Forging Ahead

Reflecting back over the years of my life now has taken on a wholly different character and sense of urgency. Each time I sit down to write these days, I am reminded by all of the objects surrounding me that the accumulation of years has also resulted in an enormous accumulation of memories and souvenirs of the many experiences of my life. There was a time when I barely had even the shortest amount of time for such reminiscing, and I told myself over and over that the objects and documents and articles that I set aside would one day be a rich resource for writing about the times of my life. It seemed urgent to take this approach at that time since there were so precious few opportunities to review the past, and the important aspects of my experience of life, that I feared losing the thread to lead me through the labyrinth of time when I finally was able to withdraw from the relentless burden of obligation to generate income.

Even now, as I type these words, I am still not entirely certain that my intentional review of nearly a lifetime’s accumulation of memories and important objects which surround me will be concluded in time to avoid the inevitable reluctance to execute the process of letting go of them. I must now confront the uncertainty of just how much time remains before the threshold will approach for the great purging of the physical reminders of the events of my life and the historical record of all that I have committed to memory already. There are so many thoughts all jumbled up in my mind already—the flood of a lifetime of thoughts and memories often seems to overwhelm me even as I consider the ways to edit the most important ones down to a manageable amount in order to organize and collect them into some semblance of coherent expression.

My online blog, “John’s Consciousness,” began as an earnest effort to begin to formulate a practical collection of deliberate and considered entries which would form the foundation of a much larger work. While my current life is finally less crammed with the immediacy of unavoidable daily tasks for the most part, the daunting volume and immensity of the accumulated objects and documents weighs heavily on my ability to methodically and thoughtfully review them in a manner that is both advantageous and productive.

What is at least clear in one important way is the desire to make some kind of sense of all the important events and to spend whatever time is required to arrive at a reasoned and considered result, which may offer some useful insight for those who will survive me in the years to come. At first it seemed to me that all the efforts at preservation were primarily for my own benefit, and while I wasn’t always clearly thinking about the specific motivation being employed at every moment, in the back of my mind, I usually supposed that the why and the wherefore would become evident upon review at some later time.

Looking back over the decades leading up to my current circumstance always seem to initially lead to a degree of melancholy, as is typical of any effort being reviewed in retrospect. There are so many instances in a lifetime when we are either forced to choose a path at a crossroad, or perhaps even when we make a conscious, deliberate choice as we approach a crossroad or other pivotal moment, which we might view as a mistake in retrospect. We cannot know with certainty, at any given moment, the full range of consequences which might ensue upon making such choices, and must often rely on some intuitive or instinctive inclination. Over decades, we can look back on instances when we achieved practical or beneficial results, and balance those achievements against whatever hard lessons may have resulted, in order to evaluate our current circumstances. Still, those hard lessons can weigh heavily on us, and any benefits which may have subsequently appeared may not mitigate regrets.

Recent events and current circumstances have pressed me to reflect with much greater intensity on the cost/benefits sides of the equations which I have inflicted upon myself over time, and while it seems to me that there has been a reasonably fair balance between the number of benefits worth the cost and the number of costs which bestowed very little if any benefit, several important choices at pivotal moments still feel unresolved in ways that may or may not be still possible to mitigate.

We cannot reverse time nor can we untangle whatever confusion or uncertainty governed the circumstances surrounding any choice made in the swirling maelstrom of the past, but this acknowledgement hasn’t yet dissuaded me from meandering from time to time through the perennial realm of what might have been, or its close companion—what still might be possible.

Unresolved anxiety over what might have been doesn’t seem especially helpful in the grip of melancholy, but the road leading to the realm of what still might be possible is no cakewalk either. Powerfully negative emotional and psychological circumstances in my past have been a continuing source of bouts of second-guessing, and wrestling with them as I sometimes do, has occasionally resulted in episodes of emotional and psychological distress, characterized by a crippling degree of self-doubt and even deep sadness.

Whenever we project ourselves forward into the realm of what might still be possible, we are often limited by what we have already experienced as a starting point, which can make it more difficult to envision a future where our hopes can be realized, and so we must be able to somehow suspend our expectations based on previous experience in order to move forward.

What we sometimes describe as “thinking outside the box,” a phrase meant to suggest an approach to thought that is completely new or original, or at the very least some variation of the standard approach, may provide a degree of difference within our thought process, with which we can then aspire to begin anew in seeking a resolution to whatever dilemma we face, but which also requires an additional degree of willingness to venture outside of our comfort zone in important ways. Such measures also require a degree of courage in treading a path previously untried.

