Life 101: How we think about the world (philosophy of science)


There are some essential Life 101 topics. Things that are fundamental to being human and can serve us for a lifetime.

One of these is learning how to think about the world, also known – when more formalized – as philosophy of science.

It’s something we all can explore for ourselves. And, as I see it, it’s a bit shocking it’s not included in a more systematic way at all levels of formal education – adapted to each age level and made fun, relevant, and with the ordinariness of it emphasized.

It’s what we already know, this is just a way to bring more awareness into it and investigate it more consciously.

Here are some ideas of what could be included in formal education.

When it comes to exploring the world, there is the basic approach of observation, hypothesis, testing, revising, testing by others, etc. And how each step is influenced by our underlying assumptions and worldviews. What are some examples of how we use these steps, often without thinking about it, in our own life? What are some examples in our history? What do we find if we apply this approach to an area of our own life?

Equally or more important is how we more broadly think about the world and our understanding of it.

We don’t know anything for certain. This goes for us as humanity, as a culture, and in our own life. Our statements or assumptions are practical guidelines for orienting and functioning in the world. They are questions. They are not the final word. What is an example of an assumption we made – about the world, ourselves, others, a situation – that we were convinced was true, and then it turned out it was not? What are some examples from history and science?

Our understanding of specific things in life changes over time. Our collective understanding changes, and our personal understanding changes. Over time, all of it may change. What are some examples of you seeing something a certain way, and then change your view? What are some examples from history?

Our worldview and most basic assumptions about the world change over time. What are some examples of worldviews changing over time? What are some examples of different worldviews from different cultures? What are the most basic assumptions about the world in our culture? Could these change in the future?

There are other understandings and other worldviews that may fit our experience (data) equally well as the ones we are familiar with, and some may even fit them better.

Our worldview and most basic assumptions about ourselves and the world is the water we swim in. It’s hard for us to notice these. And if we do, it’s often hard for us to question them. What are some basic assumptions we – in our society and culture – have about the world? What are some examples of assumptions that we usually wouldn’t even think of questioning? Are there taboos around questioning some of them?

Our background colors our understandings, values, and worldview. Our background – – as a species, culture, and individual – color what we see as important, what we see as right and wrong, and our assumptions about the world and ourselves. What are some examples of how our background influences how we see something? What are some examples of cultural differences? Imagine an intelligent species very different from us (bird, reptilian, fish, etc.). How would their perceptions, inclinations, and perhaps values differ from ours?

What is cognitive bias? What are the most typical cognitive biases? Take one and see how it plays a role in your own life. Is there a time you realized you made a wrong assumption because of bias? Which cognitive biases do we most see in our society? How can I be more aware of these? How can I counteract them? What may happen if I don’t notice or question my biases? And what are the benefits of noticing and questioning them?

How do we discuss well? Do we go into a conversation with the intention to learn from the other? Or do we just want to keep our initial ideas unchanged? (If so, what’s behind it?) What is the outcome of one and the other? Roleplay both and see how each one feels.

What are some common logical fallacies? What are some examples of logical fallacies in public discourse? And in our own life? How can we notice and counteract them in ourselves? How can we – with kindness and effectively – point it out when someone else uses a logical fallacy? When is it appropriate to do so?

This ties into trauma education since traumas often influence our perception, ideas about the world, and how we hold onto them (often for dear life when traumas are involved).

It would be a fun challenge to adapt this to each age level, and also develop (potentially) engaging, fun, and illuminating exercises and activities for each of the areas listed above. (And other areas I inevitably have left out.) Of course, it’s even better when the kids/teens develop this on their own.

And it is important to show that this is a fundamental part of being human. It’s something we already know and apply, at least to some extent. This is just a more organized exploration and application of it.

I personally learned some of these in school. Some on my own in my teens through reading books about science (especially the Fritjof Capra books). And some at university. (Philosophy of science courses are mandatory at universities in Norway, although why not at earlier levels?)

I am a bit surprised that this is not a more integral part of education at all levels. It’s useful in all areas of life and throughout life. Essential for nurturing a more well-functioning society. And today, with the internet echo-chambers, it’s more important than ever.

