Contemplations of Being
Existence is the best explanation of consciousness in absence of less esoteric evidence to the contrary, and in order to move on, it is necessary to divest oneself of arguments ex nihilo such as the idea that consciousness is only an illusion supporting the delusion of existence. It may be inferred from our volition dependant capacity for empathy, that the whole point of being is to experience life with personal integrity - sufficient to accept life for what it is and others for who they are and what they believe.
Do I really exist, or am I just another product of my rather fertile imagination? Implicit in the line of questioning is the existence of a mechanism by which I may be deluded into believing I exist. However, for me to experience such a delusion or possess the means by which I may delude myself, surely I must necessarily exist in the first place! Descartes once said, "I think therefore I am", but the experience of being goes far beyond thought. The same could be said of emotions and senses. Tolle (2004) suggests that our innate sense of being is something entirely separate from our mind and heart because we can observe simultaneously the machinations of the mind, heart, and body without allowing our sense of being to be monopolised by any one part of ourselves.
I expect that an answer after the style of Okham would assert that the meagre consciousness of being in absence of less esoteric evidence to the contrary is most concisely explained by existence. In other words, being is a self evident state that requires no further proof. This probably makes the question of, "Am I?" one of the simplest, most concise, and most deceptive of false dilemmas in the sense that by overlooking the obvious primary evidence, we are goaded into proffering second order evidence that is all too easily argued.
I believe that the most complex concise answer to the question of, "Am I?", would be the statement, "I am who I am.", of Hindu, Jewish, and Buddhist fame.
"I am who I am."
Not only my favourite answer to the question of, "Am I?", but also in my opinion, the ultimate statement of integrity through acceptance of the reality of one's self is the old Hindu/Jewish/Buddhist chestnut, "I am who I am." Although taken by some strange cults to be a mystical statement of deity (never mind God's supposed role of exemplar via the idea of humanity created in God's image), the actual linguistic meaning of the statement has nothing to do with deity and everything to do with the temperament of whomever makes this statement. I think that such self admission as, "I am who I am.", requires great personal integrity and humility; something overlooked by more institutionalised approaches to contemplation.
Integrity or being true to oneself; honest with oneself, is in my view the only foundation for any form of personal development whether it be upgrading the sophistication of one's interpersonal relationships, searching one's soul, or seeking out the most interesting questions amidst the myriad possibilities that exist amongst the holes in our knowledge. I'm prone to believe that all human progress is contingent upon collective integrity. Even when we deceive ourselves in lowly "materialistic" matters such as science and technology, we set ourselves back. Consider! I have the inventors of the nuclear bomb to thank for the fact that I've never had to go to war. There is no leader; political, military, religious, nor spiritual whom I owe this gratitude, and there is not one founder of religion whose teachings have prevented as much war as has the more practical nuclear lesson that war can now be brought directly to those who, ah, "lead" their armies from behind! My point is that without the great integrity of "materialistic" science, we'd probably be winding up World War IV this year.
As to the integrity of more "spiritual" disciplines, we find not the carcasses of duplicity and deception, but rather a veritable Armageddon of fundamentalism versus academia where fundamentalist dabbling in the sciences are the greatest source of scientific error known to Humanity (Dawkins, 2006; Hitchens, 2007). Perhaps this greater collective integrity amongst scientists is why science and not religion, paves the way to world peace.
As my Body Senses; my Heart Feels, my Mind Thinks...
Experience comprises the sum of sensations, feelings, and thoughts as they alternately direct and are directed by the shifting circumstances of the environment in which we live. I consider the environment to be very much a part of the human experience. Yet how can we be our thoughts when we sense and feel? How can we be our emotions when we think and sense? How can we be purely our sense when we feel and think? Yet take away our experience, perhaps in the affliction of profound amnesia for example, and we still are. Thus, neither are we our experiences. Awareness, or our capacity to experience, is the one thing through whose loss we gain the "experience" of not being. At the loss of awareness, we travel forward in time to arrive in our own experience, instantly at the time and place where we regain our awareness. Even in sleep, our sense of being travels forward in time, instantly leaving the present in the past. Perhaps Descartes' famous quip about being might have been more accurate had it been, "I'm aware, therefore I am".
Yet even in sleep, we are not yet gone for we are alive and may return to awareness. Am I my body? The body's description as the vessel of the soul when living and an empty shell when dead, speaks to the widespread belief that we are not our bodies. Certainly the benefit of our experience may well outlive our bodies should we consciously choose share our experiences and beliefs with others. Although any observable manifestation of our consciousness is tied indelibly to the life of our body, the experience others have of ourselves during our temporary absence of awareness is one of expectancy, for the empty albeit living shell awaits the return of its being in the form of that awareness. Although death may well be final, the return of awareness is by far the most strongly reinforced experience for we see the people around us wake from their slumbers far more often than not. The study of neural networks confirms this in that neural memory is the product of associative reinforcement. Thus it is not unreasonable to conclude that belief in life after death is actually a variation on the belief that consciousness and awareness must always find a way to re-emerge from their absences, simply because they do precisely this so very often in life.
Yet, what is awareness? It is so much more than sense; for seeing, recognising, and imagining what could be done with any given object are separate and distinct. Consider,
That which slumbers through the short nights of my life and the long night of my death is not I, for what choice about its breaths, what consent to its nocturnal posture; have I?
Therefore I think, more than sense, emotion, or thought; awareness speaks to volition. Our will to life and liberty, to love and prosperity; that will outlives even our awareness for we make it known to everyone concerned so that even in death, some will of ours endures long enough in the trust of others to be done in our names.
