Monday, November 19, 2007

Total Responsibility Epilog – The Gateway Drug

The world view I’ve adopted as a result of my ongoing pursuit of head-spinning concepts can be summarized by the following ideas:

  • Reality exists in perfect harmony
  • Supremely enlightened beings see it that way
  • The basis of such a perspective is complete selflessness
  • The more self-centered a being is, the more disharmonious the world it sees will be
  • Each self-centered being perceives the world differently
  • The world that each being sees is a reflection of its uniqueness
  • Each unique observer is totally responsible for that state of the world it perceives

There is no denying that regarding myself as totally responsible for the state of the world as I see it is a very self-centered perspective. But paradoxically, this outlook represents one of the simpler roads to total selflessness. The total responsibility mindset represents a transitional growth state for those of us who are not ready to relinquish our uniqueness all at once.

Accepting that the world is as we perceive it is because we are what we are provides those of us who are not particularly enamored with its state with an intuitive incentive to grow: to make the entire world a better place. From the total responsibility point of view the actions of those around me will improve as I become more selfless. This is because my growth is the growth of everyone around me. This growth manifests as the perception of increasing harmony that marks the path to supreme enlightenment.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Total Responsibility IV – Drug Interactions

At first glance, believing I am totally responsible for the state of the world might seem like a clear manifestation of megalomania. But there is nothing unique about me in terms of my total responsibility for the shape of the world as I perceive it. As of this writing there are over 6.6 billion human observers on this planet, each of whom is totally responsible for the state of the world as he or she sees it. This means that you are also totally responsible for the shape of the world as you perceive it.

This is possible because total responsibility for the state of the world is continuously moving between its causally consistent, temporally sequenced observers. For instance, though my uniqueness is shaping my perception of the world around me, the uniqueness of each being observing me (including my future self) is shaping its perception of me as an inhabitant of its world. In the context of the finite speed of light, my observers all reside in my future (beyond my perspective) and thus their uniqueness is responsible for how they see me; while everything that I am observing (i.e., the contents of my perspective) resides in my past, making my uniqueness responsible for how I see them.

To appreciate this, imagine that you and I are sitting in the same room, about 3 meters apart. Though we both think we are residing at the same point in time (“the present”) each of us is actually at least 1 x 10-8 seconds in the future of the person we are seeing across the room. This is because each of us is seeing the other using light that took that long to travel (at ~3 x 108 meters/second) from them to us (plus the extra time required for the light entering our eyes to be converted to the mental image in our brains).

In general I am displaced into the future from anything I perceive, by the amount of time it took the signal by which I perceive it to cross the distance between us and be processed into a mental image (as such, I reside about 8 minutes in the future of the sun that I see in the sky). These signal propagation delays insure that each of us only perceives phenomena that reside in our past and is being perceived by observers that reside in our future.

As a result, at this instant in time my uniqueness is totally responsible for shaping my perception of everything around me. The uniqueness of other observers who perceive me from my future will shape their perception of me (and thus this instance of me is not responsible for the shape of the world they see). My successor’s uniqueness will subsequently shape my perception of these observers if/when I observe them from their future (thus assuming total responsibility for the shape of the world I perceive then), and so on in a continuous game of total responsibility hot potato. This time-slicing scheme allows each of the potentially limitless temporal observers to be totally responsible for the shape of the world it perceives.

Note, I am aware that this scheme represents a fundamental violation of normal causality in that the future is shaping the past. There is a rational explanation of this that I will provide in a future post.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Total Responsibility III – Because I Got High

From an empirical point of view my state of being shapes my perception of the world around me. In a philosophical sense, this state of being corresponds to my uniqueness, which consists of the separations I perceive from everything around me. As a typically self-centered individual I am naturally reluctant to relinquish certain aspects of my uniqueness (I’ve kind of grown attached to what I perceive myself to be). In a spiritual context this means that my infatuation with my uniqueness is forestalling both my enlightenment and the corresponding transformation of my perception of the world into a view of a domain in perfect harmony.

