Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Living in the Material World

I've had a few brief life experiences in which something became apparent in a most direct, fundamental, undeniable way: "I" is a thought that appears and disappears. The idea that "I" is something with independent, substantial existence is exactly that, an idea.

Looking closer, "I" is carved out from experience by drawing a line between the "I" and the "not-I." The "not-I" portion includes what we sometimes call "the material world" or some-such. The "I" part is sometimes called "mind" or "consciousness" etc.

I'm not interested in going into further detailed philosophical analysis of this. Just in acknowledging the basic, powerful insight that all dualities -- good/bad, mind/matter, self/world, etc -- don't refer to independently existing realities, but to distinctions made by thinking. Any mind-created distinction may certainly be questioned. Any or all of them may turn out to be arbitrary and unnecessary.

Over on the Ken Wilber Forum, there was a thread touching on evolution and entropy. Evolution is the process by which simple organisms become more and more complex, while entropy is the apparently contradictory law that states that all orderly systems inevitably become more disorderly over time. Here's my contribution to that conversation:

wmgreene wrote:
> Perhaps you would be kind enough to explain how your view of
> existence/evolution itself does not violate the Second Law of
> Thermodynamics (that orderly systems tend--on their own--
> to automatically become disorderly and chaotic, such that the
> processes of decay and disintegration are an inherent,
> built-in characteristics of the material world as we know it
> today)?

You're talking about built-in characteristics of "the material world." But originally, there's no "material world." The original world is the truth of this moment. We're experiencing it, though we can't capture it with words or ideas.

With our thinking, we can divide up the original world into all sorts of dualities. One such duality is "consciousness" vs "material world." You state that "orderly systems tend---on their own---to automatically become disorderly." But this material world isn't "on its own." We may gain certain power or understanding by working with it as if it existed on its own, but in fact the consciousness/material split is an arbitrary creation that we can well question.

That's why I don't take the laws of the "material world" portion and conclude that they apply to the true, original world. Whenever we make the mistake of believing that the material world has its own, original, substantial existence, we're led to contradictions (e.g., if everything is subject to entropy, why do we see all this order?), and those contradictions can help point us to our mistaken belief.

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