Why I learnt to let go
On universal interconnectedness and universal life
A.: Hello there!
B.: Hi! How’s it going?
A.: I was not expecting to meet you here. I thought you had already left for some unknown destination. It’s already been five months since I last saw you and you never report on your whereabouts.
B.: I will be leaving this place shortly. I have decided to spend the last few days travelling around.
A.: Where are you heading to?
B.: Southwards. About an hour from here. The destination is of no import. Suffice to say that a river flows through the town and there is a hill with a perfect view of the fields stretching out to the horizon. The next train departs in approximately forty five minutes. Just enough time to hold a meaningful conversation and, voilà, here you are! Yesterday I went on foot to a village nearby for the third time over the course of the last few weeks: gave me another chance to pass through the forest. It took me most of the day as I moved further into the woods than usual.
A.: Nearby village? The closest I can think of is fifteen kilometres from here. Thankfully you are boarding a train this time…
B.: Well, you know that I enjoy those long promenades. It is not about walking per se, though that is fulfilling as well. For me a walk when I am all by myself provides an opportunity to think things through without any major distractions.
[ Read: On walking (away) (2021-07-19) ]
A.: And so the longer the walk, the better?
A.: Fun fact: I remember when I first learnt about your penchant to cover long distances. It was through direct experience. You were passing by while I was waiting at the bus stop. I asked you where you were going. Your reply was something like “not far from here”. You were so nonchalant about it. So I assumed you meant the next corner or somewhere nearby and I spontaneously joined you for a quick chat—or so I thought.
B.: Big mistake, I know! Never follow someone who isn’t going anywhere in particular.
A.: We kept walking for like 30 minutes until I had to quit.
B.: Thankfully humanity invented public transport instead of optimising around the whims of eccentric fellows.
A.: Our subsequent encounters were easier for me: I would just wait at a given location and you would meet me there. No more surprises. Anyhow, those are nice memories. Are you about to visit someone today?
B.: No, just site-seeing. More of the same, basically. Only this time I will tread different paths, traverse both familiar and new grounds, literally and figuratively. What about you?
A.: I am waiting for a close relative of mine. She will be staying at my place for today and the weekend. The train should have arrived by now, though I got a message telling me that there was a delay. I would have stayed home had I noticed it sooner but I left my phone on silent mode and only checked it after I was already en route to the station… No worries. Since you are here, time will fly without noticing it.
B.: Good to know. Perhaps you being here is no mere coincidence. I sense you are the right person at the right time.
A.: In which regard? For what purpose?
B.: For me to elaborate on some ideas I have been developing for a while now. Will you tolerate me?
A.: Sure, regale me with your musings. Though why do you think I am the right person for such a task? Need I remind you that I am not a philosopher?
B.: For me, philosophy is interesting insofar as it unfolds through purposeful action as a way of living. If you can think things through and grasp abstract patterns, you are already halfway there. The rest is a matter of commitment and of drawing linkages between the general and the particular. I like to think of philosophy as the ability to learn about the greater matters by studying the patterns that are present in smaller-scale, seemingly insignificant, states of affairs.
[ Read: Why you are not important (2021-08-03) ]
A.: If I did not know you any better, I would assume that you are a charlatan trying to persuade me to believe in something that I am not.
B.: But you understand I have no interest in flattering you. Remember when you told me about your ethos with regard to food consumption? I noted that I apply similar methods, though I questioned your totalising moral claims.
A.: Yes, I recall. It made me doubt myself. You explained that ethics is about finding the right balance in light of our ignorant nature. Whereas when we try to figure out the perfect system, when we labour under the assumption that we can do that, we pretend to be omniscient in actuality or potentiality and that no edge case or special set of circumstances can challenge our beliefs. I still haven’t changed my habits though. Does that mean I did not learn anything?
