Monday, March 30, 2009

Lincoln quote

America will never be destroyed from the outside.
If we falter and lose our freedoms,
it will be because we destroyed ourselves.

-Abraham Lincoln



Never is a person so telling of himself as in his judgment of another.
-La Rochfoucauld

Some might argue that the ego self, though a simulation/delusion, has evolved to give human organisms a necessary motivation for self-preservation. So why try to get rid of it? The biggest problem with the ego illusion is that it destorts the way we see the world, blinding us to our faults and projecting them onto 'others'. It is like a vestigial mental appendix that could go septic at any time and kill the real Self in us.

Emergence Reversal

Mental things alone are real;
what is called corporeal, nobody knows of its dwelling-place,
it is a fallacy and its existence an imposture.
Where is the existence, outside of mind or thought?
-William Blake

Western science is struggling to explain how mental states emerge from matter; and, more problematically, how a sense of self arises from matter.
Indian Advaita philosophers reverse the sequence of emergence and state that the self pre-exists everything and gives rise to mind from which the so-called material world emerges.
Blake's declaration that 'mental things alone are real' is also a reversal of the 'materialist' view. It is not necessarily Idealism; the world is real if recognised as Self, unreal if seen as other than Self (what Blake would call the Imagination).
To scientists, the self is imaginary (a simulation created by the material brain to motivate survival behaviours) To Blake the self is Imagination. (The universal Self is the Universal Imagination).

The question is: what exactly do we mean by 'matter', 'material', 'corporeal', 'real', and 'self''.
William Blake
"In Blake's conception, the soul is disintegrated and must reconcile every element of her being on the road back to Eternity. This is reminiscent of the ancient Egyptian myth of the dismemberment of Osiris in the beginning of time, and man's obligation in gathering together the dismembered parts in order to arrive once more at spiritual wholeness. To do this, 'man requires a new Selfhood continually,' as Blake expressed it: 'Self annihilation' was necessary."
-Madeline Clark

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


I am I not any longer when I see.
This sentence is at the bottom of all creative activity.
It is just the exact opposite of
I am I because my little dog knows me.

-Gertrude Stein, from Henry James, in Four in America.

Gertrude Stein's famous send up of Descartes' "I think therefore I am", was not only poking fun at the pretensions of philosophical thought, but also making a claim about the necessary relational character of one's essential identity.
- Linda Martin Alcoff, Visible Identities.
Philosophers operate in the Agyna Chakra - the region of vision, the mind's eye. They talk of the "blind forces of nature" as if seeing is intent; and attempt to "see" the Self through introspection, then, seeing nothing, conclude it doesn't exist. If you can see the mountain, you are distant from it. If you are on it, you cannot see it. The same applies to the Self.

The concept of self in Buddhism

In his review of Thomas Metzinger's book, The Ego Tunnel, Owen Flanagan includes the Buddha in his list of figures who have endorsed the idea that there is no self. This is somewhat simplistic. Sanskrit, the language spoken by Buddha in it's variant form, Pali, has several terms that could translate into English 'self'. The Sanskrit word jiva refers to an individual soul, atma can mean either an individual or universal self, aham means 'ego', while Brahman is a self that is coextensive with the universe. It's probable that the Buddha rejected the reality of jiva, but would have found rejection of Brahman illogical. This might sound pedantic but these terms refer to vastly different things. It's a weakness of the English language that it uses woefully imprecise terminology for discussing concepts of 'self'.
Edit 28 April 09
I sent this to New Scientist for their Letters pages, and surprisingly they published it. I was reading the issue and it took a few moments to register why the text I was reading seemed so familiar. It also took a while to appear on the news stands. Do they run letters past experts first?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

"I am everywhere"

Church built on site of St Thomas' martyrdom in Chennai, India.

It's one of the proposals of this blog that Self - perhaps it's better not to use the definite article ('the Self'), because Self is not an object - is ubiquitous (everywhere), and therefore not really separate from the world.

Recently I was in Chennai, India, where the apostle Thomas was speared to death by local priests. This led me to re-read the Gospel of Thomas, where I found a clear statement of the ubiquity of Self:

"I am everywhere". "Even if you break a branch in half I am there."

Another quote which clearly shows the unity of Self is:

"Whoever drinks from my mouth will become as I am: I myself shall become that person."

Basically the equation is: The Universal Self (speaking in the form of Jesus) = your Self = everything that exists.

It's no wonder the early church hierarchy tried to destroy this gospel. A statement like that really undermines the notion that we need a priesthood as intermediaries between ourselves and the Divine.
Though the Gospel of Thomas was rejected from the canon, it's themes recur in the writings of the great Christian mystics. You can't ban Selfhood. You can ignore it, but it doesn't go away.

A couple of years ago, Pope Benedict tried to refute the ancient tradition of Thomas going to India. Indian Christians, who revere Thomas as the founder of Christianity in the subcontinent, provided evidence to support the tradition, and the Vatican backed down.
In the first century the booming spice trade sea route linked South India strongly with the Roman Empire. Jewish merchants visited Kerala frequently, many of them settling there. Jewish communities, tracing their ancestry back to the time of Thomas and earlier, exist in the region to this day. There is no reason why he could not have gone there, as attested to by several ancient sources.