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Friday, 13 September 2013

Dreaming And The Secret World

Here's an interesting problem sent from a subscriber, I thought I'd give it a bit of space to itself here.

This is an interesting one, because it speaks to a lot of core issues, a lot of core assumptions, about a lot of basic things we take for granted.  These basic things are things like time.  Thinking.  Stuff like that.

Of course, normally we very rarely question such things, because normally they seem totally solid.  The assumptions we have about the mind, about the basic nature of what it's doing, the basic nature of time, what time actually is - most of the time we just wouldn't even think about such things.  It would be like digging up the ground beneath your feet when you're trying to go for a walk... or so it would seem.

But every now and then, there's a glitch.  Something slips - and it can be something very small, and seemingly irrelevant.  Some tiny little contradiction that just niggles at you, almost, one might say, like a splinter in your mind.

The thing about reality is that reality is consistent.  It doesn't have glitches, it doesn't do contradiction.  So any glitch, any contradiction?  It has to be in our understanding.

As a philosopher, when you find a contradiction or an inconsistency, a good rule of thumb is to treat it like a massive glowing neon sign saying "DIG HERE".  You don't know how deep you're going to get with it - but it'll be deeper than you are right now, anyway, so there's that at least.

And on top of this - all roads lead to Rome.  After a while you start to see connections between the inconsistencies - and connections between where they lead.  And that's when you really do start getting a far clearer view of the secret world.

And on top even of that... well.  As any detective can tell you, the smallest inconsistencies can lead to vast breakthroughs.  Sometimes it's just a little thing, but more often than not, there's a king-sized iceberg under that tip.

Here's the question:


An expected surprise

Sometimes you are woken up from a dream by an interruption from the waking world, for example a knock at the door, the dream seems to somehow take this in its stride and incorporate it seemingly effortlessly into itself. 

The curious thing is that when you are woken up by the interruption, it seems to come at the end of, and as the conclusion to the dream. 

If you are like me you are initially left thinking – that’s odd! How did the dream know that was going to happen? Weird….

However, upon waking the dream as a sequence including the apparently conclusion-forming interruption is then (re)experienced within the waking state. 

Or the experience somehow drifts as on state arises and the other subsides.  

When we have properly woken up, in the waking  state we like to think, “ok the dream appears to have 4 dimensions, 3 of space which we know are not real (I was in bed not flying through the air!) and 1 of time - which is real (it definitely took time for the dream to progress)”. i.e. from the waking state perspective, we take dreams to be one-dimensional. 

However the above interruption-conclusion example might suggest that dreams are actually non-dimensional. i.e. The dream might apprehend all the ‘objects of the dream’ ‘concurrently’ or, more accurately, eternally (outside of time). 

Then somehow  a story or sequence of events is experienced by the waking state at the moment of waking or re-presented shortly afterwards. Without the existence of some kind of 'metaphysical swap space', we must be talking about the same consciousness here. What is going on?

Now, this is a little bit of what I call a 'high-order' problem.  It's quite abstract, and can be a little tricky to get your head around, but well worth doing if you can.

The issue is this - you have a dream, and a loud noise interrupts it.  Within the dream that noise becomes a key part of the narrative, the story of the dream.  Say, you were in a car, and the dream ends with the car crashing (which incorporates the noise of the slamming door).

You half-wake, and the dream is still there, still there as a fading experience.  As part of that experience, the car crash, complete with appropriated sound effects, is still quite a tangible thing.  And yet the noise, the slamming of the door, gets re-experienced as what it was, the slamming of a door.  

The two states 'slip by' each other, so to speak, the two narratives of the same sensation.  

Now here's the thing - if we experience things in linear time, and interpret them in linear time, how can these two things coexist, within one consciousness?  Is this consciousness like a kind of space in which experiences are exchanged - even linear narratives which occur at the same time?

How can one sensation (the slamming door) lead to two utterly divergent experiences that are complete as chains of cause and effect, when the sensation which they centre around occurred simultaneously?

Well, if you're a long-time reader to this blog (or if you just read the introduction to this article where I said this), you'll know that one of the central tenets of the new kind of philosophy that get done here is that reality does not contradict itself.

What that means in practice is that knots like this, strange weirdnesses and paradoxes and such - they are completely artificial, all of them.  This means that solving the problem is a waste of time.  There is no problem to solve.

This is true of all paradoxes.  The analysis of paradoxes is a big part of contemporary Western, and some strains of ancient Eastern thought - but in the way it is normally approached has literally no value of any kind.

What does have value is realising that all contradictions, inconsistencies and paradoxes are apparent contradictions, apparent inconsistencies and apparent paradoxes (for some reason I want to write paradoxii, but that's not right).  

Anyway, point is this.  There's a way to approach these kind of things that pays off, and a way that doesn't.  The way that doesn't is to delve into the complexities and try to make it all fit inside our current understanding of what all the elements in this are.  Narrative, linearity, mind, self, dreams, waking.  

That's what everyone does - it's not just a disease of modern philosophy, it's a human disease, it's just that modern philosophy is more elaborate about it and uses bigger words.  There's no fundamental difference in what's being done.

What is fundamentally different is this new way of doing philosophy, which is that we never try to solve paradoxes, because we know there aren't any.  Instead, we take apparent paradoxes for what they are - a demonstration that some or all of our basic assumptions are fundamentally wrong.

Once you start looking for the assumptions that give rise to the apparent paradox, you're doing something very different from any mainstream kind of philosophy.  

So.  Dreaming.  Narrative.  Metaphysical swap-space.  Re-experiencing.  What is going on?

The first big assumption that we can kick away right at the start is the idea that we are experiencing.  