B.: You changed how you approach the particular issue. Your mindset is different, less prone to becoming dogmatic or, else, more open to the possibility of being proven incomplete, inadequate, or otherwise mistaken. It takes courage and honesty to admit one’s shortcomings. Though, above all, you gained insight into a more general observation about the latent hubris in totalising moral claims; an insight which in everyday parlance boils down to the admission that “we are not sure” or “we may be wrong” and so we refrain from passing ultimate judgement. Hubris consists in the failure to draw such a conclusion, keeping up with the pretences and having no sense of our place in the world.
[ Read: Why it is not just about you (2021-08-03) ]
A.: Tell me then, why do you think it is no coincidence that I am here and that I am the right person at the right time?
B.: I have this intuition that humans are, at different points in their life, attuned to specific frequencies, as it were. We are more receptive to certain types of input or stimuli. What we once dismissed, we now seek with eagerness. What was obscure becomes conspicuous. An aspect of this phenomenon is known to all of us adults, as our behavioural patterns and their triggers are no longer the same as those we had when we were kids. There are environmental, biological, and cultural reasons as to why that is. The exact feedback loops may vary but the point stands: we are not always the same, as we exhibit variance in our response to stimuli and overall conduct. Extend this beyond the divide between childhood and adulthood. Think of it more in terms of having a “good day”, as they say. Such as today I had the inspiration to write at length, whereas yesterday I did not. I just feel that in this moment you are open to hear what I am about to expound on and are capable of contributing to the dialogue.
A.: And how can you possibly know that?
B.: By recognising the power of attraction or, else, the keenness with which we identify familiar patterns in an otherwise indeterminate structure. Let me draw a parallel here, based on a personal observation that I have noticed over the years. You are in a crowded place. Let’s say you got a part-time job as a salesperson at a local festival, or are just casually walking down a boisterous street, or you are about to board an aeroplane. Whatever metaphor works for you. The point is that there are lots of people in your vicinity. Some move towards you, others away from you, and others still follow different trajectories altogether. As you go about minding your own business, you do not notice the details: those people remain elusive, blurred figures whose presence barely registers in your mind. And then, without any further trigger, you turn around to stare at someone who was outside your peripheral vision while they do the same—you can tell by the sudden motion. It appears like a double coincidence of reactions. Your eyes meet for what could just as well be a full minute. Two strangers sharing a moment. Without ever uttering a word you feel a deeper connection, a mutual recognition that both of you are in synchronicity.
A.: This has happened to me as well, though I always interpreted it as having erotic connotations or at least an interest towards that end. A pre-flirting phase. In other words, I did not assign too much importance to it.
B.: That could also be it, though not necessarily. Be mindful of it and you will notice that oftentimes you do not feel any attraction of the sort. Besides, love and/or sex are part of the human experience. In their perfected form, not their inwardly corrupted commodified simulacra nor the socially-imposed role-playing games of family obligations and gender roles, they are means through which people connect with each other using their available senses, rather than just their faculty of reason. To dismiss love and/or sex in advance as inherently sinful or lustful is to be predisposed against the opportunity to bond with someone in a way that is not possible otherwise. Hence my scepticism of all schools of thought that cast those in a negative light at the outset. Erotic or not this shared ability to pick each other out from the crowd does not have to last for an eternity in order to amount to something. It may be momentary or short-lived. The point is that when it occurs we are presented with the chance to share what we have in common: it could be the start of something special or simply the formation of a memory; the memory of a place we briefly explored in a reverie.
A.: Is this how you will ask me for a date? By inventing some new religion?
B.: A decent attempt! But futile.
A.: Fine. What do you think may be special in our case?
B.: The elucidation of certain very difficult concepts.
A.: I guess I am honoured to be in this position, even though I didn’t do anything to prepare for it.