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The only way I know the world

The only way I know the world is through my sense fields – sight and mental images, sounds and imagined sound, sensations and imagined sensations, and words which are images and sounds. This means that the only world I know is my own world, as it is here and now. I can examine this. How is my perception of time created? Or space? Or myself as a human being? Or a particular future, a particular past, a particular deficient self? What happens as I see more clearly what’s here? Read More

All-inclusive gratitude practice


I have taken up my all-inclusive gratitude practice again, and it feels good. In a sense, it feels like coming home.

A conventional gratitude practice is – I assume – more accessible to more people, and it can be very helpful. It helps us find love and a sense of abundance. And yet, it also has a limitation, as all practices do. When I filter and separate out what I am grateful for from the rest of my life, I reinforce my ideas of what’s good and bad, and what I can or should be grateful for. It reinforces a split perception of the world.

An all-inclusive gratitude practice also opens up for love and a sense of abundance. In addition, it helps me soften and question my habitual ideas of good and bad, desirable and undesirable, fortunate and unfortunate. It opens me up for gratitude for all of it, and finding the gifts in it. It invites me to meet all that is with love, and perhaps notice it’s all already love.

An all-inclusive gratitude practice will also flush out “what’s left” in me. It helps me see the fears, hopes and beliefs I have about life. I can include these too in the gratitude list, and I can meet it with love and gently explore it in inquiry.

As with any all-inclusive practices or views, it opens up another “layer” for in how we perceive the world. I’ll still – hopefully – be a good steward of my own life. I’ll still aim at acting with kindness to myself, others and the world. I’ll still be engaged. Although now from a slightly different place.

To put it metaphorically, the layer of my human self is much the same. There is still a human self here living as best as he can, and from kindness and clarity when possible. And there is another layer here, a layer that softens the split perception and recognizes all as already grace and love, and perhaps even Spirit.

An example of a conventional gratitude list:

I am grateful for food, clothing and shelter. I am grateful for family and friends. I am grateful for living in a country in peace. I am grateful for being able to rest.

And an all-inclusive gratitude list:

I am grateful for food, clothing and shelter. I am grateful for family and friends. I am grateful for living in a country in peace. I am grateful for being able to rest. I am grateful for brain fog. I am grateful for fatigue. I am grateful for fears about the future. I am grateful for discomfort. I am grateful for the contraction in my throat. I am grateful for wishing I was further ahead.

These lists often include more specific items too.

I perceive, therefore I am


This is quite straight forward, and yet has a big impact to the extent it sinks in:

The only thing I know is that perception (awareness, consciousness) is. That’s all. Any content of experience is up for question.

For instance. I know there is experience here. That’s indisputable.

As for the content of this experience, I see a laptop, a room, a fire place, windows, I hear sounds outside, there is a cat here etc. Thoughts interpret my current content of experience in this way, and also adds a human being perceiving all of this, a me sitting here, and so on. And all of that is made up by images and words. It’s all up for questioning. It is, for instance, possible I exist in some sort of Matrix type reality. All of this content of experience may be created for me. It’s perhaps unlikely, but if I am honest I have to admit it’s possible. (And in a loser sense, it’s accurate. My world, as I perceive it, is created for me by this mind, by life.)

Also, I know quite well that as I question my thoughts and assumptions, including the most basic ones of a me and I, what’s revealed is often quite different from how it initially appeared.

So in this sense, Descartes had a point. If we take cogito to mean perception, he was close. I perceive, therefore perception is.

That’s all that’s known. Anything else is up for questioning. (When I wrote “I perceive, therefor I am” in the title, it’s intentionally sloppy – and more aligned with Descarte’s statement. It’s assumed that the “I” in that statement is questioned too, and that even “perception” is questioned. What is the “I” that’s perceiving? Can I find it? What’s left when I see that my images and words of an “I” are not “it”? And if I look, can I really find perception? Can I remove it and show it to someone? Can I take a picture of it and publish it in a magazine?)

Just to mention it: Questioning doesn’t mean not using conventional views as guides for my everyday life. I will still do that. The only difference is that I am open to question even my most basic assumptions, and from that holding them much more lightly. From taking my assumption as true, solid and real, and identifying with them and feeling I need to protect and defend these identities, I recognize them as assumptions and hold them more lightly. And that gives a sense of ease in my life.

Just a thought?


When we see for ourselves, even to some extent, that the sense of separate self, and also space and continuity, and much more, all comes from thoughts, it can be a little shocking at first. After all, we typically see thoughts as just the verbal type, the one that it seems “I” am thinking and producing, consciously. How can that thought create this sense of separate self, and space and continuity, which seems so substantial and real? It doesn’t make sense.

