Insight 26 - Plateau #5:
The Beginnings of Oneness Understanding
In some of the earliest insights, I made a point to differentiate among three types of subjective experiences – bodily sensations, thoughts, and feelings. Then, I teased each of them out from who you are in order to give you a way to distinguish yourself from all of them.
In some of the more recent insights, we've begun to regard external experience as perception. We've acknowledged that although external experience appears to be out there, our only experience of out there actually occurs in here – that is, it occurs within consciousness in the form of a perception.
So, although the materialist view of reality makes a distinction between objective and subjective reality, upon reflection, we're forced to admit that there is an inescapable subjective quality to everything we experience.
In Western philosophy, this perspective is commonly called solipsism. And it's commonly regarded with a certain amount of contempt, not because it isn't intellectually defensible, but because it isn't pragmatically defensible: It doesn't lead anywhere.
The common argument against solipsism goes something like this: So, you've had the adolescent insight that there is no objective reality because, in fact, all experience is subjective. How is this insight actionable? You still need to breathe, and eat, and stay warm, and if you don't, you will suffer and perhaps even die. A typical way of continuing to achieve these things is by working, and to do this, you may want to get an education. This education will require you to learn all about a variety of apparently non-existent things out there in non-existent objective reality. So how is a disbelief in objective reality useful?
It's a good argument. That's why I've saved it until now.
Notice how suffering lies at the core of this argument. The argument isn't that a re-evaluation of objective reality is mistaken, but rather that if you follow this path, it leads inevitably to suffering.
And yet, one reason you may be reading this book is that you've found that the materialist way of thinking also inevitably leads to suffering. Additionally, you may have begun to have a variety of experiences and intuitions that have led you to believe that materialism alone is simply not enough.
Don't get me wrong. Materialism as a philosophy lies at the core of natural science, which has been wildly successful at relieving a vast amount of human suffering, if only by relieving hunger and disease.
But as we've already discussed, materialism most likely does not have the capacity to resolve a variety of crucial ethical dilemmas. So, the same technology that cures disease has created weapons that are capable of destroying all life on the planet. Extending human life expectancy has come at the price of mass extinctions among other forms of life. And concurrent with human progress have arisen forms of large-scale ecological danger, such as climate change, that we currently have no clear way to prevent or undo.
Somehow, grounded happiness must grapple with these dilemmas and provide a way of seeing them that gives us a way forward without entirely throwing aside the part of human progress that is, indeed, real progress.
Throughout this book, I've apparently rejected materialism in favor of another way of understanding reality with awareness, or consciousness, residing at its center. We've walked through a sequence of insights that appear to me intuitive, even obvious, once they are pointed out. These insights are not new, and indeed many are centuries old and appear in one form or another throughout religious, philosophical, and mystical texts.
They seem to indicate another way of thinking about reality. And this path is reputed to lead to peace. And peace is certainly something the world could use more of.
But I want to be clear: This path does not require you to choose between materialism and consciousness. It merely suggests that you embed materialism within consciousness.
This process isn't necessarily any less scientific than when Newtonian physics was amended by Maxwell to incorporate the electrical charge, or challenged by Einstein's theories of relativity, or eventually subsumed into the larger context of quantum physics.
This suggestion should come as a relief. I'm not recommending that we chuck science and all of its obvious advantages. I'm simply proposing that we reframe it within a larger context of consciousness.
Every observation on which science is based occurred within consciousness. Every theory ever proposed to explain these observations occurred within consciousness. The whole structure of scientific method and debate occurs within and will always occur within consciousness. And every technological advance that science has ever produced and will ever produce must occur within consciousness.
That's not solipsism; it's indisputable and directly observable fact that any reasonably bright ten-year-old can understand.
Nor is this some irrelevant fact that scientists can continue to ignore. For more than a century, physics has been approaching the limits of what can be understood without a fundamental restructuring of the ontological ground on which it stands. It might be convenient to imagine that consciousness emerges from matter. But it seems much more in line with observable fact to consider that matter, along with everything else, emerges from consciousness – and then to figure out, scientifically, what that means and how to make sense of it.
Consciousness provides a self-evident path to undoing the distinction between objective reality out there and subjective reality in here.
That is the beginning of the non-dualist understanding, or oneness, that so many mystics have pointed to for so long.
This isn't solipsism, which is a mistaken thought about oneness, but something entirely different: a way not only to describe oneness with clarity but to experience it directly.
This is where our journey takes us now.