ‘me’, but all this is seen as the mental construct that it is, as if consciousness saw for itself that it was constructing a fitting representation of the world, and which it is. Crucially though, in or as this ‘state’, what I’m calling ‘awareness’ knows itself, knows its own presence, and so by default (implicitly) knows that it is not localised, is not radiating as a ‘thing’ from me to the tree and back again carried along in, on, or as photons, or whatever. The loose sense of it is that it is as much of the tree as it is of me. That takes us back to ideas like Enactivism and Radical Externalism, and also my first-person Monistic conviction.

          Your analysis of what may be causing or correlative (note the hedge) of TE is greatly appreciated and superb to read – many thanks indeed. The idea of TE as a simulation intuitively feels right given that (I agree) consciousness is some sort of simulation – an endogram, a meta-level representation. I think ‘simulation’ is perhaps slightly misleading as quite often we apprehend what we expect to apprehend, not what the pure senses themselves convey as a series of datum – but here I’m quibbling over a word, and ‘simulation’ is surely fair enough in a broad sense.

          Running with this ‘simulation’ notion, then if TE is such, why can it not be represented and recalled as a memory or percept? As your “simulation of visual darkness, auditory quietness, [etc.]” ought it not behave and be susceptible to memory in the manner that all(?) states of consciousness are? If memory itself is a simulation of a simulation, then what prevents the simulation of TE from being simulated? The obvious(?) answer is that it is – as I’ve stressed – devoid of all characteristics or aboutness. There is nothing it is like, to paraphrase and upturn Nagel’s trope.

          Perhaps we would be forced to say that consciousness is simulating unconsciousness, or rather it is simulating something, but not consciousness, and that is rather sticky terrain. It suggests consciousness can simulate a state (TE) outside of its seeming ambit and remit, one which is devoid of knowing, devoid of an object apprehended, devoid of access to and by memory function, and devoid of consciousness’ usual dualistic characteristics (in the sense I have relayed to you, of knowledge and object known). But let’s accept all that and say it’s still consciousness. Does that not invite the very reappraisal I’ve pointed at in that TE has to be accountable within any theory of consciousness, and as such we must throw out the dictum ‘no content, no consciousness’, together with Nagle’s trope of there always being ‘something it is like’ to be conscious?

          If, on the other hand, and as you suggest as a possibility, TE is a silencing of the simulation engine, then how are we to account for it not being a state of consciousness (here, by your lights, and mine in any case) whilst not being a state of deep sleep (as I stated in the piece)? It would need another designation, one which perhaps conveyed an underlying quality or trait of consciousness, yet which was not of itself consciousness.

          I think we’re hitting here on the theme of my post, which is to say, are we setting consciousness within too narrow a paradigm, too narrow a set of requirements for sufficiency? We’ve discussed in the past how it seems perplexing that some theorists insist on consciousness being dependent upon, or entirely subsisting in, both language and symbol manipulation. Given that we can measure neural correlates for TE, and given no end of adepts readily (or available to) attesting as introspective witnesses to it, then it would seem we need to explain how consciousness is able simulate a state of non-consciousness, or of (what I’m calling) awareness – a non-dualistic state of there being no knowledge and no object apprehended. This is why I like what I’m beginning to hear from Neurophenomenology and Enactivism, insofar as they seem to give breathing space outside of pure Cranialism – and what with me being a bit of a Buddhist and all that. 😉

          Thankyou Mike, for your ever erudite contribution. It is an honour to have you participate here, and you continue to provoke new thought within me as you always have. Please feel free to come back at me on any of the above, correcting as you wish, and forgive me if it seems to be couched in a Devil’s Advocate manner. I certainly don’t object to anything you’ve stated or posited, but there remain open questions, it seems, and as ever, in this sphere.

          With much gratitude, Hariod.

          • Thanks Hariod. I wasn’t sure if you were talking about Substance Dualism or another type, particularly given your distinction between knowledge of a thing and the thing itself, which seems like perhaps a different kind of Dualism.

            On things like Enactivism, Externalism, and Cranialism, I think they’re all right, from a certain perspective. Minds are nexuses of inputs and outputs, so drawing a boundary and saying everything inside this boundary is mind, and everything outside is not, seems artificial. One way of looking at this is what can we remove from the equation and still have a mind. Well, if we remove what’s inside the cranium, there is no mind, so in that sense, Cranialism (assuming I’m understanding this word correctly) is right. But if a brain was grown in utter isolation from the outside world (if that was even possible), it’s not clear to me that the resulting system would be anything like a mind as we understand it, giving weight to Enactivism and Externalism.

            “Running with this ‘simulation’ notion, then if TE is such, why can it not be represented and recalled as a memory or percept?”

            Since I’ve never myself experienced this state (except possibly in a condition of extreme fatigue, which may not be the same thing) I have to ask this question: If TE cannot be remembered, then how are we discussing it? There must be something about it which can be registered in memory. Do you maybe mean that you can’t recreate it on the fly?

            “If memory itself is a simulation of a simulation, then what prevents the simulation of TE from being simulated?”

            I actually do not think memory is a simulation of a simulation, but a new simulation that is a reconstruction, an imagining, of a past event, driven from limited semantic data we have for that event. That’s why memory is so fallible. Memory as a recording of the past is an illusion – and I don’t throw the word “illusion” around lightly. That’s not to say simulations of simulations don’t happen. We’re both doing it so as to have this conversation.

            As to whether this mental state is a conscious one, I think we always have to remember how imprecise the word ‘consciousness’ is. I don’t think there is any fact of the matter on what is included in it or excluded from it. In my mind, it refers to a vast array of information processing functionality, with a lot of stuff in the disputed border zones.

            As always, I enjoy conversing with you Hariod. We come at these things from different angles, which I think makes the discussion more productive than two people with the same framework agreeing with each other.

            • Excellent stuff, Mike, for which many thanks once again. It seems fitting to take your last point first once gain, wherein you mention coming at things from different angles. I was reminded of when I used to play tennis, and was coached by an ex-pro. She told me I should always try to play against those who were better than me if I wanted to improve, saying also that I’d lose a lot, but I’d end up a better player. Having the chance to rally with a superior intellect such as yours, and one learned in areas barely touched upon by myself, I’m hoping may produce similar effects.

              I think we’d both agree that consciousness is dualistic in the sense of it being at once both knowledge and object of that knowledge. Maybe ‘dichotomous’ would be a more apt term?

              “If TE cannot be remembered, then how are we discussing it?”

              The answer is as I’ve said, though not in specific reference to this question. TE is (or can be conceived as) awareness knowing itself, as itself, rather than as a (re)presentation of itself – an image of itself, which would be a conscious, reflected and marginally time-shifted image. There’s (what seems, but who knows?) a real-time, pre-perceptual knowing, but because that knowing is featureless (not a percept or stream of percepts) it is not susceptible to memory, which seems only fit to record (i.e. make new imaging of) prior conscious objects. Post hoc we can say that we know now (in consciousness) that there was ‘just then’ a knowing of a kind, and that there was not ‘just then’ sleep. We can also, post hoc, reflect that that knowing had a sense of presence to it, or beingness to it, or pellucidity to it, insofar as they are hallmarks of any non-sleep from of knowing, including the knowing of current consciousness and the knowing of consciousness past.

              Mike – something’s just cropped up and I have to dash, so will return to the remainder of the response later this evening. Feel free to react to the above in the meantime if you wish.

              • Thanks Hariod. I don’t know about that superior intellect thing. If you knew me in person, you’d likely be underwhelmed by how much I sometimes struggle with day to day tasks that everyone else handles with ease. Mostly, we talk about stuff I’ve invested a lot of thought on, which might give a false impression.

                “awareness knowing itself, as itself, rather than as a (re)presentation of itself”

                Here, I think, we may disagree. It’s not clear to me that it’s possible to know anything without having an image, a representation, a model of that thing that is in some effective manner isomorphic with the reality. Normally we talk in terms of sensory images, since the only way we know of external objects is through sensory input.

                But the brain has no sensory neurons inside itself. Those are all in the retina or peripheral nervous system. The brain evolved to be the perceiver, not the perceived. So our theory of mind, which we often use to build models of other conscious systems (real or imagined), gets oriented toward ourselves. This is effectively a model of our self (the mental self, not the body self). It’s tempting to think this model is built on privileged access of some kind, but the split-brain patient experiments seem to show that this simply isn’t true. The model is built on sensory information, just like all the others.

                It’s easy to buy into the illusion of some privileged access because we have more sensory access to ourselves than we do to anyone else, and certainly more access to ourselves than anyone else does to us. But even with that, we have profound blind spots. Think how often someone is blind to some aspects of their own personality that are obvious to friends and family.

                All of which is to say, it’s not at all clear to me that consciousness can know itself in the manner you suggest. The intuition that we do is extremely powerful and seems blindingly self evident. But the scientific data doesn’t seem to support that intuition. Our strong sense that it is true may be a flaw in the model, but the model is all we have access to.

                • I’m back. Apologies about that – a temporary issue with oil supplies for my domestic heating, in fact, and it’s currently -3c here on the Somerset Levels, so I had to get it sorted straight away. Global warming my arse. 😉

                  Anyhow, I take what you’re saying and am not sure if I see quite the same degree of conflict between the two means of expressing this. I feel I ought reiterate what I said: “TE is (or can be conceived as) awareness knowing itself, as itself, rather than as a (re)presentation of itself – an image of itself, which would be a conscious, reflected and marginally time-shifted image.” This is redolent of the idea of Pure Perception, which conceit is the original percept prior to its strengthening and firm establishment due to (re)presentation. We tend to think of the appearance of a percept as an original event, but I would suggest it is in fact the evocation of a memory – a re-imaging (and most times a variant) of the pure and weak original percept that only can establish itself in and as the conscious endogram through reiteration and memory function. They are both dependent upon awareness and sense detection, but only the latter evoked memory manifests as the conscious endogram – a knowing and an object known of. I suspect there you would prefer to substitute ‘attention’ for ‘awareness’, Mike, but it’s not clear to me what attention without a guiding awareness would be. The suggestion here is that knowledge may obtain prior to the conscious endogram, meaning without a model (a meta-level representation) being apprehended. If that is so, then (what I call) awareness can obtain prior to consciousness.

                  We both would readily acknowledge we don’t know what consciousness is, only what we (others) have learned about correlates and functional processes which are reasonably assumed to give to rise to it – yes, Roger Sperry et al. But what is the ‘knowing’ that is indisputably a part of it? Is it only and ever an internalised model constructed from sense data, or is there, as appears to be so in (TE) experience, in effect a substrate to consciousness upon which the models are developed? We can call that substrate ‘consciousness’, by all means, and I’ve at no point suggested any ‘thing’ apart from it, only describing this TE awareness analogously as an illuminative trait of consciousness itself, one in which the modelling of objects/phenomena is absent. The phenomena just are not there, and to argue (not that you are) that they are there but that they are so subtle they seem not be, is surely to make a nonsense of the whole idea of phenomena?

                  Bottom line: how do these models, which you suggest are necessary for both consciousness and (what I call) awareness, know of themselves? If we can’t answer that, then why reject what seems apparent as a substrate in which only the knowing (for want of a better term), but no attendant distinguishing features, persists? To make that more palatable, are you happy to entertain a mode of consciousness in which consciousness models only a knowing/presence but which within that is devoid of features (i.e. is not ‘like’ anything) and so for that reason isn’t susceptible to memory function? I’m not sure why that’s so problematical, Mike, which is why I don’t see such a great gap between our two means of expressing the whole affair, or why there’s anything to reject in what I’ve said. You may say that the knowing/presence is the model, but that would not account for why no one can simulate the model in and as memory or percept. If it is a model, why isn’t it behaving like all other models do?

                  I’m not clear on what you mean by ‘privileged access’, and whether you mean it in the negative sense of knowledge unsupported by evidence, or that you mean having access to knowledge which itself is generated internally, without input from the external world? I realise the brain can’t perceive itself, but I do regard it as a sensory organ in that it can, without external input from the physical senses, generate stuff. Is that incorrect or can the brain in fact think for itself, so to speak, albeit drawing on and remodelling/morphing, past conceptions, imagery, etc.? I suppose that’s a subtler question than it at first seems, as we must call into question the idea of mental feeling, given that feeling is a ubiquitous component of consciousness – it seems you would argue there can be no such thing as mental feeling? Anyway, you may be referring to privileged access in the negative sense. There, I would say the only evidence one can ever possibly have is one’s own; and yes, I am fully accepting of the unreliable witness problem as regards introspection. For that reason, I don’t think discussion on privileged access is going to be fruitful, if on the basis that you mean it in the negatively characterised sense.

                  Finally, I realise I haven’t gotten back to you on the idea of memory as a simulation – whether it be a simulation of a simulation or, as you suggest, an entirely new simulation. I’m not sure if I see the difference, Mike. A simulation of a simulation is a new simulation, of course. You say memory is “a new simulation that is a reconstruction, an imagining, of a past event, driven from limited semantic data we have for that event.”, but clearly that past event itself was a conscious event, and by your own lights that was therefore a simulation, no? You said above: “What we call consciousness, I’m beginning to think, is our brain running simulations. The simulations could be recreations of past events . . .”

                  Thanks for hanging in there with me as I grope my way along all this my friend; your forbearance is admirable indeed!

                  • No worries Hariod. We all do this internet conversation thing in the cracks between life in the real world. Obviously, given my delayed response, I hit my own distractions yesterday. Hope you’re remaining warm. I don’t think I would do well at your latitude. (Our temperatures here are currently ranging between 4-16c and that’s chilly enough for me.)

                    “I suspect there you would prefer to substitute ‘attention’ for ‘awareness’, Mike, but it’s not clear to me what attention without a guiding awareness would be.”

                    I’m actually less enamored of the distinction between attention and awareness than I used to be. Per Graziano’s attention schema theory, I used to think awareness was a model of attention, but I’m far less sure of that now. So, no particular argument from me on the distinction. I do suspect that there are levels of awareness/attention happening in different regions of the brain, although maybe what happens in the brain stem might better be referred to as ‘proto-awareness’, and the cerebral awareness may include a model of the lower level version(s).

                    “The phenomena just are not there, and to argue (not that you are) that they are there but that they are so subtle they seem not be, is surely to make a nonsense of the whole idea of phenomena?”

                    I wouldn’t argue with any certitude that they aren’t there. I’m open to there being some kind of mental state that isn’t processing sensory information. At the same time, it seems like the subjective experience you describe could also be explained by sensory information still being there, just blanked out (darkness for vision, quiet for auditory, etc), and that your interpretation of that state is one of emptiness. Subjectively, can you be any more sure of the former than the latter?

                    “Bottom line: how do these models, which you suggest are necessary for both consciousness and (what I call) awareness, know of themselves?”

                    How can person A know anything about person B’s awareness? By observation of behavior. The most radical proposal is that person A only knows about their own awareness by observation of their own behavior. I’m not sure I’m completely there, but Sperry’s results seem to indicate that we can function that way.

                    “You may say that the knowing/presence is the model, but that would not account for why no one can simulate the model in and as memory or percept.”

                    The other day, you and I discussed how limited the human sense of smell is. I actually have a hard time remembering an actual smell. I can remember the effect it has on me, but not the raw experience itself. Is it possible that the same thing is happening with the state you described? You seem to know it happened and its effect on you, but can’t recall the actual experience itself.

                    By “privileged access”, I just meant some internal mechanism to monitor our internal mental state aside and apart from what we can gather from sensory streams. We certainly seem to have at least some form of that. For example, I know whether I find a particular sight pleasurable or noxious. But those reactions are limbic and outside of the awareness engine. And Damasio raises the possibility that we only become aware of them through their effects on the body (heart rate, gut feel, muscle tension, etc), although not sure how much I buy that. Can the awareness engine be aware of its own internal states? It seems like it can, and yet we have the Sperry results.