B.: This is where we typically err because of our upbringing. We have this deep-seated cultural perception that everything we do is the product of our volition, while all that happens to us is ultimately of our own individual or collective making. I can understand the need for such a world-view, especially with regard to maintaining a system of rules predicated on the binary of reward versus punishment. Unconditional free will makes perfect sense as one of many possible conventions. Still, it reduces the complexity of the case and, in the process, prevents us from exploring understudied aspects of our condition. That which appears to be our personal choice is but a fraction of all that our organism does, what the contributing factors to our presence engender, what the structure within which we operate renders possible, and what our predisposition is or has evolved to be. Furthermore, we are adept at rationalising our current state and then codifying and internalising those findings into a quasi-empirical justification of our self-image. If you keep telling yourself you are not capable of philosophy and if, as a result, you refrain from trying when presented with the opportunity, you will never explore that aspect of yourself and will instead entertain the false notion of knowing in advance that you are not fit for the task: a self-fulfilling prophecy in which your conscious cognitive function labours against the rest of your system.
A.: I am listening. What are those difficult concepts?
B.: Let’s revisit the phenomenon of two strangers turning their head beyond their peripheral vision to lock eyes with each other in a crowded place. How would you explain that?
A.: Seems to me like a coincidence. You notice it and attach significance to it because it feels unusual, though you do not count all the times when it does not happen, such as when you turn around but there is no-one there paying attention. Or it may be that we subconsciously are captured by someone who looks interesting to us and turn our attention towards them while they do the same.
B.: It might be just a matter of luck and I keep reading too much into it. What do you think about the alternative explanation that likeness recognises likeness?
A.: You mean that idea about the power of attraction? Like showing interest in someone? It still feels to me as though it traces its roots to fundamental aspects of our being. Maybe it is the sex drive or some other faculty that governs our gregarious outlook?
B.: And do you think we turn our attention to someone out of our own will?
A.: If the keyword is “attention”, then I am inclined to answer affirmatively. How else?
B.: You just mentioned the sex drive or any other faculty that controls our nature. Is that part of one’s free will?
A.: Maybe not the built-in tendencies or lack thereof, but at least there is a degree of choice on how to behave.
B.: Sure, but that is not exactly what I asked. Your answer tells me that an instinct, or however we want to call it, is not part of our free will because it functions independently of what our conscious, rational mind plans. Whether there is the impression of choice at some level is another discussion, which we will get to. Am I interpreting it correctly?
B.: Do we have one or many instincts?
B.: And what about the various subsystems that form the organism we call a human being. Is our volition involved in their ongoing functioning and interconnectedness? Does, for example, our conscious brain choose to send fructose to be synthesised by the liver? Or is there some other mechanism, some set of processes, that takes care of such functions regardless of our stratagems?
A.: There must be something else at play. We do not micromanage all those and we do not get to piece together our organism.
B.: Then we have the subsystems which form the subsystems. An atom is basically a bundle of electromagnetism. Lots of them together form molecules and lots of those in their interplay contribute to the strata of emergent forms all the way up to the vital organs and ultimately the supersystem we know as the human being.
A.: I see where you are going with this: no, those are not part of our free will either.
B.: The more we think about our organism, its multifaceted constitution, the narrower the scope of this vaunted volition of ours.
A.: Is free will an illusion?
B.: Perhaps. Let us not press on that point to question its existence altogether and instead grant that it still exists, even though it is not as powerful or extensive as we are indoctrinated to believe. The train will be departing soon and this is not what I want to focus on, anyhow.
A.: Then what?
B.: The atoms and the molecules are all subject to forces of attraction. It is how they come together to form something greater than themselves: a system of systems where there are different rules that apply to each stratum of emergence. Just to be clear, by “emergence” I mean a phenomenon or state of affairs that is germane to a given system, to a set of factors in their interplay, though not to each factor in isolation. Now help me with this: do our subsystems and their subsystems have a choice in the matter?
A.: I suppose we do not know for sure, though since we are inclined not to think of them as sentient I would speculate that they have no choice whatsoever. They are automata.
B.: You mentioned two key terms: “sentient” and “automata”. They say a lot about how we think of life. Would you agree that this is a good way to think about the cosmos in general? Or, if we do not wish to put too much emphasis on sentience, would you consider it plausible that in the universe there are life forms and all the rest are lifeless forms? Does such a distinction hold?
