Are we living within a simulation? Some answers

A popular topic today1 is whether we live in a Matrix-like simulation or not2.

As usual, there are several answers.

AN EXISTENTIAL QUESTION?

If we take ourselves as primarily this human self or something else within the content of experience, then it becomes a vital and existential question. It becomes a matter of what we most fundamentally are.

Whether we’ll ever be able to find an answer is another question. I somehow doubt it.

OUR NATURE IS THE SAME IN EACH CASE

If we take ourselves as primarily what our experience happens within and as, it may still be an interesting question but it’s not existential in the same way.

Our nature is the same anyway, whether it’s a simulation or not.

To myself, I am what the field of experience happens within and as. To myself, I am consciousness, and this consciousness forms itself into any content of experience.

THE SIMULATION IS ALREADY HAPPENING

As many point out: we already live within a simulation.

The consciousness I am forms itself into any and all content of experience. It creates a simulation of the world, and that simulation is all I ever know.

Said in a more limited and biological way, the brain takes sensory input and creates its world. We never experience the world directly. We experience a kind of synthesis created by our brain based on very limited sensory information.

A POINTER TO OUR NATURE

Do we live within a Matrix-like simulation?

To me, what’s most interesting and useful about that question is that it can serve as a pointer to our nature.

Everything we know may be a Matrix-like simulation. We may not fundamentally be humans at all. That is a very real possibility.

In either case, we know that the world we experience – including this human self – is created as a kind of simulation by the consciousness we are. (Or the brain if we like more biological language.)

What does that say about what we more fundamentally are? This helps us open the door for the possibility that we are not fundamentally this human self or anything within the content of experience, including a doer or observer.

So what are we, more fundamentally?

At a thought level, we may realize that what we are is consciousness – independent of any particular content of experience.

That may lead us to explore it in direct noticing, and explore how it is to live from and as it, and also getting and living from it more viscerally.

MAKING USE OF THE QUESTION

Questions like these can remain an intellectual curiosity. Something we cannot find any conclusive answers to, and they may seem removed from and irrelevant to our daily lives.

I prefer to make practical use of these questions. I know I cannot know the answer to whether I live in a Matrix-like simulation, and it doesn’t matter so much. Other sides of that question are more important to me. For instance, it’s a pointer to and reminder of my more fundamental nature.

DIFFERENT VARIATIONS

I should mention that there are different variations of this question.

For instance, when Chuang Tzu asked his question about butterflies and dreams, he pointed to our nature as consciousness. Night dreams and waking life both happen within and as the consciousness we are to ourselves.

When some today use the Matrix analogy and computer simulations, that’s a more updated version specific to our times and culture. It likely says more about us today than the nature of our world. And it too can be used to point to our more fundamental nature. (I suspect the Wachowski siblings were quite aware of that when they made the movie.)

(1) Among the few of us privileged enough to have the life and relative comfort to consider these things. Most people around the world have more immediate and important things to take care of.

(2) I regularly see articles on this topic even in mainstream media. The most recent one is from NRK in Norway: Flere anerkjente fysikere: Mener det er sannsynlig at vi lever i et dataspill (Several physicists say it’s likely we live in a computer game).

Image by me and Midjourney

Read More

Philosophy or noticing

Many or all of these posts may appear as philosophy. 

If we don’t notice for ourselves what they are about and are not familiar with it, then the only way we can relate to it is through and within thoughts. We relate to it at a story level, and then it will appear as philosophizing. And since they are words, they inevitably form a kind of philosophy.

If we notice for ourselves what it is about and are familiar with it, then the words become pointers. What they point to may be alive to us as we read it. 

If we are engaged in practices and inquiry to find this for ourselves, then these words may be taken as pointing to something we may find in the future.

We can also use these words as pointers for a more intentional exploration here and now.

We can explore to see if we can find what they point to here and now. After all, any map is a reflection of what’s here now. And we can do this in several different ways. We can find the words and mental representations here and now, and notice they are mental representations. (Guesses about the world. Maps. Pointers for exploration. And with no final or absolute truth.) And we can see if we can find what they point to here and now. Sometimes, what they point to will be psychological dynamics. And sometimes, our nature.

