I often camp alone.
It’s not that I don’t like camping with others. I have several friends with whom I enjoy chatting around a campfire.
But that’s just it.
When I’m alone I observe things I usually don’t if I am chatting.
Questions arise when I camp alone that I keep to myself when I’m with other people.
When I Bore Other People
I discovered long ago that when I ordinarily raise these questions I elicit strange, silent, sideway glances that say more than, “Have you been smoking the medical ‘M?’”
But on my blog, I can ask whatever questions I like. And I can’t see your raised your eyebrows.
Okay so here’s a question that enables me to while away considerable amounts of solitude around my campfires.
What’s It Like Outside of Space and Time?
I recall studying the Taitteriya Upanishad some years ago with a group of highly-sophisticated, brainy friends when this question leaped into mind.
The Taitteriya section at the beginning of our study was about the sheaths that hide our true Self (the Atman) from us.
The first sheath is the food sheath, anamaya kosha.
From Brahman was born space; from space, air;
From air, fire; from fire, water; from water, earth;
From earth, plants; from plants, food; from food,
The human body, head, arms, legs, the heart.
I made the mistake of thinking out loud about that very first line.
I said, “I can’t even imagine what it would be like before there was any space to put the rest of it in?”
They all smiled politely.
One said spiritlessly, “You’re right. It is puzzling.”
And they moved on promptly to talk about the following line of the Upanishad that went like this.
Humankind is verily the sheath made up of food.”
They chatted about why we believe we are our physical bodies. And that our body is a sheath blinding us to whom we truly are.
For the teaching goes on, the Self is incased in five sheaths wrapping around us, one atop the other, like Chinese nested dolls.
When we begin examining ourself, we first think we our body is our “self.”
And as we become more and more aware of our inner workings we progress inward to each of four more sheaths, that hide our true Self from us,
We believe, in turn, we are each sheath as it reveals itself to us.
The sheaths are that we believe we are 1) our vital signs of breath and pulse, 2) next, our mind, 3) on to, what we know, and 4) finally we believe we are the bliss we experience.
Out There On the Edge of Chaos
When I feel I am out on the edge of reality on one of my jaunts back to nature, it oftentimes brings up questions.
One such question first arose back in an undergraduate philosophy class.
Professor Ackoff gave a lecture on Emmanuel Kant. He tried explaining Kant’s distinction between phenomena and noumena.
He said that, in Kant’s view, space and time are really constructed by our minds to make sense of the chaotic soup of data taken in by our senses.
In other words, we create a mental concept of space into which we put things that we observe out there in the world.
He said Kant illustrated his point with a wine glass.
Kant said our mind is gives shape to our sense data like the wine glass gives shape to wine poured into it.
That made sense.
Yet it left the door open to wondering what is really going on – or not – out there beyond our space-time wine glass model?
I still wonder,
What do Big Bang physicists think chaos was like before the Big Bang created the universe?
Wouldn’t there have to be some place to plunk the universe into when it was created?
There must be an answer.
No doubt we’ll find out when our body and mind go to sleep the last time.
Regardless of soul or no soul, we’ll find out what’s out there.
And please, don’t say there’s nothing out there. It simply dodges the question. And you have no better evidence for saying that than someone else has for saying it is full of merry-making angels.
Astro-physicists say there is dark matter and energy in the universe. And they know less than five percent about it.
Microbiologists say the same sort of thing about microbes – and they know less than five percent of anything about them, though there are more microbes than there are stars in the sky.
And both dark matter as well as microbes are but parts of all that is out there beyond our puny sense perception.
Then too, quantum physicists speculate about
– oh-so-much-and-in-what-form-things-exist-beyond-the-limits-of-what-can-be-known of the sub-atomic world. They know absolutely nothing beyond the wave or particle conundrum of what light actually is at its core.
So up or down, vast or small, there definitely is something out there not yet seen by humans, not even the most scrupulous scientists.
There are many humans who’ve reported experiences with forms, things, sounds of things “out there and in here.”
They are usually dismissed as being either loony or liars.
However there may be some validity to things they say, and it might be wiser to listen. At least to some of them.
No less than the co-founder of Evolution Theory, Alfred Russel Wallace, a meticulous scientist, urged his compatriots to examine spiritual phenomena using the best scientific methods.
But he only ever got a snigger.
He was even dismissed as a fool for taking any interest in these things.
Nobody has ever given a satisfactory answer to Plato’s simple question. Where are the essences of ordinary things?
So much has been written and debated about Plato’s concept of these essences that are at the fundamental core of things.
Still barely anything written about them makes any sense.
Am I alone in thinking this?
Yet, Plato described his concept of ideas in very simple language that anyone should be able to understand.
We all know what a circle is, but we can’t say much about what it is.
Nonetheless, Plato said this about circle —
For everything that exists there are three ways in which knowledge of it is necessarily imparted; fourth, there is the knowledge of it, and fifth, we must count the thing itself, which is known and truly exists.
The first is the name; the second the definition; the third an image; and the fourth the knowledge. If you wish to learn what I mean, take these in the case of one instance, and so understand them in the case of all.
First, a circle is a thing spoken of, and its name is that very word which has just been uttered.
Second is its definition, which everywhere is its equal distance from its circumference to its centre.
Third, it can be drawn, and rubbed out again.
Fourth, is knowledge and right opinion about it. But this knowledge is still something different from the nature of the circle itself.
Of these four, knowledge comes closest in likeness to it.
Fifth, is the circle itself, which is known and truly exists.
Permit me to say it even simpler
There are three ways we talk about all things:
First, we give a thing a name.
In English we name it circle. Italians call it circulo. Germans name it kries. Mongolians call it тойрог. And in Swahili it is mduara.
Is it not apparent that whatever name we give it, it is still only a name for the thing, circle?
Second we can define it: “It is something everywhere equal distance from its circumference to its centre.”
Or we can go to the Oxford English Dictionary for several other definitions.
Third, we can draw a circle. Our drawing can be large or small, drawn with a wide or narrow line. But it too, when erased, still leaves the concept of circle.
Then of course, we have knowledge of what a circle is.
When we die others will still know what is meant by circle, just as we understand what Plato meant by circle 2500 years ago.
Finally, Plato says that the essence of circle is universal and everlasting regardless of who knows or speaks about it. That which remains is the essence of circle itself.
Pretty tough to argue with this isn’t it?
It led Plato to say about essences like that of circle:
the many (things) can be seen but not known, the ideas (their essences) are known but not seen.
All this leads me to some simple, childish metaphysical questions:
Common Everyday Questions
Are essences, like that of circle, merely in our heads?
Are we born with them?
How do these essences get uploaded into our heads in the first place?
If on the other hand, we simply learn the essence of circle from others, how come the essence is always the same, everywhere, with everyone, all the time?
Or suppose the essence of circle is just a part of the unseen side of the universe?
Then where is that?
How is that? Why is it?
I’m waiting to hear any answers about these questions that make sense.
The answers always seem to be more like my father’s impatient answers to me when I’d ask him, that I’m a fool for asking.