In all of my deliberations thus far, I have steadfastly applied a deliberate effort to forge a new approach to resolving what has been an intractable problem, and have done so over a period of decades. It has been an enormous strain on my creative senses and has, up to now, not produced very much in the way of useful results, aside from helping me to recognize just how difficult such results are to obtain, and to assist me in becoming accustomed to repeated failure.

While it has been suggested by a number of sources in the creative world that failure is one of the best teachers, as well as an absolutely necessary component of any true success, it has not accomplished much in my case other than to perpetuate a degree of frustration at how perplexing it all can seem. Most rational people would have abandoned the effort years ago, and while I would like to suppose that my approach has been generally rational in the main, my inability to abandon these efforts suggests that I might actually have crossed over the threshold of irrationality some time ago, and have simply been unable to see it and to acknowledge the limitations which consistently appear upon each effort to forge ahead.

In the weeks to come I will be reviewing a number of the components and accumulated memories, stories, documents and objects that I retained as souvenirs which surround me in my writing space, and explore the rationale for retaining these objects, and attempt to sort through the potential consequences of either letting them go, or holding on for dear life.

Hopefully, in the process, my readers and visitors might find some benefit for themselves from following along with my struggle to sort it all out. As I happen upon important topics suggested by this review, I may veer off the beaten path for a bit to elaborate and/or mitigate the process, just to keep it interesting. Looking forward to sharing this part of what continues to be a challenging journey with you all…..John H.

Looking Back and Looking Forward

When I began this blog in earnest back in January of 2011, my general goals were to share my decades-long journey of personal development, to express what I had learned while researching the nature of the events which occurred in my youth, and to invite my readers to join me in considering some of the avenues of investigation, which I pursued while searching for a path that might lead to a greater understanding of the subjective human experience of consciousness. I am convinced now that the ultimate explanation must go much deeper and be more meaningful and profound than most modern investigators suppose. It is one of the central questions being investigated at the forefront of philosophy generally, and in neuroscience specifically, and there are a number of scholars and other seekers actively searching with equal enthusiasm.

Just as it seems very clear to me now that the physical universe in which we exist, the “material world,” appears to be a manifestation of something that is not material, so too now does consciousness appear to be, at its source, non-material. In saying this I am not suggesting that it is without interaction with the physical world, but rather that its origin, where it stems from, what precisely emerges from Life, goes much deeper—it transcends all that we know intellectually and what we experience sensually.

What has compelled me to pursue it all along has been my own profound sense of something other than the physical world at work in my own experience of existence, and to the extent that I have studied the material sciences, the laws of physics, and listened to the conclusions and musings of the great thinkers across the history of humanity, I know that my own personal experiences of awareness—my own consciousness, is the most vitally important source of information that I could possibly hope to encounter. Balanced against a reasonable and rational science of brain physiology, and in consideration of the great strides we have made in psychology and in working through the philosophical discourse by thinkers and scholars from all over the world, what has transpired within me rings true with both the material and non-material aspects of my experience of existence.

After decades of life spent searching, I have gradually increased my confidence in the validity of those aspects of my experience of the world, which are not visible, not temporal in their nature in the strictest sense, but rather part of an eruption of sorts into the physical. Everything I see, and all the research, reading, and contemplation that has accompanied my efforts to come to terms with many of the events of my life, confirm for me the general notion that I have carried with me my whole life—and that is—every aspect of our physical lives, every nuance of experience, is made possible by a source which cannot be defined well in material terms.

Even when I have been disappointed or saddened or felt a sense of loss for any reason, I still felt close to this non-material source, just as I do in moments of great joy and elation, and during moments of what one might wish to describe as revelation—not in the biblical or religious sense—but rather, as life revealing itself to me in my experience of it.

Recently, interactions with my fellow human beings have become more pronounced in the differences between those who are open to the spirit of life—those within whom the “human spirit” radiates—with those who are less in touch with the core elements of their humanity; the ineffable, the non-physical, or the “spiritual,” if you will. Encountering individuals who embody the radiance of spirit, even if they don’t recognize it themselves, make this pursuit worthwhile, and those who are lacking in their understanding or who haven’t experienced their inner world well, make the expression of my ideas even more compelling.

