Friday, December 26, 2014

Clash of Worldviews: Political Edition

MODERATOR: Welcome back to Clash of Worldviews, the unlikely show in which the philosophical assumptions of popular worldviews are pitted against each other. This week, we bring back Adam the liberal secular humanist, Heather the postmodern skeptic, and Lindsey the conservative Catholic, and we focus the discussion on their social and political disagreements. Adam, shall we begin with you? Tell us about liberalism.

ADAM: Sure, but I should begin by repudiating the ludicrous stereotype that liberals are quasi-communists. That slander was perpetrated by devious conservatives in the US and elsewhere, who are professionals at muddying the waters so that the so-called center of Western political discourse moves ever rightward. Far from being equivalent to anticapitalism, liberalism should be identified with the political side of early European modernity, and it’s that period in which capitalism was first celebrated.

This becomes clear when we reflect on the fact that liberals are also known as progressives. The idea of progress was a defining feature of modernity as it arose in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Recall that Enlightenment thinkers like Adam Smith, Voltaire, Rousseau, John Locke, Immanuel Kant, and John Stuart Mill were champions of individual liberty. They railed against ignorance, superstition, dogma, and the oppressive institutions of feudalism and the Catholic Church, arguing that humans are equal in their personhood as constituted principally by their ability to rationally control themselves, to express their individuality and to discover the truth in spite of institutionalized myths. Political power should therefore be vested in the majority in some democratic system that respects the greatness of each individual. Progress was opposed to the traditions that rationalized the gross inequality inherent in monarchies and aristocracies.

And so when liberals today speak of civil rights, equal opportunity for minorities, and the need for functional markets and a representative government, they speak first and foremost as modernists, or if you like as secular humanists, that is, as believers in the ideals that took the West out of its dark age. Current opponents of liberalism are best thought of as anti-modern—not, mind you, as patriots or freedom fighters or lovers of Jesus or the Constitution. So-called conservatives today resent the gains of modernity. Their project is to return us to a premodern state of affairs in which only the privileged few are free while the majority are reduced to slaves. Whereas liberals aren’t quasi-communists, conservatives are cryptototalitarians.    

LINDSEY: That, of course, is the myth of modernity. Progressives like to think they’ve outgrown the need for myths, that they merely follow Reason where it leads. But modernists, liberals, progressives, or whatever you want to call them are terrific myth-makers. They trumpet the greatness of the individual, but Catholics are upfront about our fallen nature, our inherent tendency to stray from moral principles. “Liberty!” cries the modernist. “Let everyone be free to do what they please!” This is a recipe for hedonism and civilizational decline. Left to ourselves to figure out how to live, we’d spiral downwards into self-imposed conditions of squalor and ruin. Contrary to the modernist’s pretense of positivism, that she bases her beliefs solely on logic and evidence, we devise endless fictions to rationalize our original sin of being more like animals than angels.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Satanic Grandeur of Modernity

What are the ideals of Western modernity? Liberty in at least three senses: freedom of thought and method, as demonstrated paradigmatically by scientists like Galileo, Newton, and Darwin; freedom from oppressive, dogmatic institutions like the Church, as instituted, for example, by the American democracy; and freedom to pursue earthly happiness, as enabled chiefly by technological applications of science which tend to elevate living standards. Also, modernists prize the originality of a Renaissance genius such as Goethe or Leonardo da Vinci. Modernity is thus an anti-Christian affair. Breaking with the past, including the doctrines of Christianity which dominated Europe for centuries, modernists sought progress in all aspects of life. Modernists overthrew stifling traditions, encouraging skepticism of dogmas and trusting in the authority of facts as understood by each rational individual. Modernists are thus humanists in that they posit natural human rights that don’t depend on any official interpretation of a religious text. Our rights to personal freedom and to pursue happiness are inherent, not conferred by a deity. However the Church might have protected medieval Europe from chaos after the collapse of the Roman Empire, the cure became worse than the disease, according to modernists, and so progressives awakened to their curiosity and to their pride as natural creatures who share the earth with other admirable animals. The Elizabethan Chain of Being, which ranked humans above beasts and plants, was replaced by the Darwinian continuum that takes morality to be less important than biological function.

The modern cognitive ideal is enlightenment, the objectivity to see the world as it really is. Modernists are methodologically naturalistic in that they understand that supernaturalism and theism are vacuous as explanations of anything, and so they ban references to gods or to divine intentions or purposes from their theories. This leaves modernists with a monstrous pantheism, according to which natural orders form by themselves for no reason. The world is thus undead: ordered and intelligible, albeit fundamentally random and bizarre, as represented by quantum mechanics—but also comprised of impersonal forces acting on material systems. The universal energy and matter are thus as baffling as the fictional zombie that shambles on with no intelligent direction. Mind, intelligence, and consciousness are byproducts of natural processes, not their first causes. Natural systems are beheld as having only aesthetic value as amoral artworks that are mechanically assembled by impersonal forces. When we see something as just art, we see it as arbitrary since it stands by itself without the context supplied by the perceiver’s presuppositions or social agendas. We don’t think of it as being useful, but simply as being; we see it as it really is, as a physical appendage of the monstrous, decaying body of the cosmos. And the awakened mind comprehends these grim truths by the method of depersonalization. For example, the scientist subjects her pet hypotheses to the impersonal tribunal of the natural facts as these are observed by multiple fellow scientists whose personal agendas are canceled out by their variety. Personal preference counts for nothing in this enlightenment. The facts are allowed to speak more or less for themselves; logic and evidence carry the day as the modernist learns to discount the cognitive weight of her intuitions and other feelings.

