Why do most scientists and psychologists ignore our nature?

To me, there is something that seems clear, both from direct noticing and logic.

And that is what we are to ourselves, and what the world is to us. It’s our own nature, and the nature of the world as it appears to us.

WHAT I AM IN MY OWN NOTICING

In one sense, I am a human being in the world. That’s not wrong, and it’s an assumption that helps this human self orient and function in the world.

And yet, in my own direct noticing, it is what I most fundamentally am?

When I look, I find I am something else.

I find I am more fundamentally capacity for any and all experience. I am what allows and takes the form of any and all of my experiences. I am what allows and takes the form of what happens in all of my sense fields, in sight, sound, sensation, smell, taste, and the mental field. (And any other sense fields we can differentiate out through our mental overlays.)

I am what the world, to me, happens within and as.

I am the oneness the world, to me happens within and as.

We can call this different things. For instance, consciousness.

And that brings us to the logic side of this.

WHAT I AM LOGICALLY

In our culture, most say that “we have consciousness” as if it’s a kind of appendix we happen to have. There is an assumption here that we are primarily a physical object and this physical object somehow has consciousness as it happens to have arms, legs, and physical organs.

This is a third-person view, and it doesn’t really matter in this context how accurate it is.

The more interesting question for me is: What are we to ourselves, in our own immediate experience?

Logically, if we “have” consciousness, we have to BE consciousness. There is nothing outside of consciousness somehow experiencing consciousness. What experiences and has the idea of consciousness is consciousness itself. Not anything outside of it.

Any experience happens within and as consciousness. It’s consciousness taking the form of that experience.

So to us, the world happens within and as consciousness.

The world, and any experience, happens within and as what we are.

We ARE consciousness and the world and any content of experience happens within and as consciousness, within and as what we are.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF WHAT WE ARE

Both direct noticing and (this particular) logic arrives at the same answer for what we are to ourselves, and it also arrives at the same answer for the characteristics of what we are.

What are some of the characteristics of what we are to ourselves?

What are some of the characteristics of consciousness?

To me, what I am has no beginning or end in space. It also has no beginning or end in time. Any experience of space and time happens within and as what I am.

To me, I am one. I am the oneness the world happens within and as. I am what my field of experience, which my mental field differentiates in many different ways, happens within and as.

To me, I am the world and the world is me. The world happens within and as what I am.

To me, the world happens within and as consciousness. It’s like a dream in that way.

To me, any and all content of experience comes and goes. And this includes any ideas of what I may be within the content of experience (this human self) and what these ideas refer to. In some cases, I may not take myself to be this particular human self, for instance in a dream, and what I more fundamentally am is still here. What any and all experiences happens within and as is still here. (Including shifting ideas of what I am as an object in the world.)

When what I am notices itself, I find that my nature is what can be called love. It’s a love that’s not dependent on shifting states or emotions. It’s the love of the left hand removing a splinter from the right. And this love is often obscured by separation consciousness, by dynamics and patterns created from when I took myself most fundamentally as a separate object in the world.

IS THIS WHAT I “REALLY” AM?

So is this what I really am?

Yes, it is. It’s what I am in my own direct noticing.

Outside of that, I don’t know. I don’t know what my nature more fundamentally happens to be from some kind of outside third-person view. And that’s also less important, at least in my daily life.

WHY DON’T WE ALWAYS NOTICE?

If this is so obvious both in terms of noticing and logic, why don’t we always notice or take this into account?

Most likely, because we live in a culture and world where most don’t. When we grow up, we do as others do. We learn to take on and operate from separation consciousness. And that can be very convincing, at least until we start examining our assumptions – about what we are and what the world is to us – a little more closely.

IS IT IMPORTANT?

Yes and no. We humans obviously get by without noticing or examining our nature.

And yet, when the oneness we are notices itself, keeps noticing itself, and explores how to live from this noticing, it can be profoundly transforming.

It can be profoundly transforming for our perception, sense of fundamental identity, life in the world, and our human psychology.

WHY DO MANY OVERLOOK OR DENY THIS?

If this is so obvious, both in terms of noticing and logic, why do so many ignore or deny this?

Most people are not so interested in the question of what they more fundamentally are in their own immediate experience. That’s fine. They get by anyway. They have more immediate concerns to focus on and take care of.

And yet, for some people, this is their job. For scientists and especially psychologists, this is essential to their job and (I assume) interests.

So why don’t more of them explore this? Why don’t more of them take it seriously?

I am not sure.

The essential answer may be the same as above: We live in a world where we are trained in separation consciousness from we are born. It becomes the norm, so we don’t even consider questioning it. And if we do, we feel we are somehow transgressing and entering dangerous waters so we don’t take it very far or speak about it.

To elaborate a bit:

Exploring these things is a kind of taboo in our culture, especially in academic circles. It goes against our shared worldview. It goes against standard norms. (Although all of that is changing.)

Our western culture, and especially our scientific culture, value the more “objective” third-person view over first-person explorations. Again, this has been different in the past and will very likely be different in the future.

If you work as a scientist in academia or as a psychologist, you typically cannot stray too far from the mainstream. As a scientist, you risk losing (or not getting) funding. You even risk losing your job if you get too weird. And as a psychologist, you risk losing your license. (In Norway, psychologists have lost their license for exploring the possibility of past lives in therapy sessions, even if these explorations obviously deal with projections and don’t say whether or not the past lives were real or not.)

In short, cultures are systems and systems want to stay mostly stable. There are many mechanisms operating to preserve some kind of stability. There are many incentives to not explore this, and not so many opportunities or invitations to do so. (Which, again, is fortunately changing.)

At a more personal level, many people may not have the curiosity or passion for exploring this. They are happy exploring other things, and that’s fine. Not everyone needs to explore these things.

WILL THIS CHANGE?

Will this change?

It is already changing. More and more people, including in science and psychology, are interested in a more transpersonal approach and understanding.

I envision a future where the third-person and first-person approaches exist side-by-side and even hand-in-hand, including in science and psychology.

It will be a far more rich exploration of our human experience, and one that reflects a little more of the bigger picture.

ACKNOWLEDGING THE VALIDITY OF WHAT MYSTICS DESCRIBE

If or when this shift happens, something else will happen as well.

And that is an acknowledgment – in science and our culture – of the validity in what mystics across times and cultures have described.

If we look at the essence of what mystics describe, it’s exactly this.

We are consciousness, and the world to us is consciousness.

We are the oneness the world, to us, happens within and as.

Image: Created by me and Midjourney (AI image)

Maps for the awakening path

Maps for the awakening path can be very helpful.

MAPS HELP US NAVIGATE IN UNFAMILIAR PLACES

After all, any time we enter a place that’s unfamiliar to us, maps, stories, guides, and fellow travelers can be invaluable. They help us orient, make better decisions, avoid some pitfalls, provide company and guidance on the way, and can make the whole experience generally more easy and enjoyable. We can learn from those who are more familiar with the place, and we can find support from others exploring it.

Of course, this depends on the quality of the maps, stories, guides, and fellow travelers.

It depends on how we relate to these sources of information and the journey itself.

And it depends on what we bring with us in terms of baggage, orientation, experience, and good sense.

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF MAPS

For all the many benefits of maps, they also have some limitations, and it’s good to be aware of and explore the characteristics of maps.

They are different in nature from the terrain. They are mental constructs and are different in nature from what they point to. (Unless they happen to point to other mental constructs!)

They simplify and leave a lot out. That’s why they are useful, and it’s also one of their limitations.

They may be more or less accurate. Sometimes, maps are misleading.

They inevitably reflect the biases of the one(s) making them. They reflect a certain time, culture, worldview, personal orientation, and sometimes even hopes and fears. That doesn’t make them less useful, but it’s good to keep in mind.

As with any story, they inevitably reflect and come out of a certain worldview. There are innumerable other existing and possible worldviews that may make as much or more sense, and fit the data as well or better. And these worldviews may produce very different maps of the same terrain.

Maps and stories in general cannot reflect any full, final, or absolute reality.

Reality is always more than and different from any map.

And any mental construct is a kind of map, no matter what form it takes. Whether it’s a book, a diagram, a teacher or fellow traveler sharing something, or our own mental images and words telling us something.

THE LIMITATIONS OF AWAKENING MAPS

Maps of a physical place have these benefits and limitations, and that goes doubly (or triply!) for maps of non-physical and metaphorical places like an awakening process.

Yes, there may be patterns in how the awakening process unfolds that we can detect and put into a kind of map. Many have done just that. For instance, Ken Wilber has collected and synthesized many of these maps into a more inclusive and comprehensive map.

And yet, life doesn’t follow our shoulds or our maps. Life goes its own way.

The process may be different for people in different cultures. Your process may be very different from mine. Each case is always different to some extent, and sometimes by a lot.

Also, maps about awakening are informal. They come from people’s own experiences, or what they have seen or heard from others. It’s not a topic that’s studied rigorously using scientific methods.

Maps of the awakening process are provisional at best, and likely only partially accurate.

In my experience, the process is not necessarily very linear, and the process itself tends to undo any and all fixed ideas I have about it or anything else.

HOW WE RELATE TO MAPS

How we relate to these stories and maps makes a big difference.

Do I hold onto some of them as true? What happens if I do? For me, I typically find it’s stressful. I need to hold onto, rehearse, and defend the stories. I make an identity for myself out of it. If my path is different from the maps, I feel something is wrong. And it’s generally stressful whenever life shows up differently from the “shoulds” of the maps, which it inevitably does.

How would it be to hold onto them more lightly? Here, I find it’s generally more peaceful. I find more curiosity. I recognize the maps and stories as pointers only, and as questions about the world. I am more open to exploring what’s here rather than being distracted by how a story tells me it should be.

USING MAPS TO FEEL BETTER (OR WORSE)

We can use maps, and especially stage maps, to feel better (or worse) about ourselves and our life.

We can use them to tell ourselves: I am at this stage in the awakening process. It means I am further ahead than these other people. It means those people are ahead of me. It means this will happen next. It’s all cleanly laid out and predictable, and I know how it is.

But do we actually know? Can we know if the maps are accurate? Can we know that we understand them well? Can we know that another worldview wouldn’t make as much or more sense, and bring about a very different map? And what about everything left out of the maps? Isn’t what’s left out far more than what’s included?

HOLDING IT ALL LIGHTLY

For me, and for all of these reasons, it makes more sense to hold these stories and maps lightly, and it gives me more sense of ease. It’s more aligned with reality.

Yes, I have found it fun and fascinating to learn about them. (Since my teens and for about three decades, I read everything by Ken Wilber. I read widely about stage models in general from psychology and spirituality. And I studied developmental psychology and stage models at university.)

Yes, they can be somewhat useful as something I keep in the back of my mind and sometimes check in with.

And it feels better to hold it all lightly. To not invest too much into it.

SCIENCE IN GENERAL

That’s how it is for me with science in general.

I love science and find it fascinating, fun, and helpful.