                    On the simulation of simulation thing, I can see your point. I think the main point I was trying to make is that memory isn’t a recording, but a reconstruction, an imagining of past sensory experiences. The new simulation doesn’t have access to the ‘log’ of the previous simulation, just pieces of semantic data it can use to create a new one.

                    Thank you for putting up with my explorations on this. I’m not questioning any of your phenomenal experience, just exploring what the brain may actually be doing during it.

                    • Thankyou Mike, you’ve been so wonderfully generous of your time, as well as in sharing your thoughts, and you’ve more than lived up to my hopes that I might have some rigorous testing of the notional ideas put forward within the piece. That has been tremendously helpful, and I know for certain that others here have followed your thoughts very closely and similarly found them helpful. In gratitude, Hariod.

  7. My goodness, Hariod, your thoughts and words do run deep. I admit I read this over twice, then skimmed over it several more times, and still I am not grasping it – in part because I don’t know half of the vocabulary you used and I am too lazy to look them up. However, it’s such an interesting, thought-provoking subject, I couldn’t just ignore it. I’ve been sitting here for half and hour thinking about this, and then trying not to think about it, but instead feel how I feel about it.

    This is what I’ve come up with: To me, consciousness is awareness, of self and others, of existing – sort of an awakening to the physical/sensing world. Awareness, even though it’s part of consciousness, does not include consciousness in and of itself. When I think of awareness, I think of it as a knowing (not knowledge) that arises within, almost like it’s planted there suddenly by an unseen force, a gift from beyond that seems to stop time in that instant we become aware. Then it goes away, and we’re left wondering where it came from, where it went, and if it was real, even though we know fundamentally (or intuitively) that it is (or was).

    I guess what I’m saying is that I think consciousness comes from the brain/mind and awareness comes either from the soul/spirit or someplace outside of us, though it can infiltrate consciousness. Consciousness can be manipulated (like when we meditate) whereas awareness simply exists. Does any of this make sense, or do I sound like a loon?

    • Dear Kim,

      Firstly, I must apologise for the delay in responding to your very detailed, gracious and most perceptive comment; I have something of a backlog of comments to work through and have only so much time for attending to the site here. It is very obvious that you have read my meanderings here with great care and patience, and that is truly gratifying for me. It also is greatly encouraging, I must say. Secondly, I want to thank you for visiting, and I must confess to feeling a little concerned that you have arrived here for the first time when I happen to be posting an untypically lengthy and dryly prosaic piece. Rest assured the going is not normally so hard, and my posts typically are far more anecdotal, and, dare I say, interesting to read – at least, that is the intent. I only post here once every couple of months, and so if I fail to match up to my declared intentions, then you will be disappointed only infrequently. At least it seems I have not scared you off altogether!

      So, to your wonderful reflections: I am pleased you find the matter of consciousness an interesting subject, and it appears your unfamiliarity with some of the terms used has far from placed obstacles in the way of your grasping what I am getting at. It has to be borne in mind that in this sphere, our use of language can so easily trip us up, and one woman’s ‘consciousness’ is another one’s ‘mind’, is yet another one’s ‘awareness’, and is a fourth’s ‘cognition’, etc.

      The words you use to delineate such things very much echo my own, in that consciousness is what we take to be the arising of the world (including ourselves within it). This is, of course, not to say that the world is made of consciousness, but rather that the way we know the world is forever, and can only be, conveyed to us by consciousness – and that consciousness is (at least very largely) a function of the brain and nervous system.

      Safe to say, without the brain and nervous system, consciousness would not arise for such a hypothetical individual. That said, then without an external world and our own body as part of that external world, then similarly consciousness would not arise. I see it as an interrelation of the two, in fact, so would not sit squarely in the Cranialist camp wherein all consciousness is nothing but neurons firing in response to sensory contacts, and consciousness somehow is a brain-bound property. I think that is a tad limited in conception, to be frank, and I know you do not subscribe to that view either, from what you say.

      Similarly to you, I see awareness as a sort of a priori precursor or substrate of consciousness, and I do so given that consciousness means ‘being with knowledge’. In other words, consciousness always has two aspects: the knowing and the object known – these two together present as what we call a phenomenon, which is something apprehended by the mind.

      I use the word ‘awareness’, as I said, for the illuminative or knowing aspect of consciousness, and which itself is featureless, or objectless, unlike consciousness which always has an object which is known.

      I do not incline to thinking of awareness as being located, so we may differ slightly there, but then again no one can be sure who is right and who is wrong within all this, and my discussion with Mike at Self Aware Patterns here is a good example of how two people who have studied the matter quite deeply still may find points of disagreement, and even quite fundamental ones, too.

      Some within Philosophy of Mind even reject the idea of consciousness altogether, which for me is a step too far. I think consciousness is self-evident as its own category, and am disinclined to pay heed to it being no more than entirely synonymous with neurons firing and synapses having chemicals and electrical signals shuffling around within them.

      I think you have hit the nail on the head when you say: “Consciousness can be manipulated (like when we meditate) whereas awareness simply exists.” That seems a perfectly clear way of conveying what I have so laboriously attempted to do in 1,200 words! Will you be my editor, Kim? 😉

      With much gratitude once again for your interest and the patient way you have worked through to the essence of what I attempted to convey here. And once again, I do promise to be a little more entertaining – not quite the right word – when I next post in February at some point.

      Hariod

      • No need to apologize for the delay, Hariod. I enjoyed being mentally and intellectually challenged by your post. Abstract has always been hard for me, being a concrete sort of thinker, and it’s not often anymore that I am forced to really think, so thank you for that.

        • I know the feeling, Kim, and some of the commenters here have me on my toes thinking, for sure. Many thanks once again for visiting, as well as for showing such interest and willingness to share your perspective. 🙂

  8. Wow! I suspect you have created a dynamo of thought and response. As you say, this ‘nothing happens’ has been tackled before, including a statement by Bilbo Baggins, who is not known for his philosophic approach to life. He termed this as ‘delicious boredom’, which is as adequate as most explanatory remarks. I am also reminded of the painting of Confuscious, Buddha and Lao Tsu, at the vinegar barrel. Since, as you know, I lean more toward the Taoist maxim of continuously returning to center, I shall read this after my evening ablutions and, possibly, have a more intelligent comment, for I will think within my limited capacity, without attachment. An interesting thought, Hariod. 🙂

    • Dear Robert,

      Thankyou very much for navigating this awkward terrain with me, and for both of your reflections thereupon, the first of which, namely this, I shall make a quick response to now.

      I hope to convey the notion that consciousness has a substrate, and which I am calling ‘awareness’ given that this substrate does not hold, nor itself deal in, nor constitute, knowledge; and consciousness – with is ‘being with knowledge’ – is therefore no longer an apt term. Is the empty ‘bottle of wine’ in fact that, or just ‘a bottle’? Awareness, by my lights, is the illuminate aspect of consciousness – a sort of Tabula Rasa, or blank slate, upon which the objects of consciousness inscribe themselves. This is all analogous, and naturally is not to be taken at all literally. With that in mind, or perhaps floating in nowhere-ness, I shall now proceed to your second comment, though not before saying:

      Many thanks indeed for your interest and engagement; I do love to be challenged and given the chance to learn from readers such as yourself here.

      Hariod

  9. Hello Hariod, responders and non-responders, all and each. I am far from irritated, but rather intrigued as an observer writing this in the remaining several hours before November disappears here as well. I am contented to read from the sidelines on this thread upon nothing happening and their Möbius strip collision. So I am chiming in as an enrolled student who is taking notes and is grateful, whether nothing happens or whether everything happens at once. Returning in December for further instruction. 🙂

    • Bill, so glad to hear I’m not driving everyone to distraction with these meanderings. “The Möbius strip collision” is a phrase I may well have to purloin for future use, if you will permit it, as it perfectly fits the whole messy affair of consciousness crashing in on the immutable serenity of awareness – a damnable nuisance, to be sure! No further missives from this quarter before February, you’ll be relieved to hear. I am learning to moderate my output for the sake of everyone’s sanity, not least, my own. Thanks Bill. 🙂

      • Meandering is one of my more fruitful hobbies — the unique fractal paths that each of us creates with every nanosecond experience on this plain. And at 93 years it appears that you have one generation of nanoseconds on my 69 years. My father, who died 5 years ago, is darned near a contemporary to you: he was born on 1-1-1921. That made it easy to know his age. Then, to make such things as interesting as possible, I was born on my mother’s 26th. birth anniversary (September 17th.). Will set an alarm for Groundhog’s Day (February 2nd.) and look for a missive. 🙂

        • Bill, I may have . . . how should I put it . . . over elaborated a little with the 93 years business. Where was that, over at Esme’s site, perhaps? She knows the score, and it is not in excess of four of them. That said, I definitely go down as an oldie, to coin an English expression, and my own father was born in the very same year as yours, if not on quite such an auspicious date. Our origin datum respectively being more or less settled, let me thank you for meandering along with me on this one, Bill, and although nothing happened in truth, consciousness perceived it as a pleasure. 🙂

          • To quote a line from small town newspapers here “a good time was had by all.” Enthusiasm is contagious — it sparked some old memory cells from some years back, as you have already noted upon my McLeod memoir today.

            Synchronicity tracking is one of my favorite pastimes, so the 1921 chronology was happily received and noted. Another post I have in mind is marching backward into time from 1947, or 1921 for that matter, to examine the negative side (mathematically) of a bell curve to see where events occur — such as turning 47 at the turn of the century from 1900 to 1899. It is also a way to cast my mind away from 2016 to 2017 as events real doth happen too soon. 🙂

              • In no professional way, but certainly an enthusiast from an early age, and continuing into the future in a present perfect kind of way. I suffer from whatever the Greek term is for “fear of not learning something”. I got as far as organic chemistry in my freshman year and performed well with practical calculus, but hit the proverbial brick wall in calculus theory. The ways not taken are my favorite paths it seems. “Now for something completely different” is my modus operandi. Getting fired for not being a team player is also one of my strengths. “A natural born world shaker” to borrow from Cool Hand Luke.

                But to return to your question: I also have a strong computer programming background, mathematical skills didn’t hurt me there. Preferring to work in a silo often appeared in job evaluations as a negative value though. Now I pick whatever damned silo intrigues me, presently, Arabic. 🙂

  10. I like the word ‘lucid’ or ‘lucidity.’ It speaks volumes, to me.

    My own glimpses of ‘nothingnness’ likely go far back into my childhood. But my most recent memory was in my early 40’s when living in the middle of the Maine woods. I would often sit in a comfortable place, looking out of huge windows at the wildlife and beauty surrounding us. At times I would go into a zone – not intentionally, mind you – that I came to call ‘lucid dreaming’. There was actually a period of time where this happened quite regularly. I don’t recall how long it lasted – perhaps it was minutes, for it seemed that way, or moments.

    I didn’t feel any compulsion to recreate it, which has been typical of other extraordinary states I have found myself in. So really, for a woman like me who loves words, at such times I have had no words at all. Only in retrospect can I begin to capture feelings and sensations derived from such times. And only then will (writing) poetry do. And there is a lot I have not, nor likely will ever in the future, write about at all.

    I have long ago studied Phenomenology (Husserl, Romanyshyn, et al) and found it comparable to how I view the world – by ‘encountering’ it. I’m not so driven to ‘understand’ it. People, on the other hand – well, I’ve largely given up on understanding human behavior, as well. Almost.

    Aloha, Hariod. Always a treat. ❤

    • Many thanks for successfully navigating this rather awkward and dryly prosaic piece, dear Bela. I hesitated quite a bit before publishing, knowing it would appear oblique at best to many. It is tricky to put into words these odd – dare I say ‘transcendental’? – (non)experiences, and in pointing to them they sound altogether too abstract and unlikely, delusional even. But practitioners, past and present, such as yourself, know this to be so, and can successfully navigate the word-formed terrain, hopefully tolerating any misgivings as to my own submissions.

      You raise a highly valid point when you mention this business of trying to, or wishing to, recreate these esoteric phases within life, almost as if they could accumulate and make us wiser, more ‘spiritually’ advanced, more understanding. And yet I don’t need to put my hand in the fire time and again, or drink a ’66 Haut Brion repeatedly, to be any more certain as to what those experiences are in themselves. Still, I have made that very mistake myself over many years, and learned that with brute force of will, a ludicrously dogged determination, and crucially, being within the right circumstances, then one can indeed forge mind-created experiences of extraordinariness. But that is the problem, they are indeed mind-created, and so no more than yet another series of conscious events, however exotic their nature. This is quite well known amongst the more informed commentators on Buddhist psychology, and in fact, falls within the ambit of the four path repetitions of Theravadin Buddhism. Ultimately, so some say, the mind and its creations has to be left aside, and only then can awareness realise its own nature – so to speak.

      On poetry, then I wish I had the sensibility to create it, and I do so envy the way you can make words sparkle in the mind. I can quite appreciate that as an art form it most successfully contains the ineffable. I don’t mean to suggest that the visual arts, or music, are any less capable of doing so, but somehow words are more relatable to most, even if the imagery evoked is not entirely compliant to one’s own means of comprehension and sphere of experience. It is marvellous how you are able to suggest a feeling with what on the surface may appear abstract word arrangements, and I just don’t have that facility within me, I’m pretty sure. Jiddu Krishnamurti turned his hand to poetry, even though many of his students remain oblivious to the fact. I’m not sure the results were entirely satisfactory to (these) Western ears, but I can at least understand why he made the attempt. Anyway, I shall plod along prosaically with my increasingly infrequent offerings here, and yet in deep appreciation of your visits and interest, and in marvelling at your tolerance of my stuttering formulations.

      Mahalo Bela! ❤

      • Far from stuttering, dear one, your words are a delight to my too-oft soggy brain. What does not get used here in Paradise languishes, and of anyone I read here on WP, you excel at teasing out the sleeping threads of academic learning from their depths of hiding.

        “But that is the problem, they are indeed mind-created . . .” Ah, so. This is true. And when this has happened to me as well, I learned somewhat early on that it was nowhere near as satisfying to the depths of my being. Transcendent moments are, by their very nature, transcendent. I knew many who, upon having such an experience, dove immediately into the books to discover the means by which they could do it again: astral travel or lucid dream or . . . and subsequently grew even depressive when the instructions given failed to work – but made some author a fair amount of money on the lecture circuit. This always kindled anger in me – that someone would try and make money off such sacred and private experiences. But, as I know now (as never before, given the current political climate), there is far more to understanding human minds than I ever want to attempt to grasp. Despite those enamored of New Age-y notions of unity, I maintain our markedly contrasting polarities are what allow us to experience life on this precious planet; to witness the varied and stunning hues of sunrises and sunsets, the fractals in ocean water when the light is just right, the wild and wondrous creatures who roam her surface, the senses of touch and taste, of hearing and vision and wonder – for the singular and rare qualities and experiences are those best savored in awe and, at least to me, the sacredness of private reflection.

        As for poetry, well. I can’t take full credit for that, but thanks for your praise, always appreciated. I will be frank with you because I feel you will understand. Poetry has always ‘come’ to me. If it didn’t or doesn’t, I just do not write it. But it always has. It comes like the answer to an unasked prayer, it streams into my oft-sleeping mind and I’ll wake up, jot a few words down, and make sense of them later in the morning. It comes on the breath when I’ve ridden my bike a few miles or when I garden or probe deeper feelings on some person, subject, issue. It has never required effort, save that of crafting it so that others might understand something of its content. Some of my earliest poetry was so obscure, I’d have to tuck it away, sometimes for years, before I’d have the capacity to better work words that had the same impact but ‘made sense.’ It’s the gift that keeps on giving, and being a gift, I’m compelled to share it without expectation of return. Maybe that’s why the words keep on coming, I don’t know.