Paraphrasing Nietzsche, human nature is distinguished by its ability to be overcome. The enlightened soul thus divests herself of her personality, zombifying herself to become a fitting vessel for a vision of natural reality in all its equal undeadness. Objectivity is self-zombification, and this is the only respect in which the theory of truth as correspondence is valid. Symbols don’t magically agree with facts. Instead, the knower detaches from her emotions and instincts, which tend to delude and flatter her; she renounces her ordinary personhood so she can imagine what it’s like to be merely one material object in a universe of other such objects. Instead of transcending her earthly form, acquiring a spiritual body as in traditional monotheistic religions, the enlightened individual regards her every distinguishing characteristic as a distraction if not an outright illusion. Her position in history, her hobbies and nationality, her limited experience—all such ephemera are like the myriad trees that can prevent sight of the wood that hides in plain sight. The personal self in all its particularities is a void compared to the stunning truth of nature’s original undeadness, its self-creation and direction from nothing and no one. Instead of ascending to heaven, the modern hero is submerged in the decaying plenum.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Clash of Worldviews

MODERATOR: Welcome to Clash of Worldviews, the show that spotlights the philosophical differences that shape both the daily conflicts that determine our personal fate and the flow of history on the grandest scale. And may I say hello to our eleven viewers around the world. This evening, we introduce Adam Garnett, a liberal secular humanist who believes that science, democracy, and capitalism liberate us, which makes for social progress; Heather Fogarty, a skeptic and postmodern pessimist and cynic; and Lindsey Rowe, an unabashed Catholic conservative. Gentlemen and lady, I vacate the floor and leave it to you.

HEATHER: It’s about time! Love the phony formalism of your discourse, by the way. That’s the old bogus neutrality of the civilized modern man. So discreet, so polite is the modern man, all while serving rapacious aristocrats who plundered their colonies for resources and slaves so they could live as amoral, godlike connoisseurs, and later while backing democracies that free us up to be domesticated by huge corporations that likewise elevate a small class of sociopaths. I’m just so bowled over by your British affectations that are supposed to distract from your mammoth-sized phallus-worship.

MODERATOR: Ah well, do remember, dear guest, that you’re here to engage with the ideas of your fellow ideologues.

HEATHER: Yeah, while the dispassionate, scrupulously objective host has no ideas of his own, as if he were a robot rather than just another hairy primate that stuffs his belly and farts and craps and bangs someone else’s naked body in the dead of night like the rest of us “dear viewers and participants” in these slickly-staged spectacles and monuments to modern conceits of progress.

ADAM: Heather, I hope you’re not going to be this tedious the entire time.

HEATHER: Tedious? Have you really been so dehumanized by the powers of modernity that you can feel only ever-so-polite tedium when someone speaks prophetic truth to power? How very civilized of you!

LINDSEY: She’s full of herself as well. An upstart feminist whose delusions of equality and persecution complex are signs of her fallenness and need for redemption.

HEATHER: Get your facts straight, chauvinist. I’m a realist, not a feminist. My pleasure is in transmuting the horror that comes with knowing the natural facts into comedy and art. And how rich is it for a Catholic to speak of a persecution complex! You’re the one wearing a cross around his neck, Lindsey.

LINDSEY: Yes, because Jesus really was persecuted and tormented.

HEATHER: Oh, really? Is that a fact? Known how, I wonder. Next to science, your dogmas are infantile babblings. You’re supposed to grow out of religion by the time you can think for yourself. Have you ever tried doing that? Thinking for yourself?

LINDSEY: Who’s the modernist now? As Proverbs says, pride goes before the fall, and the most arrogant children of God are the modern rationalists and individualists that idolize the renaissance genius who challenges traditions and institutions and discovers facts that have been hiding in plain sight. You see, originality counts for nothing and is barely even possible due to the weight of culture. So stop trying to outthink God! All you need to know is that morality is a transcendent business that elevates us above the animals. We wrestle with moral questions because God’s testing whether we’ll do the right thing even when we’re confined to the desolate material plane.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Qualia, Artificiality, and Fractals: A Solution to the Hard Problem

What is consciousness? The philosopher David Chalmers distinguishes between the Hard Problem and the Easy Problems of explaining consciousness. The latter are those of discovering mechanisms that can carry out mental functions. So one aspect of consciousness is that it has certain effects and scientists can explain how those effects are physically achieved. But according to many philosophers, we won’t understand everything about what it is to have a subjective point of view even after we’ve mapped all of those causal roles of how an organism categorizes its environment, accesses its internal states, controls its behaviour, and so forth. The Hard Problem, then, is to explain the nature of what are called qualia, which are the facts that mental states feel a certain way—so that the philosopher Thomas Nagel can ask what it’s like to be a bat and we can intuit that that question is meaningful, because even were the mental states of the members of all species to have similar evolutionary functions, the qualitative aspect of those states should differ. Thus, it would be redundant to speculate about aliens from another world, because for millions of years ours has been proliferated with animals that have alien viewpoints.   

In short, the relatively Easy Problem is to explain the neural mechanisms that carry out the work done by a conscious being in so far as that being is conscious, whereas the Hard Problem is to understand where consciousness in general fits into the mostly unconscious universe. The former problem takes for granted the scientific context of reducing phenomena to causal relations between sums of material elements. The latter problem requires you to hold in mind the qualitative essence of consciousness itself, not just the physical causes and effects of subjectivity, while simultaneously realizing that the anomaly of consciousness somehow belongs in a manifestly unaware and indifferent cosmos. What consciousness does is different from what it is. The former question is scientific, while the latter one is philosophical since what consciousness seems to be—namely the qualia, the having of a private viewpoint filled with meaningful mental contents that are felt to be such by the mind of a living creature—is in fact an anomaly that calls into question the completeness of the scientist’s world picture. Science explains by quantifying and objectifying, whereas consciousness seems to be the antithesis of anything that could be explained in those ways. Consciousness is perfectly subjective, so an objective account of it would miss the point. Moreover, scientific methods of explanation have the social function of empowering modern societies, since scientific theories are applied by industries to exploit natural processes. Conscious beings, however, seem to have moral rights which any such exploitation would violate. Thus, again, the Hard Problem is suited more to (relatively powerless) philosophy than to science.