And yet, I know that the stories from science are maps. They reflect our current culture and understanding. They are provisional. Future generations will see our maps as quaint, at best as partially valid, and often as hopelessly outdated.

Perhaps most importantly, what they leave out is far more than what they include. What they include is likely an infinitely small part of what there is to discover. And what we discover may put what we already (think we) know in a completely different light.

Reality is always more than and different from any story we have about it.

[Read on to see what ChatGPT has to say on this topic.]

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How old am I?

I had a birthday yesterday, and it brings up the topic of age.

How old am I?

It’s a simple question, and if I take it seriously, it can reveal a lot about my nature.

THE AGE ON MY PASSPORT

In a conventional sense, I am the age my passport tells me. It’s the age in my official documents, and the answer most people expect if they ask the question. It’s not wrong, but it’s a small part of a much bigger picture.

MY BODY’S AGE

In another sense, my body has a certain biological age. Depending on genetics and lifestyle, it can be older or younger than my conventional age. This age has some importance in terms of my health. (And depending on how it’s measured and what criteria are used, it will likely change somewhat.)

THE AGE OF THE UNIVERSE

In yet another sense, I am the age of this universe. According to current science, I am roughly 13.7 billion years old. This can sound like an answer that’s meant to be cute or clever, but it’s far more real than that.

Everything I am as a human being is the product of 13.7 billion years of evolution of this universe.

Every molecule is the product of this evolution, most having been forged in ancient stars blowing up and reforming into this planet which formed itself into all of us and this living evolving world.

Every dynamic in me is the product of the evolution of this seamless system we call the universe.

As Carl Sagan said, and I often quote: We are the ears, eyes, thoughts and feeling of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness.

Everything I am as a human being is the product of the evolution of this larger seamless system I am a local and temporary expression of.

In a very real sense, I am the age of this universe. Everything I am as a human is the age of this universe.

This age is important since it’s a reminder of the reality of the oneness of the universe. It’s a reminder of what current science tells us about our more fundamental identity and nature.

TIMELESS

All of that has some validity to it. And yet, am I most fundamentally this human self? Or even a local and temporary expression of this seamless and evolving larger whole?

If I look in my own first-person experience, what am I more fundamentally?

I find I am more fundamentally capacity for any and all experiences. I am capacity for the world as it appears to me, including this human self and anything connected with it. I am capacity even for any thought or sense that I am fundamentally this human self.

I find that any experience – of the wider world or this human self – happens within and as my sense fields. (Sight, sound, sensations, taste, smell, mental images and words.)

To me, the world as it appears to me, happens within and as what I am.

This is my more fundamental nature, in my own immediate experience.

Here, I find I am what any ideas or experience of time happens within and as. My nature is timeless, allowing and forming itself into ideas and experiences of time and change.

LAYERED

My age is layered.

As a human being, I am the age in my passport and my body’s biological age.

As a local and temporary expression of this larger seamless evolving system, I have the age of this universe. (And that will change somewhat depending on what science says.)

And in my own first-person experience, I find my nature is timeless. I am the timelessness any ideas and experience of age happen within and as.

I love the richness of my age. I love that there are many answers and that some change over time.

I love that each one makes sense in its own way.

WHY DON’T WE USE OUR UNIVERSE AGE MORE OFTEN?

If science tells us we all are 13.7 billion years old, why don’t we use that age more often?

It may seem a silly question, but it’s actually a very important one. Science tells us our more fundamental age is 13.7 billion years, so why don’t we collectively take it more seriously?

It may be because this story is still relatively new so it hasn’t had time to sink in yet.

Also, we are used to using our age in our passport so most people stick with that. Much in society is dependent on separating us by age. (School, tickets, pension, and so on.) And many seem to like to follow that orientation.

For me, it’s beautiful and important that this is an age we all share. Everything that exists has the same age. That’s amazing and wonderful to me. It’s a reminder of what ties us together and that we are all local and temporary expressions of the same seamless evolving whole.

That’s far more fundamental and important than the age we happen to have as local and temporary expressions of this whole.

WHY DON’T WE ACKNOWLEDGE OUR TIMELESS NATURE MORE OFTEN?

Similarly, why don’t we acknowledge our timeless nature more often?

It’s not because it’s not here to be noticed. Based on my own noticing and what I hear from others, it seems we all have this nature. (It’s the nature of the consciousness we all inevitably are to ourselves.) (1)

It’s not even because it’s difficult to find. I assume most can find it with guidance and within minutes.

So why don’t more people acknowledge this?

I assume there are many answers here too. The obvious one is that we live in a society that tells us – directly and indirectly – that we most fundamentally are this human self, an object within the field of our experience. As we grow up, we see that this is what others do so we do the same. In our innocence, which is very beautiful, we train ourselves to do as others do.

There are also many misconceptions about this. Many traditions suggest that finding our nature is difficult or takes a long time, or that it’s for special people, or that it’s about something distant, or that it gives us special powers.

In reality, it’s right here. It’s not only what we are most familiar with, it’s the only thing we are familiar with. It’s what all our experience consists of.

Since it’s about noticing what we already are, it’s for all of us.

It doesn’t give us any special powers, it’s just a noticing of our nature. (And that can be profoundly transforming for our perception and life in the world.)

And with good guidance, most of us can find it within a relatively short time.

How can we find it? The best approaches I am familiar with (so far) are the Headless experiments and the Big Mind process.

Of course, finding it is just the first step. It’s just a glimpse. If we want to continue exploring it, we need to refind it here and now. We need to explore how to live from this noticing. We need to investigate anything in us out of alignment with it, anything created and operating from separation consciousness.

And that takes dedication, passion, and a lifetime. (Or more if there are more.)

(1) Why don’t we acknowledge our timeless nature more often? It’s not even because it’s illogical. Based on logic, we find that in our own experience, we have to be consciousness. If we “have” consciousness, we inevitably and most fundamentally have to BE consciousness in our own experience. And the world, to us, happens within and as the consciousness we are.

We have all of the characteristics of consciousness, and since the world to us happens within and as the consciousness we are, that too – to us – have those characteristics.

We are what’s inherently free of time and space and that our experience of time and space happens within and as. We are the oneness any sense of distinction and separation happens within and as. And so on.

This just says something about our own nature in our own first-person experience, it doesn’t say anything about the nature of existence or the universe. And that’s more than enough. If we are led – by existence – to take it seriously, that’s profoundly transforming.

Image: A look at the distant relatives we call the “Cosmic Cliffs” in the Carina Nebula. (NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI.)

AI-generated images – blessing or doom?

I have wanted to explore AI image generation for a while and finally got around to it tonight in front of the fireplace and with the neighboring café playing live jazz.

Here is one of my first experiments with Midjourney. A neo-shaman in Tokyo in the rain with dramatic backlighting. I love that he or she is covered in plants and flowers.

I have seen some discussions about AI-generated images.

CONCERNS ABOUT NEW TECHNOLOGY

Will it replace human artists? Will it make it possible for people to make their own illustrations instead of commissioning photographers and artists? Will it ruin creativity?

Yes, some of that will probably happen.

And it’s also important the remember that these are the type of concerns that predictably come up when new technology comes onto the scene. And each time, the new technology finds its place among everything that has existed before and continues to exist.

When photography came, people said it was the end of painting. What happened was that it caused painting to change. Much of it became more free, imaginative, and abstract, and photography and painting not only co-exist but inspire each other. When CGI became viable, people said it would replace practical effects and even actors. In reality, CGI co-exists with practical effects, and it has even led to new types of jobs for actors in the form of motion capture.

I assume something similar will happen now. Some will use AI for illustrations. Some will continue to hire artists and photographers. AI art will inspire human-created art. Human-created art will continue to inform AI art.

It’s not either-or, it’s both-and. And it may well be that the interplay between AI and human visuals will create a kind of artistic and creative mini-revolution.

It’s also very likely that human-created art will be valued even more. AI art will make it more prestigious.

CULTURE MEANS LEARNING FROM OTHERS

Some say that AI steals people’s work to create new work and make money on it.

I understand that argument and concern.

And I also know that that’s culture. That’s what people have done from the beginning. We learn and take good ideas from each other and do something different with it. That’s how we have a culture in the first place.

The AI is just a bit more comprehensive and effective than any human can be, and also a little less creative.

WHO DO THE IMAGES BELONG TO?

Another question is: who owns the images?

In a practical sense, it’s determined by the AI companies and the law.

And in a larger sense, they come from the collective experience and creativity of humanity and really from the whole of existence. It’s always that way, no matter which particular human or technology it comes through. It’s just a little more obvious with AI images.

CULTURAL BIASES

Some also criticize AI-generated images because they reflect cultural biases. They learn from our culture so they will inevitably reflect biases in our culture.

For instance, if I don’t specify ethnicity for a portrait, I get a European person. If I ask for a god, even a traditional Hindu god, I get someone absurdly muscular. If I ask for Jesus or his parents, I get Europeans and not middle eastern people. If I ask for a general person, I get someone unusually good-looking in a conventional sense

I would say that’s equally much an upside since it brings cultural biases – picked up by and reflected back to us by the AI – more to the foreground. This leads to awareness and discussions – in the media and among those exploring AI art and the ones they share these reflections and observations with.

A lot of people are more aware of these kinds of cultural biases now because of these AI images.

MY OWN BIAS

I have a background in programming and in art, so I naturally love AI-generated visuals. I see it as a way for people without too much experience to still create amazing images. It’s a way to generate ideas. And it has its place and will co-exist with old-fashioned human skills and creativity.

UPDATE AFTER ONE WEEK

I have explored Midjourney and AI image generation for a week now, and find it seems to fit me well. It’s fun to see images created that I have had in my mind for a while but haven’t created in pencil or oil. It’s also fun to get to know the AI and sometimes be surprised by results better and more interesting than I imagined.

I also find I cannot really take ownership of the images, apart from in the most limited sense. They are generated by the AI, the AI is trained on perhaps millions of images created by others, and it’s really all the local products of the whole of existence – going back to the beginning of the universe and stretching out to the widest extent of the universe (if there is any beginning or edge). It’s always that way, and it’s even more obvious with AI-generated images.

The images are very much co-created by me, Midjourney, innumerable artists whose works have informed the AI, and all of existence.

I have also started an Instagram account for my AI image experiments.

Note: Specific prompt for the image above -> Neo-druid shaman in Tokyo 2300 rain dramatic colorful backlighting semi-realistic

Historic shifts

We are always living history, any moment is a shift in history, and some shifts are more historical and significant than others.

I have written about the topics of this article in several other posts, mainly under the “Reflections on society, politics, and nature” collections. But I’ll repeat the essence here.

TRUMP ERA

I wasn’t really surprised when Trump was elected, mainly because I had followed 538 closely before the 2016 election and they gave Trump a 1 to 4 chance of winning. (Out of four times the polls looked the way they did, Trump would win one time.)

