New Website!

My new website is at

Come find me there.

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.

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Goose And The Golden Egg

Got a little email from a subscriber who hasn't been using their monthly questions, so I thought I'd do a bit of a piece on it.

Here's the email:

I've recently been applying great effort to learning things I've had difficulty learning in the past, fuelled by the 'music pattern discovery' which we discussed.

I seem to have a tapped a pool of enthusiasm for things which makes things I couldn't do previously (but attempted), suddenly become the most fun and engaging experiences I've ever had.

I didn't know PHP but I wanted to, so I sat down at my PC and decided I wasn't doing anything else until I'd made something in PHP.

18-hour days of continual coding, from waking until sleep followed, and 3 days later I completed something functional that people are using.

I was so engrossed that I had no desire to do anything else whilst coding it. It was neither stressful nor boring. It was certainly difficult, and challenging indeed. So... that sorta raises some points.

I honestly find applying myself to something that I really urge to do, far more enjoyable than procrastinating.

I'm not really sure what drives the urge, but I'm certain it's something that can be honed.

Most importantly though, I'm sensing an 'unspoken effortlessness' that underlies all the effort. It's sort of like...

When you first drive a car, it's mental. Pedals, gears, wheel, mirrors. All this stuff going on and so much concentration despite moving at 2mph. Beads of sweat as you stall and roll backwards down a hill.

5 years later, you just jump in and don't even think about any of it anymore. It just happens automatically. You're like 'okay let's drive to work' and 15 minutes later, there you are.

The same applies with lots of things I can think of. Drawing, music, reading, 3d modelling, photography, football, coding. All have relative initial degrees of perceived complexity...

And yet, the more time you spend doing any of them, the more undone they become, revealing the simplicity that lies underneath.

Correct me if I'm wrong but... it doesn't just seem like an 'accumulation of knowledge' that is responsible either. It almost seems like the opposite is taking place, like the tension that mentally says 'I don't know X' is falling away and being replaced.

Not being replaced by 'advanced knowledge' (like knowing every hotkey for instance), but by a... clearer understanding. One which doesn't need every hotkey, every guide, advanced features or even an explanation.


Yes, this is a very interesting email, lots to talk about here.

Firstly, it's great to see you putting this stuff to use.  The ability of human beings to develop any skill of any kind to a very high degree really is the single most powerful faculty that humans have.

We're all taught that talent is what counts, but I can honestly say that it's so massively overblown.

It's almost as if (were I to be being ruthless about it, which of course I never do) we love to think in terms of talent.  That the idea that some people are just born naturally 'good' at this, or 'good' at that is a very seductive one - especially if we feel, as we often do, insecure about our own successes... or lack thereof.

It's a great excuse when we look at someone doing something amazing - that person is talented, and so I don't need to feel like I'm to blame because I can't do this or that as well as they can.

I sometimes wish I could just wave a magic wand and just say something like "now see how massive and vast and deep that attitude dominates all of the ideas about success and excellence that we experience in our whole lives" and you all would.

Of course, that's impossible - only those precious few (yes, I'm talking to you, don't be coy) who really do take the time to deeply consider things - to work that muscle, to build that skill - are even going to be capable of that.

The killer, of course, is that we like the idea of 'talent' as an explanation for human excellence because it means we never have to feel like it's our fault that we're not that good at things...


...and watch closely, this one has a ruthless edge to it you could cut diamonds with....

...accepting that excuse cuts us off from the actual ability to ever really get good at anything.

And it really does.  People - and not just some, but massively the majority of people - never get really good at anything.  It's like an uncharted realm to them, an undiscovered country.  Few know, and few will ever know, what it's actually like to be genuinely good at something.  Anything.  Anything at all.

But of course, it's not our fault... we just don't have the talent.

The only people who ever make a difference with their lives, ever, under any circumstances, are people who discard that lie for the ridiculous and facile excuse that it is.  And it is.

And those who don't?  Well, the ruthless train just keeps on chugging, because life is not a kind place for the powerless.  People are not kind to the weak.

We drift through oceans of storied morality, tales and vignettes about how kind we are, how good we are, how decent.  But if you scratch that surface you'll find something quite different beneath - that our stories of how moral we are almost always have an eerie parallel with the balance of power in any given situation.

Everyone looks kind, all the time.  Even when people are being cruel, they'll have their moral fig-leaves, they'll have their tales of compassion.  The reality is that those who treat those weaker than themselves with genuine consideration, when nobody else is looking and when they do not have to, is vanishingly rare to a degree that is genuinely shocking when you see it from below.