The Strangeness of Life and Consciousness

The Hard Problem of understanding consciousness is similar to that of understanding life in general, since the existence of organisms on the outskirts of a lifeless galaxy is likewise bizarre. How consciousness emerges from unconscious processes is currently as baffling as how life emerges from nonlife. In either case there’s a discontinuity that makes for the anomaly’s weirdness. The concept of consciousness or of life is incommensurate with that of physical things as such. Granted, after Darwin and Watson and Crick, biologists understand organisms better than psychologists do consciousness, but even as we come to piece together how biological processes developed, such as by studying viruses and other borderline biological phenomena, life’s rarity, its divergence from almost all of the absurdly vast universe makes it strange and that strangeness makes for a hard problem indeed: even if the organic somehow mechanically or non-miraculously evolved from the inorganic, there remains the question of life’s potential as understood against the backgrounds of that natural origin and that alienated position. What are living things in so far as they’re natural anomalies? One event accidentally followed another, perhaps made probable by certain natural regularities, and so life came on the scene—and with life, the evolution of consciousness. But that’s only the history of how we got here. With that knowledge we can understand the mechanical side of ourselves, which empowers us to change our nature just as we tinker with our technology. Yet that technoscientific knowledge won’t encompass life’s weirdness in this, mostly lifeless universe or dictate what living things should do with themselves in light of that existential mystery.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Asceticism and the Existential Crisis

Here is the secret history of life: animals evolved as machines produced by genes and proteins, working in concert with undead natural forces and processes such as natural selection. Those machines strive to carry out all the stages of their life cycle, meaning that they grow, eat, fight, mate, reproduce, and die. As species become more varied and competition for resources becomes more complex, animals evolve more sophisticated control centers and social relationships, which partially liberate them from their primitive cycles. For example, mammals learn to play and not just to practice fighting but for the joy of it. More powerful brains were used mostly to analyze opportunities in the outer environment, but eventually awareness and rationality were turned inward, leading in humans to self-creation and to an egoistic awareness of all other things in relation to the self.

Those are preliminary matters of biology and psychology. But the secret is that the difference between animalism and personhood lies in a dreadful enlightenment and a terrifying freedom to choose how to respond to the existential crisis. As reason and consciousness are more and more finely attuned, as humans build up more rigorous conceptions of the facts, and as we learn to objectify instead of just projecting the products of our imagination and indulging in our childlike yearnings, we confront the horror at the root of all things: Being is undead and there is no God but only natural forces, materials, and processes that parody personhood except when they transcend themselves and produce sentient creatures who are then cursed to learn their deeper undead nature. Like the artificial person in science fiction stories who doesn’t realize she’s a robot, but who scratches away at her organic skin, sees a metallic surface in the mirror, and goes mad from discovering the gap between her deluded self-image and the unnerving reality, every authentic person faces an existential crisis culminating in the question of how to live with philosophical illumination. 

This history isn’t progressive. There is no purpose of natural creation; rather, there’s an undead flow towards apocalypse and oblivion at the end of time, at the eventual extinction of beings which will reveal that the world has been inwardly empty all along. Life just happened to evolve and some mammals just happened to inherit the faculties which made them hyperintelligent. These are accidents of evolution, but they have the monumental consequence that through an enlightened soul’s cognitive faculties the cosmic zombie, the natural universe, is equipped to know itself for the monstrosity that it is, whereupon that doomed creature must decide what to do with such accursed knowledge. The noble lie in the West, originating from the plagiarisms in Genesis, is that self-knowledge is a sin, that Eve chose to disobey God and so God punished Adam and Eve because the Lord was afraid of having rivals. All of that is mere personification, which is the projection of comforting images sprouting from the minds of our more naïve ancestors. Of course, we weren’t created by any persons other than our biological parents and we don’t choose to be self-aware; instead, we acquire that power in so far as we’re embedded in the decaying plenum of the undead god. Genes and proteins and social relations align so that children tend to learn a language, to rationally process the contents of their conscious awareness, and to be domesticated as dictated by their cultural conventions. That’s our species’ life cycle—except that ours is one in which there’s a rupture that curses us with satanic freedom: we can choose to go back to sleep, to live as animals, forsaking our potential for transcendence, or we can choose how to transcend.

This may surprise you, but most biological humans aren’t persons in the existential, spiritual sense. Psychologically, they have minds or selves as well as a capacity for self-control, compared to nonhuman species. But they’re also antiphilosophical, meaning they don’t undertake the promethean project of inquiring into the objective truth; instead, they succumb to delusions, noble lies, and bodily distractions. These are the beta herds, the human animals that grovel and scramble and otherwise debase themselves for fleeting advantages in our dominance hierarchies, blind to the philosophical significance of their actions and to the universe’s aesthetic status—which is to speak of the horror within all things that leaves intelligent creatures dumbfounded until they devise noble means of coping.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Higher Morality and Satanic Rebellion against Nature

Most people are harmless but amoral: they don’t go out of their way to violate anyone’s rights, but their innocence isn’t particularly praiseworthy. This is because the masses are also unenlightened, meaning that they don’t think about morality or even realize that a real choice is possible between right and wrong. They lack the power needed to carry out that choice because they lack a higher self. Their behaviour is governed more by their emotions, hormones, and trained reflexes than by rational self-control or by an existential or religious leap of faith, the latter being the means of controlling our more animalistic side. The masses passively adopt their culture’s mores and so they’re domesticated, or “civilized,” to use the euphemism. They’re punished for their misbehavior and so they’re constrained mainly by fear. Had they an opportunity to benefit themselves at someone else’s expense, without fear of reprisal, they’d just as soon act out of greed or lust or even contempt for their victim’s weakness, as they would out of worry under normal circumstances.

Strictly speaking, the masses are thus more animalistic than personal. Personhood (or “spirituality,” if you prefer a clichéd term) is quite rare—even among so-called human beings. The essence of personhood is self-control and that requires self-knowledge which in turn is the product of introversion, of a process of rigorous self-exploration ending in the philosophical realization that we’re ultimately just artists creating ourselves and our environments merely for the sake of doing so, with no sane hope for a deeper purpose. We create because we’re natural beings and nature is the undead god, the mindless, inhumane maker of all things. If we’re reflective, we create ourselves: we add a personal level to our primitive impulses and beta training. We thus gain the dreadful power of existential choice: we must choose what to be and what to create; we must take a neo-Kierkegaardian leap of faith in some artistic vision, in some aesthetic ideal to guide our productive efforts. With autonomy comes angst, because the freest self is alone in the wilderness of undead forces, a speck of a tragically heroic mind amidst the wasteland and the zombie horde.

The human person gains some limited means of self-control precisely by acquiring self-knowledge: she familiarizes herself with her temperaments and forms a conceptual system of classifying them which allows her to manage the more robotic aspects of her inner world. Of course, she lacks metaphysical freedom, which is the performance of the miracle of opposing a natural chain of causes and effects, but her intensive self-awareness nevertheless makes her relatively autonomous. She can screen her impulses because she’s scrutinized them and she knows where to find them. But that freedom is more of a curse than a blessing. Her self-knowledge hurls her out of the world and into the cauldron of existential awareness: her higher self is alienated from everything else because self-control requires personal detachment. We can control our lower selves only if we’ve thought hard enough to create a higher, independent mind that can sometimes act on its own—especially when it confronts our existential predicament and makes a heroic choice to creatively overcome it. Even when a person, properly speaking, fails to control herself, by applying her authentic ideals in her conduct, she can honestly feel guilty on that account, whereas the guilt of most so-called people is programmed and groundless since they have little if any capacity for self-control in the first place.