        Many blessings to you, Hariod. You are a unique and shining spirit cast like a star onto the ground of this magnificent earth. I still cannot believe I have had the good fortune to share your (virtual) company. ❤

        • Apologies for the delay in returning, dear Bela, but I have been attending to a troublesome heating system here and it’s currently -3c. outside. Thankfully, my trusty cast iron range is now glowing again, and the old farmhouse seems to be smiling once again as a result.

          I wanted to come back on that point you made about depression amongst spiritual seekers. I have friends who’ve had dalliances between various disciplines, and who got sucked into the Neo-Advaita circus that seems to have flourished over the past 10 or 15 years. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Neo-Advaita, which is a kind of pick ‘n mix of ideas culled from Classical Advaita, but without the terribly inconvenient bits like leading a morally blameless life and practising mental discipline. It’s sort of like, ‘there’s nothing to do, nowhere to go – just realise that and you’re done.’ That’s obviously massively appealing, particularly to those who’ve gotten to the end of their meditative cul-de-sac and can’t see a way forward – lapsed Buddhists, for example.

          Anyway, as I said, I’ve met many who’ve had dalliances with Neo-Advaita, and a silly percentage of them claim to have ‘got it’ at some point along the way. Sometimes it lasted a few days, and sometimes a few months. But it always fell apart, and in several instances led to the depressive states you mention. It would, wouldn’t it? These people are very sincere, after all, and the central purpose of their life is to (excuse terminology) ‘get enlightened’. Their faith in what their charlatan teachers said was possible meant they’d created in their minds an image of themselves as enlightened – whatever that might have meant to them. And then it all falls apart, the faked non-duality they’d persuaded themselves was permanent disappeared, and the self that they’d persuaded themselves had disappeared, had reestablished itself. Result: depression. This is why I’m a bit scathing about the whole movement, as so many well-intentioned folk are being duped, and then self-duping as a consequence.

          There’s a chap called Timothy Conway who’s done a huge critique of Neo-Advaita, but I’m only mentioning that so that others reading this can search it if they want to.

          On poetry, then a little voice at the back of my head says ‘why not ask Bela to critique an effort?’

          Much love,

          Hariod.

          • It’s so interesting, the differences in culture between our tiny two sides of one pond (or, in my case, three jumps and you’re there). I’ve never heard of Neo-Advaita before; looked it up though. And I am familiar with the concept “there’s nothing to do, nowhere to go – just realise that and you’re done”, which, in its way, has merit if one takes it in context to the living, breathing, functioning world in which one must live with feet on the ground. There are opportunities everywhere to grow, and if we’re not dead, we’re still engaged with life and have yet to learn. I think, too, this is the mantra of the “turn on, tune in, drop out” fringe element in American society, proposed, of course, by none other than Timothy Leary who was brilliant in his own way and may well have understood the Advaita philosophy.

            Americans like it easy, thus instant ‘enlightenment’ is an easy sell for the charlatans. I won’t disparage the means by which many have chosen to access non-ordinary states of consciousness, although chemicals, themselves have never appealed to me. I was an observer, as I say, and witnessed enough ‘freak-outs’ in my day to eschew them altogether. The irony, at least to me, is that it’s so easy that most miss it altogether – though in city or in forest, the challenge is the same: to ease into and dwell lightly in one’s own center, to settle into one’s own skin.

            I can see how some need a dedicated practice such as meditation to do so. Yet we live in an addictive society, if not an addictive world now, where the next thrill awaits, surely, over the next hill, in the ‘new’ experience, with the next person. ‘The Way’ is too often compelling; the fast track, the one size fits all. “Just tell me what to do! I’m earnest! I’m willing! What is it I’m supposed to do with my life?” If I could count the times I’ve heard some version of this!

            To bring this ramble back to depression, who wouldn’t feel crestfallen (short-term or long), having tried so hard to achieve? Or, conversely, trying [so hard] to not achieve, to simply be? Surely it’s as facile as accessing some vast yet tucked away stratum of our being that, due to lack of use in a gravity-restricted environment, is paradoxically difficult to ‘locate’. I don’t know, and I probably care even less.

            All I know is that I have personally dwelled in it from time to time and, without expectation, am likely to do so again. In the silence of sunrise, the arc of a Norfolk Pine, the sound of a Pueo owl’s wings as he flies into the waning light. We have this earth, after all, to comfort and assure us that life Is.

            Hugs and kisses from across the universe, Hariod. It’s time to go photograph snow atop volcanic mountains before the sun is fully up! ❤

            • Thankyou one again, Bela; it’s a continuing pleasure learning more about your perspectives and what appears to have been a highly colourful past – I noticed some references you made at Victoria’s to the wild times, and as with you, I did more observing of them myself than participating to any great degree. Honest! 😉 Or maybe it’s just that I don’t recall them. Oh dear, I’ve just thought of that saying: “if you remember the sixties, you really weren’t there.” 🙄 Make that the seventies, for me. Anyway, yes, the snow, and I hear you’re currently having a heck of a lot of it there on the island, so take good care, dear Bela; I know you’re a bit of an adventurer. ❤

              • I am an adventurer, but cold is cold and I don’t necessarily seek it out. We live very close to an amazing road with vistas of mountains and sea that would take your breath away. That’s where I (mostly) take my zoom shots of the mountain/s. This is a public link to those photos, but they’re not the best shots I’ve ever taken. Still, it’s something firsthand, if you want to avail yourself:

                https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10207972826494182.1073741945.1103291483&type=1&l=a085ee2bbf

                Chris and I were going to drive to the top of Mauna Loa last week and the week before, but if it’s fogged in (as it has been), it’s a long drive of tiny switchback roads through big lava fields and not so fun if one’s vision is shut down, despite the end game. We are having a bit of snow, yes, but at 300ft. elevation where I sit, it’s rain, rain and more rain. Deluges of it. I’m just looking out at our somewhat recently graveled driveway, perpetually thankful that it’s not the mud wallow it used to be. I wonder why you say the ’70’s for you … hmmm … there was a fair amount of the ’80’s I missed, culturally speaking, as I hid away in the woods to raise my girls and get them off and into the world. Looking back, I don’t think I missed much. Aloha, dear – enjoy your day! 😀

                • These are wonderful shots, Bela, and in fact evoked memories within me of the many times I’ve spent in the Highlands of Scotland, which look so similar. That was my default getaway place throughout the seventies and eighties, and I would load a tent and my dog in the jeep (type thing) and drive the 600 miles from London to be there. It used to take around 14hrs. with stops, but I could make such trips on the spur of the moment, with no flights or trains or accommodation to book, and holidays or breaks always seemed to work out far better when they were unplanned, impromptu like that. I fell in love with the Highlands on first visiting, and would likely do the same with your wonderful island home. 🙂

                  • Thanks, Hariod. I can well imagine – I was last in Scotland (Edinburgh, Kircaldy, Loch Tay leap to mind) in 1974. Never got to the Hebrides, but did so enjoy the miles and miles of rolling countryside. It would have been my getaway as well, had I been bound to a city somewhere, though I doubt I could have lived in one for very long. We took the train out of Victoria Station and I do recall it was about a 3 hour stretch, stops here and there, even on the rail. Love picturing you with your dog and Jeep (type-thing 😉 ). There were early settlers in Hawaii with Scots surnames, so perhaps it resonated. Lots of New England folks as well. Our area reminds me so much of that place – fields and vistas, ringed by mountains and ocean. Love to you this day! ❤

  11. Michael you say: “I want to begin by asserting something unlikely to appeal to reason; that is to say, if we are fully aware, maximally aware, then nothing happens.”

    From a non-dual perspective, when we are awareness, there is no-thing and everything. As to whether some-thing happens, who knows? Blessings, Julian.

    • Dear Julian, forgive me for leaping in here, though you quote me in addressing Michael, so thought I might add my tuppence worth. Please correct me if I misunderstand you, but in more explicit terms it appears you are referencing those times when we are engaging in the world and yet the conscious phenomena of the senses have not yet sublated or occluded (what I am calling) awareness. That is to say, awareness still knows itself, as itself, and yet the mentative stream of conscious objects runs along within it. So, ‘things happen’, and consciousness both attends to and models them, whilst awareness remains still and immutable, neither as ‘me here’, nor the tree ‘over there’, but as the non-local field within which consciousness constructs the apparent subject of ‘me here’ and the apparent object of ‘the tree over there’. To awareness, ‘here’ and ‘there’ are never referenced, and in fact are meaningless to it. I suspect we may be in danger of tripping over ourselves in language here, but is this chiming with you at all, or would you care to express the matter in some other way? I am keen to learn of others’ (non)experiences of this. Many sincere thanks for your interest, and I daresay Michael will come back to you later in the day. Hariod

  12. It is at times like this when I realise my lack of understanding, intelligence and so on. It’s completely baffled me, but I am going to read it again and see what I come up with. It’s certainly one for ‘thinkers’ and not ‘dreamers’. Questions will be asked later.

    • Good, you can have a reread and then come and explain to me what the hell I’m going on about. For god’s sake don’t ask me questions though – this was no more than a moment of Ayahuasca inspired stream-of-consciousness. Possibly not, maybe it was a stream-of-awareness. I have trouble differentiating the two. o_O

      • Now, I have read this several times, and I have done so quietly; but oh, heavens, does my head hurt? – have I split an infinitive here? What is really, really more worrying, isn’t that I can’t pose a question, but it’s that others, many others, can! I am officially stupid. 😦

        • No split infinitives detected whatsoever, though there really is no objection to them these days, as far as I am aware – legal bods being one of the few exceptions, perhaps? Anyhow, fear not on the comprehension front, as this is all new territory to you, and so it can hardly be expected that you would hit the ground running, or indeed have even the faintest interest in the subject. Some others here are versed in these things, or have a passing interest in them, but the matter of consciousness is still quite an obscure domain of interest. That is odd, really, because the whole of our lives are mediated by it, are lived through it, coloured by it, filtered by it, and yet so few show any interest in what it actually is. I find it a fascinating subject, but then I can be enthralled watching paint dry. Either way, it has nothing to do with stupidity on your or anyone’s part, so we can leave all such notions safely aside – you hardly need me to assure you of this.

  13. Good morning Hariod. Thank you for holding my previous response, for you correctly understood it was a note to you and not necessarily a general comment. It is now 6:30 a.m. and I have thought enough to respond, I believe.

    If we were sitting among wildflowers beneath a rocky ledge, let’s say, and a large boulder broke free, we might have well experienced total awareness as it falls towards us – thinking we have all had some experience when ‘time stood still’, usually involving motor vehicles.

    Though we are fully aware and our consciousness is submerged or stopped, we would be crushed beneath that rock much like the flowers, which are unaware.

    Since we have consciousness which (hopefully) asserts itself, we realize we can scramble out of harm’s way; we survive while those flowers do not.

    I would offer the suggestion that the world around us is unaffected by our state of awareness, and total awareness is effectively the same as total unawareness, for we are not the only agent of change.

    I agree that nothing would happen – until it does.

    Thank you for a lovely, thought provoking post. 🙂

    • Good morning to you too, Robert, and just so as you know, I had not held your earlier comment as such; it is simply that all comments go into moderation and with a new post a bit of a bottleneck forms whilst I work my way through them. I currently have several others backed-up, and am progressing slowly down through the list.

      This business of ‘time standing still’ seems to me more of a psychological phenomenon, one in which psychological time – as against clock or physical time – slows down or arrests. If so, then we are strictly talking about consciousness and the endogram it displays to us as conscious subjects. That is a stream of mentation, an ordered, highly selective and prioritised, aggregation of sense representations – a meta-level representation, in fact. All of that, however apparently slow or fast its content appears to us, is a mind (and hence brain) made state of affairs. And all of it rests upon a substrate of what I am calling ‘awareness’, which as I said, is the illuminative trait and non-knowledge-holding, non-spatial, ground of consciousness. It is not objectively separate from consciousness, and does not project itself onto sense objects, as if light projecting from a lantern onto the walls of a room. If one accepts such a conception – and however one chooses to conceive of it, it is proven to be so – then one might ask, what affects it?

      Nothing affects it. The physical world has effects and affects itself, and consciousness has effects and affects itself, but awareness (as conceived here) has no effects and does not affect itself, nor is it affected by the world or consciousness. So, whilst you say that “the world around us is unaffected by our state of awareness”, I would rather express it thusly: “awareness is unaffected by the state of the world around us”. The rock falls, the flowers and the person under the rock are crushed, and the person’s consciousness ceases to play out as it would otherwise, having experienced all of the preceding events. The question of whether or not any ground-state of consciousness remains is somewhat moot, as there is neither any living brain there to form consciousness, and cognitive science is undecided on panpsychism – which would permit the rock at least knows something of its own state, as would indeed the smashed cranium and crushed flower. So, to consider the ground state, or illuminative trait, of consciousness as existent or in any way affected by events, is rendered somewhat meaningless by the absence of any possibility of consciousness in the deceased person.

      Am I missing something here? Or is it perhaps more a case of us needing to be careful not to conflate this conception of awareness with consciousness itself – going back to the analogy of the empty ‘bottle of wine’, wherein wine is irrelevant given the bottle is empty.

      Many thanks for the interest and engagement, once again, Robert.

      Hariod

  14. Ahhheeeee! My brain is hurting . . . or is that the side of my refrigerator? (wink)
    I need to reread this . . . probably 3-5 times before I can contribute any worthy comment . . . or concoction! Ha!

  15. Thank for sharing this perspective and paradox Hariod! Your first paragraph certainly got my attention, and as I read further I realized how much of a layperson I am. 👶 I haven’t studied in these fields of science and philosophy, yet the field of my own experience can certainly relate. What I am enjoying immensely is the continued dialogues full of elaborations, questions and insights. I too will be coming back for further rereads at a pace that my brain can handle. Hugs to you my wise and fecund friend. 💕

    • Sorry this one was such a mind-number, Val, and I paused both in the writing of it and certainly again in considering whether or not to publish it. I actually convinced myself that most subscribers here would politely ignore it, but in fact it appears to have generated some interest and different perspectives for me to draw upon. The ongoing exchange here with Mike at Self Aware Patterns is making me think, as is that with our mutual friend Don. I’ve not been torn to shreds yet, which is an encouraging sign, but we’ll see how this plays out over time . . . 😮

      Anyway, as I mentioned above, this is something of a departure for me, a brief testing of the blogging waters, and I shall return to my shorter and more anecdotally based pieces when I reappear here in February. I’m going to try reading some books (remember those?) in the meanwhile, but shall be as present as ever absorbing others’ blogs and exchanging thoughts. It sounds as though you’ve gotten off to a decent start with Nisargadatta, but I’m going to press you in the New year on what your concluding thoughts were. How about writing a post on it? ❤

        • Maybe it’s good to shake up the preconceptions once in a rare while? I suppose it’s a sound idea to have a tone, a thematic trend, to one’s blog, yet I’ve noticed within the blogosphere a tending towards polite agreement or consensus-forming (which is fair enough of itself) at the expense of authors’ seemingly conforming to others’ expectations; perhaps also at the expense of the author’s own freedom of expression. It can feel a little like mutual affirmation, and with this post I wanted to stick my neck out and kind of say, ‘tell me what I’m not seeing’ – inviting just that in my closing line. I don’t know Val, as if your blog is related to your professional activities (I think it is?), then maybe you have more at risk than I do? H ❤

  16. Hariod, I have sat with your post and read it over and over again. Beautifully written and extremely challenging, frighteningly so. I’m afraid my intellect is slow in grasping, but somehow I know as I read and struggle with the concepts that it all resonates somewhere deep inside of me. I remember studying the works of Paul Tillich, both a Philosopher and Theologian, where he spoke of and described a state of what he called Pontentia, and which he also called “The Ground of All Being” For him, it was out of the stillness of this unchanging and omnipresent Potentia that form and being came into existence. I have always been Apophatic in my approach to life and belief (if I can call it ‘belief’ – I don’t particularly like the word) and have taken this state of Potentia or “Ground of All Being” very seriously. In meditation it has given me an ongoing context in which ego has been constantly challenged and drained, and compassion nurtured. What you said reminded me of this Tillichian concept and made me aware of just how prominent it has been in my life. Not sure how it relates to your post, but I certainly hear a small and distant echo there. So, thank you for this. Once again I have been disturbed by you into thinking far more deeply than I usually do. I’m so grateful for that and appreciate it immensely.

