Part 4a – Gödel, Self-Knowledge & Magic Mushrooms – Transcending Stuff to Know Stuff
How does the Universe experience itself? Can the Universe transcend itself? Is there such a thing as an absolute universal perspective, an unambiguous God’s eye view of the Universe? What is the relationship between the subject of experience and the object which is experienced? Can the mystic's spiritual experience of enlightenment, non-duality and universal consciousness shed some light onto these questions?
• Gödel's theorem from a self-referencing point of view
• Transcendence. Ultimately, a God's Eye view of the Universe? Absolute? Unambiguous? External?
• Observer-dependence (quantum mechanics and relativity). A myriad of internal perspectives. Concept of "THE Universe" as a well-defined object difficult to make sense of. E.g. Black Hole Complementarity
• Paradoxical nature of self-referential systems (We ARE the Universe experiencing itself from the inside)
• The dreamer who dreams a dream. The mystic's view of the Universe as a dream. Where is the dreamer?
• The boundary between subject and object. Where is it?
• Lucidity / Awakening: transcending the character. Who is the Self?
• The collapse of the witness. Enlightenment and non-duality. An a-perspectival (internal) view. Dissolution of boundaries. Fluidity of perspective. Universal Consciousness
A God’s Eye view of the Universe?
In part 2 of this series, I ended the video with this paragraph:
“Gödel's theorem can also be understood from a self-referencing point of view. If anything is to see itself, it must literally cut itself in two. One part becomes the object and the other part the viewer. The portion called the viewer is not part of the object to be viewed and as a result is not seen. The total self is then incompletely described. To overcome this problem, the total entity must be seen 'outside' itself or from a wider context. In essence, the original total self must be transcended. As one can see, this method is never-ending; the requirement for transcendence goes on indefinitely because a portion is always missing. Knowledge is never complete, so we end up with an infinite hierarchy of levels. As the French artist and writer Jean Cocteau phrased it, 'There are mysteries within the mystery, gods above gods…That's what is called infinity.'”
~ Norman Friedman, Bridging Science and Spirit
Transcendence. Gods above gods. Ultimately, a Universal perspective, a God’s eye view. This got me thinking – not really about the possible existence or non-existence of God – but about whether it actually makes sense at all to talk about reality AS IF there was such a thing as a well-defined God’s eye view of the Universe. We constantly do that. Cosmology talks about THE Universe. In my videos, I often talk about THE Universe as a whole. We all talk about THE Universe as a whole! It is not the concept of wholeness that I question, but the idea of there being such a thing as a well-defined Universe! We talk about it as if – at each moment – there was an absolute God’s eye view of THE Universe. So… I wonder, does the concept of THE Universe as a whole make sense at all? Is there a unique, well-defined Universal perspective? In other words, is there such a thing as an unambiguous God’s eye view of the Universe?
If we define the Universe as all there is – existence itself – then it is obvious that the answer is an indisputable no. In that case, there is no such thing as a perspective from the outside which contains the Universe as a subset, as an object, hence a God’s eye view is not possible. There is no overall external perspective. On the other hand, if we define the Universe differently, and view it as a fragment belonging to a larger system, say, a multiverse, or a set of other possible experiential realities – for instance, we could see it as a virtual reality amongst many other possible virtual realities – then the answer to my question changes to a ‘Maybe. Perhaps. Could be’…Because in that case, it would be meaningful to talk about an external perspective of the Universe. But, even then, I wonder, would this perspective be unique and well-defined?
In order to have an unambiguous God’s eye view of the Universe, first of all the Universe has to be made an object, and needs to be seen from ‘outside’ itself, as it were – in other words, it needs to be transcended. We granted that this might be possible if our Universe is just a fragment of a much larger reality. However, the idea of observer-dependence in physics – coming from both relativity and quantum mechanics – points to a theory of quantum gravity which renders the concept of a unique perspective of THE Universe meaningless. When viewed from the inside at least, there are as many observed Universes as there are points of view, and each perspective is as valid as the next one. In physics, this is exemplified by the idea of Black Hole complementarity for instance. When a boundary is conceptualised, we create in and out perspectives, and observers at different sides of the boundary won’t experience the same events, won’t experience the same universe. Reality is experienced differently by each observer, so that physics is consistent with each individual perspective. In other words, the so-called Universe is observer-dependent and hence there is no is such thing as a unique, well defined Universe, but rather, a myriad of (more or less overlapping) universes.