If fear explains why the masses actually simulate morally right behaviour, why should we be moral? Should we act in some ways rather than others or is morality just a delusion? Those who have liberated themselves from natural and social powers face a foundational choice of what to do, but is one way of being human truly better than another? Is the difference between right and wrong real? Let’s look at some conventional answers to these questions.

God and Morality

The oldest answer is that God commands some ways of living and prohibits others. This theistic basis of morality must be divided into the polytheistic and monotheistic varieties. True polytheism, which excludes Hinduism, treats the gods as just very powerful persons who in turn are identified with what we now know are just natural processes. Thus, ancient Roman morality, for example, reduced to the fallacies of appealing to authority or to popularity. The idea was that we should behave as commanded by our favourite god, because we’ve devoted ourselves to that deity. But what justifies devotion to that god rather than to some other, or to one culture rather than a foreign one? And how do we know our one god is wise, especially if the gods’ abilities are supposed to surpass our understanding? Typically, the ancients followed their local, traditional gods because they were awed by their power, which was just the power of impersonal natural processes. But attributing those powers to divine goodness rather than to evil would have been arbitrary. Perhaps the wisest course for a superhuman being would have been to play with the lower creatures, namely with us, in which case polytheism provides little support for morality: following the commandment or the example of a despicable being would be likewise wrong. Polytheists thus face an acute form of what skeptical philosophers call the problem of the multiplicity of religions.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Deciphering the Myth of Competition

Competition is idolized by egotists. To be sure, although most animals in the wild can’t be arrogant because they have little self-control or even the concept of a self, they nevertheless struggle in that they make forceful or violent efforts to free themselves from difficulties, and they even compete in the sense of striving for superiority or supremacy. From rams’ head butting to peacock dancing to spider wrestling matches, males engage in ritual combats or other tests of excellence with rivals to attract a mate. But the price of initiation into the cult of competition is the going awry of personal autonomy. Notice that poorer societies are more interested in charity and other forms of sharing than in following the logic of competition to its bitter end, that end being that there can be no worthwhile victory for the winners without an abundance of losers. The richer you are, the more likely you’ll pretend, at least, to be a manly social Darwinian, whereas peasants and outcasts throughout the ages have practiced communism to avoid starving to death. Poor folks can’t afford to pit their skills and resources against those of their society’s dominators. Indeed, not only is the underclass historically distanced from the rat race by welfare programs, but so too is the upper class that worships the ideal of competitioneven as the oligarchs strive ultimately to be monopolists who can afford to stand above the lower world like gods.

Like most cults, free market ideology is based on a confusion that obscures natural reality with religious nonsense. But those whose financial success permits them to pretend to favour the results of fair competition do so because they’ve been sufficiently corrupted by that success to possess an outsized estimation of their self-worth. Those who naively sing the praises of ruthless rivalry, as opposed to entering the arena with grim knowledge of the absurd tragedy of any natural struggle, do so only because they think they would inevitably triumph in that conflict. And those who know themselves well enough to recognize their animalistic weaknesses and ridiculous biases are too plagued by self-doubts to welcome the chance to let the chips fall where they may. When they lose to some rival, self-doubters are more likely to accept the result with honour, and that detachment from chance and from other pitiless natural forces that zombify the result of even the most artificial games playing out in our microcosms enables those introverted losers to live with their baneful self-knowledge. Thus, both winners and losers are typically confused about the meaning of competition.

Competition and Meritocracy

According to the capitalistic myth, a competitive society is a meritocracy, meaning that those who deserve to succeed because of their virtues and hard work do succeed as long as they’re allowed to compete fairly. The truth is supposed to out in such a contest, because each competitor is free to showcase her talents, producing some good or other for which certain judges are free to reward or punish her as they see fit. In a capitalistic system, the judges are none other than the consumers whose demands are met by the goods’ suppliers. Notice how all products are considered “goods” by definition, just as long as they satisfy some actual demand, because the consumer’s will replaces God’s in a free market. Such a market must be liberated from either human or divine regulation. Thus, economic competition should be understood in rather Daoist terms: competitors allow the natural Way to pass through them so that their task is to avoid interfering with natural destiny. For theists, that destiny is preordained by a personal deity, but this is inconsistent with free market ideology. An all-knowing God would have planned our transactions prior to creating the universe, whereas the cult of competition dictates that there’s no such esoteric knowledge, that any attempt to rationally preplan a society is doomed to fail, and that our recourse is to trust in nothing more than the heat of glorious battle. When selfish beings inevitably come into conflict, they necessarily solve all of their problems with perfect justice—not because they individually understand what’s happening, but because their rivalry is a natural form of creativity and nature is the final arbiter. The selfish person’s irrational desire to dominate her rivals as well as the environment that throws up obstacles is at the root of the aphoristic necessity that’s the mother of invention.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Can we Transcend the World's Monstrousness?

Savvy Western elites are suspicious of the modern glorification of Reason. They’re aware that postmodernism began with a litany of critiques of free thinking: David Hume maintained that we’re led by emotions, not by reason; Herbert Spencer extended Darwin’s explanation of biological design, reducing society to a set of animalistic compulsions that should be allowed to play out without unnatural, governmental interference; Nietzsche wrote that confidence in reason is a booster for resentful losers so they’ll forget about their foiled will to power; Freud showed that there’s an irrational unconscious mind that can only be recognized, not controlled by rationality; Marx argued that ideologies are weapons in economic conflicts between social classes. So much, then, for the early modern celebration of Reason! We might have assumed, on the contrary, that the evident progress in the eminently rational fields of science and technology should inspire us to admire critical thinking, as we’ve lost lazy faith in feel-good dogmas. But it turns out that reason ironically undermines itself, as in the above philosophical and scientific discoveries as well as in Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem and the quantum observer effect. Mathematical systems can’t consistently express every true arithmetical statement, because such systems run up against the Liar’s Paradox. And attempts to measure quantum phenomena perturb them so that a neutral, objective view of them is impossible. (There’s also the intrinsic uncertainty of measuring wavelike effects).