In particular, when I encounter people with whom I feel an especially powerful connection, which is occasionally so clear and so deeply affective, sometimes even after only a few minutes, it increases my sensitivity to that connection in a “spiritual,” ineffable, and unambiguous way. The struggle that I have often had and continue to have from long ago is figuring out a way to alert these individuals to these connections, and to share my urgent sense of connection to them, without intruding or pressing the issue beyond a reasonable degree.

At least at present, it seems impossible for me to separate myself from my awareness of these connections, which are, to me, so obvious; I sometimes sense them so strongly, that any attempt to ignore them or to dismiss them as belonging to some biological or instinctive process simply makes no sense. During certain encounters over the years, even when there wasn’t any particularly overt cause to explain the connection, even then, the particulars often seemed to lead to the non-material. It often prompted me to consider that energies outside of our physical beings or even within us might be responsible.

In fact, when it comes to these dual aspects of our humanity, there truly is no “inside of us” or “outside of us,” in any meaningful sense. It is simply a necessary linguistic compromise to distinguish in some way, the material from the non-material, and describing them in that way helps us to realize that both are essential to life, and integral to comprehending the ineffable nature of our subjective experience. When we fall in love or feel strongly compelled toward certain ideas or individuals, or when we seek to participate in certain compelling circumstances, even when we occasionally become obsessed by these ideas, all of these are indications of a combination or coordination between these dual aspects.

Since it seems to me that we are both physical beings with powerful instinctive, biological, and psychological drives, as well as spiritual beings with a number of equally potent intuitive inclinations, it often may seem easier to focus primarily on explaining our experiences as being the result of brain activity, and to insist that those physiological processes are the source of all our inclinations, as opposed to including the possibility that any other non-material source might be at work.

I am firmly convinced that the mechanisms of cognition, intelligence, and brain functions, so vital to our ability to make sense of the world, simply cannot constitute the whole explanation. We see great strides being made with artificial intelligence, and with the efforts to replicate the functioning of neural processes artificially, and while these endeavors are truly fascinating and worthwhile, they cannot compare in significance to the richly-textured and deeply personal inner subjective experience of human consciousness, which has thus far only been possible to confirm subjectively, as to its capacity to exercise influence on our temporal circumstances.

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As I progressed in my research and study of subjective experience, I began to see parallels to many of the descriptions in the literature and scholarship on the subject, over centuries of human endeavor, with my own experiences. When certain events occurred in my early life, I was painfully unaware of what might explain them or help me to understand them better, but now, having become aware of the broad range of thought and theory contained in the history of humanity, and having decades of personal experience to reflect upon, I have been able to associate some of their core findings with my own experiences. Whether or not I have been expressing the conclusions reached by that study in a coherent manner, making them accessible to a wider range of people may be an open question, but doing so has been my goal.

While many of those who ponder these important issues are unwilling to suppose or unable to discern how any influence or energy which has no clearly empirical explanation might be active within and essential to life, for myself, I have to believe that what has been burning within me for so long, and occupied nearly every mental effort I could muster along the way, has been a sufficient cause to express its urgency in my writings.

Considering the wide range of my experiences, both sensual and spiritual, my sincere conviction now is that what I feel, what I sense, and what I experience, not only internally and personally, but also as an observer of the world “outside of me,” especially in consideration of the responses of other individuals under extraordinary circumstances, is that I cannot dismiss out of hand, any experience or conclusion that occurs within me.

In calling my blog, “John’s Consciousness,” I don’t remember thinking too long about it, but when I first saw it on the masthead here, I immediately accepted it as the right choice, in spite of the fact that I wasn’t completely clear in my own mind if it would accurately describe the content I was about to explore in these pages. There is no question in my mind at this point that the ineffable nature of consciousness and the complex machinations of brain physiology, supported by multi-faceted sensory input which support subjective experience, are intimately intertwined, not because there is some direct link discernible to science or immediately obvious to others, but because in my personal experience it has been so. Since it has been so in that way, I feel confident in saying that I have learned to distinguish between those ideas and experiences which are mostly peripheral and those which are profound, and part of the core components of my life.

I have dedicated much of my time and pressed myself to persist in my efforts with great determination to create and present thoughtful, rational, and sincere entries here, and to share my ideas with clarity and balanced argumentation. It is clear from the many insightful responses I have received over the years that certain entries have resonated with my readers more than others, and while I have been formulating these ideas ever since I was a much younger person, even now, as a mature man with sixty-plus years on this planet, I must acknowledge that I am still hampered to some degree by my cultural and familial conditioning, even as I attempt to express what is most urgent within me.