Read More

When realization appears as philosophizing

When we notice what we are, and put it into words, it can seem like philosophizing to others.

If they don’t have a reference from their own direct noticing, it looks like words that don’t point to anything. They see it as just words and philosophizing.

If they notice what they are, or even have a memory of it, then it’s different. Then, they recognize what it points to and that it points to a direct noticing and realization.

When realization appears as philosophizing

Say we notice what we are. We find ourselves as capacity for the world, and what our experiences happen within and as. And we put it into words. We talk about it and how it is to live from it, to the best our ability.

To us, these words come from direct noticing and experience. We may try to talk about it as simply, clearly, and directly as possible.

It’s not so easy since words differentiate and this is about something that’s beyond what’s differentiated. And the way we do it will inevitably be colored by our culture, background, and how we have heard others talk about it. We may even slip into a bit of philosophizing if we go beyond direct noticing and experience.

To others who don’t have a reference for this, it easily appears as philosophizing. The words don’t relate to their own noticing or even a memory of past noticing, so the words inevitably appear as words and philosophizing without any real-life reference. It can easily be taken as fantasy and imagination.

To others who have a reference, it’s clear where it comes from. They recognize that it comes from direct noticing and living from it. They recognize it from their own noticing or even a memory of a past noticing.

Why put it into words?

So why even talk about it?

It’s a question I sometimes ask myself. Why do I write here?

I do it mostly for myself. It helps clarify a few things for me, and it helps me further notice and explore.

And I also know that it’s sometimes helpful for me when others put what they notice into words. It’s a reminder to notice. It can be a pointer for noticing different aspects of what I am. It’s a pointer for exploring how to live from it. It encourages me to keep exploring all of this. And it’s interesting to see how others put it into words.

For some, hearing about this may trigger curiosity and an interest in exploring this and finding for themselves what they are. If that happened just once, that in itself would make it worth it.

So although this is perhaps the most personal type of exploration, it’s also shared. We share what we find with others, and that helps all of us in different ways.

And I am sure that in some cases, we notice what we are, explore how to live from it, and don’t see any need for putting it into words. And that’s beautiful too. In a sense, it’s more honest since this cannot really be put into words. We can at most, and imperfectly, point to it and offer some practical guidance.

Some of my own experiences

When the initial awakening happened in my mid-teens, I didn’t know or know about anyone else who had the same realization. I had been an atheist with some interest in parapsychology. I lived in a small town in Norway. And this was in the pre-internet era. So it wasn’t easy to find anyone else.

For several years, I didn’t talk about it because I knew it wouldn’t resonate with those around me. But I did explore books to see if I could find someone who had the same realization and had put it into words.

The first one I found was Meister Eckhart, in a book in the main library in Oslo. I still remember standing in front of the shelf, looking at an old book with blue library-style cover, and realizing that this guy got it too. It was covered up in Christian terminology and ideas, but behind it was clearly a direct noticing.

Later, I went to the Tibetan Buddhist center in Oslo, and noticed that if I spoke from my own direct noticing and experience, it was typically perceived as if I referenced something from a book. Perhaps the ones I talked with didn’t recognize it for themselves, so they automatically thought it was from a book? I had many of that types of interactions in the following years.

There were two I met who got it, and where we immediately recognized it in each other. One was a woman I met in a tai chi class and who is still a friend. The other was the then-wife of Jes Bertelsen when she held a couple of courses in Oslo. I also saw that Jes Bertelsen clearly got it, and loved his books.

When I got to the Zen center in Salt Lake City (Kanzeon Zen Center), I could see that the main teacher got it, and also several of the junior teachers. Here, I felt that the tradition got in the way of a more human-to-human connection. When Genpo Roshi developed the Big Mind process, it all got to be more immediate and more free of tradition, and it was exciting for me to find a way to share the noticing with others through a relatively simple process.