    • This is fascinating, Don, and if I may, I will come back to you tomorrow with a response – right now I am at the end of a rather pressured day, and want to come at this afresh, if I may. See you on the morrow!

        • Now, this is interesting to me, Don, because until you mentioned Paul Tillich, I’d never heard of anyone referring to the behind-the-scenes nature of mind (and hence the world as apprehended) as being one of potency/potential, or as Tillich names it, Potentia. I generally am a little wary of those who regurgitate others’ formulations (in the loose sphere of the conscious mind) and claim them as if privileged and attributable to themselves. It’s therefore interesting that Tillich saw it (or an aspect of it) in such a similar way, or rather I do as he once did. So, I read him up on Wikipedia this morning, and although I steer clear of teleological perspectives, religious cosmologies, and (again loosely) the ‘spiritual’, the following except chimed with me and my own experiences of when the mind steps out of or dissolves the normally ubiquitous subject-object dichotomy:

          ‘Tillich presents the above mentioned ontological view of God as Being-Itself, Ground of Being, Power of Being, and occasionally as Abyss or God’s “Abysmal Being”. What makes Tillich’s ontological view of God different from theological theism is that it transcends it by being the foundation or ultimate reality that “precedes” all beings. Just as Being for Heidegger is ontologically prior to conception, Tillich views God to be beyond Being-Itself, manifested in the structure of beings. God is not a supernatural entity among other entities. Instead, God is the ground upon which all beings exist. We cannot perceive God as an object which is related to a subject because God precedes the subject–object dichotomy”

          That seems redolent of Spinoza’s conception of God, wherein God is nature, or in having God as nature. It rather calls into question the need to invoke God(s), and I must say I’ve never felt any intuition to incline to so doing. I’m sceptical that science can answer all the questions philosophy poses, and even that it may ever be able to represent consciousness in any irrefutable way. For that reason, I’m drawn to the primacy of lived experience, first-person experience, in my own life, and seeing how that fits with the manifold ontologies, phenomenologies, epistemologies, philosophies, and yes, even religions too. In that sense I suppose I’m pragmatic in the way that William James approved of as regards religious experience itself, and in his magisterial work The Varieties of Religious Experience.

          In the final analysis, and as I see it, we’re all drawn throughout life to what we somehow know is an innately indwelling contentedness – some state of ease beyond that which the mind throws at us in its myriad objections and predispositions as regards the world. How we go about actualising (via imminence) that contentedness takes innumerable forms, of course, although I think the object remains the same, but not in a teleological sense – it is far from being a given if we only would last the course. As Bela states (above) art is one way of weaving a thread between ourselves and what we silently and subtly sense lays beyond, and is perhaps the best medium for communicating it. Not being creative in nature, I have to plod on prosaically with my rather dull analyses here, but I remain grateful and humbled by the quality perspectives of those such as yourself, and from whom I continue to learn.

          In gratitude,

          Hariod.

          • Thank you, Hariod. What can I say? You have put it so beautifully. I will always be grateful to Tillich for drawing me out of theological theism and setting me on a road which has led me to a place of far greater expansiveness and immanence in my perception of the ‘Other’. Thank you again for a wonderful post with its challenging perspectives.

  17. Flaws? Ha! Hariod, you’re a philosopher of greater depth than you might imagine, and several steps ahead of my inept comprehension – I read your book. How then, am I to detect flaws in concepts of Maximal Awareness and or Contentedness, states I barely understand and cannot achieve, try as I may? That said, I have a good deal of appreciation for your work, and I believe, at least through the processes of osmosis, have gained your imparted wisdom – at least a trinket’s worth. And for that, I thank you.

    • Oh yes, there have to be flaws really, Peter – something like Cohen’s cracks, perhaps? I’ve had the thing tested to destruction by Mike at Self Aware Patterns here in the comments, and though no cracks have appeared, the wallpaper is perhaps coming away at the edges here and there. 🙂 I said at the end of the piece, “I welcome hearing readers’ views on any flaws herein” because I know they must be there – no one on earth knows what consciousness is, or if they do, they haven’t made it known. There are theorists working in the field who pretty much dismiss its very existence, people way, way above my pay grade. Most do not though, and those are busy grappling with this thing we call ‘consciousness’ and trying to discover what it is in itself, how matter gives rise to experience, and why we have it at all and are not just instead functioning as zombies. Anyway, I feel I owe a global apology to readers on this one, as it’s far lengthier and altogether more dull (is that possible?) than my usual anecdotal offerings. I shall not surface here again ’til February, and only then to return with something more palatable. But I thank you sincerely for coming along on this uncomfortable ride with me, Peter, and thank you also for your kindly generous words of encouragement. Be well, good friend.

      • Perhaps this comprehension of consciousness is unattainable due to solipsism? If you are but a figment of your own consciousness, how possibly can you know consciousness?

        Yeah. Chew on that, my figment friend. 🙂

        • Nice try, and the exact opposite of the proposition I put forward in the piece: that only first-person experience can convey to us what consciousness is in itself. So, at least one of us is very wrong, old bean! Then again, if we’re both figments . . . o_O No, no, wait a minute, if I’m all that exists then the figment of you is a figment within my figment! Cracked it! No, no, wait a minute, maybe you’re the only figment, and I’m a figment within your figment. o_O No, no, if I was, then I would only be appearing to you . . . o_O Fuck it. I’m starting a poetry blog, then anything goes. 🙂

  18. Alright, I am going to have a go at this . . . again!
    (tightly laces up his boots, tapes on his shinguards, and velcro-wraps his keeper gloves) READY!?

    I welcome hearing readers’ views on any flaws herein.

    Hariod, I see nothing but utterly flawed perfection!
    (What a phenomenal SAVE! The crowd goes mad! The reporters rush the keeper!)

      • Hahaha! Wonderful counter-move, Hariod! And thank you kindly for going easy on me and my brainless efforts on such a superb post here, H. I thought I might be able to understand all of what you were exploring and asking, but even after the third reading I still could not manage what I thought was at least a semi-valuable, much less, coherent comment. I’m sorry my friend. :/

        • My dear old thing, there is nothing in the least to feel sorry about, and as I mentioned to others here above, I really did think twice, thrice, and even . . . frice(?) before floating it. All this sort of blather is no more than a niche within a niche, all squeezed into an under-baked niche-shaped bap, and I’m utterly amazed that everyone didn’t just quietly back away leaving me alone in my terrifying void of nothing happening here bar me staring at my appalling baps. You are very lovely, professor. 🙂

        • Professor Taboo, you read this three times? I read it once in its entirety, and even then I wondered at the wisdom of undertaking such a daunting task. I was rewarded though, with a medal of valour, which in my humility I find most undeserving. I think it should go to you for your faithfulness to the cause of nothingness, if nothing else. Marie

  19. Dear Hariod, having read this in its entirety, stopping only to eat breakfast, I find I have nothing to say about this concept of nothingness. But having said this, I feel quite dismayed with myself. I had hoped my cerebral capabilities ran to grappling with such wisdom (on your part), but I find myself sinking to the depths of unrequited nothingness, so to speak. One day, I hope to be elevated to the realm in which you spend a considerable amount of time, and I say this in all seriousness.

    • Dear Marie, having nothing to say about the concept of nothingness is nothing short of being the perfect response. And you say, “having read this in its entirety” – for that, then you surely deserve an award of valour, as very few manage to navigate from start to finish my meanderings; usually dozing off somewhere around the third or fourth paragraph, I strongly suspect. I feel I need to post some funny cat videos to keep this damn blog alive, for it appears to be you and me alone, dear Marie, who are capable enough, and sufficiently intrepid, to venture into these esoteric nothings in their entirety. H ❤

        • When am I free? I think I’m much older than that! In fact, someone just told me I was a hundred and . . . . something or other. How old are you, do you know? Let me guess. I would say, four? Or is the avatar an out-of-date picture?

          • Yes I was 4 and three quarters when that passport photo was taken. I haven’t been four for a very long time, although I hasten to add, when I read this post, I felt like a 4 year-old again. It was like learning my ABC all over again. 🙂 Yes, when are you free to wander esoterically?

            • I’ll have a quiet word with matron – see if I can be granted some leave from this appalling hell-hole, or perhaps slip some Oramorph into her tea and quietly shimmy away under cover of darkness. Failing that, it’s a vault over the barbed-wire fence, and I may not be in any fit state for our date after that, if you get my drift. 😮

  20. I’ll be candid, this was challenging for me. As blank as my stare may appear, it is a facade for curiousity and the willingness to explore. I will revisit this, in pieces, and in the whole and I am going to explore your references. I’m rather enjoying all of this. Thank you Hariod. Respectfully, Harlon.

    • Thankyou dear Harlon, for such a charming and candid response.

      As I’ve mentioned a few times here within the comments, this was an unusually oblique one for me, or would certainly appear so to any not versed in the subject matter. I also normally keep my pieces in part anecdotal, and (dare I say it?) a bit more enjoyable in the reading – best as I can manage, anyhow! I nearly scrapped it a few times, but it seems to have triggered some helpful responses for me, and as always I learn greatly from readers here, as well as finding encouragement in even knowing that my words have been read. The good news for everyone is that I’m only posting once every couple of months now, so the pain of reading is infrequent, if intense. 😉

      Thankyou very much indeed, once again, dear Harlon; it’s lovely to see you here, and I wish you well.

      In gratitude and respect, as always, Hariod.

  21. I think I will have to begin with an apology, Hariod. Your writing is always of the kind that rewards serious thought, but I’m afraid I’m completely snowed-under with various family concerns at the moment, and so have not been able to do your post justice. Added to this is the fact that I am rather a Pooh-like blogger of little brain, and so find issues such as the nature of consciousness to be well outside my comfort zone. I hope you won’t be too disappointed if, despite your request, I don’t start pointing out flaws in your reasoning!

    The truth is, although I enjoyed thinking about the deep and serious points you discussed, I had a terrible struggle with the notion of an objectless awareness. Does this mean an awareness that does not even take its own existence as an object? I can’t quite grasp what awareness means if it is not an awareness of something — at the very least, of itself.

    I strongly suspect my problem has nothing to do with the merits of your idea, though, and is instead a consequence of my bumping up against the limits of my own reasoning abilities. I’m simply not used to forcing my brain to think about things with such subtlety. (My best friend at university was a philosophy major – he despaired of me at times.)

    • Dear Bun, there is no need in the least for any kind of apology, and I’ve already said to other readers here that I had a good head-scratch before finally deciding to publish this piece. It really is not typical of what I do here, that being more anecdotal and altogether more digestible to any non-specialist reader. In distinction, this piece is only going to chime with those interested in either Theory of Mind, or contemplative practises, or ideally, both. I actually had convinced myself that readers would politely back away in silence, rather than come to the party, and have been pleasantly surprised by the scale of the response, with some of the exchanges really pushing at my own understanding, just as I had asked and hoped for.

      I can quite understand the difficulty in grasping this idea of an objectless awareness. That is in part because in the very attempt to understand it, an object is sought, and one can never escape that dichotomy of consciousness – there is always a knowing along with the object known. So, one can’t conceive of an objectless awareness as an object, because then it becomes a ‘thing’, something [i.e. some ‘thing’] happens, and that is what consciousness is, but not what objectless awareness is. Objectless awareness is non-perceptual, and can’t be grasped or formed as a percept, as again that takes us back to consciousness, and consciousness is (so I posit) the brain’s construction of phenomena upon a substrate of objectless awareness.

      On the latter substrate, then bear in mind this quote from my piece: “It does not know itself as a reflected thing, so is not ‘conscious of awareness’.” So, that was why I wrought the slightly dubious analogy of light (awareness) not being visible itself, but making other things visible (consciousness). In the analogy, light exists, but is only ‘known’ to itself as itself, not as a conscious object. If you think about attention, and how it guides conscious experience, then something must precede the attention for it to place itself where it does. One could say it’s simply stimulus that guides attention, but something must be aware of the stimulus, and bear in mind this is all happening before what causes the stimulus to be made into a conscious object. What is it that is aware of the stimulus? It would seem ‘awareness’ might be a reasonable and fitting term for it, albeit one which evokes conceptions of consciousness and its object dependency.

      Anyway Bun, I do very much hope that the family concerns of which you make mention resolve as satisfactorily as possible, and that in the meantime any disturbances amongst you and your loved ones are being progressively allayed or ameliorated as the situation unfolds. So I leave you now with all best wishes for that, and in gratitude for your finding time to take in my piece and offer such a lovely reflection. Thankyou – Hariod.

      • The problem I was having was summed up very clearly in your second paragraph, Hariod. I think the subsequent paragraph may also have nudged me toward a better understanding of objectless awareness. From what you say, it seems to me now to be a kind of necessary pre-step to becoming conscious of something. Actually, I wonder if step may be the wrong word since it makes me think of a process. You mentioned substrate, which perhaps suggests instead a kind of background medium that supports consciousness and enables it to operate.

        I hope I’m not too far wide of the mark, but I think perhaps I should quit at this point before I have a chance to dig a deeper hole for myself. I always enjoy reading and commenting on posts whatever the topic, but this one is definitely not my field and I don’t want to make a nuisance of myself. It can sometimes be a lot of hard work for those with a deep knowledge of a discipline to have to explain extremely subtle points to (extreme) non-specialists!

        By the way, thank you for your sympathetic comments regarding my family, Hariod. I greatly appreciate your kindness. I’m happy to say things seem to have gone very successfully thus far. I’m hopeful that by early January, we shall all be getting back to our regular routine again.

        • That really is good to hear, Bun, and I feel all the more humbled that you’ve devoted any time at all to engage with and reflect upon my meanderings during what I imagine must have been (and perhaps still is to some extent) a very trying time for you. My mother always used to say that nothing is more important than one’s health (hardly original, I know), and never was a truer word spoken, it seems to me. My sincere wishes for the continued progression of the positive news, and in trusting that the upcoming festivities can be enjoyed restfully and harmoniously in the mutual company of your loved ones.

          • Thank you, Hariod. It’s true I’ve had a lot going on recently, but in a way, that’s often the best time to think about something else entirely.

            Even though I talked about quitting while I was ahead, in fact I began thinking about objectless awareness again last night when I was in bed! (I often find it difficult to sleep at night, and I have very little control about what pops into my head when I’m lying there. It’s actually where a good many of my posts begin.)