In other words, my self-infatuation has had dire consequences on the state of the world as I see it. Since, from the completely selfless perspective, everything is in perfect harmony, each note of disharmony, tragedy, travesty and catastrophe that I perceive in the world is a reflection of my self-centering uniqueness and thus manifests through my refusal to relinquish it. No matter how much I want to believe I am better than this world, the simple fact of the matter is I am as screwed up as I perceive it to be.

In addition to making me ultimately responsible for all of the wrongs I see in the world, this outlook also allows me to take credit for many of its marvels. But, I see entirely too much needless suffering around me to take too much pride in the slightly asymmetric beauty of the universe or such human masterpieces as the Bhagavad Gita, Euclidean Geometry, the Sermon on the Mount, Sufi poetry, the Mona Lisa, Calculus, the U.S. Bill of Rights, “Kind of Blue” and so many more.

It would be unseemly to be patting myself on the back over these examples of human brilliance in the face of massive injustice, wars, genocides, famines, pandemics and extinctions. While I’m evidently still too proud to relinquish my uniqueness, I must be careful not take too much pride in the positive effects it produces. Such conceit would only serve to increase my infatuation with my uniqueness, thus ultimately exacerbating the situation.

Taking full responsibility for the state of the world as I see it is actually a liberating posture. It lets me to take control of my circumstances from people of greater political, economic or social status to whom I would otherwise be inclined to relinquish it. This outlook allows me to see that things are as they are because I insist on seeing myself as distinct from “others” around me, including the autocrats, politicians, spin doctors, media moguls, CEOs, lawyers, MBAs, spiritual leaders, hoi polloi and the many other entities that I would otherwise hold responsible for much of what I dislike about the world. As I embrace my total responsibility, I stop being the victim of my various scapegoats. From this perspective I am the figurative “They”, to whom I would otherwise assign blame for the state of the world.

Regarding myself as totally responsible for the state of the world as I see it is my most mind-expanding idea to date. When I adopt this outlook as I walk through the world, I realize that that pattern of cracks in the sidewalk would not look that way to me were it not for the fact that I regard myself as a unique being. That building surrounded by scaffolding would not look that way to me but for the uniquely self-centered nature of my perspective; nor would that woman in a wheelchair; that homeless man sleeping on that grate or those students trying to play tennis. Even now, after years of taking excursions into this viewpoint, it is still able to take me dizzyingly beyond myself.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Total Responsibility II – New Highs

My next significant step towards belief in total responsibility occurred in my late teens when I was first introduced to the ideas of personal enlightenment and quantum mechanics. Quantum theory is naturally attractive to people interested in exploring mind-blowing ideas. For any such person, if the question of how matter can be both a particle and a wave doesn’t get your head spinning, what will?

In the early days of my ongoing interest in quantum mechanics, I also developed a deep fascination with the Zen koan: “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” The familiar lightheadedness that I felt whenever I pondered this question led me to look more deeply into Zen which in turn inclined me to learn about Buddhism in general.

In Buddhism there is a concept of Nirvana that is often interpreted by us non-Buddhists as a distinct spiritual domain that is analogous to heaven in most Abrahamic traditions. But as a result of my contemplations of quantum mechanics, my immediate inclination was to view Nirvana as the supremely enlightened state of being from which this world is perceived to be in perfect harmony.

The critical idea that led me to this interpretation was the quantum theory that the method by which we observe something shapes what we see. In quantum mechanics this is generally referring to the premise that the nature of the experiments by which scientists observe a quantum phenomenon determines what will be seen (e.g., the Double Slit Experiment).

I extended this idea of quantum subjectivity to an even more abstract level by noting that how we observe our surroundings is ultimately constrained on our uniqueness (i.e., how we can observe it). For instance, the uniqueness of dogs limits them to perceiving the world mostly in terms of smells and sounds, while our human uniqueness makes us primarily sight and sound observers. As such dogs cannot see certain things that we can and we cannot smell certain things that they can though these things all exist in the world we share. We are all looking at the same reality but we perceive it differently because we are unique beings. This idea of universal subjectivity led me to conclude that how we look at reality is shaped by what we are and shapes what we see.