But there’s a deeper problem with reason—and here I’m speaking about our general talent for thinking itself, not just the modern cult of Reason. The problem isn’t that reason is a two-edged sword, that while thinking has allowed us to prosper as a species, as we’ve learned how to exploit natural processes, our power of understanding also saddens us with knowledge of unpleasant facts such as death’s inevitability for all living things or the universe’s undeadness. Reason is both a blessing and a curse, but even this isn’t the problem with which I’m here concerned. The deeper problem is difficult to articulate, since seeing it requires a rather mystical, outsider’s view of human life; moreover, there’s the looming paradox that if you express the problem reasonably, you may have only reestablished rather than shed light on it. In a word, reason isn’t just cursed, figuratively speaking; it’s literally a trap.

Reasoning and our Illusory Godhood

The trap becomes apparent when we compare our chief skill with that of other species. Fish have fins that allow them to swim; birds’ wings enable them to fly; tigers run on four powerful legs in their hunt for food; spiders spin webs to catch prey, and so on and so forth. These animalistic virtues are plainly phenotypic, in that the animals have an advantage that manifests as an outer, bodily attribute which equips them to flourish in a specific environment. Our primary advantage is less tangible. True, we have opposable thumbs and we walk on two legs, freeing up our arms to devise techniques to compensate for our relatively weak bodies. But those mutations would be useless without the modifications to our protohuman ancestors’ brain. That which makes us human isn’t immediately visible to us in our daily life—unlike an elephant’s trunk, a monkey’s prehensile tail, or a lizard’s scales, which are apparent to them. Our brain gives rise to even more ethereal benefits, namely language, autonomy, and culture, or in general the ability to think, to understand virtually any situation and to take appropriate action. We mythologize these aspects of personhood by calling them supernatural and spiritual, telling all manner of bizarre religious stories to explain our uniqueness in the animal world. In doing so, we mistake the inwardness and complexity of our primary adaptation with crass transcendence. We don’t wear our brain on our sleeve and the brain’s internal workings are astronomically complicated; moreover, thinking isn’t a thing, like a body part that plays some obvious role as a weapon in a competition for resources. Thus, we’re tempted to think that we’re not really animals at all, that we don’t belong in the material world of physical and biological machines.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Seventh PDF Installment of RWUG

Here's the seventh eBook installment of RWUG articles. Some of these most recent articles summarize many of the previous ones. I'm working on a new article, but I still have much less time to blog now, so it's taking awhile to finish. It's about reason--our primary evolutionary skill--not just as a curse but as a trap, making for an illusory kind of transcendence (pure objectivity) even as that illusion obscures our opportunity for real transcendence (existential awakening as the horrific perception of our union with the undead god, the latter being mindlessly and divinely creative nature).


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Subhumans, Outsiders, and Glimpses of Posthumanity

There are three types of people, regardless of culture, sex, age, or historical period. There are leaders, followers, and outcasts. These are minimal distinctions in that there are further subdivisions and other complications, but these are the main differences that emerge from the combination of our evolutionary function as social primates and our existential waywardness, our longing to transcend our station, to be supernaturally free. There’s a deeper division, though, between the followers, on the one hand, and the leaders and outcasts on the other, which is to say that the latter two find themselves paradoxically in a similar position: both are forced to face rather than ignore the existential crisis. Although biologically and psychologically all three types are human, in existential terms the followers should be designated as subhuman. At least, intellectual elites from Plato to Nietzsche tend to speak of the mob, the masses, rabble or herd, the vulgar peasants, peons and pawns. Why dehumanize the happy majority? Because most “people” are existentially inauthentic; they’re spiritually undistinguished.

Their happiness is the dubious frivolity of the mythical Adam and Eve, who were only prehuman until they ate from the forbidden tree. In the story, those two were animals rather than people, because they were unaware of the conditions of their existence as embodied creatures. Like the other animals, they could get around just fine, but they lacked the higher-order conception of what was going on. They didn’t understand anything in normative terms of good and evil—which is to say they didn’t understand anything at all, given that Yahweh created Eden for the purpose of testing his favoured creatures. In so far as everything is artificial, everything has a function; lacking that level of knowledge, animals are blissfully ignorant. They have practical know-how, but no godlike, philosophical perspective. Translating this myth into modern, naturalistic terms, the point is that most people are either burdened with the task of merely staying alive, because they find themselves impoverished in failed states, or they’re blessed with middleclass distractions which allow them to approximate the leaders’ decadence. In either case, these masses are undistinguished as human persons; they lack the self-control that requires higher-order thoughts, which is to say a meta-level of thinking about thinking, so that they can assess their mental states, steer their inner evolution, and take full responsibility for their actions. They tend not to engage in meta-reflection because they’re too busy competing in their dominance hierarchy.

Moreover, they don’t understand the natural conditions of life. For example, they don’t appreciate that the natural universe is freakish and wholly preposterous or that all life is an abomination that can be redeemed only by acts of tragic heroism, as is the secret cosmicist teaching of all the major religions. Preoccupied with sports trivia, sexual fantasies and games, idle celebrity gossip, and the minutiae of their increasingly meaningless jobs, the Western masses are ensconced in a real-life version of Robert Nozick’s Pleasure Machine. Nozick asked whether we would choose to be happy in a virtual reality or less-than-happy in the real world. Most people allege that they’d choose the latter, whereas they actually opt for the former, by retreating from the reality of wild nature to our artificial microcosms which serve as so many pleasure machines. The defect of Nozick’s thought experiment is that the pleasure machine, which we can think of also as the Matrix, is part of reality at the hardware level. So the actual choice isn’t between pure reality and fantasy.

Thus, a fantasy can be passed off as reality, especially when the former is an engineered part of the latter. It’s not as if sports teams, sexual pleasure, the entertainment industry, or stultifying bureaucracies don’t exist in the real world. It’s just that when we lose sight of the underlying reality of the undead god, which will eventually raze all the infrastructures that sustain such foolishness, we occupy a virtually virtual world, a sub-world that blinds us to the greater one. After all, secular humanists like Neil deGrasse Tyson are aghast not just because of the persistence of religious fundamentalism in the US, but because even many American secularists don’t take the time to appreciate the spiritual aspect of human history or the majesty of the cosmos. The masses are all about business or ephemeral, narrow-minded pleasure, lacking any existential wherewithal: they literally don’t know what or where they fundamentally are, and they don’t care because they’ve automated themselves to fulfill certain social functions.