This is, in fact, the total inverse of what is actually going on.  Experience is occurring - and the 'we', the 'I', the 'you' that is doing the experiencing is just a fiction.  A compelling fiction, yes, but a fiction nonetheless.  It's just not real.  

What you have is a flow of experience, and within that experience, things are happening.  One of those things is this constant projection of 'you' as the 'person' who is 'doing the experiencing'.

This isn't true.  It's just a projection, there is no you.  You could ask 'well, who is doing the experiencing then?' but then, I could just shoot back "who is necessary for experiencing to occur?"

This is something that, interestingly enough, is completely visible.  You can actually see it, so spare me the arguments, and take a look, there is literally no you, there's just the illusion of it.  And of course you can say "who does the seeing then?" to which I would respond "nobody is necessary for seeing to occur, no you has ever been necessary for anything in your life to occur, whatever it is, ever, because there is literally no you in real life."

Those of you brave enough to look will be in for something of a shock, but I'll leave that to the curious and the bold.

Ok, so that's assumption the first.  Where does this leave us?

Well, if there's no you experiencing anything, just experience, which includes thoughts and narratives and such, all of which claim to be experienced by you, then all of a sudden, this really isn't that big of problem at all.

Especially when you take a closer look at what's going on with this 'illusion of self'.

A big chunk of the article One Song was about this - the actual nature of the illusion, what it is, why it is, what it's doing and how it's doing it.

Let's just focus on the very last element of that for a second.  How it's doing it.

The pioneering recent work done by Iain McGilchrist on the nature of the brain hemispheres allowed me to put together a new kind of understanding, a new paradigm, if you will, about the nature of the brain, and what the human self fundamentally is.

Not just that it is an illusion, but what kind of illusion it is, how it works, what the elements of it are.  I don't want to repeat too much of that here, but a quick sketch of it would look like this.

The right hemisphere exists to authentically map contour and quality.  That's basically what it's doing - it includes things like emotional quality, but also all other kinds of quality, like colour, taste, that sort of thing.  The stuff that's not easy to describe in language, or concepts, but is very distinct and specific nonetheless.

The left hemisphere exists for one very strange and very interesting reason - to create and project an illusion of fictional narrative, fictional cause and effect... and a fictional mind that is experiencing all this.

The left hemisphere has the reins of power in the skull.  It rules the right, and so it can (and does) rope the faculties of the right hemisphere in to filling in the structure it projects.

The resulting experience is all linear narrative of all kinds, all 'rationality' - all filled in to one united experience, which we experience as being human.  

Of course, technically, we don't experience it at all - what's far closer to the truth is that the experience occurs.

Now, there's just not enough time in the day to dig in to the other big thing in One Song, which is a new paradigm concerning the nature of time, but suffice it just to say this regarding your question on sensory overlap in dreaming and wakefulness.

There is no contradiction, and we're not looking at a special case of the waking experience of the door slamming being 'backward rationalised' into a new narrative.

The waking experience of the door slamming is being 'backward rationalised' into a new narrative - but it's not special.

Backward rationalisation into superficially coherent narratives is what the brain does.  These rationalisations are often quite accurate - the noise happened because the door slammed - but only incidentally so.

Accuracy is only relevant inasmuch as it helps the core purpose of what the brain has evolved to do, which is to make and sustain a compelling narrative of you, your life, the world around you.

That narrative exists to provide a support structure and context for the illusion of self - and that illusion is the point of what the brain is doing.  It's why it's there, it's why it's so big, it's why it uses so much energy.

You can see this very clearly when you get blamed for something - especially something you actually did.  All of a sudden accuracy is thrown out the window, and you have a list of excuses as long as your arm, almost all of which have only slight and tenuous connections with what you're being blamed for.  We're human, we all do it - but that's the point.  We do all do it.

Accuracy is wholly expendable to the normal operation of the human brain.  It's useful for as long as it doesn't interrupt the vivid display of a moral self - but the second it does, it becomes punishingly clear where the brain's priority lies, which is why truth is rightly seen as the first casualty of war.

The brain backward rationalised the slamming door noise in the dream - as a car crash.  It discarded and reworked that interpretation when you fully woke, because of it's desire for continual coherence.

But - and pay attention here - the way in which it did this was in both cases to invent a linear narrative that moved from past to future.  

This narrative was experienced - but experienced how?  As the memory of having had a linear experience.

There was an experience, for sure - but the meaning of the various parts of it, the labeling of those parts in general - this kind of thing is fleshed out after the fact, but presents itself as if it were the true order of events.

This isn't a special case, it's just special insofar as it makes the true operation of the brain much more visible than it otherwise is.  The illusion of self, the illusion of story, the illusion of cause and effect, the illusion of linearity.  All of this is the brain just working normally - this is what it does, this is all it does.  It has one goal, one agenda, one task, just as the heart has one task, which is to beat.  The brain's task is to project backward rationalised narrative, as a foundation for, and as the body of, the illusion of self. 

This is obviously a radical new paradigm for understanding the workings of the brain.  That rational processing is in fact not real, that the brain is not doing this.  What it can do is use it's skill in pattern recognition and skill generation (which I talk about here) to mimic rational process.  But then, that's not really very surprising - it can mimic almost anything, develop almost any skill.  The ability to effectively mimic rational processing... even to the degree where dizzyingly advanced mathematics become possible... isn't that crazy.  

That mathematics has this kind of basis (making it far more like learning a musical instrument than pumping an innate rational faculty) is something that I think would be very fertile ground for further study, and is something that this new paradigm of mind could make very clear predictions about.

That's something I don't really have the resources for, but would love to take part in.  Either way, I think that effectively answers your question - or at least opens up the situation from a perspective where there is no contradiction to be seen, which, as discussed, is the new way of the philosophical future.

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