Taking this idea to the extreme, I posited that the selflessness that characterizes the various supremely enlightened beings that have walked the Earth (back then I tended to use the Buddha as my template for such a being) made them able to see this world as being in perfect harmony, i.e., Nirvana. This perfect harmony is based on their ability to see connections where the rest of us only see separations. I concluded that perfect harmony represents the objective view of the world and all disharmonious perceptions are subjective. This meant that my uniqueness-based lack of enlightenment was why I saw (and continue to see) such a disharmonious world.

Though at that point, I had largely turned away from Catholicism (and theism in general) this insight eventually took me back to my initial mind-expanding question of “Why did God bother?” In the context of the idea that what we see reflects what we are, the answer to this question became obvious. From the perfectly selfless, absolute perspective everything is still in perfect harmony; it is my uniqueness shaping my self-centered, relative perspective that causes me to see things otherwise. God had nothing to do with it. (In a future post I will explain why I do not see the Supreme Being as having any more to do with the creation of my uniqueness than the system of all numbers has to do with the creation of the value π.)

If everything is in perfect harmony from the absolute perspective, the observer of this perspective does not see the disharmonies that distinguish my world. As such, the observer of the absolute perspective is not responsible for the state of the world as I perceive it, in which these disharmonies manifest. Since my perception of this world is shaped solely by my uniqueness, I am totally responsible for what I see as its current disharmonious condition.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Total Responsibility I – Getting Hooked

The essence of my personal philosophy is that each unique observer is completely responsible for the state in which he, she or it perceives the world. In other words, I believe that what you see around is you is solely a reflection of what you are. This means that your world is as you see it because of you, not the Supreme Being, the Devil, the Government, the Media, the Man, the Teeming Masses or any of the other usual suspects.

My first step on the road to this belief occurred just before I turned 7, the age of discretion in the Roman Catholic tradition in which I was raised. It was during my sixth year in this world that I first asked myself a simple, yet powerful question about its Creation: “Why did God bother?” The basis of this question was not some prepubescent nihilism but simple, innocent curiosity.

Three elements of Roman Catholic doctrine, as related to me by the nuns at my elementary school led me to ask this question. The first was the nuns’ insistence that God is perfect. They also taught me that as the Creator of everything, God existed before everything in Creation. Finally, the nuns regularly expounded on the flawed nature of virtually everything in Creation, starting with me and my classmates. Connecting these ideas led my precocious young mind to ask, if everything before Creation (i.e., God) was perfect, but practically everything that God created is imperfect, why didn’t God just leave well enough alone?

This question did not leave the confines of my brain for years after it formed there. My most immediate motive for keeping it to myself was to avoid the corporal punishment such an impertinent question would probably have triggered (the Roman Catholic Church being what it was back in the 1960s). On a deeper level I kept quiet because the fact that I didn’t already know the answer to such a basic question led me to suspect that on the most elementary level existence must make sense to everyone else and I must be the only person to whom it seemed like a complete mystery. As such, keeping this question to myself was the start of a long-running effort on my part to conceal what I thought was my unique ignorance of the fundamental nature of existence.

Once I formed this potent metaphysical question regarding the Creator’s motives, I began to reflect on its implications, such as how evidently easy it would be for me to not exist at all (“What if God had not bothered?”). These weighty thoughts made my youthful head spin. For years afterwards I would simply contemplate the idea of my non-existence and something about its sheer immensity would invariably make me feel pleasantly lightheaded. It was never important to me to actually answer the questions underlying these thoughts.

In retrospect I realize that the power of these thoughts took me outside of myself, to a state that the ancient Greeks referred to as ‘ekstasis’. Experiencing this ecstasy at such a young age had some profound effects on me. One of them was that I became, for lack of a better word, addicted to this sensation. As a result, I have spent much of my life since then seeking out and exploring other such mind-reeling concepts. This endeavor ultimately led to my belief in total responsibility. I will explain how in my next post.

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