This morning I saw a rock that fell by the edge of the trail since I last hiked there.
I know, any normal person would simply see this as just the way it is. Nothing more.
But, golly, I admit I get weird thoughts about ordinary things.
And I began wondering about what’s more permanent in nature than this rocky mountain.
I know that over hundreds of years it has changed — huge rocks falling here and there — transforming its appearance.
I wonder what it would have been like a few hundred years ago to a Pueblo Indian out for a stroll?
I’ve seen petroglyphs on rocks not far from here.
So I know they were out on these trails long before I got here.
And while I’m speculating, why not wonder what the mountain might have looked like, not just hundreds, but thousands of years ago.
A path may not even have been here that an Anasazi Geezer could have trod.
Then heck, why not let the child in me ask more childish questions?
What was it like when the dinosaurs prowled around here? What would it have looked like?
I know, I’ve read books of what geologists say — that the mountains weren’t here until long after the dinosaurs died off.
And then it was about 2 billion more years of seas washing over the lands, creating islands of hundreds of thousands of feet of Paleozoic sediments, then millions of years of upthrusts, volcanic action, collisions and flat-slab subductions of tectonic plates.
It’s all in the books. I’m sure they’re right.
But it does not have anything to do with what i’ve experienced.
All that geologic lingo just tells me is that the old earth changes.
But, it doesn’t disappear.
My childish questions go beyond that.
If this mountain is not the eternal being of what’s out here, then what is?
The waters? The sands? Paleolithic sediments? What is the substance behind them all? Was there anything?
Is there nothing permanent? Like the speed of light? Or force of gravity?
This takes me to what I’ve read by the great British physicist, Sir Arthur Eddington
He’s the one who led the solar eclipse expedition to prove Einstein’s theory of relativity.
In short, he said, all that is out here is in my head. That what I see and what I’ve been walking on is what I infer about it all — path, rocks, trees, mountain.
So I wonder, are they, or are they not, really real?
Here’s one way Sir Arthur said it:
“The environment of space and time and matter, of light and color and concrete things, which seems so vividly real to us is probed deeply by every device of physical science and at bottom we reach symbols.
“Its substance has melted into shadow.”
In an even more illuminating way, he said:
“Penetrating as deeply as we can by the methods of physical investigation into the nature of a human being we reach only symbolic description.
“Far from attempting to dogmatize as to the nature of the reality thus symbolized, physics most strongly insists that its methods do not penetrate behind the symbolism.
“Surely then that mental and spiritual nature of ourselves, known in our minds by an intimate contact transcending the methods of physics, supplies just that interpretation of the symbols which science is admittedly unable to give. . .
“In comparing the certainty of things spiritual and things temporal, let us not forget this. Mind is the first and most direct thing in our experience. All else is remote inference.
So there we have it.
The world as we know it — through our senses — is really inferred — we do not directly experience it.
And Eddington didn’t dodge the issue with his scientific compatriots.
“It is difficult for the matter-of-fact physicist to accept the view that the substratum of everything is of mental character.
“But no one can deny that mind is the first and most direct thing in our experience, and all else is remote inference – inference either intuitive or deliberate.”
How Eastern Upanishads understand it
For more than four thousand years the Eastern wise ones studied the working of our minds in giving us knowledge of the world around us.
The Vedas, for instance, note that we have three mental states of knowledge — sleep, dream and the waking states.
We can ordinarily tell that events we dream about are not true, though they may have some “significance.”
And while we sometimes fantasize when awake we usually can tell our fantasies from the truth.
And with the discipline of reason it’s usually easy for us to detect what is, from what is not, in these three states.
But the Vedanta has it that even in deep sleep we can still come to awareness.
We can be awakened by a loud noise, a sudden shaking like from an earthquake, or the need to urinate (for us old geezers).
So the question arises: ‘Where is the awareness that we come to?’
The Mystery of Awareness
I’ve said it in other posts that the language we use hints at a truth — in that we “come to” awareness.
We do not say we bring awareness to what we are doing.
We say that we give our attention to things. But we “come to” awareness of them.
It’s a more passive statement.
So, where is this awareness that we “come to?”
We also know that other people come to awareness.
Animals, birds, reptiles also come to awareness.
Every living thing comes to awareness.
Think of it.
Roses come to awareness of arrival of sunlight in the morning and they blossom.
Leonardo DaVinci observed that leaves on trees come to awareness of sunlight and move into new positions during the day, so that they get most sunlight and are not left forever in the shadows of other leaves.
Another twist to my childish questions
I also wonder whether awareness is confined to living organisms.
That rock beside the trail this morning made me think.
Mustn’t this rock have been aware of the forces of wind, rain, gravity and the porousness of the earth beneath it to begin to tumble down the mountainside, at just the right moment, when all of these forces combined, in just the right way, to set the weight of the rock in motion downhill, until it met, and became aware of other forces of resistance, that stopped its tumbling, at just the right place on the mountainside, where it came to rest, next to the trail?
It’s just a question, fellow geezers. No answers.
But then . . .
I’ve heard of a few scientists who’ve taken an oblique look into this awareness thing.
There is, for example, Carl Jung’s “Collective Unconscious.”
He wondered if we humans don’t each have this same collective unconscious, that is filled with the inclinations of our past generations.
Here are Carl Jung’s own words:
In addition to our immediate consciousness there is a second psychic system of a collective universal and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes which can only become conscious secondarily.
It contains mental forms whose presence cannot be explained by anything in the individual’s own life and which seem to be aboriginal, innate and inherited shapes of the human mind. . .
It is the mind of our unknown ancestors, their way of thinking and feeling, their way of experiencing life and the world, gods and men. The existence of these archaic strata is presumably the source of men’s belief in reincarnations and in memories of “previous experiences.” Just as the human body is a museum, so to speak, of its phylogenetic history, so too is the psyche.
And there are biologists who have taken this notion of the Collective Unconscious a step beyond where my wondering took me.
A biologist who especially comes to mind is Rupert Sheldrake.
Just consider what he has had to say about this.
Here are his words:
“The collective unconscious only makes sense in the context of some notion of collective memory.
“This then takes us into a very wide-ranging examination of the nature and principle of memory — not just in human beings and not just in the animal kingdom; not even just in the realm of life — but in the universe as a whole. . .
“What I am suggesting is that a very similar principle [as the collective unconscious] operators throughout the entire universe, not just in human beings.”
Wow! That is wide-ranging, shockingly different from when I took my biology classes.
To a neophyte like me, this sounds much same as the Vedanta view of the chit (universal consciousness) of the sat-chit-ananda.
And could this be the awareness we all “come to” when we open out to all about us?
Am I right? Or am I right?
Seriously, tell me what you think.