So even if the total sum of all these individual experiences of the Universe is part of a larger system, and this sum can somehow be conceptualised as an object, it is still debatable what it really means to talk about THE Universe as a whole, from a non-localised perspective, from outside our own space-time. What does it actually mean to talk about a God’s eye view of the Universe when we can’t even make sense of the concept of THE Universe as a well-defined object? Experienced from our localised perspectives, from the inside, the question simply cannot be answered because it doesn’t make sense, regardless of whether there is such thing as experiencing the Universe as a whole or not. Again, we come face to face with the paradoxical nature of our self-referential world; the concept of reality itself becomes a paradox when observer-dependence, wholeness and fragmentation are all brought into the equation. There is no escape: it is not that the universe appears differently depending on who looks. It is that the universe IS different depending on who looks.
So… what on Earth does it even mean to talk about a God’s eye view of the Universe which can be transcended through evolution and growth? Well, I am not sure. Probably I am just wasting my time thinking about such things… In any case, regardless of how impossible it is for me grasp such a concept even less find a meaningful answer to it, my thoughts are that – if such a view exists – it is not an unambiguous one. Perhaps the so called God’s eye view is not necessarily what we would conceptualise as an external view, but more like the sum of all actualised internal perspectives. Maybe the only way for a system to grow, evolve and eventually transcend itself is to divide itself into parts, into individual, seemingly separate observers, by placing illusory boundaries which create temporary localised points of view. Perhaps observation from the outside does not make sense at all. Perhaps it is only from the inside, via localised perspectives and through direct experience, that what we call the Universe – by means of evolution and growth – can transcend itself. And that might imply taking a myriad of different points of view – even if those are limited and localised. Erwin Schrodinger’s words – again – come to mind here. He once said: “This life of yours which you are living is not merely a piece of the entire existence, but is in a certain sense the whole; only this whole is not so constituted that it can be surveyed in one single glance.”
The Dreamer who Dreams a Dream
To illustrate the paradoxical nature of self-referential systems, of the experience of transcendence and integration, let’s think of the world of dreams. When we dream, is there ever a well-defined, unambiguous God’s eye view of our dream? Not really, is there? As the dream unfolds – even though, ultimately, we are the God who dreams the dream – we are still experiencing the dream from the inside, even when we are lucid. For as long as we dream, for as long as we experience that reality, we are inside it, not outside it. There’s no such thing as an external unambiguous single glance of that reality. As we dream, our perspective within it might change, it might also expand, or contract… but for as long as there is a self experiencing the dream, an “I” who experiences subjectively, its experience will remain ambiguous, because it depends on the perspective that this “I” adopts within the dream.
Now, let’s consider the view adopted by the mystic and compare our experience of the Universe to a dream. Let’s think of the Universe as a dream experienced inside Mind at Large, where we are all individual characters, ultimately focal points of experience of Mind at Large. Here are a few questions I often think about, which are relevant to physics, philosophy, psychology… and equally importantly, to personal growth and of course, the questions relate to everything I have been discussing in this series of videos. I like to think about them using the dream analogy, it’s a good exercise; the answers still remain elusive at a rational level, but I find that, at an intuitive level, their paradoxical nature becomes a little more digestible, I suppose…
Where is the location of the boundary between subject and object? What about the location of the boundary between a subject and another subject? What is the nature of the separation between the observer and the observed? Could it be that the line between the subject who experiences and the world of experience is not well defined at all? Is this line simply a representation of a particular perspective, of a particular frame of reference, a particular focal point of experience itself – but ultimately, not fundamental? Can this fuzzy boundary between subject and object, between object and object and between subject and subject be moved at will or even be made to completely vanish? And what happens when the concept of the observer who observes, the experiencer who experiences actually dissolves, in other words, when the concept of the witness totally collapses?