And it doesn’t make sense, because the thoughts producing all these core beliefs and experiences are of a different type. They are not verbal. They are rarely if ever consciously noticed. They are certainly not produced by me, consciously. And they underlie our whole experience of the world, throughout the day and even in our dreams at night.

For me, these thoughts are image thoughts, and they organize a whole elaborate system of other thoughts, which all filter perception in a certain way, making this filtered perception appear very real and substantial. So real, in fact, that it is rarely if ever questioned. And if it is, then usually only in an intellectual way, as a fun idea to play around with.

It is quite different to notice it as it happens, through for instance labeling practice or choiceless awareness, or any other practice that helps us differentiate pure perception and thoughts. (Thoughts themselves are also within the field of perception, but for this purpose it helps to differentiate that one into two.)

Now, we can see the thought image of space overlaid on perception, allowing perception to appear spread out and be localized in particular places in space. We can see how thoughts create the appearance of continuity and time through memories. And we can see how a sense of a separate self is created through image thoughts of a center in space, of an inside and outside, of a subject and object, and other similar ones all contributing to creating a sense of a separate self, and of a doer responsible to thoughts, choices, behaviors and so on.

Impermanence as an idea, and immediate perception


We can explore impermanence in two ways, at least, and both are useful.

First is the exploration of impermanence in the world of thought, and also in terms of what it brings up in terms of emotions and so on. This may be in the form of high level generalization thoughts such as all is impermanent, and then also explorations within thoughts in more specific ways. I can for instance explore my day or my life, or the life of my parents, or my culture, or human civilization, or the Earth, or the Universe, and specifically see how it all changes over time, including how it all will be gone at some point in the future. This is an exploration of impermanence using thoughts of change, continuity, past and future.

To make it a little more real for me, it is helpful to bring it back to my own life. Everything I have experienced in the past is gone and will never come back in the same way. My life is limited. My days are counted, and there is a specific year, day, hour and minute that I will die, although I don’t know what it is. In a hundred year or so, I and everyone I know will be dead. In less than two hundred years, all memories of me will probably be gone, or at least not kept alive much.

In some thousand years, most of what is happening in my lifetime will be forgotten. In some hundreds of thousands of years, or maybe millions of years, humans will be gone, and everything humans have done will be gone and there will be nobody to remember it. In some millions of years, this Earth will be burnt to a crisp and all traces of human civilization will be gone (unless we went to another solar system in the meantime.) In some billions of years, this whole universe will either collapse into a big crunch, or disperse enough to die a slow heat death. Then, at the very least, will all traces of humanity be completely gone, and there will be nobody left to remember it either.

Also, what happens if I have a vivid, felt-sense of knowing that I will die in ten years? In five years? In a year? In six months? In a month? In a week? Tomorrow? Next hour? Next minute? What comes up for me then? How does it reorganize my priorities? What becomes more important? Less important? How would I live my life then?

This way of exploring impermanence can certainly have an effect, especially in terms of my priorities and what seems important in my life. Trying to impress others seems quite a bit less important, because it will all be forgotten and gone in a while anyway. Living a meaningful life, in a way meaningful for me, becomes more important.

The other way to explore impermanence is through how it shows up here and now, in immediate perception.

Since thought creates a sense of continuity, and also tells us that different experiences are the “same” as previous ones, it is helpful to differentiate the sense fields, to explore sight, sound, sensation, smell/taste and thought distinct from each other. By doing that, it becomes easier to notice how all the sense fields are in constant change. What was here a moment ago is utterly and completely gone, only a thought is left at best, a memory, but this thought is here now, brand fresh and new, even if another thought says it looks a lot like a thought from the past.

Everything arising, in each of the sense fields, is fresh and new. A thought may say that it looks similar to a memory of something that was, but that is a story of the past. What it refers to, both as here now and as something happening in the past, is already gone.

This form of exploration undermines the whole tendency to take stories as anything more than a thought, arising here now.  Attachment to stories is weakened, revealing everything arising as awakeness itself.

Imagining a world


As I continue to explore the thoughts through choiceless awareness practice (labeling the six sense fields, including thoughts) it becomes easier to directly see thoughts, and their effects, as they arise here and now. The jumble of perception and thoughts mixed in with each other is differentiated, which makes it easier to see what they are in their selves, and also how they combine to create gestalts.