There is so much more to discover. I am compelled to persist in my efforts to dig deeper, and to continue to write about what has been revealed by my decades of searching.

Perception and Introspection

Ever find yourself staring out into a natural landscape, almost intoxicated by the immediate sensory experience, and suddenly find yourself ruminating thoroughly within your inner world? This happens to me a lot, and when I came upon views like this one along the cascade trail in the Jefferson National Forest in Pembroke, Virginia, I couldn’t seem to avoid drifting off introspectively all along the winding path leading to the Cascade Falls. Whenever these experiences occur, I often find myself trying to figure out just what it is about our human nature that provides me with such a richness and depth of compelling experience WITHIN…simply by being able to perceive the natural world.

Reading an article on the state of artificial intelligence this morning in the Wall Street Journal, I started thinking about the differences between the nature of that intelligence and the human variety, and decided to probe for myself the extent to which the artificial variety has become a part of my daily experience. Since there are a number of devices and services involved in most of our daily lives these days, which contain components and sources that rely on basic artificial intelligence principles in order to serve our needs and to function in real time, I wondered to what degree that presence was truly evident and useful.

The article in the CIO Journal blog by Tom Loftus talked about the difference between AI smart and human smart:

“To me, I think the fundamental issue is what I call deep understanding versus shallow understanding,” said Charles Elkan, managing director and global head of machine learning at Goldman Sachs. Shallow understanding is the ability to answer a limited range of questions that are similar to each other, he said. Deep understanding, he said, implies broad context and broad knowledge. “The entire spectrum of current algorithms that we know for AI are not going to scale to human intelligence, let alone super-intelligence.”

Since I am typing these words on my laptop computer, it is immediately apparent that my thoughts are being immediately recorded, constantly edited, and eventually refined to my satisfaction (usually) through a reasonably and artificially intelligent machine, which is connected wirelessly to a network device that is connected to a router permitting access to a world-wide web of other computers and routing devices, all seamlessly communicating and providing feedback and information from an array of global resources, all while sitting on my sofa having my morning coffee, which was prepared automatically by my electronic coffee maker, in a room which has a voice activated Alexa, Bluetooth speakers, and a “smart” television, all capable of being connected to my “smartphone,” through which I can control, in significant ways, all of the other devices.

It hardly requires more than a passing familiarity with our 21st century technology to be able to conclude that, in a big way, some aspect of artificial intelligence has made virtually all of this activity possible. With a few keystrokes on my laptop, or the tapping of a few icons on my smartphone, I can connect and engage each of these devices to perform an astonishing array of functions, including a particularly interesting version of conversation with a lovely female sounding, voice-activated device with an apparent capability to understand, to an impressive degree, words and inquiries initiated by me.

In the spirit of intellectual curiosity, I decided to attempt to press the Alexa to push the boundaries of the device’s “intelligence,” to see if I might be able to get it to “make a connection,” between ideas that I bring up in a logical sequence. My first question asked about the definition of artificial intelligence:

Alexa, what is artificial intelligence?

“Artificial intelligence is usually defined as the branch of computer science that deal with writing computer programs that can solve problems creatively.”

(I noticed right away that Alexa made a grammatical error in saying “deal” instead of “deals.”)

Alexa, what is deep learning?

“Deep learning is part of a broader family of machine learning methods based on learning data representations as opposed to task-specific algorithms.”

Alexa, what is an algorithm?

“Algorithm is usually defined as a precise rule or set of rules, specifying how to solve some problem.”

Alexa, give me an example of an algorithm.

“Constraint is a random algorithm.”

Alexa, what is a constraint algorithm?

“In computational chemistry, a constraint algorithm is a method for satisfying the Newtonian motion of a rigid body which consists of mass points.”

While this exchange was interesting in view of interacting with a device using only my voice, and considering that Alexa’s responses to my questions generally were appropriate, the moment I went beyond the simple formulation of asking, “what is,” Alexa quickly resorted to the default response of “I’m not sure,” and “I don’t know the answer to that.” The impressive range of information at Alexa’s disposal, and the ability to respond to specific questions are both useful if you are doing a search, or want to know how to spell a word, but if you want to converse or ask further questions about the material provided, you will be disappointed. I told Alexa that I wanted to have a conversation, and was surprised to hear the device suggest that I engage “a social bot.”