The main risk of the Trump presidency is and was an erosion of democracy. Even before the election, it was clear that this was a man who did not respect democracy, democratic values, civil and grounded discourse, or a wish to create a society that works for everyone. His words and behavior legitimized bigotry, lies, polarization, anti-democratic views and actions, and much more. And that’s going to change the culture around politics. It’s going to legitimize this type of behavior on a larger scale, and that’s going to have direct and indirect ripple effects around the world. And that’s exactly what happened, and is still happening.

When Trump lost to Biden, I saw it as likely that the next election would be between Trump and Harris. Biden may be too old to continue, and Trump is like a pitbull who will never give up or admit defeat. He would love to come back and undo whatever any sane president over the last several decades put in place before him. Right now, he certainly has enough support in the US to do just that.

CURRENT MIDTERM ELECTIONS

Today is the midterm elections in the US, and Trumpists are likely to win several of the seats, and this will further change the political culture and erode democracy. (Including through gerrymandering, court appointments, and so on.)

It seems that these midterm elections, which usually bring only minor changes, may have larger and more lasting consequences this time. This may very well be a significant historical change in US history, and one that will have ripple effects in the world. (For instance, Ukraine may lose much of its current support from the US.)

US CIVIL WAR

There has been a lot of talk about a coming civil war in the US, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that will happen. (The seeds of it are already there and some, in their insanity, actively want a civil war.)

It obviously won’t be like the last US civil war. It will be a far less formalized civil war. It looks like it may be a kind of civil war between far-right militia groups and the rest of society, and they will target the ones they see as their enemy – progressive politicians, judges and courts that actually uphold the law, police that won’t allow renegades and violence, liberal community activists, and so on.

And who knows where it will go from there. It may be that mainstream society cracks down on it, although that’s not likely if Trumpists are in charge locally and/or federally. (I say “Trumpist” instead of Republicans since there are still some Republican politicians who favor democracy, although these have increasingly been squeezed out of the party.) This kind of low-grade but terrible civil war may continue for years or even decades.

THE BIGGER PICTURE

Although Trump does influence politics and society, he is mostly a symptom. He is a symptom of white folks in the US feeling threatened because their privileged position may be lost. After all, the demography is against them, and many educated folks in the US actively promote a deeper and more real equality between this traditionally privileged group and the rest of the population.

And he is also a reflection of a much larger global trend away from democracy and towards authoritarian regime systems. The world is increasingly becoming less democratic. For me, as a Northern European steeped in democratic values, this is a strange and disturbing trend. I cannot see how this is going to help the majority of people, the world, and future generations. At least not in any obvious or immediate way.

And yet, it seems that many around the world actively hold anti-democratic values. They support authoritarian leaders. Perhaps it’s because they offer simplistic (unrealistic) solutions? Or because they share conservative values, often based on religion? Or because they offer someone to blame, whether it’s a minority in their own country, the west, or someone else?

CONSPIRACY THEORIES

For me, conspiracy theories are a part of this shift into a more uninformed anti-science and anti-democratic mindset and culture. That’s obviously the case when it comes to far-right conspiracy theories, and it’s the case with conspiracy theories in general no matter what flavor they have.

What conspiracy theories have in common is that distract from far more serious issues that we all face and can see are happening. The obvious one is that we live in the middle of a major ecological crisis that will impact all of us and may end civilization as we know it. (That is the case independent of the climate crisis, due to all the other kinds of damage to our ecosystems.) And we have a wide range of other and related crises including hunger, lack of clean water, preventable diseases, huge disparity between wealthy and poor, and political and social systems that holds all of this in place.

OUR ECOLOGICAL CRISIS IS OUR MAIN PRIORITY

Anyone who does not put our ecological crisis as their main priority in their personal life and in their politics has not understood what’s happening.

If you listen to the scientists and use a minimum of common sense (we collectively use far more resources than the Earth can produce), you can see the huge ecological crisis we are in the middle of. You can see where we are headed. And you’ll put that as the main priority in your life and in your political and social life.

Personally, I keep this at the forefront of the main decisions I make in my life these days. (As outlined in other articles.) It’s my main priority when I vote and support political parties and policies. (How can it be anything else?) And a large part of my working life has been focused on this. (I was the paid coordinator of a local sustainability group that focused on cooperation and solutions to the problems we all face together.)

Our ecological crisis is our main priority whether we notice or not, and whether we consciously have it as our main priority or not. Life is not giving us an option.

WE NEED REALITY ORIENTATION TO DEAL WITH OUR CURRENT CRISIS

Trumpists politics is obviously very dangerous just for its anti-democratic orientation and effect.

And something is even more dangerous there, and that is that its anti-reality. They don’t care about what’s actually happening. They don’t care about science. They don’t care about experts. They don’t care about the numbers. (If they don’t like them.)

And that’s the case with conspiracy theories in general. The vast majority of them are inherently anti-reality. They are founded on bad logic and bad data.

People mostly go into conspiracy theories for emotional reasons and then rationalize to make bad logic appear like good logic. For whatever reason, it feels emotionally satisfying to them to go into conspiracy theories. They generally don’t care about science, experts, real logic, history, or whatever else we as a society need to base our decisions on.

And that’s very dangerous. Especially in a time of collective crisis, we need to base our collective decisions on solid science and data. It’s the only sane approach. It’s the only approach that has any chance of working.

THE NEED FOR PROFOUND SYSTEMS CHANGE

I have written about all of this in several other articles, including our need for systems change. (I wrote about this in my teens as well, long before blogs.)

The cause of our ecological crisis, and a large number of other problems, is the way our social and economic system is set up.

It was created at a time when we didn’t need to take ecological dynamics and limits into consideration. For all practical purposes, the resources of nature were unlimited, and the capacity of nature to absorb waste was unlimited. It made sense, at the time, to ignore it. We ignored it because We could.

We still live within these outdated systems.

And now, we can’t ignore ecological realities anymore. We are well past the time when we had that luxury.

We need a profound change in our systems of economy, production, food, water, education, and so on.

We need to create systems in all areas of human life that deeply and thoroughly take ecological realities into account.

We can definitely do it. There is no lack of solutions and grounded visions.

And it’s very possible to find attractive solutions that help us thrive as individuals and society, even more than now.

What we lack is a collective will. Are we going to find that collective will in time?

We are already past the time when we could prevent major ongoing ecological crises. We’ll have to live and deal with them no matter what. The question is how serious it will be, not whether it will happen.

Will we find it at all? I am not sure. It’s possible, and we’ll have to live and make decisions as if it’s possible.

NOTE: Just to mention it – Biden is currently president of the US, the democrats have the house and senate, we are just out of a regularly scheduled pandemic and there will be more to come, there is a war in Ukraine impacting the whole world, scientists and the UN say that it’s the end of civilization unless we engage in major rapid and collective changes, and most people continue with business as usual as if we are not in a disastrous ecological crisis.

Here are a couple of recent mainstream media articles on these topics:

World is on ‘highway to climate hell’, UN chief warns at Cop27 summit

‘These are conditions ripe for political violence’: how close is the US to civil war?

UPDATE: It’s now a few days after the mid-term election in the US and it seems the Trumpists didn’t do as well as expected. That’s good news for democracy. Maybe it shows that many people in the US still are sane enough to choose a more democratic and inclusive approach. Nothing is linear, and politics and society would move away from Trump at some point. Perhaps that’s now?

I lived in the US for twenty years which is partly why I am interested in what’s happening there.

When we don’t know how little we know

If we are familiar with a topic, it’s often easy to recognize how little novices know or understand about it, and it’s easy to recognize their misconceptions and limitations.

And the more we are familiar with any topic, the more we tend to realize how little we know. And we tend to realize that this goes for any area of life or knowledge. We tend to find intellectual humility. (Of course, there are exceptions.)

None of us know what we don’t know. But we can know generally how little we know. We can find some intellectual humility and curiosity and even appreciation for the beauty of knowing little, no matter how much we know about something in a conventional sense.

The more mature and experienced we are, the more we tend to viscerally know how little we know.

As usual, there is a lot more to say about this.

For instance, what do I mean by knowing little? Don’t some know a lot about certain things? Yes, of course. We can have a lot of experience in certain fields and areas of life. And even then, what we think we know may not be entirely accurate. There is always more to be familiar with and learn. Our understanding will change with new insights and experiences, sometimes incrementally and sometimes dramatically. There may be other contexts to understand it within that makes as much or more sense, that will put everything in a new light, and may even turn everything upside-down and inside-out. In the bigger picture, what we are familiar with and think we know – as individuals and collectively – is a drop in the ocean compared to what there is to experience and understand. And we always think we know, we don’t actually know.

Where do I think I know a lot? Perhaps about this particular topic since it’s been of interest to me since my early teens. (Philosophy and methods of science.) Also, perhaps about the essence of awakening. (Although I am very aware that here, there is infinitely further to go and my sense of who and what I am can and likely will change dramatically as life continues to explore this through and as me.) And certainly any time I stress myself by holding any thought as true. (Stress is a sign my system holds certain thoughts and assumptions as true, and that these may not be consciously identified and certainly are not thoroughly investigated so I can find what’s already more true for me.)

What are some examples of where I tend to notice how little folks know about a topic, even if they may assume they know a lot? I sometimes notice it in news stories on topics I am relatively familiar with. I sometimes notice it in articles summarizing a field I am more familiar with than the author. I sometimes notice it in people who are exploring spirituality and awakening and have simplistic notions that betray a lack of experience or go into wishful or fearful thinking that reflects unexamined projections. I see it in some who reject the insights and expertise of professionals in a field and think they know more than them based on having read a few articles on the internet or listened to some podcasts.

Why is this important? It’s of vital importance since we need to be well informed to make good choices, both at an individual and collective level. If we are to deal with the huge challenges we are faced with these days – ecological crisis, mass migrations, pandemics, hunger, poverty – we need to be well informed and make good collective decisions. And we cannot do that if we are misled and assume we know more than people who have spent their life studying certain fields, or if a significant portion of the population misleads themselves in that way.

How do we balance knowing and knowing we don’t know? It’s not necessarily that difficult since they are two different things. We know more or less about certain topics and areas of life in a conventional sense, and this is based on data and logic that’s more or less solid and our assumptions work more or less well when tested out in practice. And no matter what, there is always more to know, our context for understanding may and probably will change, and we always think we know even when our assumptions are based on solid data and logic and work well in practice.

Are there not cases where experts are mistaken? Or intentionally mislead people? Yes, of course. Experts are human and make mistakes. Whole fields change over time and what’s taken as gospel truth today will be seen as old misconceptions a decade or century from now. And that doesn’t mean we need to wholesale reject the current content of science or mainstream views or assume we know more than experts just because we read or heard something. We need to know how little we know. In most cases, mainstream science is the best we have right now, even as we know the content of science changes with time.

Why do we sometimes like to think we know more than we do? It’s partly from a lack of experience and maturity. And there are likely also psychological dynamics at play. For instance, we may go into those ideas to compensate for a sense of lack or inferiority. The more at peace we are with ourselves, and the more psychologically healthy we are, the easier is for us to find peace with, genuinely appreciate, and live from the receptivity of not-knowing and knowing how little we know.