What is will? Perhaps the contrast between deterministic software and the three goal problem may shed some light. Deterministic software executes to fulfil objectives via the predetermined contingencies of a singular specification. As such, the software application cannot choose to deviate from its programming unless an error exists that predetermines this course of events. However, in the three goal problem, we assemble three entities, each with a predetermined but conflicting objective. The entities, in order to achieve their objectives, may only do so if a majority agree to decisions compatible with those objectives. Given the use of experience of collaboration to characterise relationships between the entities, the choices of the system comprised of these three entities becomes unpredictable in respect of their original programming. In much the same way, the choices of a human being in respect of emotional and physical needs lacks predictability. It is perhaps this, that most diversifies individual experience and consequent individual belief systems.
This indeterminate nature of human destiny is the basis upon which I conclude that volition is the capacity to deviate from our instinct to survive and prosper. Our experience may be of far greater resolution and complexity than the humble computer program, but useful parallels can be drawn. For example, I believe that our emotions signal our success with respect to several prosperity and survival strategies, in much the same way as an error message or "task completed successfully" message signals the error handler (or the user if the error is irresolvable) with the state of success of the task at hand. Perhaps the closest thing to a computerised emotional response is the activity on the progress bar that indicates how close the program is to the completion of the task at hand. As human beings, our emotions often parallel those of people we care about or "feel for" because their happiness is important to us. Yet a similar emotional mimicry takes place when we observe with no small degree of expectancy, the progress of a computer program we are using towards a goal that is also important to ourselves. We may not care about the program as we do about a real human being whose volition allows us to have a meaningful relationship, but our emotions nonetheless follow the emotions or emotional analogue of the other. This may explain why people generally relate better to software the uses a progress bar when executing time-consuming tasks.
Our emotional mirroring of emotional states and other indicators of task success we see around us, reflects the degree to which our emotions are subject to feedback. As Tolle (2004) points out, our thoughts may also feed back on our emotions, either amplifying or diminishing those feelings. Out of the need to survive and prosper, we may project the output of our internal "progress bar" into the future to determine whether our present strategy is sufficient to our survival. The point of this behaviour is to give us the opportunity to break out of strategies that will ultimately fail; particularly those with high emotive support. Without volition, we are doomed to follow such strategies until the bitter end, regardless of how rational the alternative may be, because it takes a strong will to overpower strong emotions. Volition allows us to direct our thoughts to act as a virtual test of those strategies we feel most compelled to follow. I wonder if our unwillingness to consider the potential advantages of alternative prosperity strategies could be the greatest cause of human suffering?
Volition also allows us to use our analytical ability to enrich our lives. By volition we may force ourselves to temporarily desist from the never ending quest for prosperity, to simply appreciate that experience of the awesome beauty of those special moments that mean so much to us. By volition, we may direct our thoughts from reality to fantasy, and from fantasy to that simulated reality where we imagine a better way, the tool that makes the better way possible, and the means to fashion that tool. By volition we may project our imagination on the implications of our experience to form beliefs, many of which become sacred to us, possibly on the strength of reinforcement of supportive experience. This is perhaps why evidence for tool making and evidence for a sense of spirituality appears simultaneously in the palaeontological record of anthropological evolution. It also explains why we are often prepared to defy death itself in order that such a belief may survive us.
Belief as One Reflection of Being.
Abbas (1886) considers individual belief to be irrepressible and subject to the ministering of God alone. In my opinion, belief is the subjective modelling of incomplete data in an effort to understand as best we can the implications of the information we possess. Speculation on the other hand is supposition of intellectual constructs on the sole basis of purely subjective conclusions such as belief. As such, I take belief to be an extrapolation of experience, whereas I tend to think that speculation best occupies punters and bookies. Given that experience is unique to every individual, is it not unreasonable to posit that personal belief is likewise unique to the individual?
This is how I leap to the relatively "radical" conclusion that belief is unique to the individual and is not the business of others to judge. After all, we have many substantial groups of people whose membership and rank and often good will depend to a great degree on the conformity of belief to specific standards. Such followings or "causes" are staggeringly popular and yet in my experience all such groups make it increasingly difficult for human beings to be true to themselves.
I am who I am. I am neither thought, nor emotion, nor sense, nor all three. I am meagrely that awareness of all three possessed of sufficient volition to be aware of any one of the three. My emotions direct my attention to survival and prosperity whereas my thoughts allow me the estimation of the feelings of others with whom I must collaborate and the outcome of those endeavours so important to that primal drive to live and prosper. By my will may I take joy in the simple beauty of life around me or simply stop and daydream my way to either invention or the experiential inference of belief itself. Thus are my beliefs subject to the quantity, quality, and context of information, to which I have access. Are we really so different, you and I? Thus availed of different experiences are we not all necessarily different and unique in belief? Accepting both the limitations of our perception and that we must make do with what perception we have, I believe is integral to being true to ourselves. By extension, I conclude that this allows one to accept oneself, the diversity of others one meets, and the reality of the life one lives.
Abbas, `Abdu'l-Baha, 1886, "A Travellor's Narrative: written to illustrate the episode of the Bab", E. G. Browne [Translation published 1891], Baha'i Publishing Trust, ISBN: 90-6022-316-0
Dawkins, R., 2006, "The God Delusion", ISBN: 0593055489
Hitchens, C., 2007, "God is Not Great: how religion poisons everything", ISBN: 978-1-74175-222-9
Tolle, E., 2004, "The Power of Now: a guide to spiritual enlightenment", ISBN: 978-0-733619-120