Once I engaged this option, I was momentarily encouraged by the more conversational tone of the words that issued from the speaker. For a moment, the words seemed almost spontaneous, until, instead of saying, “yes,” to a suggestion, I responded with “sure.” Alexa’s chatty response was, “Oh, this is embarrassing, I’m not sure how to respond to what you said…would you like to talk about something else?” It quickly became apparent that there were a limited number of responses that I could give, and that my responses had to conform to a particular pattern or the device would revert to the default suggestion that we talk about something else. The responses became a little longer and there would occasionally be a humorous interjection when the exchange reached its limit, but I tired fairly quickly of having to conform to a formula in order to continue the exchange.

As interesting as even these limited options are in the context of “talking” to a machine, it is painfully obvious that there is really “no one home;” no “ghost in the machine.” There is a clear distinction between my interest in a conversation, and the machines ability to participate in any meaningful way. It is still a practical and interesting way to interact with an information source, and the advantages these devices provide are often surprising.

In the kitchen, there is another device called the “Echo Show,” which utilizes the same algorithms and methods as Alexa, but has the added advantage of being able to provide video results when the opportunity presents itself. When installing the device initially, the default “wake up” word was also Alexa, which immediately caused both devices to respond simultaneously, so I had to change the “wake up” word to “Echo,” in order not to engage the Alexa device at the same time. The advantages of having the option to display a variety of video responses is a clear enhancement of the original concept, but the option to conduct face-to-face video messaging and calls with others who have an Echo device requires giving access to contacts and phone numbers, and currently that seems a bit beyond my comfort zone regarding digital privacy and sharing.

The stark differences between the artificial intelligence supporting the machine and the natural intelligence I was using to interact with it, points to one of the key elements in discussing the potentials inherent in the future of AI development. No matter how sophisticated the sensors and algorithms or models of deep learning become, perception and processing alone are insufficient to produce the ability for introspection or the “inner sense” we experience as living biological and sentient beings. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy expresses it this way:

“Perception is achieved through dedicated organs such as eyes and ears, whereas there is no (literal) organ of introspection. “The ‘organ’ of introspection is attention, the orientation of which puts a subject in an appropriate relation to a targeted state” (Goldman 2006: 244). Perception ordinarily involves sensory experiences, whereas “No one thinks that one is aware of beliefs and thoughts by having sensations or quasi-sense-experiences of them” (Shoemaker 1994: 255). – Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

All conscious humans with a nominally functional cognitive apparatus (brain, central nervous system, with basic life supporting and sensory systems intact) combined with sufficient life experience, and at least a minimal ability with language, eventually will acquire a degree of “inner sense experience,” which permits and accounts for our ability for introspection, which differs from simple perception in significant ways.

50,000 Blog Visits

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It is with some humility, surprise, and measured delight that I acknowledge the accumulation of over 50,000 blog views here on John’s Consciousness. While I generally find it surprising that any greater-than-normal number of visitors stop by to read here in a day or within a particular week or month as the statistics report, this exceptional volume exceeds anything I myself would have predicted, and even though it has taken about three and a half years of serious effort and attention to my writing in order to gather this many views, I must report a degree of astonishment that it happened at all.

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There are many other blogs here at WordPress.com with far more followers and views than mine, and I appreciate well, by that measure, how small this number must seem to those writers and readers who float far above this level, but for me, it feels almost surreal to see this number now when I view the statistics page. It is probably much more of a statement about the interest in the subject of my blog as opposed to any other consideration, but it still feels like I might just be finally making sufficient progress in my work to warrant a degree of interest in the world at large. Most of the views, naturally, have come from the United States, but notable volumes of views have also arrived from India, Canada, France, Australia, Germany, the Phillipines, and the UK. Recently, hundreds of visits have begun to appear from Brazil, the Netherlands, Russia, Indonesia. Thailand, and Spain. The interest in the subject is clearly one that is shared by many cultures across the globe. I occasionally receive comments and emails which have to be translated, but have been surprised to see that many international visitors are able to ask their questions and make comments in English.

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To say that this endeavor has been rewarding and fulfilling is to understate it in the extreme. I have enjoyed every aspect of the writing and research over the years, and the challenge continues to be creating and contributing content that is beneficial to my goals as a writer, as well as of interest to the readers from all over the world. It is also humbling when I consider the number of responses and the character of the dialog that continues to intrigue me and compel me to continue. It is my hope to further contribute to the discussion world-wide on the subject of human consciousness in the weeks and months to come, and to expand on this humble beginning to encourage a greater understanding and appreciation for the significance of our indisputable connection to each other, and to the universe in which we exist, through a dedicated pursuit of coming to terms with the nature of humanity, of consciousness itself, and the human spirit.