The Subhuman Herd

These existential subhumans, then, are the followers. They follow in the same way that not just the less intelligent animals but all material objects as such follow: these things are all merely undead, meaning that their energy is naturally forced into certain patterns, with little transcendent (virtually supernatural or hint of posthuman) power of self-control. The beta masses’ flight from existential authenticity is sinful because they forsake their potential for self-control and for aesthetically noble transcendence, whereas the impersonal parts of nature follow natural law as a matter of course. The alpha members of social animal groups lead their pack, but without much originality; instead, they follow their urges to dominate and to do what’s best for the genetic basis of their species. Beta humans follow the social conventions that initially stand out as products of tragic artistry. Our cultural microcosms are all works of artistic rebellion against the wilderness, conditioned by some creative class’s awareness of such existential facts as that nature is alien and indifferent to us, and that there is no deus ex machina so we alone must look after our kind. But just as metaphors lose their freshness over time and turn into prepackaged, archaic memes, art and technology become stale, commercialized, and dehumanizing instruments of control. Notice how even ongoing wars or spacewalks become old news as the masses are distracted by the latest fad flashing on their mobile device. Those devices feed menacing corporations and the government mountains of personal data that streamline the unsustainable and deleterious hyper-consumption of material goods.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Science, Nihilism and the Artistry of Nature

Here's an article of mine, called Science, Nihilism, and the Artistry of Nature, that Scott Bakker put up on his blog. I wrote it several weeks ago and it builds on a number of my other articles. 

Here's the thesis: "The very cognitive approach which is indispensible to scientific discovery, the objectification of phenomena, which is to say the analysis of any pattern in impersonal terms of causal relations, is itself a source of certain values. When we objectify something we’re thereby well-positioned to treat that thing as having a special value, namely an aesthetic one. Objectification overlaps with the aesthetic attitude, which is the attitude we take up when we decide to evaluate something as a work of art, and thus objects, as such, are implicitly artworks."

And some news: I've taken a job recently and it's leaving me with much less time for blogging. I've still got a lot more to say, but until I settle in, at least, I won't be able to update as much. I'll likely have to switch to writing smaller pieces. We'll have to see...

Monday, May 19, 2014

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Scientism and the Scapegoating of Philosophy

In a Nerdist podcast, Neil deGrasse Tyson expresses the vulgar scientistic view of philosophy in something close to its paradigmatic form, so that if you looked up “scientism” in an ideal encyclopedia you’d find Tyson’s Nerdist comments featured as exemplars. Scientism, by the way, isn’t a formal argument, but a dismissive attitude shared by arrogant, Philistine scientists and engineers who judge the humanities in general to be empty or insignificant compared to the sciences. Thus, scientism is expressed by a rhetorical stance taken by one side in the culture war that’s been provoked largely by the power of science and technology.

Massimo Pigliucci, who has doctorates in both biology and philosophy and who personally debates with the Cosmos host on this issue, has responded to Tyson on his blog. Pigliucci also presents other examples of Tyson’s scientism. However, Pigliucci’s response is too conventional for me, which means that while his retort is generally accurate it doesn’t get to the root of Tyson’s dismissive attitude towards philosophy.

Here, from the transcript given in Pigliucci’s response, are most of Tyson’s anti-philosophical comments from the podcast (those comments start at 20:19 minutes into it):
That [philosophy] can really mess you up…My concern here is that the philosophers believe they are actually asking deep questions about nature. And to the scientist it’s, what are you doing? Why are you concerning yourself with the meaning of meaning?...Yeah, if you are distracted by your questions so that you can’t move forward, you are not being a productive contributor to our understanding of the natural world. And so the scientist knows when the question “what is the sound of one hand clapping?” is a pointless delay in our progress…How do you define clapping? All of a sudden it devolves into a discussion of the definition of words. And I’d rather keep the conversation about ideas. And when you do that don’t derail yourself on questions that you think are important because philosophy class tells you this. The scientist says look, I got all this world of unknown out there, I’m moving on, I’m leaving you behind. You can’t even cross the street because you are distracted by what you are sure are deep questions you’ve asked yourself. I don’t have the time for that.
Interestingly, the interviewers—who mostly agree with Tyson—then say that philosophy “is a bottomless pit. It just becomes nihilism.”

The Incoherence of Tyson’s Antiphilosophical Humanism

Now, all of this is very revealing, especially if you make a habit of looking under the surface of things. Perhaps the most obvious problem with Tyson’s view is that whatever faults he thinks there are with philosophy, he can’t escape philosophy because the secular humanism he presupposes even in that podcast is philosophical, not scientific. For example, he speaks of a “delay in our progress.” But if we take a purely scientific view of nature, there’s no such thing as real progress in the world, not even in the development of technology. At most, there’s subjective, relative progress when a creature makes advances towards satisfying its goals. For example, if a squirrel tries numerous times to climb a concrete barrier, coming closer to achieving that goal each time, we can speak of the squirrel progressing towards its chosen end. But should the squirrel want to climb the barrier? Suppose there’s a hunter on the other side, just waiting to shoot the squirrel so that as soon as the squirrel succeeds, landing on that greener pasture, the animal ironically loses out as it’s killed. Had the squirrel appreciated the danger it wouldn’t have wanted to climb the fence, but that’s neither here nor there: in the real world, this squirrel has that desire so as it climbs the barrier it seems like it’s progressing relative to its actual, misinformed state of mind. Is this squirrel’s progress real or just an illusion? How can there be progress that ends in disaster?

Then, of course, there’s the aesthetic, quasi-religious admiration of nature which Tyson flaunts in his remake of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos television show. That reverence or at least respect for nature, which Sagan and Einstein famously had in common with Tyson, is likewise not entailed by anything that science alone has to say. When Tyson feels that nature is sublime, majestic, or full of wonders, he’s engaging in normative, aesthetic, or otherwise philosophical judgments. For example, he’s an environmentalist, so he believes we ought to take care of the environment instead of polluting it and thus endangering all life, including ours. But again, from the scientific viewpoint all values are only subjective and thus illusory. So who says life ought to be preserved? Who says evolution ought to be allowed to continue? Not any scientist in his or her scientific capacity. Scientists only describe what’s happened, explain what’s happening, or predict what must or will probably happen. Science itself says nothing about what ought to happen.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Americans Debate whether they Get Stuff Done

Dateline: WASHINGTON—Politicians rallied on Get Stuff Done Day, to reassure the American people that their government is in working order. Many boasted of their accomplishments while in office, describing in great detail the stuff in question.