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Video: You are not where you think you are

A reminder that any perspective has limited validity and only makes sense in a specific context. It doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong. It doesn’t mean the different perspectives are equal in their validity. (They often have different types of validity. And in a conventional sense, some work much better in practice and are supported by much better data.) But it does mean it’s important to hold it all lightly and see it in context.

The different types of validity in different stories

Each story has validity. The question is how and what the specific validity is for each story.

And whatever seems to make the most sense to us is always provisional and up for revision.

DIFFERENT TYPES OF VALIDITY

There are some general ways stories can be valid.

We can use any story as a mirror for ourselves. We can turn any story towards ourselves and find genuine examples – from the past and now – of how it’s valid.

A story can be more or less valid in a conventional sense. It can fit the data more or less well. It can be supported by more or less solid data and different amounts of solid data. It can work more or less well as a map and guide for our life in the world or for a specific area of life.

And a story is valid in the most basic sense that it is a story. We can recognize it as happening in our mental field, as mental images and words. It’s a mental construct. It’s meant as a provisional guide, at most, and not a full or final reflection of something in the world.

OUR ORIENTATION

What helps us discern the particular validity of any one story? 

Sincerity and intellectual honesty help us stay grounded and receptive.

Familiarity with the topic helps us with discernment and nuances. Experts generally understand a topic far better than laypeople. (And as all of us, they too have blind spots and biases and their views are provisional.)

Familiarity with valid arguments, soundness, logical fallacies, biases, media literacy, and so on, helps us avoid some common pitfalls.

It’s easy to go into lazy thinking and adopt the view of those around us or our favored subculture. It’s easy to get caught up in wishful or fearful thinking. It’s easy to deceive ourselves. 

EXAMPLES

Fairy tales have a metaphorical validity and are a mirror for psychological processes. They help us learn something about the world, society, universal human dynamics, and parts of ourselves and how they may relate to each other. This applies to any story – whether it’s in the form of a movie, book, news, a dream, a daydream, and so on. 

Science has a methodology that’s relatively universal. It mirrors how we go about learning about the world and ourselves if we are systematic about it and sincere and intellectually honest.

The content of science is more or less accurate in a conventional sense. It’s supported by more or less solid data, different amounts of data, is provisional, and is always up for revision. It will also always, to some extent, reflect our culture, worldviews, biases, what society sees as important, and so on. 

That we are a human being in the world is valid in a conventional sense. To others, that’s how it looks. It’s a story that works relatively well in our daily life. It helps us function in the world.

That we more fundamentally, and in our own first-person experience, is something else is also valid. Here, we may find we are capacity for the world as it appears to us. We are what the world, to us, happens within and as. This is something we can check and find for ourselves.

When I have stories about someone else, they may be more or less accurate when applied to that person. And even if a story seems accurate, we are always much more than and different from any story about us, and we can always receive more information that shifts how we see the situation or puts it in a different context. 

I can also turn these stories to myself and find genuine and specific examples of how they apply now and in the past. For instance, I can find examples of when I was angry, cruel, deceptive, brilliant, beautiful, and so on, and perhaps also how it applies right now in this situation. 

Does life continue after death? This is a question for science and there is some research on this topic. Also, when it comes to the different stories about what happens after death, we can turn them around and see if we can find the essence of what they point to here and now. 

For instance, what about near-death experiences? They often describe not being the body, a sense of bliss, life review, and so on. When I look for myself, I find the body is in me. In my own first-person experience, I am not most fundamentally this body. I can find a quiet bliss that seems inherent in what I am. And if I examine my mental representations of my past, I can review my life in different ways. 

When it comes to rebirth, can I find that too here and now? At this moment, my mind recreates its story and its mental representations of me. In that sense, I am reborn each moment. Also, this moment is always new, different, and fresh, and any past and sense of continuity are only found within mental representations. I can find rebirth in that sense too. 

If I have a specific story about a past life, it’s difficult to know how accurate it is in terms of something that actually happened. But it does say something about me now. I can relate to it as I would anything in a dream, find it in myself, and explore it in myself here and now. 

The conventional validity in these stories is a matter of science, and it’s an open question so far for lack of solid data and because of the small amount of data we currently have. (This can change, and probably will with more research.) And all of these after-life stories have validity in the sense that I can find what they point to in myself, here and now. 

Astrology is similar to much else. In a conventional sense, it may have more or less validity and that’s a question for science. (Although there is very little to no serious research into it, as far as I know.) And it definitely has validity as a mirror for ourselves – for psychological dynamics, archetypes, and so on. Everything described in astrology, no matter if it happens to explicitly be about our particular configuration or not, mirrors us and describes something in us.

Conspiracy theories tend to have a grain of truth in them, and what that grain is will depend on the story. In most cases, the rest tends to not be supported by very good and verifiable data so it’s best to put it on the “maybe” or “unlikely” shelf until there is more information. 

For instance, there are a couple of grains of truth in several vaccine conspiracy theories. Some people die from their body’s reaction to vaccines, just as some die from their body’s reaction to medications that are widely in use. (This is not a reason to reject vaccines since they overall do a lot more good than harm.) And the pharmaceutical companies developing and selling vaccines are in it for the money. They are not philanthropists. There are dirty dealings, and not everything around the medical or business sides is as transparent as what would be in the public interest. (Again, that’s not a reason to automatically reject vaccines and it doesn’t mean that they overall haven’t benefited humanity enormously.) 

Also, as mentioned before, I can turn these conspiracy theory stories about the pharmaceutical companies etc. back to myself and find how they are valid. I can find genuine and specific examples from my past, and – if there is any charge on them for me – here and now. 

The vaccine will kill people -> I will kill people. If I believe that story, I’ll likely get very angry and a part of me will want to kill the people behind the (supposed) conspiracy. I kill them in my mind.

The people behind the vaccine want to hide something –> I want to hide something. In this situation, if I strongly believe the conspiracy theories about vaccines, I hide from myself that I cannot know. And perhaps that, somewhere in me, I know just that. I know there isn’t any solid data.

[to be expanded]

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How do we know what’s true? (part one)

There is no single simple answer. 

THE LIMITS OF THOUGHTS

In a more absolute sense, no thought can reflect any final, full, or absolute truth.

Thoughts are questions about the world.

They are mental representations meant to help us orient and function in the world.

They are different in kind from what they refer to. And they simplify.

Reality is always more than and different from any thought. And it’s also inherently simpler than any thought.

For all of these reasons, thoughts are unable to capture any final, full, or absolute truth. 

NAVIGATING IN THE WORLD

When it comes to our life in the world, we need to use our discernment and methods to discern what’s more or less accurate in a conventional sense. 

If possible, we can try something out for ourselves. Someone said something, and we check it out. Most of what I write about in these articles is something we can check out for ourselves and see what we find. And sometimes it requires some guidance and persistence over time. 

If we are told something we cannot, or cannot yet, check out for ourselves, we can put it on the “this person said it and I don’t know” shelf AKA the “maybe” shelf. Depending on the solidity of the data and the logic, and how well it fits the majority of the data, we can hold it as more or less reliable.

We can be aware of biases. We all have biases from our biology and evolution, from our culture and society, from whatever subcultures we are familiar with and resonate with, and our personal experiences, inclinations, preferences, and hangups. What may the biases of the source be? What are my biases, and how do they color how I relate to what this source said? 

Do I have an emotional attachment to a certain view? Do I feel I need to defend it? Does it bring up reactivity in me? If so, it’s a clear sign that I may be caught up in an emotional issue and not be so clearheaded in how I relate to it. 

Another side of this is the weight of the source. Does it align with how experts in the field generally see it? Does it fit the highest quality data and the majority of the data we have? Does it come from someone who has the credentials in the field? That gives it more weight, although these views are also provisional and up for revision in the face of better knowledge. 

Some like to say that our views and opinions on a range of issues are equivalent. “You say that and I say this, and they are equal in value.” That’s obviously not accurate. Some have far more experience and insights into a particular issue. And some views are supported by far more and higher quality data than other views. And that gives it more weight. (It may still be wrong, although it’s less likely to be grossly wrong.) 

In addition, I like to examine the practical effects of certain views. Does it help me live with kindness, receptivity, and curiosity? If so, I’ll give it more weight. 

Ultimately, solid data is what determines what’s true. For instance, Putin says the war against Ukraine is to “denazify” the country. The numbers show that only about 2% of the population vote for right-wing parties, and they elected a Jewish president. This alone shows that Putin’s argument is out of alignment with reality. Similarly, when it comes to the question about the risk of taking the covid vaccine, we can look at the numbers. Hospitals were full of patients with covid, not people who were there because of how their bodies responded to the vaccine. Simple numbers show us something about reality. And there is, of course, a need for nuance and discernment here too.

DISCERNMENT

Yes, it’s true that we cannot know anything for certain, and even our most cherished assumptions are up for revision. Much of what people assumed about the world one or five hundred years ago is different from how we see the world today. 

And it’s also true that views are more or less accurate in a conventional sense, and we can learn discernment to arrive at the views that have the best chance of being accurate. 

This is about learning methods for evaluating views and data, examining sources, knowing a bit about the history of ideas and science, being aware of one’s own biases, and being honest with oneself.

In part two of this article, I’ll write about what we may discover if we take a closer look at this topic.

TRUTH VS VALIDITY

Why do I write about validity and not truth?

It’s mainly because the word “truth” often comes with some unfortunate associations. It can make it sound as if thoughts can hold a full, final, and absolute truth, and that’s obviously not true (!).

Validity is a bit more gentle and open-ended. A thought can have validity, in one way or another, without holding any final, full, or absolute truth.

Using the word “validity” instead of “truth” can help us hold it a bit more lightly and with more curiosity.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that validity in a conventional sense can be more or less supported by solid data, it can be supported by varying amounts of data, it can be more or less logically coherent, and so on.

Note: All of this seems obvious and what many of us learn early in life. So why do I bother writing about it? Because some seem to – against better knowledge? – take a view that “my opinion is as good as yours” when that’s clearly not the case. On many topics, some have a far more informed view, and some views are far more grounded in experience, good data, and good logic. That doesn’t mean we should automatically accept the conclusions or advice of others (I have received terrible advice from doctors). But it does mean that a measure of intellectual honesty and humility is appropriate and useful.

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A single swallow does not a summer make

Some folks who are against vaccines, mask-wearing, and so on refer to research papers to support their view.

PAPERS WRITTEN BY PEOPLE WITH NO CREDENTIALS IN THE FIELD

Often, these are not studies. They are theoretical papers written by folks with no credentials in the field. The only thing they have going for them is that they are presented in a format that makes them look scientific at first glance. And this trick sometimes works. If you are not used to reading and evaluating scientific papers, and you don’t have much knowledge about the field, you can be misled to think this is actually serious science.