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I would like very much to express my gratitude and great respect for all those who contributed to this milestone, and to express my hope that those who visit here will, at the very least, be to some degree enriched and encouraged to pursue their own ideas, and to share them with me in the weeks and months to come. It is not lost on me that a fair number of the visits here have clearly come from a degree of regular attention by a smaller numerical number of visitors, and while it still represents a fair amount of attention from my perspective, I understand that all my writing and research represents only a beginning for myself and others in making forward progress toward gaining a deeper understanding of the nature of consciousness, and I continue to feel fortunate to have the opportunity to not only share my thoughts and ideas on the subject, but to share that opportunity with so many other amazing and interesting people who visit.

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In the coming months, I will be outlining the results of my research and writing in the articulation of a theory of mine, based on almost thirty years of dedicated attention to the subject of consciousness, and I hope you will all ride along with me, and encourage others to join in the discussion as time progresses.

With great appreciation and hope in the future……John H.

The Middle Path

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“Until the sixteenth century, men in general thought of space and time as though they were limited compartments in which objects were juxtaposed and interchangeable. The human mind believed itself to be perfectly at home in this universe, within which it tranquilly wove its pattern of metaphysics. And then one day this attitude began to change. Spatially our awareness of the world was extended to embrace the Infinitesimal and the Immense-the general and also the irreversible modification of perceptions, ideas, problems: These are (two) indications that the spirit has acquired an added dimension…showing our accession beyond all ideologies and systems, to a different and higher sphere–a new spiritual dimension.” — Pierre Teilhard de Chardin from “The Growth of Consciousness.”

Most of the reading I have done in the realm of human consciousness has left me most often unsatisfied with a strictly empirical approach in particular, but it seems clear that there are measurable and quantifiable components to the mechanisms through which our subjective experience of the world becomes manifest, which contribute in important ways to our understanding generally, and are therefore important to consider in achieving a more comprehensive understanding. I recently encountered a book by Arthur I. Miller called, “Deciphering the Cosmic Number,” about the relationship between Wolfgang Pauli and Carl Jung, that points to the benefits of collaboration and synthesis of the diverse approaches to achieving progress in creating a new perspective that eliminates the limitations of following more than just one narrow path. Jung has, thus far, been the most interesting and even-handed author, scholar, and empiricist, blending to the largest degree, both the scientific and the spiritual in his deliberations without diminishing the importance of either. His insistence on the scientific method in his research did not preclude the inclusion of the spiritual possibilities that are inherent in any discussion of living beings.

In some sense, what we may wish to describe as non-physical or spiritual phenomena, when they become manifest in the temporal, appear through discernible mechanisms. Even though the source of such manifestations may not be accessible to conventional scientific methodology, nor any way exist currently of confirming a spiritual component to human nature, at least none that might be considered plausible by any scientific standard, Jung was able to bridge the chasm between the two worldviews sufficiently to at least acknowledge the potential for expanding the conversation generally, while suggesting specifically what he described as “the archetypes of the collective unconscious.

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Painting by Ma Yuan, Song Dynasty, “On a Mountain Path in Spring.” from http://beyondtheouterrim.wordpress.com

According to a popular website on Buddhism, “The Middle Way (or Middle Path) is a Buddhist term with rich connotations. Most simply, it implies a balanced approach to life and the regulation of one’s impulses and behavior, close to Aristotle’s idea of the “golden mean” whereby “every virtue is a mean between two extremes, each of which is a vice.” — (http://www.sgi.org/buddhism)

Rather than limit ourselves to any extreme or narrowly focused approach to consciousness or to human nature, a synthesis or blending of both the scientific and the metaphysical disciplines, in the spirit of Pauli and Jung, seems like a more balanced way to make progress. However our complex human nature developed, at some point, all of our diverse capacities, psychological, social, biological, mental, and spiritual, combined to produce a keen self-awareness which enriched our everyday level of awareness, eventually enabling us to access higher levels of consciousness. While primitive humans immediately supposed that the world was supported by forces beyond what could be ascertained by the senses, the attainment of these higher levels gradually led to astonishing social and technological progress into modern times, opening the way for modern humans to contemplate the existence of realms beyond the physical world from a more informed scientific and metaphysical point of view.