A.: Yes. For example, there is a difference between a stone and a human.
B.: Really? What would that be?
A.: Not sure why you act surprised. Isn’t it crystal clear? Basically, a stone is inert while a human is alive. The stone does not require food, whereas a human does.
B.: So the stone has no life?
A.: No, it doesn’t.
B.: And where does life come from?
A.: I am not sure. And why does it matter, insofar as a human is not a stone in terms of only the former being a life form?
B.: It matters because a human does not have a standalone presence.
A.: What does that mean?
B.: We already mentioned how the human organism is a system of systems. What we now need to add to this observation is that the human organism is but a subsystem of a much wider system. Think about everything that affects this planet and then about everything beyond it, such as the fact that a moon is in our orbit, we are at a specific distance from the Sun, and so on. For there to be a human being, multiple factors must contribute to the final outcome. We cannot have a human being as such: one that does not consist of its subsystems; one that is not framed, informed, conditioned, or otherwise influenced by the supersystem it is a part of as well as by the continuous and dynamic feedback loops between the various sub- and super- systems.
A.: A human being is a life form because of certain contributing factors to that end. Correct?
B.: More generally, a human is part of a greater whole. One’s presence is one of partiality, not individuality. This feeds back into the topic of free will, where our cultural norms are built on the untenable hypothesis of a decontextualised human: a being as such which makes whatever it wants out of its life.
[ Read: On individuality and partiality (2021-03-14) ]
A.: I can understand this. However, you seemed bewildered when I stated the obvious: a stone and a human are different. Tell me, then, how does all this argumentation relate to that subject?
B.: I asked where does life come from. You dismissed it as largely irrelevant to the distinction between a human and a stone. So I had to elaborate on what effectively is the interconnectedness of the cosmos in order to prepare you for considering this point. Please explain from whence comes life? Can something derive from nothing?
A.: I don’t know.
B.: Can you make a bread without its ingredients?
A.: No, you always need those.
B.: Can you power up your computer without electricity?
A.: Again, energy is required.
B.: Try to think about everything you have ever experienced. Has there ever been a new presence ex nihilo? And then, has anything ever existed in nothing or was converted into nothing?
A.: I cannot think of a case where something came out of nothing. And you already mentioned that there is no standalone presence, which I find plausible. So something must exist in something, not in nothing. The last statement is a bit trickier though. I would say that something can be converted into nothing, such as when a person dies.
B.: Are you confident that the death of an organism results in the annulment of its constituents?
A.: Upon second thought, I am wrong. Even metaphorically, we think of dead bodies as turning into dust. But we do not say that they disappear altogether.
B.: Let me reformulate this insight in abstract terms on what is considered ontology, else metaphysics (as the abstract structure of being): something derives from something, is made present in something, and is transformed into something. The operative term is transformation or transfiguration of a constant magnitude.
A.: I am still having trouble finding the connection with the stone and how it differs from a human…
B.: Our organism consists of matter that is found all around us, like water, carbon, calcium, iron. That stone may contain minerals which directly contribute to our presence. Otherwise it does its part in regulating some subprocess in the immediate supersystem that envelops us. Perhaps you have heard about the DNA and how it basically is a sequence of elements, each of which we do not consider as a life form in its own right. And yet, this concatenation of matter—of ‘stones’, so to speak—this specific arrangement of seemingly lifeless particles embeds and communicates information, to the effect that it represents a self-reprogrammable program on how to construct a particular form.
A.: But a stone is still lifeless, right?
B.: Only if you consider it in isolation. This is what we call “analytics”: the process by which we reason about a factor of the case independent of the case’s constitution. If, however, you think of the stone in its relation to everything else, then you can fathom the possibility of it contributing to emergent states of affairs which exhibit patterns that we recognise as having a life of their own.
A.: So life forms are emergent?