Some showcased the collection of games on their mobile devices, which they play to occupy their time as representatives in Congress.

“The stuff I accomplish,” said Rep. Blowhard, “may not be as fancy as that of the young whippersnappers; I don’t go in for the newfangled gadgets. But I’m second to none in the fine art of finger-twiddling.”
“Every single work day without fail,” said Rep. Doolittle resentfully, “I walk from my office to the restroom to empty my bowels. That’s twelve steps there and twelve more back again, mind you, and I’m on that toilet for hours on end because of my IBS. So I can stand proud and declare that I get piles of stuff done for my fellow Americans.”

Congresswoman Shirker has been criticized for doing next to nothing in her official capacity, but at a press conference she vigorously defended the stuff she gets done: “Sure, I sit on my leather chair all day, apparently doing nothing whatsoever. But have a closer look! See how many times I breathe a minute? And now you’ve confirmed the stuff I get done for the American people.

“Do I hold my breath to spite my constituents? Not on your life! I inhale and exhale thousands of times a day, laboriously going through those motions, taxing my lungs, and I do it to carry out the public will. They didn’t elect me just to keel over. No sir, I assure you I’m very much alive as I doze off at my desk. With each breath I take I get stuff done, adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere to feed the plants which in turn supply oxygen to my constituents—to working men and women and to their children. You’re welcome!”

Cynical protestors showed up at some of the political rallies, insisting that the politicians aren’t in fact working hard enough to get stuff done.

“They talk a lot,” said a young unemployed man wearing a Jon Stewart T-shirt, “but they don’t get stuff done. I want to see them fix the country, but the stuff they do? They’re just making everything worse. Their stuff is the bad stuff, but we expect only good stuff from our elected representatives. I’d have thought that was implied.”

Asked what he thinks should be done about the gridlock and systemic corruption in Washington, the young man said his job as a disaffected ironist and know-it-all is to ridicule everything until the Apocalypse, whereupon he can brag that he expected all along that the worst would happen.

A third party surprised the audiences at the rallies and press conferences, to protest both the politicians and the cynical protestors.

“Whether a politician gets stuff done is neither here nor there,” said one of those outraged citizens. “If your standard of political action is that pitifully low, your political system’s utterly dysfunctional, your culture is in ruins, and it’s time for a revolution. That’s what the Declaration of Independence says: abolish the government if it stands in the way of our rights to safety and happiness.

“So how would that be for getting stuff done?”

Monday, May 12, 2014

Psychopathic Gods and Civilized Slaves

How do animals turn into people? The answer has several facets, including evolutionary and neurological ones, although unenlightened folks prefer a theological story according to which divine beings miraculously created us to transcend the other species, by giving us godlike powers of intelligence and creativity. I’m delighted to inform connoisseurs of irony that a large part of how people came to be conforms to the outline of that theistic creation myth, even as the truth humiliates theists and atheists alike. The truth here is stranger than fiction—including the fictions of the major religious myths as well as the liberal secular ones that deny the discontinuity between humans and animals, by way of denying that there are decisive differences between cultures or the sexes, so as to prop up the ideal of equality.

The part of the answer I wish to bring to the fore is historical rather than biological or mythological. Natural selection, the shaping of our brain structure, and the advantage of settling in the Fertile Crescent after the last ice age were so many props and costumes, as it were, for our act of stumbling upon civilized culture. That culture in turn drove the strongest of the late Pleistocene hunter-gatherers to form what Lewis Mumford calls megamachines, military, bureaucratic, and labour social systems which reshaped the landscape and set the stage for the new kind of performance which anthropologists call behavioural modernity. Like butterflies that require cocoons to emerge from their pupal form, behavioural modernists, that is, civilized people from our perspective are born from a type of culture that forms in a particular microcosm we construct. Those we used to call primitives or savages, namely the premodern foragers who lived especially before the invention of agriculture at about 10,000 BCE but who still cling to life in their benighted tribes and villages here or there, are indeed intermediaries in the evolution from our anatomically-prehuman ancestors to the behaviourally-modern humans whose activities mark the starting points of history.

But once again the god of irony mocks us, because the modern prejudice is misplaced in light of civilization’s grotesque origin. In the first place, the development of behavioural modernity was accidental and undead, not teleological. Although language and culture had already been invented in the Paleolithic Era—language emerging possibly in the Upper Paleolithic Revolution, 50,000 years ago, and prehistoric art, for example, being found to be at least 40,000 years old—those tools wouldn’t be applied to the task of building the microcosm that accelerated our domestication, until the last glacial period happened to end to pave the way for agricultural civilization. Secondly, we should be most comfortable calling the behaviourally-modern farmers of the Neolithic Era people like us because they share the disgrace of our origin. To be sure, we modernists are embarrassed on behalf of half-naked, jungle-inhabiting tribalists such as the natives of Australia, Africa, or South America, who still worship animals and know little if anything of the wider universe. But in the undead god which is the impersonal natural system that changes and even creates itself (via inflation in the megaverse) to no humane end, there’s more than enough shame to go around…

Monstrous Kings as Creator Gods

Let’s look at the logic of the theistic account of our advent. Putting aside the mystification, superstition, and personification of the undead forces and elements, there is, after all, certain logic to what is nevertheless a pseudo-explanation. The logic is that a greater being imparts life to a lesser one. The gods are often pictured as creating humanity through a bizarre sexual act, the slaying of some deity or beast, or some act of craftsmanship whereby the human body is formed from inanimate materials and miraculously brought to higher life. These accounts provide, at best, the illusion of an explanation, because ultimately the gods are assumed to be beyond our comprehension. In the monotheistic faiths, God’s origin is inexplicable, by definition. Still, at several points the theistic creation myths betray an ancient intuition of how people were really formed.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Mystical vs Modern Enlightenment: Eckhart Tolle and the Undead God

In this YouTube video, I compare mystical and modern enlightenment and I criticize mostly Eckhart Tolle's kind of spirituality, but also the modern kind of wisdom (secular humanism).