Life-on-Earth

The evolution of life on earth, leading as it has to the presence of Homo sapiens, doesn’t necessarily imply a deliberate plan to produce them, nor does it guarantee our survival as a species on this planet. The Universe, our galaxy, our solar system, our planet and all of our ancestral creatures existed well before our conscious awareness of them, pointing to a potential for continued evolution, which could bring us closer to a comprehension of our place in the vast cosmic ocean, and lead us to discover a connection to the source of those forces demonstrated by their existence. Scientists don’t like to even infer the possibility of the existence of a transcendent source unreachable in a repeatable experiment, which may be responsible for a universe with seemingly indisputable and clearly defined physical laws. It may seem counter-intuitive to suppose that a transcendent source would not simply reveal itself unambiguously within the evidence we gather in exploring the universe, but even physicists in the 21st century have begun to investigate possible explanations for our existence which would have astonished some of the greatest scientific minds of human history.

Middle Path

This past week in Tuscon, Arizona, some of the most prominent philosophers, scientists, and thinkers from around the world, gathered at the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona for the “Toward a Science of Consciousness,” conference. I have been following the events along with many others on the internet at this url:

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/consciousness-central-tv?utm_source=crowd-live-backend&utm_medium=visit-channel&utm_campaign=notifications

There are lots of interviews, debates, news, and different points of view on display, and while much of it is entertaining and informative for those interested in the subject, the disparate points of view on display show vividly the need for a greater effort at bringing each of the extreme views into a more considered synthesis of ideas and principles in order to make any progress.

The middle path is not just an esoteric belief in a balanced way of life. It is also an ideal for our age.

To Everything…There is a Season

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“To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted.” – Ecclesiastes 3:1-2

Time is my enemy now. Not only does it often seem to be in short supply when the work of writing begins for me, but over the years, it has been so heavy-laden with intrusions which divert me from the task, that many times, I have found myself near despair. Recently, I have only been able to manage short bursts of productive effort, and with all the chaos of late, I have been so frequently interrupted by a host of other considerations, it seems amazing to me that I’ve accomplished anything at all.

Modern technology has made great strides since the time I began this work, and I have been fortunate to have access to materials and resources that have helped me to make even the meager progress I have managed so far. With only a very limited budget over the years, and many competing priorities for the funds that were available, it has only recently become possible to acquire the tools needed to truly begin to construct a comprehensive summary of what has occupied me for more than thirty years now. At first, much of the work was recorded on hand-written loose-leaf papers, and whatever else I could get my hands on. Unfortunately, many of my original papers have been lost after moving and all the various changes which occurred in those years. However, I was able to preserve the core elements of the writings in the subsequent revisions and copies which I recorded in a series of paper-bound journals that I kept relentlessly during that time.

In recent years, as I was able to acquire a computer and access to the digital world, I was able to preserve and store the accumulating documents on compact discs, along with the many photos which were taken during the early days of my struggle to come to terms with the extraordinary events which led to my ongoing investigations. This blog represents my best efforts to gather the materials from my research and writing, and to make some kind of sense of it all.

Secret Double Magritte
Secret Double by Magritte

“If a man sits down to think, he is immediately asked if he has a headache.”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson from a journal entry in 1833

In the autumn of 1973, I experienced what C.G. Jung described as “an eruption of unconscious contents,” which led me to create a document entitled, “The Beginning, The Foundation, The Entrance.” Although I did not recognize it as such at the time, I have gradually come to view the experience as a pivotal event in my life, and I have spent much of the time since it occurred attempting to decipher the meaning contained in the document. The bulk of the document’s contents remained poorly understood by me for many years afterwards, and only in recent years have I finally begun to comprehend it more fully, and to begin to place it in a broader perspective. Magritte’s image above seemed an appropriate illustration of what felt like an agonizing struggle to reveal the inner workings of the process, which I subsequently engaged in attempting to discover what it was that erupted from within me.

Reviewing the cryptic writing in this document has always been problematical for me, as doing so not only reminded me of how it came into existence, but also of how much I struggled to make some kind of sense out of what initially seemed like a “stream of unconsciousness.” Over the years, even though the opportunities to spend time on the writing have been far fewer than my own inclinations would have provided, I have devoted every available temporal and mental resource in the service of enhancing my understanding of both the experience itself, and of the content in the original document. My temporal life during this time, all too often, “pushed” active pursuit of my goals to “another day.” Forced to find ways of getting to the research, I resorted to recording my incremental progress and my relevant observations in those journals, which at least provided a consistent location where I could continue to work as time permitted.

collective unconscious

According to the famous Swiss psychiatrist and scholar, C.G. Jung:

In addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature, there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually, but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents. It is man’s task to become conscious of the contents that press upward from the unconscious.”