            I began wondering if objectless awareness might not be something like a web — itself incapable of thought but nevertheless able to direct the spider of consciousness toward items of interest. Of course, under this analogy, my thoughts would be a succession of tasty flies, which is hardly the loftiest comparison. 😀

            • That’s an interesting way of conceiving of it, Bun. All these analogies tend to come apart at the seams of course, and the one I use in the piece – of the lantern emitting its invisible light – certainly is no exception. They are ways of teasing the mind towards an understanding, but the mind has to experience the matter directly to actually understand. Still, one can begin to get a sense of it, perhaps, in trying a little practical exercise:

              Firstly, leaving aside any models, preconceptions, and all that you know, and purely for the purpose of this exercise, think of awareness and mentation (conscious objects) as both residing on a sliding scale and being in inverse proportion relative to one another. That means, as consciousness becomes more defined, awareness becomes less defined, and the converse is so. I know it’ll sound awkwardly pedagogic, but if you’re willing, this is how to move along this sliding scale, back and forth:

              Take your visual gaze, and the focus of your attention, away from the screen, and just rest it very softly over towards the corner of the room. As you do that, and with no sense of grasping at mind-objects, meaning hard-focusing on thoughts, just silently ask a question such as ‘where is awareness?’, or perhaps ‘can I sense awareness now?’ Don’t think about what those questions mean or how nonsensical they are to your intellect and all you know, just passively absorb into that un-grasped-at visual sense and let the mind settle softly on the question of knowing awareness, and whether you can locate or sense it.

              If this works for you, you’ll begin to get a sense that this ‘knowing presence’ of awareness switches from the background to the foreground, and you’ll also begin to recognise that less is happening whilst it’s in the foreground and conscious objects are at that time less well-defined. The TE (Thoughtless Emptiness) awareness I’m referring to in the article is taking this sliding scale idea to the one extreme, and in which ‘nothing happens’.

              Anyway, I just thought I’d throw that out there for anyone who’s interested, including yourself, dear Bun.

              • Thank you for the exercise, Hariod. The instructions are clear and easy to follow. I did try following them a moment ago, but it is not the best of circumstances at the moment since my wife and eldest son are in the other room arguing about something! I will have a go again later, though. I suspect if I try it a few times, I may well begin to get more of a sense of the ‘knowing presence’ that you mention.

  22. Only skimmed your post and some of the comments. (Love the repartee between you and Marie!) Anyway, just want to add that I enjoy the idea of “nothingness.” No worries, no guilt, no pain. Of course, no laughter, no joy, no fun. Oh well. It doesn’t matter because I’m not here anyway.

    • Many thanks for skimming Nan; quite probably the wisest approach to this particular offering. I usually do anecdotal things, or partially anecdotal, and felt very unsure about whether to publish this one. As it turns out, it’s getting a reasonable response, and some of the exchanges have been quite fruitful. Best not to take the ‘nothing happening’ motif too literally in daily life; I find plenty of time for laughter and distress when I look at the U.S. election, and note that nothing can be done by no one – “ain’t nuffink wrong wiv a double negative”, as we say here on these shores. 😉

  23. The phrase “thought’s deep fear of its own absence” jumped out at me, and also the concept of beingness. I read this three times, Hariod, and really wanted to come up with some really smart response, but honestly most of this is over my head. I like being without thought – just in beingness. This happens for me in nature. If I am engaging with a flower, I sort of become it, with no thought, until it mirrors something within, that I then find myself thinking about. I’m not without thought for very long at any one time, but I quite enjoy it. Of course, that would be looking back on it, as enjoyment would probably require thought in itself. I guess I don’t ‘think’ about this kind of thing a lot. I don’t think it is a lack of intelligence, maybe, but just not a place I live. I tend to stay in sort of an intuitive-feeling place, until things like the election throw me overboard. Scrambling back from that one still! I can sort of understand the concept of “nothing happens”, but to be in that, ego would have to be gone completely, wouldn’t it? I look forward to that, but for now, my little ego is working things out on the earth plane. Thanks for the thought provoking post, Hariod.

    Peace, Mary.

    • Aha, I do love to know what snippets chime with readers most, and you’ve latched onto something that very few understand, dear Mary – that thought abhors its own absence. This is far more than to say that we’re neurotically obsessed by thought, but rather that it really does fear its own absence, just as we might fear death itself. But I really should start by thanking you for reading this three times, because that is tremendously humbling for me, and far more than I could possibly hope for, particularly given the difficult nature of the content of the piece – thankyou very much indeed.

      When you say “If I am engaging with a flower, I sort of become it, with no thought . . .”, then I understand you’re pointing to something really very subtle, and perhaps to abstract that into some sort of philosophical explanation at once removes us from the intimacy of the experience whilst also serving only to confuse ourselves with how it can happen. How can we ‘become the flower’? I think to keep it simple – Occam’s razor duly applied – we might say awareness is borderless; it isn’t spatially referencing as the physical senses do, and as the physical world exists in relation to itself. Rather, awareness knows it pervades both flower and Mary – something like that?

      I think you’ve understood the article very well indeed Mary, though really because you understood it before I wrote it, and I can tell this from what you go on to say about the nature of thought and it being a reflexive response to something that rests prior to it – that being awareness, in my terms. That’s another way of saying what I myself do: that consciousness has a substrate (or aspect) of awareness to it, and which is prior to thought. Things don’t ‘happen’ in awareness, because that’s the ambit of consciousness, and awareness, when it knows itself maximally as itself, is devoid of any occurrence of things happening, any feature of ‘flower’ or of ‘Mary’. Then consciousness stirs and forms on the substrate of awareness, and ‘flower’ and ‘Mary’ appear. Yet to Mary’s sensitive mind, she still knows that awareness has primacy in the experience, and it (her mind) isn’t so interested in its own constructs of ‘Mary here’, ‘flower there’. She instead sees that in awareness she and flower are as one. And yes, in that moment, ego is gone completely, as ego is the self-model of Mary cognising itself as such.

      Many thanks indeed, dear Mary, for your sincere interest and for your highly perceptive reflections.

      With much gratitude and respect,

      Hariod.

    • Hey, thanks for breezing through today, dear Meg; it’s lovely to see you again. And thanks for appreciating Ana’s photographs, which seemed oddly appropriate for this rather strange post of mine. Hope all is well ’round the Michigan lakes, with their mysterious something and nothingness. With love, Hariod.

  24. Hi Hariod!

    I have to admit that I first read this post on my phone when it appeared in my reader. I promptly thought, “Oh, I can’t do this now”, as I had little time and my first pass was not nearly enough to be able to respond, and there were no other comments. I have to be honest, it helps me to read the comments to have a better idea of where you are coming from.

    Now, after a second pass through today, and having read some paragraphs three times, I’m not sure that I am much better equipped to say anything at all! The one thing I can add is that I am amazed at the depth of thought this post has created amongst your readers, and I am grateful to have read it.

    My own experience is one I find very difficult to put into words as it has only happened a few times, and I never tried to verbalise it to myself. The place of ‘nothingness’ that is infinite in its ‘everything-ness’ just is. I can tell you that the overall feeling there is one of pure love, and if given the choice I would want to be there forever.

    I hope you are well, Hariod. It is so good to see a post from you as it has been entirely too long. ♡♡

    • Hi there Lorrie!

      Oh my goodness, you’ve made such a valiant effort to wade through this turgid affair that it seems you deserve a medal of some sort, as do so many other readers here. I very nearly didn’t publish this one, my friend, because it’s a little too esoteric for what I normally do on this site. On balance, I decided to run with it because there are readers who meditate formally and who are interested in getting at whatever may lie behind the streams of thought we all experience. It’s entirely possible to stay focused on a single object – like a candle or one’s breath – but that is still a thought, albeit a quite stilled and refined one. It’s possible to go further still and to step outside of holding a thought-object in the mind, and there we come to what the scientific study I linked to called TE, or Thoughtless Emptiness.

      Now, this state is measured in terms of its neural correlates, and is experienceable by meditative adepts. That being so, then strictly speaking it isn’t a form a consciousness given that both etymologically and in general parlance that means ‘being with knowledge (of mentative content)’. Cognitive Science has an accepted dictum of ‘no content, no consciousness’, for example. TE does not have any content, however, and no definable phenomena appearing within it. It is a state of awareness, and one definitely isn’t asleep, but it isn’t consciousness in the conventionally accepted sense. So, because I write about contemplative practices here, then at some point I needed to cover this anomaly within conscious states. I can only thankyou very much for putting up with my dryly prosaic means of doing so!

      With love and best wishes to you, dear Lorrie.

      Hariod

      • Dear Hariod, I never “put up” with your writing – quite the contrary! I eagerly wish to dissect your words, wear them, so to speak, and come out the other end with so much more to think about than before. And I am happy you decided to publish the post. I believe that we know in our hearts that if we spend time on writing with the intent to publish and then have reservations because it is a bit of a departure from the norm, then it is probably something that we need to post. Your readers have certainly responded favorably, and with great intent.

        Sending you lots of love and blessings for this holiday season! ♡

      • Hariod,

        I’m still not sure that I would go as far as saying that this TE is not a part of consciousness as you explained in your comment to Lorrie. However, I find it impossible to offer a proof that it is or isn’t occurring in consciousness. I don’t see how anything that is not in consciousness is experienceable by consciousness, that is, is known in some capacity. It seems to me consciousness has a limit, boundaries, so to speak. If it had no boundaries, time/space being the ultimate boundaries perhaps, it would be an absolute of some sort. This is difficult for me to conceive of, but I certainly can’t put forth any convincing conclusion to this so I will leave it alone. I do think TE is part of the overall human experience.

        Let me tell you about something that has happened to me a couple of times in my life; the latest occurrence was about 1.5 years ago: I was feeling very nauseous and felt like vomiting so I walked into my bathroom knelt at the toilet, as I was about to let go, I passed out. Internally, I saw a black curtain pulled over my eyes and the world disappeared. No sensory input, just a pure awareness with no objects except somehow I was still present but not as ‘me’. After some time, I have no idea how long I remained like that, the curtain lifted, the world returned, and I was lying in a pool of blood. I quickly got up and attended to my bleeding head and then cleaned up the mess on the floor and left for the hospital to get my head stitched up.

        The first time this happened to me, I was a young man in my mid-twenties. I was asleep, dreaming about something when suddenly I became aware that I was dreaming within the dream. Again, the world and all of its sensations disappeared and I was present somehow as this Awareness/Emptiness. With the same suddenness, I awoke and sat straight up in my bed with an electrical energy in my body that I had never encountered before. Perhaps the energy was due to me being startled in a way that I could not explain to myself? I remember saying ‘Holy Shit’ as I sat up. I can only speculate that somehow my consciousness touched another dimension because I had nothing to do with bringing these events to life. I made no efforts nor even suspected that anything like this could happen. I just have to say I don’t know what happened but it was better than acid!

        • Many thanks Jeff, and I just ought to reassert what I said to Lorrie, which was that TE “isn’t consciousness in the conventionally accepted sense”, that sense being a state of awareness within which mentative content appears. I am suggesting it is a trait and substrate of consciousness, but as it isn’t a dichotomously displayed knowing and an object known, which is what consciousness is as apprehended, then we either need to revise our accepted sense of consciousness, or consider it perhaps along the lines I do, as a sort of base-state of consciousness. I think it may help in clarifying my position if I resubmit what I said to Tina (below):

          “There being no-thing isn’t an experience in common parlance, and that’s why in common parlance I suggested that ‘nothing happens’. What does that mean? It means there’s no movement in mind, even the subtle movement in mentation needed to create the thought-construct of no-thing. One can argue, as Mike does, that this TE Awareness, or no-thing-ness, or no-thing-happening, is a model or simulation of consciousness, and so is dichotomous insofar as there is both a knowing and an object known, that object being a simulation of no-thing-ness. For that to be so, one has to envisage the brain modelling a state that is devoid of features other than that it knows itself as its own knowing presence. So, the brain has to (at some point for the TE adept) instantaneously model a state it has never encountered before, is devoid of features, and which for some reason isn’t in any way susceptible to memory – one can’t remotely begin to invoke it as a memory, or as an evoking of distinguishing features. I simply don’t know if that’s what’s happening, and rather than say it is or it isn’t, instead conceive of it as awareness resting in a base state which itself is always a trait or substrate of consciousness – it isn’t full-blown consciousness in its dichotomously developed nature.”

          Your strange experience of a year or so ago sounds quite horrendous, Jeff. Was it diagnosed as some sort of seizure, may I ask? I have heard of Satori experiences being diagnosed a such, surprisingly enough. I really don’t know what to make of these episodes, other than to say that I was always encouraged not to fixate on the importance or otherwise of experiences. Actually, when we have these transcendental experiences, they tend to seem incredibly significant at first flush, then after a day or two that goes and we sort of shrug our shoulders a bit, don’t you find? That said, then in both the instances you mention, you say there was just this TE Awareness presenting, so those weren’t experiences in the conventionally accepted sense, more a case of non-experiences, and yet awareness knew of its own presence throughout them. You seem to accept much of what I’m suggesting in the article, and as evidenced in the study I linked to, so I’m grateful to you for coming along with me on this one, and for indulging my own takes on what may be happening, or rather, not happening. 😉

          • Hariod,

            No, it was not a seizure. I think what lead to my passing out was a digestive problem as I was experiencing cramping in my lower intestines and nausea. I live in Asia and there are many times that we eat or drink something that causes gastric disturbance. This one was a bit extreme as my head became a ping pong ball en route to the tile floor. It hit the edge of the toilet before bouncing on the floor. Turned me into a ‘monster’!

            The sense of time and space also disappeared with the black curtain being drawn. I didn’t really give it much thought as I had this happen to me before, as I mentioned, as a young man. At that time, it was a big deal and I spent time trying to figure it out. Being in the moment, I simply got up and took care of the wounds. In a way, the whole thing was a bit humorous. Of course, no one who looked at me would have thought that!

  25. I did read your interesting post and all the commentary the other night – until early morning. And I came back to read it again this evening. I can’t honestly say I follow your argument completely as I am not familiar with all the terminology. However, at some more intuitive level I understand the vastness of the concept – consciousness expressing itself, as itself – and how partial any and all explanations are bound to be. Your great analogy on light was helpful in furthering my understanding, at least for a bit. 🙂

    Like Mary said above, your statement of thought’s greatest fear was relatable to me. I know it to be true based on my own practice. And I was fascinated by your discussion about the difficult opening statement and usefulness of experiencing maximal awareness, where “nothing happens”, while a potent presence pervades it. Experiencing such a state is still far beyond my skill level. In any case, I enjoyed your powerful offering to the fullest.

    • Thankyou so much, Helen, for indulging me so generously on what is, as you can see from my own admissions here within the comments, a particularly oblique offering. It probably feels altogether too theoretical or philosophical to those who don’t practise formal meditations – in the sense of phenomenological investigations, the nature of experience, and how the mind creates the world we inhabit. For that reason, I hesitated greatly before deciding to post it, and yet because the (non)experience is an extremely effective tool in coming to disabuse ourselves of our neurotic attachment to thought (i.e. chatter, worry), then I thought that on balance I should run with it. In fact, it’s generated more interest than I anticipated, and quite a bit of discussion on other blogs too.

      You seem well aware, from your own practises and accumulated experience, of how the mind abhors a vacuum, and incessantly wants to spew forth mentative streams up into consciousness. It takes a certain leap of faith on its own part to see that there’s actually nothing to fear, but getting it to first make that leap is a devil of a job, as you obviously appreciate. The feeling (as I see it) can be akin to standing on the edge of a vast chasm and sensing one is about to fall. Fear kicks in at that moment, and the mind creates some perceptual stream to occupy itself, one based initially on that fear-sensing itself. Anyway, thankyou so very much for what is clearly your genuine interest in the matter, Helen; I appreciate it very much indeed. With all best wishes and season’s greetings to you and Dylan, Hariod.

  26. Interesting merge with phenomenology. I might have to check out the neuro-phenomenology video, which sounds like a contradiction. Time – I need more of it, and less holiday socializing.