It is especially interesting to explore the image thoughts, thoughts mimicking the visual field. These are overlaid on most perceptions in different ways, and serve as cues for emotions and reactions, and as a source of material for discursive thoughts.

The basic image thoughts include…

  • Space, a visual image of space overlaid on perceptions, creating a sense of space and of perceptions spread out and located in particular areas of space.
  • Continuity. Or rather, an image of time (past, future, present) with memories of perceptions overlaid onto it. Without this, no sense of continuity.
  • Body image, which serve to map bodily sensations, smell and taste, and other perceptions. Body images also serve as a guide for identifying sensations that can serve as an anchor for a sense of a separate self, and then amplify these sensations when needed through tension, so they are more prominent and even give a sense of solidity to lend to the sense of separate self. And body images also serve in locating thoughts in and around this body, even thought they arise nowhere and everywhere in immediate perception, prior to this particular filter.
  • Separate self image, and an image of a center here and periphery our there. This one is usually anchored to the body image. The body image serves as a guide for where to place the separate self image, and where the center is located in space. Space image > body image > separate self image > center/periphery image > identity images > etc.
  • Identity images, defining how this particular separate self is different from other ones. As soon as there is a sense of separation between this separate self and another, I can find an image to go with it, and see how this image is taken as real and identified with. For instance, there is physical attraction, and I see that images of me as man and the other one as woman is there, triggering the sense of attraction (along with other images saying what is attractive). And in seeing that, the solidity of it falls away (although it is still available to play with).
  • Boundary images, as permeable or more solid, creating an I and Other, and an inside and outside.
  • Metaphors we organize our world by, such as up=good, down=not so good, etc.
  • And even the archetypes in a Jungian sense…. the wise old man, the hero, and so on.

They are all image thoughts, organizing and mapping perception, serving as cues for emotions and reactions, providing material for discursive thought, and much more. And they are all directly seen as they arise, overlaid on naked perception.

Labeling practice is very helpful, which helps me see how image thoughts are placed on top of just about any perception. A sound, then an image of a crow. A sound, an image of a car on the road. A sensation, an image of the ankle. A taste, an image of the mouth and tongue, and an apple.

Simple experiments are also helpful, such as first visualizing my left hand with eyes closed, then move the hand and notice how the image of the hand moves with it, then opening my eyes and notice the perception of the hand with the thought image of the hand overlaid.

Lately, as I go about my daily life, I can especially see how identities only come from image thoughts, overlaid on pure perception.

Visual on visual


During the most recent CSS retreat, the teacher mentioned how thoughts are most embedded in the visual field, as opposed to the other ones (sensations, taste/smell, sound).

When I explored it for myself, I found that thought seems equally “embedded”, or rather laid on top of, each of the sensory fields. In my case, and I assume this is somewhat common, there is a layer of visual thought images put on top of each sensory field: There is a sound, and a faint image of a car is put on top of it. A taste, and an image of the nose/mouth/throat area and an apple. A sensation, and an image of an ankle with a mosquito bite.

This is the same for each sensory field.

What is different, is that with the visual field, visual thought images are put on top of visual perceptions. There is visual on top of visual, which can make it more difficult to differentiate the two.

One way to differentiate, which we did during the retreat, is to close the eyes and become aware of, for instance, the visual thought image of the body, particular body parts, and how they move in anticipation of a movement of the body, or to keep track of current movements of the body. Then, we can open the eyes and get a sense of how the visual thought images are placed on top of the visual perceptions. With some practice, they become quite distinct.

What I take myself to be, is how I experience the world and others


I wrote about this earlier (as with so many of these topics), but it comes up again…

What I take myself to be, in my immediate experience, is how I experience Existence in general… the world, others, and even God.

If I take myself as an object, then that is how I see the rest of existence, including even God in some cases.

If I take myself as a particular identity, narrow even in human terms, then I tend to put others and Existence in general into equally narrow identities.

If I see myself as primarily human and anything in me as universally human, I tend to see others too as primarily human and what comes up in them as universally human.
If I find myself as soul (alive presence), I experience others and the world in general as soul (alive presence).

If I experience myself as timeless, the world appears as happening within the timeless.

If I find myself as void, then the same thing… I see whatever arises as awake void and form.

Of course, these have nothing to do with surface beliefs, those we play around with at an intellectual level… these are the deeper beliefs we operate from, those typically outside of our attention (including those held at the emotional level).