Even some years later, I discovered Adyashanti and Byron Katie, and this was the first time I felt a real kinship. These two clearly got it, and they expressed it in a clear and direct way free of tradition. A few years later, I discovered Douglas Harding and the Headless Way, and that was the same experience.

To this day, these are the ones I feel the most kinship with.

I also saw that many Advaita and Neo-Advaita folks got it, but again it seemed caught up in ideology. I found a lot that was interesting and useful there, but it didn’t resonate as much with me as Adya, Katie, and Douglas Harding. Too often, they seemed to favor the “absolute” at the expense of the wholeness and living from it in the world. That’s completely valid and I am grateful someone is taking this approach, but it doesn’t resonate so much with me personally.

I almost forgot that in my teens, while still in Norway, I discovered Ken Wilber’s “No Boundaries”, and that immediately became one of my favorite books and I read everything I could find by Wilber, including his new books as they came out. I also loved the books by Fritjof Capra. And I completely loved Taoism and read everything I could find – I Ching in the Richard Wilhelm translation, the Taoist classics, Mantak Chia’s books and exercises, and a lot more. In my teens and early twenties, I also got deeply into Christian mysticism and the Christ meditation and Jesus/Heart prayer. And in my early twenties, I discovered the “Overview Effect” by Frank White. Through all of this, I found a virtual community of people with insights and realizations that resonated with me.

If I am honest, it’s been a quite lonely process. When I talked with Adya some years ago – in private for a couple of hours – I realized how much I missed someone who got this. There have been people, but they have often been in a teacher role and not friends. And there have been people who got it but cover themselves up in tradition so there is less of a direct expression and connection. Fortunately, I now have a partner who gets it, and that makes a big difference.

After all, although we are capacity for the world, we are also a human being in the world. And as that human being, we seek companionship and people we resonate with.

Byron Katie: Philosophy is so slippery

Philosophy is so slippery. Realization is everything.

– Byron Katie

Philosophy is slippery. Although philosophy can reflect direct realization, it’s often an expression of trying to figure out something within thoughts or be clever with thoughts. As we know, there is almost no limit to what thought can come up with, and it doesn’t need to be useful. If it’s not grounded in direct noticing or realization, it becomes an endless maze with no exit.

Realization is different. It’s about direct noticing. It’s about being familiar with a certain terrain. For instance, we may find our true nature as what all our experiences happen within and as. We may have experience with living from it and the challenges that come with it. Or, through direct noticing and a lot of experience with inquiry, we may recognize that a thought is not what it apparently refers to. It’s an image, a fantasy. It’s a question about the world. It may be more or less practically useful. And it cannot contain any final or absolute truth.

There is something interesting here: When realization and direct noticing is expressed through words, it’s typically and immediately recognized by others familiar with the terrain. While those who are not familiar with the terrain tend to perceive it as philosophy, as something that comes from thought, and they may respond to it with, to them, more philosophizing.

I have to admit, that’s why I rarely if ever talk about these things with others unless I know they are familiar with the terrain or they are genuinely interested in the terrain and not philosophizing.

There is also a grey zone here, an inevitable overlap between realization and philosophy. We may be familiar with the terrain, and when we go to express it in words, we dip our toes in philosophy. Some of it is unavoidable. We will interpret and express it in a certain way, based on our culture and how we have heard others talk about it. We may also get carried away and elaborate using favorite ways of thinking about it. To the extent we are aware of this and intellectually honest and sincere, we can name the philosophy aspect, minimize further philosophizing, or enjoy philosophizing and name it.

This is probably why many love a simple and direct expression of realization, as we see in some Sufi and Zen poets. The simplicity of it minimizes philosophizing.

Deep Ecology & Kant

In the beginning of this excerpt, Arne Næss speaks as if deep ecology and Kant are incompatible.

For me, both appear equally valid.

Deep ecology invites a deep caring for the whole of nature, a deep meaning, and it supports a deep engagement.

Kant invites an exploration of how I create my world. I come to recognize that my world is created in my own world of images, and this helps me hold it all more lightly.