SINGLE SWALLOW STUDIES

Occasionally, these are single studies that find something different from what was found in innumerable other studies. These studies go against the mainstream. It’s always like that in science. There will always be outliers. And, often, they are outliers because they use a small sample size or otherwise weak or bad methodology. For these outliers to have any value, their findings need to be replicated by several other studies using solid methods. A single swallow does not a summer make.

HOW SCIENCE WORKS

Medical science relies on solid methodology and replication. One or a few studies finding something doesn’t mean much. It’s only when a large number of independent researchers find the same or similar results, using methods other cannot find a serious fault with, that something is taken more seriously. And even then, it’s provisional since future research may find something else.

We cannot cherry pick from outlier studies to support our view. At most, it can be interesting information to hold very lightly. It’s clearly not anything to base our views or life choices on.

WHEN WE CHOSE BAD INFORMATION

In one sense, it’s understandable if people are misled by papers that look serious but aren’t, or take a single study and say “this is how it is and everything else is wrong”. They want something to be true and cling to any straw that can help them support it.

In another sense, it shows a lack of commitment to reality. They know they are not experts in the field. They know they are not used to reading or relating to these types of papers. They know innumerable other studies show something else. They know the view among people with solid credentials in the field is different. And yet they pretend they know the outlier view is true. They promote it to others. And they use it to promote irresponsible behavior. That is inexcusable.

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How do I reconcile a science orientation with spirituality and distance healing?

How do I reconcile my science orientation with my interest in spirituality and distance healing?

Since childhood, I have been fascinated by and loved science and I still do every bit as much.

I also have a fascination and passion for awakening. And I do distance healing.

So how does it all fit together in my mind?

Let’s take spirituality first.

SCIENCE & SPIRITUALITY

I take a pragmatic view on spirituality.

For me, spirituality is mainly about awakening and the effect of spiritual practices.

Awakening is about what more fundamentally we are in our own first-person experience. It doesn’t require any theology or assumptions. It’s purely about what we find in our own direct noticing. And in my experience, What I find fits a wide range of worldviews, is independent of them all, and is what allows and holds and can find the validity in them all. It’s about what I find when I look with sincerity. It’s about what others report they find. (Which seems to be very similar or the same, throughout history and across cultures and traditions.) And it’s about what science finds when this is studied in a more rigorous and systematic way. (We are still in a very early phase here.)

Exploring the effects of spiritual practices is also pragmatic. This is similar. It’s about what I find and what works for me. It’s about what others find and what works for them. And it’s what we can discover through science and more rigorous research. (Here too, we are in a very early phase.)

When it comes to awakening and the effects of spiritual practices, I take a scientific approach as much as possible. I try to do it with sincerity, diligence, and intellectual honesty. As much as possible, I separate what I can know something about (how it appears to me), my stories about it (which are very limited guesses), and what’s actually happening (which I can only make guesses about, which my mind cannot really grasp, and which I cannot know anything for certain about).

SCIENCE AND DISTANCE HEALING & SENSING

What about distance healing and sensing? Isn’t that more woo woo?

Yes and no. It’s certainly a slightly different animal.

Here too, I try to take a scientific approach as much as possible. I look at the effects on animals that don’t know they are receiving healing. I look at patterns over time. I take into account different types of biases. I check my sensing with others. I compare my healing results with those of others. I differentiate what I can say something about, my stories about it, and reality (which I cannot know).

And I wish for a thorough scientific examination of distance healing and sensing, far beyond the little that’s already done.

SCIENTIFIC METHOD

The methods of science are, in its essence, our natural ways of exploring anything set into system. At least if our exploration is relatively sincere, grounded, rigorous, and intellectual honest.

Whenever we wish to explore how something works, we use approaches we also find in science.

We try something out and see what happens. And if it’s more important to us, we compare this with what others find. We explore other possible explanations. We take our own biases into account. We value intellectual honesty. We hold it all lightly, take it as provisional, and know it will inevitably look different to us with more exploration. And so on.

If something is important to us, we can learn from science and apply a more rigorous approach to our own explorations. This will support any exploration – including of awakening, the effects of spiritual practices, and distance healing and sensing.

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The newness factor and the pandemic

Why do some react to common sense pandemic measures? Why do they react to them when we, from epidemiology and history, long have known they work in terms of limiting the individual and collective impact of the pandemic?

I am not sure, but I suspect a big reason why some react to pandemic measures is that it’s new to them.

WE ALREADY ACCEPT A LOT OF RESTRICITONS

One aspect is that we already accept a lot of restrictions and regulations. It’s part of society and what makes it work. It’s an essential aspect of civilization. We accept all this because we know it makes sense and because we are used to and familiar with it.

So why react so strongly to a few temporary ones that, for most of us, is just a mild inconvenience?

Perhaps new restrictions seem scary to some just because they are new? Perhaps they are unable to see it in perspective?

THE HISTORY OF PANDEMICS

Also, perhaps they are not familiar with the history and regularity of pandemics? Or epidemiology and what we know works to limit the individual and collective impact of pandemics? Or what can happen if we collectively don’t organize ourselves in certain ways to limit its impact?

If they were, I assume they would see that the measures make sense and that none of it is made up now. It may seem new to us because we haven’t experienced it before as individuals. But it’s not at all new from the perspective of history.

REACTIVITY IS NOT RATIONAL

It is a bit baffling to me.

Why react so strongly to a few temporary measures that, for most of us, is just a mild inconvenience?

And why react to the pandemic measures as if it’s what someone made up now? Don’t you know that these have been tested out for decades and centuries? As humanity, we have gone through it many times and we know what works.

I suspect it’s baffling because the reactivity is not all that rational, just like any reactivity.

The body reacts to the vaccine as it does to the virus

There are many arguments from vaccine skeptics and anti-vaccine folks that are baffling to me.

Among these is the possible side effects of the vaccine.

We know serious reactions to a vaccine happen, although it’s rare. Just about everyone already accepts far greater risks in daily life, like getting into a car. So why not also accept this very small risk when our individual and collective benefits are so great?

Equally important is that the serious side effects of vaccines typically reflect what can happen when we have the real infection. It comes from the body’s reaction to the vaccine and the virus.

The vaccine mimics the virus. The body’s reaction to the vaccine mimics its reaction to the virus. And in rare cases, for whatever reason, that reaction can be severe.

So if you are afraid of the body’s reaction to the vaccine, shouldn’t you be as or more scared of how the body may react to the actual virus?

Just because an article looks and sounds scientific doesn’t make it so

A friend on social media referred to scientific-sounding articles going against the consensus view on vaccines, mask-wearing, and other pandemic-related topics.

Here is my response:

In any area of science, there are published articles that don’t fit the mainstream view. In most cases, the findings are not grounded in reality. This is just part of science, and – as I said – you’ll find this in any science and on just about any topic. Just because something is published doesn’t make it valid or something that reflects reality.

Especially these days, there are lots of online journals that, at first glance, look serious and scientific. They use the language and format of reputable publications. But the content is very weak and would likely never be published in serious and respected journals.

Personally, I have seen several articles on pandemic-related topics, published in these types of journals, that are almost laughably bad in terms of data and logic. And, often, the articles are written by people with some sort of credentials, just not in the area they are writing about. Which means they have no credentials at all. They have close to zero credibility.

For the findings and views to be taken seriously, it has to be published in reputable journals, the findings need to be replicated by independent researchers several times, there has to be a sound theory behind it, and competing theories and approaches have to be thoroughly disproven.

Note: The image is a screenshot of one of many articles that look and sound scientific and serious, but is published in a less-than-reputable journal and the authors have zero credentials in the field.

Carl Sagan: I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship

I would suggest that science is, at least in part, informed worship.

– Carl Sagan, The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God

Yes, science can certainly be a form of informed worship.

Science is a more formalized way of learning about our world, and it can be approached with curiosity, receptivity, and awe. And a recognition that we are, in a very literal sense, the local eyes, ears, thoughts, and feelings of the universe. We are the universe bringing itself into consciousness. We are the universe, locally and in the form of us, exploring and discovering itself.

Why I typically don’t refer to the vagus nerve, quantum physics, or other popular topics from science

I rarely refer to the vagus nerve, quantum physics, or other popular topics from science in these articles.

Why? If I love science and have spent a good amount of time exploring these and other topics, why don’t I refer more to it when I write here? (For instance, in my teens and twenties, I read everything I could find about the connection between quantum physics and spirituality/philosophy.)

One reason is that our understanding of these topics is very specific to our time and place.

The content of science always changes. The way we think about the vagus nerve and quantum physics today will likely be outdated in a few years or decades, and even more so in a few centuries.

Similarly, our understanding of these topics is very incomplete. We are only seeing fragments of a bigger picture.

Some current views on quantum physics may tie in with some insights from perennial spirituality, and that may quickly change as we understand quantum physics differently in the years ahead. And the vagus nerve is probably important for regulating our nervous system and our system in general, and it’s only one small piece of a much larger dynamic whole.

It doesn’t mean that these topics are not important. I love that people are studying and thinking about it, and share their findings and reflections with the rest of us. That’s the beauty of science, and it benefits me and society as a whole.

When I write here, I do reference what I have picked up from science in my mind. I check if what I write fits or not. (Just as a mentally reference and check with what I have heard people say about healing, awakening, and so on.) But I won’t refer to it explicitly for the reasons mentioned here.

I prefer to focus on what seems a bit more timeless.

And I am very aware that the way I see and talk about this too inevitably reflects my own time and culture.

Reflections on society, politics and nature – vol. 50

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

ART HISTORY

In the early ’90s, I studied art history for a year (full time) at the University of Oslo. Since they called it “art history”, and since I was young and naive, I was looking forward to WORLD art history. The history of art from the earliest times and across all cultures. That was what I expected, hoped for, and wanted.

To my surprise and disappointment, the course turned out to be the history of WESTERN art, and really just the art of Western Europe and the European culture in North America.

I was left with several puzzling questions:

Why didn’t they have a course for WORLD art?

Why did they call a course that had such a limited scope “art history” without any qualifiers?

Why didn’t they address or acknowledge this obvious discrepancy?

The answer is probably a kind of ethnocentrism. They – consciously or not – may have seen “real” art as the art of western Europe and the European culture in North America.

I imagine that now, 30 years later, they are a little less provincial and more conscious of this. Hopefully, they include the art of the world and not just a small section of the world. Or, at the very least, they label the course accurately.

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It’s not a theory?

I was watching the trailer for the new Foundation series, where Seldon says: It’s not a theory, it’s the future.

Yes, it’s not a theory. It’s a model. It’s a guess. It’s a question.

It’s a question about the future.

Even if it has been accurate in most or all cases, it’s still a question.

I love Asimov’s Foundation series, but that part of the dialog in the trailer was a bit disappointing to me. When he says “it’s not a theory, it’s the future”, it shows a fundamental and elementary misunderstanding about theories and science.

Any theory, model, and so on, is a guess and a question about the world. Some may be consistent with a huge amount of data, and they are still guesses and questions. They are maps. They are different in type from what they are guesses about. Reality is always different from and more than any map.