    Anyways, the phenomenology-meditation combo seems like a marriage that was destined to happen.

    “. . . our scientific representations of consciousness, of themselves they can never produce anything other than a reflected and partial understanding, one sufficient for our advancement in many spheres, but in others paling against consciousness’ full realisation of itself, as itself, rather than as an image of itself.”

    One thing that strikes me here is that phenomenology — or rather, more broadly, writing about the experience of phenomena or lack thereof — is also a reflective activity, a remembered realization of that experience a minute ago or so. In a sense we always lose that original immediacy and add something that wasn’t there, but there’s not much we can do about that. So long as we’re trying to describe the experience as it was experienced as closely and earnestly as we can, that’s about as good as our knowledge of such matters gets as far as I’m concerned. (Knowledge having something to do with giving an account. Not ready to define knowledge. But I think you know what I mean.)

    Scientific understanding, on the other hand, uses its own theoretical framework — whatever that is for the time — to render objective what is ultimately not objective, but which may be rendered objective to some degree, and which is fine, but as you say, it’s limited. I’d say limited by its own framework, which is often taken to be the framework, and therein lies the problem.

    By the way, you’re too popular – no way I could read the entire comments section! I apologize if I’m repeating something you or someone else said.

    • Thankyou very much, Tina, for trawling through this somewhat turgid offering. I had to do it because I’ve had lots of discussions here about ‘stilling thought’ and ‘quieting the mind’, and also questions as to whether ‘when we’re awake are we necessarily aware?’ It seems to me that as consciousness is largely defined in Theory of Mind – i.e. ‘no (mentative) content, no consciousness’ – and as per. Nagel’s trope of it always being like something, then is it right to call TE Awareness ‘consciousness’? So, I’m making what may seem a pedantic distinction between awareness as a trait or substrate of consciousness, and consciousness as typically defined. Unfortunately, a few people seem to have (mis)interpreted this as if I’m introducing awareness as something that stands side-by-side with consciousness, or as ontologically distinct categories – awareness ‘here’, consciousness ‘there’. I’ll have to do better, but the discussion with Mike (SAP) was well worth having, and a few more besides.

      Yes, the idea of neurophenomenology came to my attention through reading articles of the late Chilean biologist-philosopher Francisco Varela, who as you may know was a bit of a Buddhist, like me. He too thought that first-person experience must be part of any final understanding of what consciousness is – if that ever comes about within the individual. We know consciousness has a back story of the brain, with its chemicals and electrical signals and possibly its collapsing quantum states in microtubules, but it also has a front end of course: the phenomenological display. I sense (fwiw) we may be on the wrong track setting both within a mind/body paradigm, seeking to reify one or the other in a final understanding, or in accepting Substance Dualism. What I see is a tendency to go to the extremes – i.e. all there is, is matter; all there is, is consciousness. I think that’s partially a result of the way the mind works within its subject(ive)-object(ive) dichotomy; it’s always one or the other and never the two as aspects of the one, which is neither one nor the other of the two. *sounds like a deranged Buddhist*

      Yes, dead right, Tina, we can never satisfactorily model phenomena in words, as in the attempt we’re actually two stages removed: one by the very use of word-symbols, and two by symbolising what is a memory of the phenomenon and not the phenomenon itself. [My god, it’s all sounding like some horrendous hallucinogenic hall of mirrors. Right, I’m going to start a blog posting funny videos. Sod it.] On this, you say: “So long as we’re trying to describe the experience as it was experienced as closely and earnestly as we can, that’s about as good as our knowledge of such matters gets as far as I’m concerned.” Well, right here in this article I’m trying to describe (or at least point to) a non-experience! People are coming back at me and saying any adept of TE must be experiencing thingness and features within it, because (they insist) that’s what consciousness is – an aware experience of being like something. To me, then it seems an ‘experience’ connotes changing states of phenomena, or ‘things happening’, but in TE Awareness, nothing happens. o_O

      Here’s the first post on my new blog:

      • As far as Dualism or Nondualism goes, I get what you mean. I find it frustrating when people can’t get out of that mindset of seeing things as either subjective or objective. Usually in favor of the latter. If I say, “Well, the subjective is a precondition for the objective”‘ this goes over as solipsism or some such thing. All I’m trying to do is show that these categories might not be the best way to approach every question, and we might be creating problems that don’t need to exist.

        “What I see is a tendency to go to the extremes – i.e. all there is, is matter; all there is, is consciousness. I think that’s partially a result of the way the mind works within its subject(ive)-object(ive) dichotomy; it’s always one or the other and never the two as aspects of the one, which is neither one nor the other of the two. *sounds like a deranged Buddhist*”

        I followed your deranged Buddhist thoughts. Believe it or not. Makes sense to me! 🙂

        “Well, right here in this article I’m trying to describe (or at least point to) a non-experience!”

        Here, I wonder if you mean an experience of no-thing? (Or maybe no-subject experiencing no-object?) 🙂

        As for what others call experience, I think that might be coming from our everyday use of that word: “Hey man, that was quite an experience!” Philosophically, there are layers of meaning. As usual. Gaw. I don’t see “experience” as anything necessarily very dramatic happening. It’s just phenomena-noumena coming together into one uncomplicated word: ‘experience’. From the POV of phenomenology, post-bracketing, experience is all we have to talk about. There’s no “outside of” experience.

        Maybe it would be simpler to say, “Hey, when I have TE Awareness, I’m not dead.” Avoid those big words like ‘consciousness’, which people get so hung up about.

        I can’t seem to click the link on your new blog. It looks like a YouTube video?

        • Hooray for your first paragraph! The subject(ive)-object(ive) paradigm kind of gets embedded as a belief as to its unimpeachable and ubiquitous reality. Moreover, it gets transferred into belief about our conscious experience. Yes, from an inferred physical perspective then I am localised ‘here’ as an individual subject looking out upon a world of otherness ‘over there’. But that is all a construct of the mind in terms of conscious experience and phenomenal appearances. If we apply (as we do) that dichotomous paradigm of subject and object to that very mind construct then that seems to be a sort of Naïve Realism, doesn’t it? There, I’m taking the world (me and everything) as a unified mind-construct in consciousness and superimposing an assumed dichotomy upon it that it doesn’t innately possess. In so doing, I’m missing what the mind-construct is, and that that (the mind-construct), is my world, which itself isn’t dichotomous. Bloody language! 😡

          “Here, I wonder if you mean an experience of no-thing? Or maybe no-subject experiencing no-object?”

          Taking the word ‘experience’ in its subtlest sense (and in which I think you mean it), then its both. Importantly though, it’s not a thought-construct of no-thing (i.e. ‘I am experiencing no-thing’, which knowledge itself would be a thing happening), and for me, and in the narrower sense of experience, then one can only experience no-thing as a thought-construct, which as I said, is a thing which happens. I think this is all obvious despite the torturous language, yes?

          There being no-thing isn’t an experience in common parlance, and that’s why in common parlance I suggested that ‘nothing happens’. What does that mean? It means there’s no movement in mind, even the subtle movement in mentation needed to create the thought-construct of no-thing. One can argue, as Mike does, that this TE Awareness, or no-thing-ness, or no-thing-happening, is a model or simulation of consciousness, and so is dichotomous insofar as there is both a knowing and an object known, that object being a simulation of no-thing-ness. For that to be so, one has to envisage the brain modelling a state that is devoid of features other than that it knows itself as its own knowing presence. So, the brain has to (at some point for the TE adept) instantaneously model a state it has never encountered before, is devoid of features, and which for some reason isn’t in any way susceptible to memory – one can’t remotely begin to invoke it as a memory, or as an evoking of distinguishing features. I simply don’t know if that’s what’s happening, and rather than say it is or it isn’t, instead conceive of it as awareness resting in a base state which itself is always a trait or substrate of consciousness – it isn’t full-blown consciousness in its dichotomously developed nature.

          I don’t really have a new blog, Tina, and was only kidding. Still, I can’t understand why you can’t see the silly video. It’s about one minute long and is a nose twerking as santa claus. 🙂

          • I think I get what you mean in saying it’s not a thought construct of no-thing. “Nothing happens” makes sense too.

            I really don’t understand brain talk entering into the picture here. You’re trying to describe an experience or non-experience. This (non) experience is of a non-dualistic nature. In bringing the brain into the picture we’re doing exactly what we shouldn’t — applying a subject-object paradigm to an experience (or non-experience) that contradicts that paradigm. Plato has Socrates make a joke of this sort of misplaced causality – reductionism really. Socrates explains why he refuses to escape prison by saying something like: “these bones are hard and have joints and the sinews are relaxed and so make me able to sit here with my knees bent.”

            On the video, I was replying in my little reply thingie on the right hand side of my screen, not your blog. Now I get it! I’ll have to have a look – can’t pass up the nose twerking as santa claus!

  27. This is a response to Jeff’s comment of Dec. 14th. @ 3:57am

    I must apologise if you thought my comment verbose, Jeff, but I wanted to be unambiguous in what I was saying on this complex issue you appeared to introduce of Satori experiences in contradistinction to the meditative state of TE Awareness. On this site, and because I am not a teacher, I rarely touch upon Buddhist concepts as variously espoused within that tradition, and try to formulate expressions of my own understandings for the purposes of discussion. For example, only when pushed in the direction of so-called ‘spiritual enlightenment’ do I make mention of it, and then invariably only as to how it’s ubiquitously and invariably misconceived. I prefer instead to talk of ‘contentedness’ and ‘awareness’, and certainly don’t go into religious cosmology which has never interested me. I do think Buddhist psychology is a very useful template for experience, and that’s borne out by its widespread uptake in much of therapeutic psychology. It seems to me that in attempting to discuss and communicate on the matter of consciousness, then as regards subjective, introspective experience it is quite useful to have a hierarchy of states to refer to – what you call a ‘ladder’ – even though all are embraced by the overarching term ‘consciousness’. After all, states of mind are highly variable, as are degrees of awareness within them, and I don’t see how we can reflect that in simple terms whilst acknowledging their inherent complexity. That said, the self-help arena is full of attempts to do so.

    Jeff said: “What I don’t see from your writing is any kind of resolution of the dichotomy of the self-sense other than in your mentation ‘about it’.”

    I have written elsewhere on this site about this, Jeff, but if I understand you correctly then I do indeed see the self as a mentative construct. More accurately, I see it as a morphing mentative stream that sustains and perpetuates itself just in that very stream, but which also becomes a predisposition or narrative assumption about ourselves. That is how I see it as it presents, and the reasons as to how and why it presents in terms of brain function are of course hugely complex, but have something to do with the illusion of agency that we give to conscious thought and how our proprioceptive sense feeds that illusion of our free-willing and agency. What do you mean by a ‘resolution’ to the self-sense, Jeff; do you mean a methodological approach of some kind?

    Jeff said: “. . . we are back sitting on our zafu with very little that has changed but for a very unusual experience of emptiness. This sequence of events seems to repeat itself endlessly.”

    Consciousness and the senses can only conform to the physical basis of their nature and given function, so nothing will, or can, ever change in that regard, naturally enough. What can change is the predisposition to a sense of agency that I just previously mentioned. What also can change is the seeing that awareness – meaning the knowing presence that pervades consciousness – is unchanging of itself and unlike consciousness per se, which by definition is phenomenal change. We don’t need Zazen to invoke this seeing, but it may help in it being first seen and in developing the skill to do so. Like I said at Mike’s place, awareness and consciousness (in the ways I conceive of them) are in an inverse relationship to one another on a sliding scale, and the skill allows us (if we want) to move along the scale at will. At any point along the scale other than for the extremes, we can be with or without a sensing of ourselves as a self-entity, which is the point of your remark, I think – you want to be without a sense of self, is that right?

    Jeff said: “Isn’t there some kind of movement in all of us that wants to escape/change what is right in front of us and that stalks us like a shadow no matter what one thinks or experiences?”

    Yes, I think that’s what drives people to the spiritual search; it’s an intuited sense that we’re not quite seeing things as they are – which we aren’t, because consciousness is seeing them. But we really don’t have to “escape/change” anything at all, and in fact that’s impossible, of course. In my terms, which you can freely reject as insufficient, then all we need to satiate that need (your ‘movement’) is to become intimate with (what I call) awareness, which is unchanging and featureless, and ever-present in the simple acknowledging of it. There’s no need for drama and esoteric experiences. Just let consciousness go to sleep and remain aware. Once one can do that, then one may, or may not, experience (what others call) Satori, and in which the play of consciousness continues but it’s all seen as embraced within an overarching awareness which knows itself as itself. In that, all the constructs that consciousness makes of ‘self’ and ‘other’, ‘here’ and ‘there’, are seen as just that – constructs of the mind. The dichotomous display of consciousness is still there, but it’s seen for what it is and as apprehended – a psychical construct. We know precisely that already at the level of the intellect; it just hasn’t yet become a lived experience. We haven’t “escaped or changed” anything at all, just seen what was always there.

    I’ve been altogether too verbose again!

    • Hariod, you do have a way with words! 🙂 I think you know that being verbose is not necessarily a bad thing as long as one makes sense, and you do! So, no fight from me on this turf. I will even praise you for putting aside the Buddhist slogans/aphorisms, etc., and spinning all this with your own voice. It’s refreshing.

      In many ways, you reflect many of the things that are already clear to me and part of my experience, so I’m able to follow your explanations. I’ve no problem with the ‘self-help’ tools that Buddhist psychology gives one to work with; it can help tremendously to sort out the imaginative from the actual, allowing someone to breath freely and approach this whole business of consciousness/awareness directly.

      I am a firm believer that each of us must come to this in their own way and to express its essence differently, rendering all conditioned responses (paths, isms, concepts, etc.) obsolete, in the sense of them being good for a one-time use by their author, but the follower of that one-time use is just repeating a formula that cannot work for his or her configuration.

  28. Hariod, I came back a few times to this, and dammit I will return again and endeavour to get the blank stare off my face. The balance between the weight of the post and the wide-open wonderful nature of the comments is itself a testament to something quite grand. Until the next time . . .

    • Dear Chris,

      You’re far from being alone in that, and as I’ve mentioned to others here, I thought more than twice about whether to bother posting this rather oblique affair. I actually convinced myself that in all likelihood readers would simply back away politely in silence rather than engage in any manner at all, so have been pleasantly surprised not to have entirely alienated subscribers here. I usually write more anecdotally based pieces, and in more readily treading ground we’re all familiar with and can relate to. I’m not posting again ’til February, but please don’t let this put you off returning then.

      This was one mainly for those who engage in formal introspective practises, several of whom are interested in accessing states free of overt mentation. That’s a common objective amongst meditators, but in fact is a highly esoteric (non)experience. It’s hard enough stilling the mind to thinking solely about (i.e. attending to) a single object – such as the breath or a candle or an internalised image – but to truly still it beyond thought and thought’s content takes a heck of a lot of practise. And yet it can be done, and is well documented, as well as being measured for neural correlates. In some ways the actualisable nature of this state of TE Awareness (see the link beneath the article), in which ‘nothing happens’, requires a revision of what we mean by the term ‘consciousness’, as the state doesn’t behave as all other conscious states do – it is devoid of features and isn’t susceptible to memory function. It doesn’t exist as a noun-like ‘thing’ radiating upon objects ‘over there’ and thus making them consciously known to us, but rather (as I conceive of it), is a fundamental trait or substrate of consciousness itself. On its own, though, it doesn’t constitute consciousness as commonly conceived.

      Thankyou very much indeed for indulging me on this, Chris; your interest and feedback are both very much appreciated, and I greatly welcome them as encouragements to continue here in my endeavours.

      All the very best, Hariod.

      • Initially I did “back away politely in silence”, but came back because I knew (know) the subject matter is of real interest.