After several exposures to what Jung described as “unconscious contents,” in my early twenties, it became apparent to me that a greater comprehension of my own cognitive processes was necessary if I was ever going to come to terms with the inexplicable nature of these extraordinary personal experiences. The learning process has engaged my own consciousness in ways that have been both rewarding and challenging. In the coming months, it is my goal to organize and communicate this process, as a means of formalizing a theory which will summarize and bring together all of the many pathways which I have been traveling these many years.

To all of the many wonderful readers and visitors here, I extend my best wishes for much success to you all in the coming year……

Birds of a Feather

mike bird2
photo by Mike Hyland

“Once we reach a certain age, we often worry that those precious hours and days–the ones which we remember so fondly and so well–will never come again. We think that all of our best experiences are contained within them, and that all we really have now are our memories of them. While none of us knows well what the future holds beyond our basic understanding of the limitations of our bodies to sustain us indefinitely, all that we have experienced in our lives–every nuance of the totality of our contributions to life and those of life to us–every single twist and turn that led us to this moment in time, lives within us at every moment, and the reverberations of all those moments and memories echo in each of our thoughts and actions as we breathe in this very moment now.”
– excerpt from a recent correspondence with a friend

Sitting at my desk this afternoon, trying to resolve some of the inevitable clutter that accumulates during the all-too-brief time I get to spend at it writing, I finally felt comfortable enough with the clear view of the desktop to settle in to my writing, when I suddenly noticed a thumping sound outside my window. At first it was on the periphery which I dismissed as a branch from the tree outside banging against the window in the wind. Each time I heard the noise I would look over at the window, and after a moment, it seemed to be quiet, so I continued with my reading. After several minutes, the thumping sound would return and it started to make me wonder, so I stopped what I was doing and simply stared at the window, waiting for the sound to return.

bird window

To my astonishment, the thumping sound was being perpetrated by a robin, who apparently found some sort of fascination with my window. At first I was mostly curious as to what might be attracting the bird, which appeared to be attempting to land on the middle ledge where the two windows met. Some confusion may have been possible, I thought, and so I adjusted the window to change the appearance, hoping that would dissuade the bird. It did not. I decided to attend to some other chores for a time, figuring that the bird would get tired of failing to land or get through the window or whatever it was trying to do, but after several delays away from the desk, each time I returned to it, the bird returned as well.

Now I was starting to get a bit anxious. Why wouldn’t this bird get tired and just give up? I opened up the inner window to expose the screen, and when the bird came near I made loud noises and tried to wave it away with my hand. It still came back. I went so far as to walk outside, waiting for it to appear outside the window, and started throwing sticks in the air to discourage it from landing on the branches outside the window. It flew away, and when I went back to my desk, it would start thumping against the window again. This went on for several hours. I decided to call my sister to talk with someone calm and steady to question about this. We checked for a solution on the internet: “Block the window with something so that the bird can see that it’s not an open window.” This seemed to work for a while, but then the bird returned again. I started up Skype to show my sister what the bird was doing. It was so…persistent.

bird window2

We talked wistfully about how uncanny the whole thing seemed, and talked about our dear late brother, Mike, who not only was a bird fanatic, but whose last weeks of life were filled twice daily with flocks of birds–once in the morning and once in the evening, as they flocked in the tree outside his window as he lay dying. We marveled at the many such instances where birds seemed to appear since then in our daily routines, and how it always seemed like there might be some connection in the strangeness which always surrounded such appearances. I almost got through writing this post, some seven hours after the thumping began, when the bird appeared again. I opened the window all the way, and left it open while I typed. The air felt cool and the gentle breeze was soothing to my spirit. The daylight was fading as it past 7:30 PM here on the East Coast of the United States. I put on some classical music, and continued to write.

bird window3

The photo at the top of this posting was one of my brother’s favorites, and it was on his desktop background for many months after he took it at a nearby bird sanctuary. We all felt that there was some importance to the image of the bird, and today, as we skyped, we felt as though we must have needed to talk, and the persistent bird thumping at my window was the catalyst for our conversation. That seemed to satisfy us all, and whether or not the prompting was in spirit or just a practical matter, we enjoyed the conversation, and as night fell, I looked out the window, contemplating the words I had written to my friend. All of our wonderful memories of our lives which included our dear brother, as fine as they are, contributed to our lives in THIS moment now, and perhaps, that is the best conclusion of all.