I assume the quote is not from the book since Asimov himself was a scientist and knew better. And if I am honest, if it had been in the book, I would likely have abandoned it at that point.

I’ll still watch the first episode since I love the story it’s based on.

Note: The model Seldon refers to is a complex modelling of the future of society.

The problem with stages

Although I love Ken Wilber‘s integral model in general, there are several sides of him and the integral community I find a bit troublesome. This includes green-bashing (vilifying the ones they see at the green level of development), Wilber’s tendency to misrepresent the views of others (straw man arguments), and the tendency of the integral community to adopt both the good and bad sides of Ken Wilber’s personal approach.

I would also include an over-emphasis on stages, and especially the stages described in Spiral Dynamics. Of course, these models can be useful in some contexts and to some extent, if they are held lightly.

WHY FASCINATION WITH STAGES?

Why is there such an emphasis on stages in the integral world? One reason is obviously that they see the difference between first- and second-tier orientation as important and fascinating. (Very roughly, this is the difference between seeing your own view as right and other views as wrong versus appreciating the validity in each one and being curious about how they fit together in describing the world in a more rich and nuanced way.)

I can’t help wonder if there isn’t more going on.

Stage models offer neat ways of dividing up the world and understanding people. They are generally easy to understand. We can put them on top of just about anything and tell ourselves we understand what’s going on. They give us a jumping-off point for easy analysis.

They can be attractive because they give us a sense of understanding and that we grasp something important about the world, and many want to feel they understand.

Also, they can be used to boost our self-esteem. If we understand and like a model, it’s often because we imagine we are pretty high up on the hierarchy.

THE PROBLEMS WITH STAGES

At the same time, it’s important to keep in mind some things about stage models of human development.

Stages are not inherent in reality. They are imagined and put on top of something we observe. These imaginations can fit the data well, and help us orient in the world, and they are still imaginations.

If we have a set of observed data, we can find innumerable imagined overlays that fit this data – more or less well. In the future, we’ll likely come up with models that seem to fit the data, and new data, better, and models we may see as more useful in helping us orient.

What we observe largely depends on what we look for and expect to find. We already operate from assumptions and use those to determine the setting for gathering data, the data we gather, and how we interpret those data. To some extent, we see what we expect to see. It’s easy to imagine alien anthropologists or psychologists coming here, studying us, and highlighting and understanding what they see in a very different way from us, and it may be equally valid and useful as what we are familiar with.

We all operate from different parts of us in different situations and settings. What comes out in one situation may be different from what comes out in another. There is a richness, complexity, and fluidity here that may not be well captured by models.

We are rich and complex, and stages will by necessity only look at one or a few of the aspects of who and what we are. As Ken Wilber says, there are several lines of development. (In reality, there are innumerable since we can divide this up in as many or as few as we want.) Stage models tend to (over?)simplify and overlook the complex ecology of interactions within this organic richness.

We tend to develop stage models of what we value and where we, as culture and individuals, are high up or on top. In another culture, they may see something else as valuable and would develop stage models of that. In these models, they are likely to be closer to the top since they live in a culture where that particular development is valued, encouraged, and supported, and we may be further down. (These could be stage models of being in tune with the natural environment, hunting skills, shamanic development, valuing the interests of the group over self, living from a sense of deep time, and so on.)

In general, stage models can be over-emphasized and held too tightly.

Life is far more complex and rich than any model. Models and thoughts are different in type from what they refer to. Life is always more than and different from our thoughts about it. And our models tend to reflect – and reinforce – our own culture, orientation, and values.

Stage models can still serve as valuable guides for certain things and in certain situations. It’s just helpful to see the bigger picture, be aware of their limitations, and hold them lightly.

Note: I wrote this from what came to me, I am sure others have done a far more thorough and insightful analysis of the limitations of stage theories.

A pragmatic approach to religions and religious topics

I understand that for many, religious topics are for religions. They are a matter of belief and taking someone’s word for it.

For me, religious topics are for science.

Does consciousness, what we more essentially are, continue after the death of this human self? What data is there? What different interpretations of that data can we make? What can we say something about, and what’s unknown and/or speculation?

If a religion encourage certain beliefs, what are the effects of those beliefs at a social and individual level?

What are the effects of the different practices each religion offer or encourage? What practices works for different people, and different phases of the process? What are the drawbacks and things to keep an eye on? If we see practices as medicines for certain conditions, how effective are they?

And even…. how can we make use of the different cosmologies as a mirror? How can we use them as pointers to find what they refer to here and now?

This is how I personally prefer to relate to religions. I look at the effects of certain orientations and views. I explore the effects of the different practices. I take their cosmologies as a mirror for myself.

For instance, several religions and teachers talk about reincarnation. For me, that’s just what someone says and I put it on the “someone said it and I don’t know” shelf in my mind. I find the serious research into what may happen after this life, and reincarnation, very interesting. And I am interested in the different ways we can interpret the data they come up with.

I personally have what seems like memories from the time between lives and before this incarnation (these came in the form of flashbacks before school age), and I also have what seems like memories of certain past lives. (Especially one from Russia in the 1800s.) And these, I put in the “seems like memories but they are really just mental images and I don’t know” category.

Mainly, I use these images as pointers to find what’s here now. I can find the images here and now, and some sensations my mind associated with each of them. I can find what the images point to, here and now.

I can find what the images from between lives point to here and now – all as consciousness, a deep sense of being home, a gentle bliss, and so on.

And I can find what the Russian images point to – the kind-of-radical views, wanting to speak up against injustice, and feeling terrified of the possible consequences of speaking up. Whether or not those images were from a real past life, they certainly point to dynamics and issues in my life now and that’s more important.

In short, I prefer to take a pragmatic approach to religons and topics often found in religions. What’s the most honest way for me to see it? What can I say something about (typically very little), and what’s speculation? How can I make use of it? What happens when I engage in the different practices? What conditions is each one medicine for? How can I use the different cosmologies as a mirror for what’s here now?

And it gets a lot more finely grained than this.

How do you see science?

Someone asked this in a sustainability / nature-oriented group in social media, and I was surprised by the answers. Most answers were cynical and reflected an unfavorable or even hostile view on science.

For me, science is primarily a method for learning about the world. It’s common-sense set in system, and we all use parts of it in daily life. 

The content of science changes over time. How it’s used and applied will depend on society and culture. And since science involves people, the science community has all the characteristics we see in any community. 

Why the cynical view on science? I am not sure. Perhaps it has something to do with how it sometimes is used, and what happens when money and profit get involved. 

For me, that says something about the society we live in and the economic and other systems we have. It doesn’t say anything about science itself.

“How many awake people are there in the world?”

I have seen this question a few times on social media, and most recently in the Vortex Healing group on FB.

This is fertile ground for exploration.

DEFINITIONS & GREY ZONES

First, what do we mean by awakening?

If we have noticed what we are once, is that awakening? Or if we used to notice?

If we notice what we are now, is that awakening?

If we are in the habit of mostly noticing what we are, even if it’s sometimes in the background of our attention, is that awakening?

If we intentionally explore bringing more of ourselves onboard with awakening, is that awakening?

If we mostly recognize our bubbles of separation consciousness for what they are, and invite them to rest as what they are, is that awakening?

Is awakening something else, like having the “core veil” gone as they talk about in Vortex Healing, is that awakening? Is it really awakening, even if that person still mostly operates from separation consciousness? (Most would probably say no.)

Also, how can we tell? What measures would we use? Would we do some kind of larger-scale study? Would we trust what someone tells us based on psychic sensing? If people give different numbers, who would we trust? And why? (Personally, I wouldn’t trust any specific numbers, apart for perhaps from a conventional larger-scale study.)

There is also an element of in-group bias here. For instance, Vortex Healing folks tend to use the “no core veil” definition and assume that a significant portion of awake people are found within Vortex Healing. (Even if many of these mostly operate from separation consciousness.) And other groups will tend to do the same.

WHAT IT CAN SHOW US ABOUT OURSELVES

Having an answer to the literal question may be interesting, but it doesn’t really do much for us.

So we can turn the focus around. What does the question say about me? Where does it come from? What can I discover?

What needs and wants are behind the question? Is there a sense of lack?

What are my fears and hopes? What do I fear and hope on behalf of humanity and the world?

And closer to home, what are my fears and hopes about awakening? what do I hope to get out of it? What do I fear will happen if it’s not here? (Or if it is here?)

I call also explore this more in-depth through more structured inquiry. I can use The Work to identify and examine stressful thoughts around the topic. And Living Inquiries to examine identities, compulsions, and fears.

MAKING USE OF THE QUESTION

The question itself may be unanswerable because it depends so much on the definition, and we don’t have any accurate way to get a number.

But we can make use of the question. It helps us explore what we mean by “awake”. It can help us explore how we would go about finding a number. What sample would we use that would be representative of humanity as a whole? (Seems unlikely it would be.) What measures would we use for “awake”? (Questionnaire? Interviews? Brain scans? A combination?)

And, most importantly, we can see where the question comes from in ourselves. What are my needs and wants behind it? Is there a sense of lack? How can I invite in healing for this in myself?

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Reflections on society, politics and nature XXXXI

This is one in a series of posts with brief notes on society, politics, and nature. I sometimes include short personal notes as well. Click “read more” to see all the entries.

SCIENCE LITERACY & THEORIES

I saw a social media post stating that a theory in science is not “just a theory”, it’s proven by scientists and has become a “fact”. These types of statements make me cringe.

A theory in science is a question about the world. If it’s supported by data, it’s a question that scientists may explore further, build on, and so on. And as we get more data, the theory may be refined or replaced by another one.

It can never be “proven”. It’s never a “fact”. It just fits the data more or less well.

Theories live in an ecosystem. They live within an accepted general worldview. They fit in with a number of other theories. And so on.

There is also an informal hierarchy of theories. Some fit well the general worldview and the ecosystems of related theories, and they have been thoroughly tested through research and practical applications. These are widely accepted as fitting the data and what we know about how the world works. (Einsteins relativity theories are in this category.)

Some theories may not fit the data and are abandoned. And some may not fit the wider ecosystem so well, or there may be less or no solid data supporting it, so it’s on the sidelines for now. (Exemplified by Rupert Sheldrake’s research and ideas.)

That’s how science works these days. A widely accepted theory is widely accepted because it fits a huge amount of data and practical experience. It’s not “just” a theory, and it’s also very far from a “fact”. It’s a formalized question about the world that fits the data.

Of course, in real life, it’s not so clean. Scientists are people with their own worldviews, biases, and so on, so not everything going on in science is a hundred percent rational. But mostly, it works well.

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Carl Sagan: Science is a way of thinking

Science is more than a body of knowledge. It’s a way of thinking.

– Carl Sagan in interview with Charlie Rose, 1996

The body of knowledge from science changes. It doesn’t stay the same. As we have more information, discover new things, and for cultural and other reasons, the specifics of what we think we know change, as do our underlying assumptions and worldviews.