        I’m not sure that my engagement with meditation is formal. It is solitary, disciplined and has been a daily practice for many years. It’s my path. Sometimes I allude to or mention, but seldom talk about, the practice.

        There is a mental activity or flow, that words become attached to, dominate and ultimately turn into distraction. Slowing the monologue while allowing the energy sometimes creates quiet. Thought energy without the words is a lot like breath. And where does this fold into consciousness? The witnessing? The will?

        The science of meditation is no doubt fascinating. I wonder, though, if all that conceptualization of the experience, doesn’t itself become distraction and perhaps a barrier – or something like that. I fear I may also have been cultivating a simple mind for too long. 🙂

        I’ve great admiration for your thoughts, charm and writing Hariod. I hope you enjoy the season and whatever it is you will be doing until February (and beyond of course!). 93? Hmm, I wonder about that one.

        • Chris, I must apologise for responding as if you weren’t a practitioner yourself, and which I falsely assumed from your opening comment. I like that analogy of wordless thought-energy to the breath. I’ve sometimes regarded it as akin to riding along in a train carriage at high speed and being solely aware of the rumbling of the wheels upon the track, but nothing else. In other words, there is mentation in this thought-energy, but its forms are passing away as rapidly as they’re arising, and so become indistinct in terms of features – i.e. as word-objects, visual symbols, auditory stirrings, or feelings. We just know that something (mentation) is stirring, and I suppose it is a kind of energy, yes.

          As to conceptualising meditative experience, then perhaps there’s a balance to be struck? I was taught to always reflect back upon experience so as to better understand it. If not, then we tend to form assumptions about what it was, and its meaningfulness, or otherwise. For example, I’m sure you’ll have had many times when something seemingly significant happened in meditation, and yet at some point later it all seemed far less important; it was just another experience, yes? Or perhaps we might cling to these esoteric experiences, thinking we’ve advanced as meditators, or are progressing along some path, and so we start to confabulate stories about what point we’re at on some imagined hierarchical scale of wisdom.

          It’s all nonsense in the greater scheme of things, I think you’ll agree, and so putting a check on not allowing such false assumptions to develop by reflecting back on our practise seems sensible, and necessarily involves a degree of conceptualisation. There’s been many a time when I’ve had to undo the seeming relevance of meditative states, and realise that I’m going to have to go back to working with all the usual flotsam and jetsam that floats through the mind, and being the absurd person that I always was, and am. Keeping a sense of humour in it all seems to carry the day.

          Thanks for your kindly generous words of encouragement, Chris, though I do rather envy your capacity to express in a handful of syllables that which it takes me around 1,200 dryly prosaic words to. 🙂

          • No offence taken at all, Hariod! I just wanted to put my view in context for you. I agree entirely with the need for, and importance of, reflection. I think the note (to myself) is to be always wary of conceptualization.

            I like your comparison of the train!

            As for the 1,200 prosaic words – you weave them expertly. Once I get beyond 75, it can quickly become a train wreck.

            • Chris,

              Huang Po, a Ch’an (Zen) master in T’ang China, would tell all his students that came to his temple to practice meditation, that they should forget about the Buddha and the teachings, that the only practice that was taught here was to not engage in conceptual thinking.

                  • Thankyou Jeff, thankyou very much; it’s very kind of you to think of me with these offerings. I have downloaded both books, only heaven knows when I might find time to actually read them! As I mentioned at Mike’s place, I haven’t read any Buddhist texts this century, but am sure the mood will take me there again at some point. I prefer physical books, to be honest, so may dabble with these PDFs and then buy physical copies. I’m sure they’re liquid gold, judging by your enthusiasm for them. 🙂

                    • Hariod,

                      Glad you got it. Like you, I don’t read these kinds of books, generally. But, the way you write of your own experiences tells me that there is something there for you to brush against and this translation gives it life through the beautiful prose/poetry.

                    • I’m sure you’re right, and I can tell I’ll warm to it just from the PDF I downloaded previously. I’m far more likely to read a whole book in its physical form, so am going to order a copy anyway. I’d set aside the next four books (all novels) to read over the holiday period and perhaps into January, and as ever there’s quite a bit of reading and engaging to do just here in the blogosphere. Have you thought of having, or previously had, a blog? It seems you could develop a good readership with your blend of Indo-Oriental philosophy allied to your interest in contemporary Theory of Mind. It can be quite time-consuming though, which is why I only post once every eight weeks or so.

                    • Hariod,

                      I think you do a fine job with the subject matter in your blog, and your easy way of responding to the various comments do you justice. Mike also seems to have this ability of making people feel welcome and attended to. I can’t say that this quality is part of my makeup.

                      I have the time, but not the inclination, to spend hours reading and writing in front of the computer. I don’t think I have that much to say. I am much more of a non-verbal person. Occasionally, I find something interesting in this area, like your TE posts, and will have a chat with someone for a short period to glean some more information. Other than that, I have no sustained interest in blogs, even yours. 🙂 No offence.

                      I am truly pleased with our short discussions and we might even have some more at some time. But, literary endeavors are not my cuppa.

                      I will be asking Mike to explain some things to me about Torey’s model. His book is slow going for me as I can’t digest these things very quickly. I need to sit with them and marinate. I feel there needs to be a common ground amongst the scientific and philosophic, the religious and mystical, the researchers and the contemplators, one where all this leads to a radical change in the way these areas may be seen to interact. If science is to be embraced as an investigation into reality, the scientist himself must undergo a transformation just as the so-called spiritual practitioner must too in order to prove the ‘value’ of their results. You have to walk the walk as well as talk it. And, of course, I have my own views on this which I will try to share with Mike and get his take on this.

                      Thanks for listening.

    • WP notifications are strangely unreliable things, it would seem to most of us, Marie. I dread to think how many comments others have made in response to my own but which I’m completely oblivious of. It seems we all need to cut each other some slack on this, as to be sure we haven’t missed anything involves checking the notifications area on the dashboard, as well as email notifications, and the WP Reader too – and who amongst us has the time or inclination to do all three? 🙂

      • I’m in your corner on this, Hariod. I was so surprised when I (randomly) checked my comments and saw your comment. I had to do a double-take, because I would’ve definitely responded had I seen it previously. Oh well, there’s a reason for everything, not sure what this one is though. But yes, I loved that Ella Fitzgerald track, and it was so kind of you to send it. Jazz can lull or excite, and it was good to listen to before falling asleep in this case.

        • I must apologise for the tardiness of my own responses, Marie – I’ve only just today managed to clear the backlog of comments awaiting moderation and responded to each in turn. I actually thought this post would generate little interest, and in fact quite the opposite has happened. Quite ironic really, given the post is about ‘nothing happening’. o_O

          • No need to apologise Hariod. Your blog is such a popular one, so it is understandable that you receive many comments. And I assume that you have another life outside blogging. 🙂 How ironic that ‘nothing happening’ should generate much happening on your blog? Perhaps you should write one about ‘something happening’ just to see if irony is adaptable to changing needs. 🙂

            • Actually, I haven’t had much of a life outside of blogging since posting this at the end of last month – it’s caused spin-off reactions elsewhere in the blogosphere and I’ve been attending to those too in detailed discussion. I hugely appreciate the interest and engagement though, but remain surprised that this one stirred the level of interest that it has.

  29. Dearest Hariod,

    I came by to wish you Christmas greetings and I find my mind blown in reading your post. I need to read it once again to digest, and in a clearer frame of mind than the one I am now in, then come back to give you my thoughts.

    In the meantime, I send my love and well wishes for a beautiful Christmas and a happy and peaceful New Year. And I so thank you for the love and support you have extended towards me my friend. I so appreciate it.

    Love and blessings, Sue. xxx ❤

    • My dear Sue, you are far from being alone in struggling to relate to this offering, and as I’ve mentioned to several other readers, I did wonder whether to post it or not. On balance, I felt I ought to, as I do get enquiries on, and invited to discuss, so-called Buddhist ‘emptiness’, or ‘stilling the mind’ (or some like terminology). This is all very much a minority interest, one reserved for practitioners of concentration meditations or those interested in what lies behind the appearances of conscious phenomena, other than for a state of sleep or death. I promise to return to a more anecdotal and altogether more digestible offering when next I post in February! In the meantime, I send you love and best wishes, and trust you will have a fabulous Christmas amongst your loved ones. Hariod ❤

      • My brain is not in its most capable setting of late Hariod, lol. This subject interests me and I wanted to give it due thought before plunging in to respond. So, it’s yet to be savored, digested and cogitated, but you can be certain that over the holidays it will be revisited. 🙂 Have a wonderful Christmas, and I so thank you for the wonderful support you have given me. xxx 🙂 ❤ Sue x

  30. Hariod, just a little gift to help paint your picture of Thoughtless Emptiness:

    “It is like the pacification of turbulent waters by pouring oil over them: no waves are
    roaring, no foams are boiling, no splashes are spattering, but a smooth, glossy mirror
    of immense dimension, and it is in this perfect mirror of consciousness that myriad
    reflections, as it were, come and go without ever disturbing its serenity.”

    Soyen Shaku

    • Thankyou Jeff, that is lovely indeed; in fact, it inspired me to search a fuller context as I had a feeling the translation was a bit off; here is the original:

      “The practice of dhyana is often confounded with a trance or self-hypnotism — a grave error which I here propose to refute. The difference between the two is patent to every clear-sighted mind, for a trance is a pathological disturbance of consciousness, while dhyana is a perfectly normal state of it. Trance is a kind of self-illusion, which is entirely subjective and cannot be objectively verified; but dhyana is a state of consciousness in which all mental powers are kept in equilibrium, so that no one thought or faculty is made predominant over others. It is like the pacification of turbulent waters by pouring oil over them. In a smooth, glossy mirror of immense dimension no waves are roaring, no foam is boiling, no splashes are spattering. And it is in this perfect mirror of consciousness that myriads of reflections, as it were, come and go without ever disturbing its serenity. In trances certain mental and physiological functions are unduly accelerated, while others are kept altogether in abeyance, the whole system of consciousness thus being thrown into disorder; and its outcome is the loss of equilibrium in the organism, which is very opposite to what is attained through the practice of dhyana.”

      -The Zen Sect of Buddhism, by Daisetsu Teitaro Suzuki, 1906

      • Hariod,

        The translation was not a bit off. It was pulled out of a slightly larger paragraph, as you have posted, by D.T. Suzuki, who was a student of Soyen Shaku when he was very young, and his translator. What I posted appeared in a book by James Austin, Zen and the Brain, under the heading, ‘What is Meditation?’, and as used at the beginning of the chapter.

        The reference in Austin’s book was the following: Soyen Shaku came to the United States in 1893, the first Rinzai Zen master to do so. He cautioned that hallucinatory visionary states had nothing to do with realizing the religious life. Source: Soyen Shaku, The Practice of Dhyana, in An Anthology of Zen, ed. W. Briggs. New York, Grove Press, 1961, 266–273.

        I should have clarified this, but I didn’t realize that you were somewhat familiar with the passage and wanted to keep it simple. Context does make a difference in communication. 🙂

        • Thanks Jeff, though you’ll note that the syntax is indeed faulty in the quote as initially conveyed. If you compare it to D.T. Suzuki’s original text translation you’ll spot more clearly the syntactic error. 🙂

  31. I am, as always, amazed by how your mind works; it is so different than mine. I love the photos you picked to go with this post; they are such a good and creative way to illustrate the idea of nothing happening. Your provisional notion to the effect that “. . . no matter the sophistication and accuracy of our scientific representations of consciousness, of themselves they can never produce anything other than a reflected and partial understanding, one sufficient for our advancement in many spheres, but in others paling against consciousness’ full realisation of itself, as itself, rather than as an image of itself” sounds right on to me, although I know nothing! 🙂

  32. Passing by just to leave my best wishes for the New Year; this is the comment I left for you on Sue’s site: Best wishes for a Happy & Peaceful New Year,dear Hariod. 🙂 I’ve so much missed your ‘eranos’-like posts, my friend. ♥ ƸӜƷ ♥

    PS: I’ve been away from WP for a long time, but I’ll come back and read your post, dear friend. I might be late, but I never forget you. My thoughts & thanks always with you. 🙂

    • Dear Doda, thankyou so much for your kind thoughtfulness, which I again acknowledge and am grateful for – I trust you found my message at Sue’s site. This particular post is of marginal interest to most as it deals with a quite esoteric meditative state, and yet I felt I needed to address the matter given a number of enquiries along the lines of ‘emptying the mind’, ‘getting rid of thoughts’, and so on. These are phrases that trip off the tongue neatly without our quite knowing what may lay behind such a state, or even if such a state is possible. It is indeed possible, and it has been studied scientifically – as per the link I provided at the foot of the article – but it remains of minimal interest to most meditators and contemplatives, and holds no special merit as an actualisable state. In some sense it demands that we redefine what we mean by ‘consciousness’ given that it violates the dictum of ‘no content, no consciousness’. Anyway, that is all by the by, my friend, and I promise to return to something more anecdotal and (hopefully) interesting when next I post in February. In the meantime I send you love and best wishes for the year ahead, dear Doda. H ❤

      • Oh, Hariod, my good friend. I decided to contact some of my very special friends on WP just to show signs of life (lol), and to thank them for their concern while I was, and still am, away. Right now, I could spend hours on your post and your analytical reply, if I hadn’t serious work to focus on. What a knowledgeable and charismatic person you are. When I read your thoughts and about your spititual experiences, I can understand a little more. I also want to tell you that I am stunned by your writing style and the advanced vocabulary you use in such a phenomenal way – your words have ‘light’ in them. I feel honoured and proud that I’ve met you. You have so much to give to your readership.

        Thank you my friend. ~ Best to you.

        Doda ❤

  33. Hi Hariod,

    At the outset, may I wish you a Happy New Year.

    If truth be told, I am zapped by your opening assertion that “If we are maximally aware, then nothing happens”. Being impatient to engage with you directly, I need to confess that I have not got round to reading the several extensive discussion threads that follow your post. I do realise therefore that I carry the risk of repeating something which has already been said.

    So, if I were to take your assertion further, it would imply that any or all things that happen are really a function of our lack of knowledge (or awareness) of something that is out there. In other words, all life’s movements and progress really signifies a quest to reduce the ignorance or unawareness space that exists in our own ‘occurring world’. But it is also the differentials that exist between the occurring world of mine versus those of the significant others in my life (and in the larger world) that gives each one of us our unique identities. So, that would lead us to conclude that with maximal awareness and ‘nothing happening’, the world gets to be inhabited by clones, each one same as the other. A perverted version of the Second Law of Thermodynamics!

    Would you agree or care to comment Hariod?

    Shakti Ghosal

    • Hi Shakti,

      Many thanks for taking a run at this piece, and for throwing down the gauntlet! I seem to have succeeded in generating a blend of befuddlement and mild hostility in many readers, and I do confess to being deliberately mischievous with the title and opening assertion. Asking what it is like for nothing to happen is itself a reference to the philosopher Thomas Nagel and his assertion that conscious states always render to the subject particular qualities, meaning that to be conscious is to have things seem to be a particular way in respect to phenomenal occurrences. In other words there are ‘things happening’, and that follows the broad dictum of cognitive science which is ‘no content, no consciousness’ – i.e. things must happen for us to be conscious.

      I am putting forward the notion that we either need to revise our definition of consciousness or else consider it as resting on a substrate (if you will) of awareness – that being a state of pure lucidity yet not one inhabited by phenomenal objects, which would be a full-blown conscious state. This state – which I make clear in my article – is a meditative one, and has been well documented in Buddhist psychology and elsewhere. It has also been studied scientifically in measuring the NCCs within the brain – see the study I link to at the foot of the piece. I have had an interesting discussion here with Mike at Self Aware Patterns as to whether this state is in fact a representation (like all other conscious states), or whether it is something more akin to the substrate I referred to. It is unlike other conscious states in that it cannot be recalled – it is not susceptible to memory – in the way that moods and mental states, along with conscious content, can be.