B.: Those which we recognise as having a need to eat or which appear to have some sort of purposeful behaviour are underpinned by interactions of factors which we consider automata in terms of analytics. We say that a human being is a life form, but not that each of its subsystems is itself a form of life. Thus, we already assume life to be emergent. My point though is a bit more nuanced.
A.: Do tell.
B.: Life is immanent. Everything is life. There cannot be life from non-life, just as there cannot be presence from nothingness. There cannot be life in non-life, as there can be no presence in nothingness. And there cannot be life that becomes non-life, in the same way that no presence can be converted into nothingness. We can’t even conceive of nothingness, but only as an analytical construct which is the opposite of being, of presence, of “something”. By trying to describe nothingness we attribute properties to a mental construct and so we think of it as being something, as having certain qualities. As such, what is emergent are forms of life, just as our language suggests, though not life as such.
[ Read: On non-Being and the prime mover (2021-04-03) ]
A.: How about this notion that a deity created the world from nothing?
B.: Even in that case there still always was the deity.
A.: So the presence of a god conforms with your claims of there always being something. Back to the distinction between a stone and a human, do you think they are practically the same?
B.: There are many differences. Those are readily apparent. Such as what you mentioned earlier that we require food whereas a stone does not. Let the details not distract us from the general theme. What we can add to those is that we operate at a different stratum of emergence. That stone has the potential to contribute to a form of life, whereas the matter making up our constitution does so in its actuality. In other words, the difference between such a potentiality and its actuality consists in the specific interplay of factors.
A.: You think the relationships are what we should be looking at?
B.: Once we move past the notion that things can have a standalone presence, once we think about the interconnectedness of the world, we must turn our attention to how seemingly independent presences relate to each other. There still is a place for analytical exercises. We need not discontinue them. My point is that analytics alone prevent us from seeing the bigger picture.
A.: Tell me more about this interconnectedness. Do you mean that each of us, each presence, is networked with every other?
B.: I mean that each of us is contextualised. The distinction between object and environment properties is analytical, for there is no object without or despite its environment. Furthermore, what counts as external is a matter of perspective, such as how all those people around us form part of our milieu while they see us in the same way.
A.: So you would not argue that all are tied together?
B.: Maybe not all presences are interlinked. More so when we factor in the stratification of emergence, where different states of affairs are prevalent in each system, making up its own particular rules which remain subject to global rules that are equally present in its sub- or super- systems. Perhaps it is better to liken the world to a forest. Different species of tree have their own societies. There are mushrooms which are not directly dependent on squirrels. Plants photosynthesise regardless of what the insects may be doing. Yet they all share the same ecosystem, which is the forest amid the rivers that receives light from our nearest star and nourishment from the ground and the air, is regulated by the Earth’s atmosphere and climate, et cetera.
A.: Interconnectedness is a quality we find in our own works as well. For example, if we change one piece of legislation, we need to update a bunch of others. Or how programmers inadvertently create bugs just by introducing a minor feature in one part of their code base.
B.: Indeed. Programming also serves as a reminder of the challenge in grasping how the whole system is pieced together, especially as the volume of connections increases in scale and complexity. We learn about this in our daily life but somehow forget it when the discussion has to factor in larger magnitudes, such as the condition of our planet. At that point we oscillate between pretending to have omniscience or acting all ignorant. However we go about justifying our inertia, the result is the same: we blithely carry on with our modus vivendi.
A.: You said that a stone and a human are at different levels of emergence. Do you think there is a stage at which there are no more emergent states of affairs?
B.: I think it would be weird for there to be a terminus to the stratification of emergence. What would be the mechanism that determines the final mark? Could we, for instance, claim that emergence has reached this stratum where the human being is made manifest and now it can no longer contribute to ever-more expansive states of affairs? It would seem arbitrary to suggest that emergence stops even though systems of systems continue to take form.
A.: What are the implications then? What does it mean for everything to partake in life?