Science as a way of thinking is our approach to explore and learn about the world. It’s essentially common sense systematized. It’s more universal and timeless, although it too changes a bit over time as it’s is adjusted and refined, and varies a bit across cultures.

The scientific approach is a way of figuring things out about our world. We experience something. We explore something. We have some ideas about what’s going on. We find ways to test those ideas. We compare notes with others and share ideas and experiences. And so on.

Applying a scientific approach to spirituality

That’s useful in any area of life, whether it’s studying, working, relationships, sports, or anything else.

It also means that if we are serious about spirituality, we’ll tend to use a scientific approach whether we use that label or not.

What happens when I do this practice? When I explore that pointer?

What do I find? What do others report when they explore it?

What’s the most honest and grounded way of interpreting what I find? What can I know something about? What’s outside of what I can honestly speak about?

Can I know it for certain? Can I know anything for certain? How is it to approach it with a more open mind?

This is a way of being honest with ourselves and staying grounded. Where fantasy doesn’t get us much beyond fantasy, a pragmatic approach gives us some traction.

Energy healing, identity, and science

I discovered healing abilities in my mid-teens, used it occasionally with people close to me, and mainly kept it to myself. More recently, through Vortex Healing, I have done this type of healing more openly.

And although I know it works, and sometimes works well, it does rub up against some desired identities I have. I want to be seen as someone rooted in science, and I have often gone out of the way to explain what I am doing and interested in – meditation, inquiry, heart-centered practices, therapeutic tremoring etc. – in ways that are grounded, logcial, and fits with current science.

Energy healing, often done at a distance, cannot so easily be explained so it makes sense from a current mainstream view. To explain it, we have to bring in non-local connections, and perhaps all as essentially consciousness, or the divine.

Although this moderate identity crisis is a bit uncomfortable, I also know it’s good for me. It helps me see some identities I am still identified with and wish to hold onto. It helps me see where I limit myself, and where I hold onto unexamined beliefs.

Another side to this is that our mainstream worldview, and the content of our science, changes over time. In fifty or a hundred years, perhaps energy healing at a distance fits in with the current worldview and science. I wouldn’t be surprised, although I have no idea about the timeline. These shifts tend to happen when people cannot any longer deny the validity of what doesn’t fit the existing worldview, and that typically requires the accumulation of solid research over time.

Differentiating the content and approach of science

It’s important to differentiate between the approach and content of science.

The approach of science is mostly common sense guidelines for exploring and investigating reality and life. And it’s very applicable for exploring who and what we are, and the nature of reality as it appears to us. In other words, it’s very applicable to our exploration of – what some may call – spirituality.

The content or product of science is different. This is what we think we know and it changes over time and somewhat across cultures. What we think we know today may be outdated tomorrow. Even our worldview and our most basic assumptions about reality changes.

What happens after death: A question for faith or science?

What happens after death? Many see this as a question for religions and spirituality. Although since it’s a question about reality, and the job of science is to investigate reality, it’s clearly a question (also) for science. It’s something that can be studied, at least to some extent. And it is something that is currently being studied at a few universities.

It is clearly an essential question. The answer has a huge impact on how we see ourselves and understand the world. So why is it not one of the main areas of studies at universities around the world?

I assume it may be for a couple of different reasons. It has traditionally – long before modern science existed – been a question for religion. Modern science operates from a mainly materialistic worldview. And it is generally a taboo topic in academic circles, at least outside of the religion and philosophy departments.

If or when a scientist takes it seriously and as a topic of research, they break a lot of traditions and taboos. And not everyone are willing or able to do that.

I suspect this will change. I imagine a world in the future where this – and other “parapsychological” topics – are standard subjects for research at universities across the world.

Why? Because these are central questions. Because they can be studied by science. And because existing and future research may accumulate enough data to bring about an eventual paradigm shift.

Image: The Passing of the Soul at Death by Evelyn De Morgan

Carl Sagan: I like a universe where much is unknown

I like a universe where much is unknown and, at the same time, much is knowable. A universe in which everything is known would be static and dull.

– Carl Sagan

In a conventional sense, we know some things about the world and the universe and there is a lot we don’t know. We don’t even know how much we don’t know. There may even be many things we don’t know that would turn our whole worldview inside-out and upside-down if we knew them.

Looking a little closer, we see that we don’t know anything for certain. Our brain constructs our perception of the world from our senses and with an overlay of mental images and other thoughts to make sense of it. It’s all constructed. Our perceptions and ideas about the world are not the final word on anything. It’s all created to help us orient and navigate in the world. It has nothing to do with any final truth.

So in a conventional sense, we know a little and we know there is a lot we don’t know. And looking closer, we see that we cannot know anything for certain. Not even that which seems most basic, obvious, and what we take the most for granted.

Science of the mind

Most of what I write about in this collection of articles is the science of mind. It’s pragmatic, grounded in experience, and testable by others. I usually use the “spirituality” tag, but “science of mind” may be more accurate. (Of course, some things do fall in under the wider label of spirituality, or just “life”.)

What are some examples of science of mind topics?

In general, it’s anything that’s testable by oneself and others. And mainly, on this blog, it’s the effect of different practices and approaches.

How does the mind create its own experience of the world? What do I find when I explore the different sense fields and how they combine to create this experience of the world? (The sense fields are usually sight, sensation, smell, taste, sound, and thoughts.)

How does the mind create a charged experience for itself? How does it create the experience of thoughts telling it something that’s true? What happens when a certain thought, or set of thoughts, combine (are associated with) certain sensations? (Does the sensations take on meaning? And the thoughts a sense of saying something true?) What happens when we explore and notice this, and rest and allow with the different components?

What happens when I do ho’oponopno towards/for someone I have a strained relationship with? Or parts of myself? Or the world as a whole? Or if I do tonglen?

What happens when I use the heart/Jesus prayer over time? Or the Christ Meditation?

What happens when I train attention to be more stable? What happens in how I feel in general? What happens with how I do everyday activities? Which areas of life do I notice a difference in?

What is awakening? What are some different ways we can understand awakening? How does it unfold for different people? What are some of the challenges and struggles people experience? How do we navigate these?

All of these are examples of what falls in under science of mind. In mainstream culture, it may be seen as spirituality and that’s not wrong. But it’s equally helpful to see it as a science. It’s something we can try out for ourselves and see what happens. It’s something we can research through formal science. It’s something others can test out for themselves. (Although the results will vary, of course, since we are different and do these things slightly differently, and that’s part of the exploration.)

Magical realism in real life

Magical realism, magic realism, or marvelous realism is a style of fiction that paints a realistic view of the modern world while also adding magical elements.

– Wikipedia article on magical realism

This aspect of magical realism describes the world as it has been for most humans who have ever lived: an ordinary mundane life intermixed with magical and fantastic elements.

The exception is our modern western society. We have a largely materialistic scientific worldview, and most of us are understandably wary of mentioning any experiences that don’t fit this worldview.

I love modern science. A great deal of good has come out of it. And even more, I love the scientific methodology. It is essential that we stay sober about our experience and our view of the world, apply grounded critical thinking and verify any claims about reality. Collectively, we need to stay sober.

At the same time, we know that the way we individually and collectively see the world is inherently limited. Reality is always more than and different from our view of it.

Different parts of our current scientific worldview are always updated and replaced. And eventually, it’s inevitable that even its basic assumptions about reality are recognized as outdated and replaced with something that better fits the data we have collected.

So why are most of us wary of talking about any unusual experiences we may have? It doesn’t fit our current collective worldview. Often, it cannot easily be verified by others. And we may even be seen as weird, naive, or delusional.

I am talking about myself too. I usually don’t mention these things unless I talk with someone I know or suspect are receptive or understand.

So what types of experiences have I had?

I have seen energies since I was fifteen, around people, animals, plants, and objects. Mostly, with people, I see how awake the field is (or not).

There was a spiritual opening when I was sixteen where everything – without exception – was revealed as consciousness or the divine. (Of course, this can be interpreted in a small or psychological way (to me, the world happens within and as the consciousness I am and any ideas of being a separate being is added to that), or a big or spiritual way (everything, all of existence, is the divine, and it temporarily and locally takes itself to be a separate being until it no longer does).)

I have had periods with frequent and astonishing synchronicities, far beyond regular coincidences.

I experienced a ghost in an apartment in San Francisco that repeated the sounds from the day before. (Running water, the dog’s ball bouncing on the floor, the dog licking water.) This was verified by another and the dog.

I have an old friend who always seems to know what’s going on for me and in my life, and what will happen in very specific detail. And it’s been accurate so far.

Now, with Vortex Healing, I daily experience sensing at a distance, and often sensing that’s verified (by the client and/or another Vortex healer).

Again, what’s typical for all of these experiences is that they are unverifiable for others who were not there or don’t share them in another way. And they don’t fit in with our mainstream worldview. That’s why I rarely mention any of this unless I talk with others who I know or suspect will understand.

I also do my best to relate to and talk about these experiences in a relatively sane and grounded way, and to hold my stories about them lightly.

My stories about them are questions rather than statements.

Note: Magical realism typically refers to post-colonial critical literature speaking up for marginalized groups of people. I love that aspect of it but left it out of the article above. It was too tempting to use the short Wikipedia definition, and the one aspect of magical realism it talks about, as a starting point. But I realize that what I left out is very interesting too.

Magic and the supernatural is an ordinary part of most traditional cultures but is excluded or treated as superstition by western colonial and imperial powers. Simply including magical elements in literature or other art, and treating it as ordinary and unremarkable, is, in a way, a subversive act.

This helps me to see that when I choose to not speak about it, I allow myself to be colonialized by the modem western mindset, and speaking about it is a subversive and revolutionary act, for me too.

Image: The magic carpet (1880), Viktor Vasnetsov.

The scientific method is universally useful – and science content always changes

I have written a few Life 101 posts, and this one is about the scientific method and science content.

The scientific method

The scientific method is, in many ways, common-sense set in system. It is a formalized version of a grounded, pragmatic, and common sense approach to life and exploring and learning more about anything in life. It’s just about universally useful, any time we wish to explore and learn about something.

And that includes when we want to discover who and what we are, our true nature, and how to live from noticing our true nature. We can follow pointers and practices, notice what happens, notice what we find, invite our human self to be transformed from the practices and the noticing, and so on. We may share it with others. They see that they find and report that. And there is a dialog. We learn from each other and inevitably are our own final authority.

Science content

The content of science is different. This is the product of the scientific method. It’s what we discover, and how we think and talk about what we discover.

In conventional science, this is less universal. How we understand things in the world varies across time and cultures. Often, we refine smaller things within the bigger worldview. And sometimes, even our bigger worldview changes.

If we explore what we are and our true nature, what we find seems a bit more universal and it tends to be described similarly across times and cultures. And here too, people perceive and express it through the lens of their own time, culture, and personal background and inclinations, and we may focus on and emphasize different facets.

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Why isn’t there more research on what happens after this life?

Why isn’t there more research on what happens after this life?