      Let me see if I understand what you mean by “take your assertion further”. It sounds as if you are couching this state and what it implies to you in terms of space and time, that is, when you refer to “something that is out there”. I may be wrong, but you also appear to be suggesting that life is teleological in that “life’s movements and progress really signifies a quest to reduce the ignorance or unawareness space that exists in our own ‘occurring world’.” Firstly, I think we have to put aside spatial and temporal referencing here, or at least accept that they are – as apprehended – psychical constructs, meaning mental proliferations. In fact, we never experience time in consciousness, but only ever infer it from phenomena. Even so, all consciousness is brain generated and brain dependent, so space-time as it exists “out there” (your words) is never known in and as itself. Only consciousness and its substrate of awareness can be known in and as itself. This is not controversial. Secondly, I tend not to regard life as a teleology, as being purpose driven, and so am not inclined to think that realising the nature of consciousness – as distinct from understanding its correlates (NCCs), function, and content – is any kind of evolutionary imperative. I do accept, however, that some individuals, usually by means of contemplative practices as forerunners, do actualise the nature of consciousness as it appears within themselves, and by implication, as it does for others too.

      On your closing argument, then it would seem that you’re abstracting this meditative state – ‘TE’, or ‘Thoughtless Emptiness’, as the scientific study refers to it – and taking it as some sort of potential substitute, or advancement in, consciousness. By my lights, and given that I regard TE as the Tabula Rasa of consciousness – the ‘Blank Slate’ upon which the objects of consciousness are inscribed, so to speak – then your abstraction negates consciousness altogether. Quite clearly, consciousness and subjectivity are evolved survival mechanisms for many species (perhaps all), and so it makes no sense to be reverse engineering our cognitive selves and couching it as some sort of advancement.

      One last thought: consciousness, which is the brain-created endogram, or situational report, is necessarily a narrowing down of sensory experience and data, one in which the mind formulates its hypothesis of what’s going on and how we might react to it. This mental process entails a coalescing of attention around that same endogram, and attention necessarily engages awareness, as to attend to something connotes awareness as a guiding factor in what is to be attended to. One can therefore conceive of awareness and consciousness as being in an inverse relationship to one another: the more clearly defined the object of consciousness, the less apparent is the broad knowingness of awareness; context all but disappears and there is just the object apprehended. As the mind ‘zooms out’, so to speak, and back into a broader awareness, so it is that specific objects of consciousness recede in their defined character and we become more globally and contextually aware. But this broader awareness is not so much ‘awareness of’, it is more just the knowingness that is awareness, which itself is featureless, objectless, non-local, and non-representational. Throughout the day we glide back and forth along this sliding scale of awareness and consciousness, and in developing meditative skills (I think you have?) we can do this volitionally.

      I think it best to halt there and give you the space to respond if you wish to, Shakti. In the meantime, I am grateful for your interest and engagement, and am happy to hear and respond further to your counter-arguments to this idea of there being an objectless awareness – or Thoughtless Emptiness – within which ‘nothing happens’ and which, strictly speaking, is not a conscious state as is commonly understood by the term.

      With gratitude and respect,

      Hariod.

      • Hariod, I can’t imagine disagreeing with any of what you said, and thanks very much for the clear reply. One further question I do have, and that concerns your name. It is an unusual name, is it not? Is it your actual given name or a nom de plume? Not that it matters in the least to me. 🙂

        • You mean the ‘Hariod’ part is unusual, I assume, and yes, it is Jeff — derivations issuing from local dialects of other, similar sounding names are quite common practice, of course. I wasn’t sure of it at first, but grew to like it. 🙂

  34. New Year greetings to you, Hariod, while we are still at the beginning of the year. Maximal awareness is a sublime state of nothing[ness], the dwelling place of everything. Shearing off the philosophese, it is a state of thoughtless emptiness one attains upon relinquishing all desires, as desires are carried by the vehicles of thought. I have apparently experienced such levels of heightened awareness for nanoseconds, beyond which it was impossible for my mortal frame to accommodate it due to a constant clamour for the space by unending thought-currents. While Buddha defined it as Nirvana, Krishna stated it in the Gita as ‘sthita-pragnya’, loosely translated as equanimity; a sthita-pragnya is one who has given up all desires of the mind and who delights in his Self by his Self; he is un-agitated by sorrow and untouched by comfort, who is beyond attachment, fear and anger; such a person is said to be sthita-pragnya or single-pointed and fixed in his Self. The advice given by Krishna to a diffident Arjuna in the battlefield of Kurukshetra was to attain such a state of equanimity. Even though arrayed on the opposite side were his near relatives and teachers, Krishna exhorts Arjuna to perform his duty with single-pointed focus on righteousness. Influenced by Upanishads and Buddhism, the Greeks defined such a robust state of equanimity or serene calmness as Ataraxia.

    • New Year’s greetings to you too, Raj, and very many thanks for your lucid and erudite response to my piece, as well as for your interest; I appreciate both greatly.

      I have avoided couching this state of TE Awareness (designated as such in the scientific study I linked to), in religio-philosophical doctrinal terms, although of course it has been documented there in the commentaries as well as in canonical sources. Here, I was looking more at what we mean by ‘consciousness’, and what are its experiential referents and/or qualifiers. My own view, and it would appear to be one you share, is that we are missing a trick if we insist upon mentative content as being a qualifier for consciousness. If we do not, and instead adhere to the dictum of ‘no content, no consciousness’, which appears a given in cognitive science, then we need to designate TE Awareness as such, or as Thoughtless Emptiness, or perhaps just as Awareness – as I myself do. The reason I am happy to do so is because this state (Awareness) may still appear to itself, as itself, whilst consciousness runs along ‘within’ it. That might appear to negate it as anything meaningful, or even as existent beyond the phenomenal, but I maintain this position nonetheless. Within this experience – which is embraced by the non-experiential – then phenomena are very clearly and starkly known (‘seen’) as mind creations, and that includes all notions of self-entity in respect to the individual and what the individual apprehends as external phenomena. In addition, the point of centrality which was priorly assumed to be ‘the self of me’ no longer obtains, and which I suspect you may well appreciate, Raj. So, there’s something paradoxical to the mind here, as it conceives – and can only ever conceive – within a subject-object dichotomy, and yet this (non)experience transcends that yet at the same time it (the dichotomy) occurs within it as a mind-creation.

      Quite what the various religio-philosophical traditions make of this, if anything, I think depends on language and culture; though it would seem that it is attributed variously by them nonetheless. For myself, I am no position to assume it to be synonymous with any of their designations, but it may be. I have cultivated my own means of expressing these things, Raj, and in light of reflecting on them as occurrences within my own life, tending to err very much on the side of everyday language in doing so. If nothing else, that has the merit of allowing others to debate and discuss things here with me, which I always welcome, whether it be contrarian to my own means, or not. This isn’t to say that debate and discussion are not possible within and across doctrinal parameters – such as, say, my own past Buddhistically derived perspectives and your own pre-Buddhist ones – but there is every chance that the various terms never quite marry against one another; like, say, Sthita-pragnya and Nibbana, or Anatta and Self. Actually, of those two comparisons, then I’m inclined to say the latter are indeed synonymous, even though Anatta means ‘non-self’ and ‘Self’ means, well, the Self beyond self. That’s in fact a very good example of how borrowed language can cause such problems. Another might be the equanimity you refer to, which in a Buddhist sense [Upekkhā or उपेक्खा] certainly denotes a state below that of Nibbana (not that Nibbana is a state), and is categorised as being a ‘divine abode’, meaning in mundane terms a state of consciousness. Nibbana is not a state of consciousness.

      Do please feel entirely free to respond as you wish, dear Raj, and take issue with me on anything I say here if you feel I am erring in any way; I am always keen to learn from those more learned than myself.

      With all best wishes, Hariod.

      • Hariod,

        Not only language, but subjective experience, too, is a difficult terrain to traverse. The comparative mind is easily snared and troubled in its analysis of itself. As Soyen Shaku, and many other other Zen masters have admonished their followers, “to not attach any importance to the feeling of nothingness in which no mentation is present, and to a state neither of loss of consciousness, nor of consciousness of anything in particular, considered by some to be the highest stage of samadhi.”

        Even our buddy, Huang Po, said, ‘How can you even hope to approach the truth through words? . . . full understanding can come to you only through an inexpressible mystery. The approach to it is called the “Gateway of the Stillness Beyond all Activity”. If you wish to understand, know that a sudden comprehension comes when the mind has been purged of all the clutter of conceptual and discriminatory thought-activity. Those who seek the truth by means of intellect and learning only get further and further away from it. Not ’til you abandon all thoughts of seeking for something, not ’til your mind is motionless as wood or stone, will you be on the right road to the Gate.’

        Even these statements will be misunderstood through our conditioned lens of mind, and interpreted every which way that suits the reader according to his or her background and culture.

        A Happy Chinese New Year to you, Hariod.

        • Hello there Jeff, and how kind of you to interject with such wonderful and apposite quotes! Yes, I’ve stressed to one or two other readers here that this state of TE Awareness (i.e. nothing happening) is – in my opinion – not something to be regarded as some sort of end game, some point at which the mind is mastered and beyond which there is no further understanding. My view is that to do so is a fairly common error amongst meditators, as it isn’t an integrated way of being at all; it doesn’t (of itself) embrace the full ambit of conscious experience, and surely life fully lived must do that? Just such an integration is what I was talking to Raj about, and which appears highly paradoxical when expressed in words – how can there be any extant and present quality of nothingness (what I call Awareness) when the brain is simultaneously spewing out its conscious states and mentation? But there it is, it is so, illogical though it would very much seem to be. With very best wishes for the New Year to you too dear Jeff, and with many thanks once again for those lovely quotes.

      • Thanks very much, Hariod, for your nuanced response on sthita-pragnya, upeksha (upekha), and nirvana equating to moksha. When Krishna says that ‘he who is sthita-pragnya or of steady wisdom is dear to me’, the reference is to attaining the state of sublime awareness, which is when all questions about universal life have been satisfactorily answered and the person is irrevocably uplifted from levels of illusory and relative reality to the level of absolute reality, with liberation from the cycle of birth and death. It is a journey from preyas, or immediate pleasantries, to sreyas, or everlasting goodness. Krishna, much like Buddha eons later, is not talking about any god here; only personal development to be attained by consistent refinement of self through sensory restraint. Sthita-pragnya is a complete negation of self as it is a state that cannot be attained if one is steeped in self, same as upeksha, which is the crown and culmination of the four sublime states of meditation, the others being loving kindness, compassion and altruistic joy. Whether it is Atman’s, or individual soul’s, realization of Brahman, or universal soul, or Nirvana, the realization of non-self and emptiness, the journey is equally fulfilling as it is headed towards same ultimate destination.

    • Thankyou for the intriguing quote, Dace. For myself, then I tend not to use the words ‘truth’ and ‘reality’, so quite what Mr. McKenna is referring to I would not know. May I ask, what do you make of his quote; do you take it that the world does not exist, and that all there is, is consciousness?

  35. Hariod, you’ve mentioned that you were involved with monastic, Indian Buddhism (Theravada?) for quite a long time. If it would not be too intrusive, I’m curious to know whether you were actually ordained, and why you decided to move on from this. Usually, giving something a long term commitment is an indication that there is ‘value’ to it. ‘Value’ is also something that can change as it is dependent on desire. With a change in desire, or a disappearance of it, views can and will change. I’d like to hear of your experience and what changed for you.

    • Hi Jeff, and thanks for your further interest. Yes, I was trained in Vipassana Buddhism, and to some extent studied the Pali texts of the Theravadin tradition, along with the commentaries thereon and further less related texts — system and non-system. The emphasis was very much on dry insight practise, though, rather than book learning. I was not ordained, but nonetheless underwent a very intensive and prolonged training in meditation. After some 15 years or so, I found my practise naturally evolved away from the kind of phenomenological reduction that constitutes Vipassana, and into a looser, Zen style of practise. The head of the monastery at that time thought that was fine for me to go down that route, and that they themselves had too, much to my surprise. Really, the training had run its course, but I continued my association for some years thereafter.

      There seemingly was ‘value’ (as you call it) in the training, though of course one never quite knows what otherwise would have happened, so it’s impossible to be certain. What I can be certain of was that it was a very beautiful and rewarding path, and one that I never have regretted following. As to the ‘desire’ you mention, then what happened was that the seeker in me just died away. This was a process that occurred over time, or rather it became known to consciousness over a period of time. At a certain point it was clear that the old seeking self-entity simply wasn’t there, and of course it was from that perspective that desire arose in regard to following paths and so forth. I understood very clearly that no seeking subject ever attains anything, nor does it absorb into any object of knowledge. The old seeker (and all seekers) was (are) trapped in a dichotomous paradigm of subject and object, and envisaged one absorbing into the other, or the two merging. This is how the mind works, of course, and it can only conceive in terms of such a dichotomy.

      So, the seeker construct (as is falsely conceived by the individual) thinks that one day it shall attain enlightenment, or that it shall absorb into enlightenment as some object of knowledge. The Buddha said something like — there is suffering, yet none who suffer, there is the path, yet none who follow it, there is enlightenment, yet none who attain it. Just that had become very clear to me around the time links were severed with any formal meditative discipline as promoted by the monastery.

      It’s a tricky one really because as I say, there is great value in such a path, and yet at the same time the seeker construct — by its very nature — is what obstructs the individual from their goal. It’s not as simple as saying to oneself ‘give up seeking’, because of course that instruction issues from the dichotomous perspective that the seeker doesn’t yet realise they are trapped within, and so they remain within it as a non-seeker. It seems the death of the seeker construct has to come about as a natural and uncontrived process. For clarity, then I’m by no means equating that with so-called enlightenment — a term which is really not very helpful, I don’t think. I suppose all of the foregone is what comprised what you refer to as views changing.

      Any thoughts of your own that may accord or be contrary to all this, Jeff? I’d be greatly interested to hear them if so.

      With gratitude and all best wishes, Hariod.

  36. I have been back here many times Hariod, rereading your thoughts, pondering how to describe my own responses to the subject. And the best way I can add any semblance of thought to this discussion is by adding those of another – Alan Watts. Enjoy the views and music. 🙂

    Love and peace to you my friend – have a beautiful Sunday.

    Sue ❤

    • Ah, well dear Sue, that’s really the perfect accompaniment to this whole notion of ‘nothing happening’. I know it doesn’t make sense to the rationalising mind, and so that’s why it’s so difficult to discuss, and it’s also why I opened the piece anticipating a negative response from readers – actually, I didn’t get that, because I think most are too polite, or simply read and left in silence. I don’t mind at all, and am quite used to my more contrarian pieces ruffling feathers. You obviously get it though, otherwise you wouldn’t have chosen Alan Watts’ words on the subject. 🙂

      Love and peace to you too, dear Sue. H ❤

      • Glad you approve of my choice of Alan Watts, Hariod. And yes I got it, but he said it so much better than any words I could string together. 🙂 Have a wonderful week my friend. ❤ Sue xxx

    • Thankyou for your interest Ka, I appreciate it greatly. This was a rather difficult post for many subscribers here, it being primarily for those interested in the nature of consciousness and in developing meditative states. I’m going to go back to something more accessible in the next piece, but felt I wanted to address this issue of being beyond thought. You appear to grasp the central, seemingly illogical, conceit, nonetheless. 🙂

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