B.: I mentioned the forest earlier. The same principles go for all subsystems of the Earth’s ecosystem. Mountains, lakes, oceans… Perhaps a forest is a life form unto itself. Maybe the Earth is an organism and everything on it is part of its subsystems. Perhaps the Earth is but the primary constituent of an emergent interplanetary life form. A greater conscience which takes form in the same manner that the interplay of factors in our subsystems give rise to the phenomenon of human consciousness. You get the idea.
A.: Don’t we need facts to back such claims?
B.: We do. Formulating hypotheses is a prerequisite to conducting empirical studies. We cannot put the cart before the horse, as the saying goes, and ask for evidence before we determine what it is we wish to search for. We venture to search for some datum with which to assess a certain working hypothesis. Otherwise what are we trying to prove or what drives our research? Facts do not just get collated and reveal truths to us.
A.: Sure. My question though hints at the observation that we cannot see a forest exhibiting a behaviour of its own. We study trees and rodents and birds…
B.: What we already know is that relations have feedback loops. A feedback loop is, in effect, a medium of communication. This foundational language is used to both disseminate and store information. Information has to have a meaning to it, like how the DNA contains what is needed to reproduce a much larger system than itself. If there can be a language at such a microscopic level, why can there be no equivalent at the stratum where, say, the forest is made manifest? Trees communicate with each other and show behavioural patterns which may presumably store information of some sort. There are cycles that affect migratory birds and determine when cicadas will emerge from the ground. A macroscopic view of all this activity will look just like what is happening in a human body. Your muscles can have memory, but another such system cannot? Again though, bear in mind that we are not talking about standalone presences. There is no forest without the rivers. There are no rivers without mountains. And everything else we have already discussed.
A.: It is an interesting perspective, to say the least. Now I am curious how it all ties together with those strangers you mentioned earlier who somehow communicate with each other.
B.: Have you ever created a primitive telephone out of a cord and two cups? Just tie the cups to the ends of the cord and stretch it out.
A.: Ah yes, that was fun to play with!
B.: Verbal communication is like a ripple effect. It travels from point X to point Y by creating motion in the intermediate space.
B.: Motion happens in a shared space. The cause of it need not be the vibrations or sounds we make when we speak. It is why I alluded to frequencies that we are attuned to. Each of us has a specific way of capturing information that circulates all around us. I cannot perceive of the world in the way an artist does, and vice versa. We are tuned in to different frequencies. This is, by the way, why I am not amused by the idea of a single type of intelligence and how this scientist or that philosopher is supposed to be the smartest ever. How do you measure the creative genius of a certain Salvador Dalí and then compare it to the technical brilliance of one Linus Torvalds? Each of them is receiving different information from the world around them. The artist cannot be reduced to an engineer and vice versa. So please do not belittle yourself next time I invite you to talk with me.
A.: Fine. But how about this communication you are talking about? Do you mean to imply that we are creating specific ripples in space that only kindred spirits, so to speak, can interpret? Is this telepathy?
B.: Yes, this is what I mean. What appears to be a coincidence when two strangers turn around to gaze at each other may in fact be the equivalent of shifting our attention to someone who is calling our name. We parse the subtle motions in space that they make and we recognise their patterns as familiar or, anyhow, as holding a meaning we can decipher.
A.: But isn’t telepathy kind of an old superstition?
B.: It being old is not a problem in itself. Let us not fall into the same trap as our culture does of believing in its inexorable moral progress throughout history. You hear about it in the cliché that “this cannot be happening in the 21st century”. There is nothing special about our age. Misguided by an obsession of ours, some conventional wisdom that regulates our collective experience, we may have been alienated from knowledge that was common in earlier civilisations; knowledge that we dismiss as superstitious because we tacitly hold that all genius is largely the product of the modern era. Telepathy may sound like a bad word to some. A throwback to yesteryears when people believed in ghosts and magic. We live in a period where we are negatively disposed towards certain ideas. Some may deride the very notion of telepathy as mumbo jumbo. It is unfortunate that in this age every narrow-minded scientist, every flunky of the corporate overlords, everyone who labours against dubitativeness and inquisitiveness despite appearances to the contrary, has the temerity and the authority to dismiss everything they do not want to understand as some silly mysticism. We are the fools in this world. The misfits. Those of us who are not impressed by the pomp and circumstance—the technotheocracy—that modern science has turned into.