Hopefully, one of these days I'll figure out how to fix the focus problem with my camcorder, although it's not so bad in this video. I think maybe I have to sit farther out from the background wall...

Anyway, cheers!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Wealthy Man replaces his Sexist and Racist Thoughts with Clones to silence Critics

Dateline: NEW YORK—Tired of being accused of having stereotypical ideas of women and racial minorities, the gazillionaire Roderick Billington set about spending his vast fortune to perfect his conceptions.

“I realized the essence of the problem early on,” he said. “I’d be thinking that the Chinese can’t drive well, that blacks are thuggish, and that women are sentimental and prone to hysteria. But I’d be told that those were just outrageous stereotypes. So there was a mismatch between my ideas and the facts.”

Mr. Billington decided to eliminate that mismatch. “The first order of business was to eliminate the material difference between my ideas and the reality of those groups of people. My ideas were made of neurons, but the billions of women out there, for example, are made out of all sorts of stuff: bone, muscles, skin cells, not to mention the women’s possessions and social relationships.”

To correct his conception of women, therefore, he cloned every woman on Earth. “Storing them all was the really tricky part,” he confesses. “Our planet is already overcrowded, so I had a duplicate planet built in orbit and shipped my women out to live on it.”

Now, when Mr. Billington is asked to speak on an issue related to women, he points to the second batch of women on that second Earth and says, “That’s what I think of romance novels, soap operas, and romantic comedies. Fly out to my concept of women if you want to know the details. I’m no longer arrogant enough to pretend that I can adequately model billions of people with just some squishy neurons in my puny noggin.”

Having silenced feminists in that fashion, Mr. Billington proceeded to nip the issue of racism in the bud with another round of cloning and another manufactured Earth. “I find I can easily now side-step talk of my alleged discriminatory treatment of dark-skinned people. When asked why I steer clear of African-American neighbourhoods, I ask them in turn why they’re asking me, as if my idea of those places were lodged merely in my skull.

“‘Good luck finding a shortcoming with my thoughts about dark-skinned folks,’ I tell the thought police. ‘My thoughts of them consist of exact copies of every dark-skinned person. So if they don’t like how I’m treating them, they should look at themselves in the mirror, because my way of thinking is more like them than is their reflection.’”

To forestall any further talk of his political incorrectness, Mr. Billington proceeded to Phase Two and created a duplicate universe. “You don’t like how I treat pebbles?” he asks rhetorically. “Something off about my way of thinking of salami sandwiches? Don’t blame me! My concept of pebbles is nothing but a second set of pebbles and my notion of salami smells just as bad as the real deal. So have fun searching for any discrepancy!”

Some persistent critics point out that Mr. Billington’s secondary universe is in fact the largest red herring ever thrown down as a distraction, since he’s not connected to that universe, so nothing that happens in it is responsible for his behaviour.

Says one such critic, “If that bigoted old rich guy could watch his clones whenever he wanted, then maybe they’d be relevant. But his brain would still be working with a simplified representation of women or Canadians or whomever. He’d be studying the clones only some of the time, from one angle rather than another, and so on.”

“Besides,” says another critic, “The point isn’t just that there’s a difference between any concept and what the concept is about. It’s that in Billington’s case, the difference is negative because he’s a sexist and racist jerk. He simplifies the facts in a mean-spirited way.”

Others maintain that Mr. Billington has inadvertently shown the silliness of our preoccupation with those who discriminate based on negative stereotypes.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Dark Mysticism: Tragic Heroism and Fear of the Undead God

Mysticism is commonly thought of as the esoteric practice of religion for the inner circle of initiates who seek enlightenment, which is to say freedom from suffering and an awakening from mundane experience. Enlightenment is said to be achieved by an inner discovery that the mind isn’t our true self, that our egocentric thoughts and feelings mislead us into identifying with the illusory world of material things. Our true self isn’t our personal one which distinguishes each of us from everyone else and indeed which drives us to compete, to dominate and inevitably to suffer and to cause others to suffer. The deeper self is supposedly impersonal conscious awareness, a way of perceiving that transcends everything that can be known with concepts and rational methods. Through pure consciousness we intuit the true nature of reality, including the timelessness of consciousness and thus the divinity of our true self. When we identify with our ego, with our personal mind, including our stream of thoughts, memories, and reactions to stimuli, we’re distracted from the fact that there’s another self that underlies those mental states, namely their conscious observer. That observer is God himself or at least ultimate reality, which the mystic discovers through an inner transformation, a detachment from the mind and a direct experience of pure awareness (awareness of nothing in particular) which shifts the mystic’s perspective. No longer craving positional goods in the animalistic struggle for material gain, the mystic has peace of mind since she’s found her home outside of space and time. She learns to identify not with her physical body but with divine consciousness which stands apart from all particular mental states and thus from any disappointment.

Eckhart Tolle: Optimystic

This is the mystical teaching, for example, of Eckhart Tolle, a popularizer of Buddhist and other ancient mystical traditions for Western, exoteric audiences. See, for instance, this interview with him, in which he explains spiritual awakening:
So what is it that we awaken from when spiritual awakening occurs? We awaken from identification with our thoughts. Everybody who is not awake spiritually is totally identified with and run by their thinking mind—the incessant voice in the head. Thinking is compulsive: you can't stop, or so it seems. It is also addictive: you don't even want to stop, at least not until the suffering generated by the continuous mental noise becomes unbearable. In the unawakened state you don't use thought, but thought uses you. You are, one could almost say, possessed by thought, which is the collective conditioning of the human mind that goes back many thousands of years. You don't see anything as it is, but distorted and reduced by mental labels, concepts, judgments, opinions and reactive patterns. Your sense of identity, of self, is reduced to a story you keep telling yourself in your head.
Tolle goes on to speak of how he came to interpret his personal enlightenment:
Years later, I realized that the acute suffering I felt that night must have forced my consciousness to withdraw from identification with the unhappy self, the suffering “little me,” which is ultimately a fiction of the mind. This withdrawal must have been so complete that the suffering self collapsed as if the plug had been pulled out of an inflatable toy. What was left was my true nature as the ever present “I AM”: consciousness in its pure state prior to identification with form. You may also call it pure awareness or presence.