And yet, to spare our blushes, we leap to an excuse that cuts us off from the most potent resource that we, as humans, have.

And you could say that it's the faculty to generate skill.  And if you're a long time reader to this blog, you'll discover that it's also (if my strange, uncredentialed, widely derided and ignored philosophical skills are to be believed) the core process that underlies science itself.

But then, really?  We're not talking about science, and we're not talking about skill.  There's another word which underlies both, which makes both possible - finesse.

Skill is finesse in a task, science is finesse in understanding.

Finesse is the key - the ability to develop finesse.

Now here's the thing.  Just as people love to think of excellence in a task as being down to 'talent', because it takes the blame away from them, there's a parallel with understanding too.

I really think it's credible that one of the main reasons - and perhaps the main single reason - why the idea of 'accumulating knowledge' is such a persistent way of thinking about understanding.

It's not that it's absent, it's there, to a degree.  There are technical things to know about any task or any subject.

But what makes you a master of it is only incidentally connected with accumulating knowledge.  What makes you a master of it is finesse.

I noticed many years ago the incredible parallels  that exist between the ways in which anyone who has achieved mastery at anything talks about what they do.  Athletes, scientists, musicians, playwrites, novelists - perhaps, God forbid, even the occasional philosopher.

It's because they're all doing the same thing.  And the same very specific thing - it's not vague or woolly.  It's the same thing that works in the same way, and no matter how much it is buried beneath excuses of convenience, it will always rise again, as long as there is even just one human left who takes an interest in actually getting good at anything, whatsoever it may be.

Finesse is zen.  It's that simple.  The trying and failing, the stepping back, the seeing deeply, the diving in deeply.

Every time you fail, you break, you fall.   But what falls?

The ego, the self.  Literally, the self breaks when it fails at something.  That's why failure hurts, it's why we run from it.

But failure gives us something - it reveals.  Failure is never random, and if it is honest failure, the fact that it is not random means that we're discovering something we do not know, and that we could not have discovered any other way.

And what happens when we 'try again'?  It's a new 'ego', a new self.  It gets thrown up, but this time taking into account that new information from the last failure.

And this goes on and on, failure breeding more sophisticated projection, more sophisticated 'selfing', if you will.

And then, after a while (10000 hours, if you listen to Malcolm Gladwell, which I do), you've done this so much that you are totally in tune with what you are doing.

You have 'hit zen'.  Not zen as the wan, empty, serene peace of the sage, but zen as in the razor-edged cut of the samurai.

You can do it with anything, and it is genuinely incredible how good people - anyone, yes, you (don't be coy) get at doing anything.

But then....

....we don't have that many 10000 hours, do we?  That's a lot of time.  A lot of time to invest.

And so we have to, as men and women, ask ourselves, if we are to take a wider concern for this world and for the future (and I hope we sometimes do) what is the skill that the world needs most right now?

How can I get the most bang for my buck?  The buck is time - you don't have forever, just one human life.

To make the impact the world desperately needs, to move beyond what it has historically meant to be a human being, to step forward into a new kind of humanity, to step past the apathy and sneers of this most cynical of ages?

Well now.  PHP isn't going to hurt.  But is it a game changer?

If you can be world-class at anything, make a world-class decision of what specific skill to take to that level of zen.

And to the subscriber who wrote this, I don't think I need to say what I'm about to say, but for anyone fresh to my work, I certainly don't mean to in any way belittle what you've done.  It's an amazing achievement - but what's more important than the results, is the process you've now got a really good handle on.

The goose is more important than any individual golden egg.

Because guys, guys, guys.  Let's not get too excited by trinkets when we're sitting on the motherlode.

I'll leave you with that to consider, and also a video.  This was sent to me by someone I worked with in the past.  He mentioned that he'd found the stuff I'd written about skill to be helpful, and very accurate to his experience, and he sent me this, where he showcases a skill he himself has developed.

One last thing.

A skill taken to the level of zen is something that can never be taken away from you, like a normal possession.  It is always there, always incredible, and always wide open as a gateway to that place whenever you want to immerse yourself in the flow of the real.

There is a world of chaos and a species in torment, howling out it's misery and damage, wallowing in superficiality because it knows no other way.

Humanity can be more.  If, that is, you are prepared to be more.  To be something greater and more difficult than you have been.  And I hope you consider what I have said here, and I wish you all the very best.

And really - it's not just the fact that this stuff can change the world, or that it's an awesome, challenging and exhilirating way to live.

It also can, on occasion, look absolutely phenomenal.