[ Read: Notes on Science and Scientism (2021-04-28) ]
A.: What kind of meaning is communicated through such synchronous motions?
B.: That is difficult to know. It is a bit like trying to track intricate patterns in a dark room. There is a part of our being which I feel is less developed than the rest and thus hard to map out. Our physical side is the most developed. The instincts, for example, have a pronounced presence. The ability to make and receive sounds, parse light, filter air, and so on. We know those very well because of their availability. Then we have the part that has traditionally been related to the soul. For me there is no psyche or “mind” as a distinct substance that is independent of the body, for reasons related to the oneness of the interconnected world—there cannot be a decontextualised presence and so there can be no soul as distinct and independent from the milieu it is immersed in. As such, our mental state is also well refined. We have emotions, we can dream and imagine other worlds. Our intellectual capacity is more like how our musculature takes form: it needs practice but is fairly easy to discover. Then there is this other dimension which encompasses our intuitions and is attuned to stimuli which are non-verbal and not obvious. Those are our mystical qualities. They operate counter to our primal tendency of self-centredness, else, egocentrism. By exploring or training them we develop a sense of togetherness with forms of life beyond our own and can identify in them a part of us. Ultimately, through mystical experiences we track hints which allow us to ascend to a higher level of understanding where our view of the world differs profoundly from that of our uninitiated self.
A.: So our mystical side can change us. Is this difference like how we think about life where we no longer speak about non-life?
B.: I think that is how it is elucidated. We first have intuitions concerning certain magnitudes and then we reason about them. We could poetically claim that the goddess whispers a little secret into our ear and then we think about it until we develop a fully fledged theory. To be sure, the physical, the mental, the mystical are analytical constructs. They help us simplify and then examine complex phenomena. In practice, we have everything and cannot be just one of them as in, say, a purely rational agent. The mystical feeds into the intellectual, the emotional into the physical, the physical into the emotional, and so on as a cycle. This is why I believe we need a balanced approach to how we conduct ourselves. If you only train your muscles but do not sharpen your brain, you are leaving a part of your being underdeveloped even though it too has its utility in how you experience the world. Same principle for those who will be misled into following a path of strict commitment to mysticism, while forgoing everything else that their being renders possible. Just like the a priori dismissal of sex that I mentioned earlier. I find it lacks balance as it wishes to turn us into something that we are not.
A.: Then why do you seem to hide in your shell when I mention dating? You have all those profound, long-form answers for obscure topics but for something as straightforward as that you reply with one-liners.
B.: Each person is unique. One is inclined to be more intellectual than another who is more emotional. The need for a balance is not to be misconstrued as the application of a one-size-fits-all formula. What works for one may not be suitable for another. This is why I am critical of social role-playing: it tries to enforce homogeneity in an otherwise heterogeneous and heteroclite whole (heteroclite == with inclinations that are varied, so basically moving in different directions). Do not force me to be sociable at all times when my very condition only makes me rejoice in relative solitude. I have no choice in the matter. There cannot be uniformity in life. There cannot be a single answer to every question. Do no further harm.
A.: I see. Now that we have discussed all those subjects, I wonder whether there are any practical lessons to be learnt for our day-to-day life. What do you think?
B.: There can be many interpretations. The train will arrive by the time I enumerate all of them, assuming I am fit for the task. But let’s try regardless. Worst thing that can happen is that I miss the ride and you will have to bear with me for even longer! One lesson would be how we treat other people and the planet at-large. We have a political system that is predicated on the control, direct or indirect, of human by human. It dehumanises people, treating them as expendable, as sacrificial meat to the altars of short-term profiteering. It is a political order that perceives of every life form as disposable: a resource which serves as input for the money-making machinery. A tiny minority lives well beyond its means off of the rest of the planet.