Becoming Lucid. Transcending the character. Awakening.
In part 2 of this series I briefly talked about the mystical experience as an experience of transcendence. In fact, many of the mystical traditions talk about awakening or enlightenment. But… what does it mean to awaken? Well, if we use the dream analogy, awakening does not really mean that we stop experiencing the dream; it simply means that we wake up within the dream and are aware that we are dreaming. The veil is lifted and we start being more conscious of our true nature, we start being capable of either alternating perspectives within the dream or of expanding our existing perspective. We no longer exclusively identify with the character, but we start to see the character as a part of a larger self. The character is now seen as an object from the perspective of a newly expanded sense of self; the character can now be transcended and subsequently integrated. With this expanded perspective, we realise we are more powerful than we thought we were. We realise that we are not only onlookers or actors, but also the scriptwriters, the directors and ultimately… the very stage, the canvas where everything takes place.
We simply realise that we are Nature and that we are a self-referential system. And the nature of a self-referential system is fundamentally paradoxical. Who is the self that awakens within a dream? Where is the ultimate self, the dreamer who dreams? Can we find it? Well, it certainly can’t be seen but it is somehow felt to be there. It is a paradox. Embracing paradox also means understanding that – when we awake within the dream – we will alternate between different perspectives. These perspectives are all valid. And this can be confusing!
On the other hand, as long as we are not lucid, we are lost in the dream, we are not aware that we are dreaming; we are convinced that we are the character experiencing the dream, we identify with it! Our identity in that case seems non-paradoxical… But as soon as we start to become lucid we become aware of the paradoxical nature of reality, because on the one hand we see that we are the character in the dream, but on the other hand we realise that we are other subjects or objects in the dream, that we are the dream itself and… ultimately, that we are the awareness within which the dream takes place. We realise that we are a separate individual within the dream and also the whole dream as well as the canvas which contains it; it's all us. We are in it and it's in us. All perspectives are true, depending on how we look at it.
The collapse of the Witness
Subject: that which is aware of an object.
Enlightenment / Awakening: identifying oneself with that which is not an object.
Non-duality: oneness, wholeness, unity. A state of mind where observer and observed – subject and object – become one.
In non-duality, it is not that things are seen as being the same – as they retain their individuality – but instead their fundamental interconnection is revealed. Non-duality is the direct experience of non-separateness, the realisation that boundaries are illusory.
It seems to me that non-duality appears to be the closest thing to what we could call an internal God’s eye view of the Universe. It is not a one glance view though. It’s almost as if reality becomes simultaneously a-perspectival and the sum of all possible perspectives…
It is a fact that one can never see the witness. It doesn’t matter how many times we transcend ourselves: the ultimate seer is forever out of reach, as if it wasn’t there. So in awakening, rather than being able to see the seer, we identify with the emptiness within which everything arises, there is no longer a centre, no longer a focal point of experience. When all boundaries are dissolved, rather than experiencing an absolute external perspective, we experience whatever arises in consciousness, and we experience it directly. It’s a complete dissolution of the boundary between observer and observed, subject and object. A complete dissolution of the concept of identity: in other words, we could describe it as a 100% fluidity of perspective. We are it, it is us. All that is left is experience itself. The sense of being any sort of self vanishes altogether. We don’t look at the sky, we are the sky. We can taste the sky. The sky is not out there but right here, at the heart of experience.
In Ken Wilber’s words:
“The more I look for an absolute Seer, the more I realise I can’t find it as an object, and the simple reason I can’t find it as a particular object it’s because it’s every object! I can’t feel it because it’s everything felt. […] As I go within to find my real self, I find only the world. But a strange thing has now happened, for I realise that the real self within is actually the real world without, and vice versa. The subject and object, the inside and outside, are and always have been non-dual. There is no primary boundary.” Ken Wilber
Or as Adyashanti beautifully describes:
"Awakening always involves a shift of identity. When it blooms in full, it’s the collapse of the witness. It disappears into the field of perception, so in universal consciousness you experience yourself to be whatever you’re looking at – the sky, the clouds, the sound of birds." ~ Adyashanti, Exploring the Teachings of Nisargadatta Maharaj
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