After all, it’s clearly an important topic. All of us will die. It has a direct bearing on what worldview we adopt as a consensus worldview in our modern society. And it is possible to study. (And some do, as outlined in – among other books – Surviving Death by Leslie Kean.)

So if there are good reasons to do this type of research, and a few already do, why isn’t there more research?

The most obvious answer is that it’s (still) taboo in our modern society. It goes against the consensus atheist view of modern science. (Which I mostly agree with apart from when it creates a taboo.) And it steps into a minefield of opinions from religions and religious people around the world. For both of those reasons, you risk upsetting people if you enter this field through research.

That’s perhaps why it has become a taboo. And why most scientists leave it alone. They see it as a field for personal opinion and not something to explore through research.

Of course, it’s also irrational to maintain this taboo. As mention earlier, it’s an important topic with great ramifications for how we see ourselves and the world and it’s well within what we can do research on. There are no good reasons to not do research in this field, apart from the taboo itself.

And yet, taboos have a way of maintaining themselves. People acculturate and adopt the taboo, sometimes without even knowing what’s happening, and then ridicule and reject those who go outside of it. In this way, scientists are not necessarily more rational than anyone else.

This goes for any research on topics outside of the current mainstream view on the world, including research on ESP and the effects of energy healing.

Will it change? Probably. I can easily imagine a world where this type of research is more widely performed and accepted, and where the findings inform our consensus worldview. After all, it is important. And we can do good research on it.

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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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Is Buddhism a science or a religion?

I talked with a woman at a Christmas partly and happened to mention that I do a form of “Mindfulness Therapy” based on Buddhist self-inquiry.

Oh, I am Christian and feel uncomfortable about Buddhism.

Hm. I see it more as a science than a religion, at least when it comes to using it as a form of therapy.

But it is a religion! 

So is it a science or a religion? It all depends on how we relate to it.

If we take it as a faith, something to believe in, pray to, set up a shrine to, see it mostly as external, and want to preserve as is, then it becomes a religion.

If we take it as pointers, a guide, something to explore for ourselves, a mirror for what we can explore in ourselves, then it becomes a science. And just as any science, it can be something to test in collaboration with others and clarify, refine, and extend through our shared exploration.

This goes for any aspect of Buddhist practice, including inquiry, heart centered practices, resting with / as our experience, and training a more stable attention. For instance, we can explore the effects of tonglen, a heart centered practice, and some of the mechanisms behind it. (E.g. helps us change our relationship to ourselves, others, and the world which can be very healing.)

And although it’s perhaps easier to take Buddhism as a science of the mind than some of the other traditions, we can apply the same approach to any tradition or approach to spirituality. We can take a pragmatic approach and explore the effects of the different tools and aspects of the tradition.

The social and cultural benefits of genetic ancestry testing

I received my 23andme results a few weeks back and it has reminded me of a few things about genetic testing. Depending on how it’s used, it can definitely have some drawbacks. But it can also have many personal and social / cultural benefits.

Here are some of the possible social and cultural benefits that come to mind.

We are reminded that we are all overwhelmingly alike. Only about 0.5% of our genetic material has to do with our particular geographic or ethnic history. We are overwhelmingly alike as human beings, and as Earthlings we are also overwhelmingly alike. As human beings, we share almost all our history and ancestors, and as Earthlings we share a great deal of our history and ancestors.

Many of us, and especially in North America, have a far more mixed ancestry than we may expect. For instance, some who identify as “white” may have Asian, North-American, or African ancestry mixed in.

Same or similar genetic sequence-patterns are found in most or all human populations. So when the different companies assign an ethnic group based on particular patterns, they do it based on statistics and probably. Any particular pattern may be more prevalent in some groups but are found in other groups as well. So the analysis is not always accurate. Again, it’s a reminder of how similar we are.

Our official family history isn’t always the same as the genetic one. We have an official set of ancestors. We have a genetic set of ancestors. And the two are not always the same. This may help us hold our identity more lightly. We can (learn to) embrace and appreciate both.

This all makes it more difficult to justify or hold onto racism. (Although I am sure some will be able to if they really want to.) We are all Africans. We share almost all of our DNA. Many of us are more mixed than we think. Any differences are, in the big picture, very superficial.

As genetic testing becomes more common and our understanding improves, it may well have an impact on culture. And, if we want, it may help us see how closely we all are related. It may widen and deepen our sense of “us” as human beings and even as part of the Earth community.

As mentioned, there are also possible drawbacks. For instance, it’s easy to misinterpret or hold certain interpretations as more solid than they are. And some may get stressed out by certain interpretations of their health or ancestry data. They may realize one or both of their parents (or grandparents) are not the ones they thought they were. Or they may mistakenly think that’s the case based on misguided interpretation of the data. Or they may think that a slight statistical increase in likelihood of a certain illness means they are actually likely to get it (which may not be the case at all). With all of this, it’s important to be informed before jumping to conclusions, and in any case take it with a big grain of salt.

I guess there is also some risk that employees or governments can use certain data in unfortunate ways. (I don’t think it’s happening much or at all now, but there is always the risk.)

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A quantum physics analogy

In physics, we have the regular physics that applies to our human-scale world, and quantum physics which applies to very small scales. The rules of regular physics makes sense to us intuitively, at least for the most part. It’s a world we are familiar with, and one that our brain is adapted to understand and relate to. In contrast, the rules of the quantum world can seem quite counter-intuitive and outright weird to us.

It’s similar when we explore ourselves. At a normal scale, it’s all relatively familiar. We can find love for ourselves as a whole, or for parts of ourselves and our experience. We can dialogue with these same parts. We can train a more stable attention. We can find in ourselves what we see in others. Some of it may be a bit unfamiliar, but it’s all happening within a quite familiar world.

When we explore our experience in a more finely grained way, and on a “smaller” or more basic scale, it can feel quite unfamiliar at first. It’s similar to quantum physics. Things don’t work quite the way we are used to. Different rules seem to apply.

For instance, we may see that sensations appear “stuck” on images and words, lending them a sense of reality and solidity, and giving them a sense of charge (velcro). We may see how images, words and sensations appears as who we are, or a threat, or a command to do something (due to velcro).

We may see that we cannot find what initially appeared so real and solid, including a body, a particular (deficient or inflated) self, a threat, a command, an object, a person, words, images, sensations, awareness, and anything else we can give a name to.

That’s all quite outside of our normal experience, and yet it’s right there when we slow down and look more closely and systematically. (For example by using the Living Inquiries, as above.)

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Physics and immediate experience: Happening within space, with space within, and as space

This is a commonly recognized analogy.

In modern physics, they discovered that what initially appears solid is really mostly space, and looking even more closely, even the “particles” are really energy and also space. It’s all space.

When I look, I find the same in my own experience, as so many have before me, and so many do these days too. My field of experience is mostly space. Images, words, sensations, sounds, taste, smell all happen within space. Space with no findable end.

When I look more closely, even these – the images, words, sensations, sounds etc. – have space within them, and are space. It’s all space.

More accurately, it’s all awareness, and space, and appearances within and as – made up of – awareness and space.

It can be very helpful to notice this. Especially for appearances that at first appear quite solid, such as strong emotions, or physical pain, or contractions, or suffering, or seeking, or neediness, or a sense of me or I. Anything identified with will, at first, tend to appear quite solid. And when I look, I notice the space around it, and the space within it, and even the space (awareness) making it up.

Some people take this analogy quite literally and make it into something solid (!). I find it more helpful to see it as an analogy.

Even this analogy can be noticed as happening within space, with space within, and as space.

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Brain myths

I keep coming across brain myths, which is surprising since a simple Google search is enough to dispel them. And yet, it’s perhaps not so surprising.

For instance, “we only use 10% of our brain”(or another small percentage), implying that our brain has capacities we are not using. This is silly even on the surface. Why would evolution produce a brain that has capacities we don’t use? Evolution would only select for capacities we – the majority of us, and most of the time – are using. It’s true that we use our brain very effectively, which means that certain parts only “light up” when they are actually needed and in use. The rest of the time, they rest, which is what makes most sense. So we do use all of our brain, but not at the same time. (If we did, it would be called a seizure…!)

The left/right brain myth is also prevalent, and equally much a myth.

So why are these ideas perpetuated? I suspect because they do work as metaphors. There is a grain of truth in them. A metaphorical truth even if it’s not a literal truth.

We do indeed have capacities that most of us are not making use of. It has nothing to do with not using more of our brain, and everything to do with either (a) not having developed these capacities further, or (b) being distracted or having beliefs so they are not revealed to us. We may not have developed our critical thinking, or music skills, or dance abilities. And our attention may be caught up in beliefs and identifications, so we don’t notice that any sense of being a separate me comes from identification with thought. We don’t notice what we really are, which is what this field of experience – as it is here and now – happens within and as. (AKA awareness, love.)

It’s also obvious that we have a more creative and holistic way of experiencing and relating to the world, and a more linear and analytic one. We wouldn’t get very far if we didn’t have both. It has very little to do with brain hemispheres, but we still have these aspects of how we view and relate to the world. It’s a metaphorical truth, not a literal one.

Science and spirituality

Science and spirituality. That’s a topic that comes up now and then in popular media.

Unfortunately, the debate or discussion is usually at a quite superficial level.

There are perhaps two main ways of looking at the relationship between science and spirituality.

One is that they are separate. This means that they can either co-exist (religious scientists often take this view), or that they are mutually exclusive (atheists sometimes take this view). This is often the level of the public discourse on this topic.

Another view is that science and spirituality point to and explore the same reality. Reality is seamless and one, and can be explored in a variety of ways, including through different forms of science, and through spirituality. Ken Wilber is perhaps one of the most sophisticated writers on this topic today. (Although I am sure that even his writings will seem hopelessly old fashioned in one or two or three generations.)

Needless to say, the last view resonates the most with me. I am fascinated with science, and have been since childhood. (Especially astronomy, ecology, zoology, biology.) And I am fascinated by spirituality too, or rather the spiritual exploration.

Both describe facets of the same reality, and how it looks when you use “external” or “internal” methods for exploration.

Both use many of the same methods:

Learning from what’s been done before. Maintaining a questioning approach. Testing it out for yourself. Placing direct experience and data over theory. Recognizing that the terrain is not the same as the map. (Or a meal is not the same as the menu.) Being mentored by people who have gone the path before you. And eventually reporting your findings to the benefit of the community, so others can test it out for themselves and perhaps go further. (Yes, I know that this is an idealized view, and that reality is often much more messy, and sometimes less pretty in a superficial sense.)

P.S. I am intentionally ignoring religion here. Spirituality – in the sense I am using it here – can certainly exist within religion. A sincere spiritual exploration of reality can and does happen among some who belong to a certain religion. Religion itself is more of a mix of ritual (which can be very helpful), theology (which can include valuable practical pointers), genuine reports that may either become an official “truth” or more hidden within the tradition, and institutions (necessary to maintain the religion). Although it’s often not said explicitly, the main aim of religion is often – and necessarily – to perpetuate itself.