A.: What do you think is the cause of this?
B.: There are many, though we can see how the imbalance in one’s disposition primes them for supporting such a corrupt edifice. If you neglect your mystical qualities and if you only ever value a subset of what your being is, you will inevitably be led by your egocentrism to contribute to an order that does not recognise the innateness of life.
A.: Tell me about another lesson. Try not to make it political this time, just for me to have an idea of the ramifications of those insights.
B.: How we deal with death. The passing of a family member or our beloved dog. Something cannot turn into nothing. All that is, is in a process of transfiguration, forever differentiable. Death is not the absolute end, but the conclusion of a cycle that necessarily starts a new one. Yes, losing a loved one feels like it leaves a scar on our heart because of how we have developed as a species to treasure our kind and those close to us. We understand, nonetheless, that we come from the same source and return to it.
A.: Is this like an afterlife?
B.: Not in the sense of how it is passed down to us by tradition. Those who speak of an afterlife claim that there is an invariant aspect of the self which persists after death and which then moves on to either some other body or another plane of existence altogether. I don’t think either of those are accurate. For that which is can only be a function of the structure in which its presence unfolds. To recreate the same agent, you must reproduce the exact constitution of the case. In an interconnected world this means that the preservation of the particular entails the synergy of the cosmos. For there to be an invariant “you” who lives an afterlife there must also be a constant framework that continues to influence and condition your presence for it to remain identical to itself. To think that the whole world conspires so that you can live forever qua “you” feels like a variant of egocentrism.
A.: If it is not an afterlife, then how would you describe it.
B.: When a person dies, we witness the deconstruction of a system of systems. Each of us is essentially made up of star dust. Water, carbon, and everything else. Our decomposition follows the same pattern as with every other transformation of energy or matter. It takes another form or is retained through other forms. What we are is a stratum of emergence, as we already discussed. The emergent states of affairs are lost as the case undergoes a reconstitution at which point new states of affairs will emerge. Differentiation ensures that nothing will be exactly the same as before or after. So there is no invariant self that just switches places. As systems can communicate and store information, it may well happen that our presence and our deeds are codified as cosmic memories which might inspire new forms of life. Kind of how the DNA is a self-reprogrammable program that retains old information which it uses as a template to produce new forms under the right set of conditions.
A.: What do you say about the idea that the death of someone is the work of a deity?
B.: It may be interpreted in the way I outline here. One can say that their deceased puppy is with the gods because they wanted it to be that way. The notion of a higher being that regulates our experiences is useful in this scenario insofar as it helps us let go of what we cherish the most, while accepting how things stand. It eases the pain when you admit that not everything is within your control and not everything is predicated on you. Whether you liken those forces to an archetype that you call a god or not is secondary. What matters is that you do not harm yourself by clinging on to notions that are not aligned with your actuality.
A.: So the pain is largely of our own doing?
B.: We are conditioned to react to death in such a way. Though I feel that by exploring our mystical side we gain insight into the continuum of life. What troubles us is fear; fear which springs from a place of ignorance. What gives us tranquillity is knowledge, including the knowledge that we do not have all the answers.
A.: We let go when we know what to expect?
B.: In a sense, yes. Or, more likely, once we recognise our limits and remain open to the unknown. We are either prepared to forgo anything that we hold onto or refrain from clinging on to it in the first place as we acknowledge its impermanence in an ever-transforming world. Oh look! My train has arrived. This too is a reminder of having to let go. We shared some time together and had a fruitful conversation. It cannot last forever. Such a belief is another source of trouble: enjoy what you have while you can. Accept impermanence. Each of us must go their separate ways. What stays is the memory of the event. For how long? I don’t know.
A.: Will I see you again before you depart from this country?
B.: It is unlikely. Thank you for being here, fellow traveller. Take care.