 

Arne Næss

arne_naess

Arne Næss died yesterday, 96 years old. He was a Norwegian philosopher and mountaineer, and most known internationally as one of the founders of deep ecology.

He is easily among the five people who have influenced me the most, and I was fortunate enough to see him speak several times, and also be in personal communication with him a few years back.

His philosophy reflected and flowed from his life.

And that philosophy was unusually and brilliantly clear. Always practical. Profoundly life centered. And as himself, innocent and child-like in its playfulness – especially in his later years.

Update: Arne Næss, Norwegian Philosopher, Dies at 96 from NY Times.

Update 2: He was beloved by the Norwegian people, and received a state sponsored funeral attended by the prime minister and members of the royal family. There is something beautiful – and profoundly right – in that happening for a life-centered eco-philosopher….

🙂

Here is an excerpt from The Call of the Mountain, a documentary about Arne Næss.

Book/Divine Mind analogy

sophie.jpg

Tim Freke used the book analogy in the longer video below.

Characters in a book don’t exist as separate entities, but only in the mind of the author. And in the same way, we only exist in the mind of the author of this story, in the Divine Mind, in God. This human self does not have any separate I associated with it, but happens within the Divine Mind, as all the other characters and all the different settings and the big stage of the universe itself.

If we look, we find that what we really are is this Divine Mind, this awakeness that this human self and anything else happens within and as.

This reminds me of what came up for me when I read Sophie’s World a while back. The book is a walk-through of western philosophy, woven into a more ordinary narrative story following a young woman and her philosophy teacher.

For the first third or so of the story, they appear like ordinary and real people, to themselves and the reader.

Then odd things start happening, they encounter fairy tale characters, the weather changes to fit their conversations, a dog speaks in human language. Gradually, it dawns on them that they are characters in a story and don’t have any separate existence.

At this point, I thought the story would end with the book/Divine Mind analogy mentioned above, illustrating the view of the mystics – and opening the minds of the readers to some radical reversals of who and what we take ourselves to be – at least as just a thought experiment.

Unfortunately, or not, the actual ending of the book went in a different, more conventional/fantasy, direction. A little anticlimactic considering the promise it had about 80% into the story.

But I did get to write my own ending in my own mind, illustrating the book/Divine Mind analogy, so in that sense I got double benefit.

I am sure a book like that must have been written. If it hasn’t, it is out there waiting for the right person to make it come alive.

Read More

The depth of the shallow

I used to be identified with an identity as cultured, which lead me to read a good amount of literature classics, philosophy and art history, watch obscure and sophisticated movies, listen to music such as Arvo Part, Palestrina, Bach, Philip Glass, and so on, and although I genuinely enjoyed it and got a lot out of it, it was also a one-sided life and identification.

During the dark night this identification, as so many others, wore down, and there is now more of an open space for anything… deep and shallow, artsy and popular… it matters less now.

The irony in this shift is that now, finding more fluidity within the wide landscapes of literature, movies and music, I am also more easily able to find the depth in the shallow, and the same dynamics and patterns in all of it. Popular or sophisticated… it is all reflections of the same basic dynamics and patterns of the mind.

There is a depth in the shallow that, although I was aware of it all the time, I held at arm-lengths distance. Now, that it is right here in my life with no distance, I can appreciate it much more.

Conversely, I guess I can say that there is a shallowness in the deep as well, often an identification with a particular identity which sets up boundaries where there really are none, and a self-congratulatory attitude about things that are really not that sophisticated, and sometimes not even that important.

Postmodernism and The Work

I suppose the topic of the previous post also relates to the discussion around postmodernism.

We can use an exploration of the grain of truth in reversals to (a) free ourselves from taking any story as an absolute truth and (b) invite a glimpse of the inherent neutrality of any situation.

But if we stop there, we get stuck in the same way as (some forms of) postmodernism.

The next step is now to engage with the conventional stories of our society, this time from a more differentiated clarity, and a more receptive mind and heart.

We find a freedom from beliefs and identities, which is also a freedom to use and work with the conventional views, stories and frameworks.

Read More