Wow... this is turning the lights all on in the stadium. And I was off track regarding what is meant with vantage point…Cleric K wrote: ↑Wed Dec 22, 2021 5:24 pm This is a continuation of our discussion with Mike from here. I wanted to further elaborate on the different ways we can think about thinking. The reply turned out to be quite substantial so I'm posting it as a kind of essay in a new thread.
I often mention the exercise "I think the speech" which should be done in such a way the we feel how we indeed produce the sounds of the words in our mind. I think that for many this exercise is too loaded and provides plenty of hooks for the intellect to go astray. Lately I've been thinking how to pinpoint the core of the exercise such that it can become almost foolproof, with very little chance of misunderstanding. Here's what I've come upon so far.
Let's experiment with vowels. The goal will be to produce vowels - a, e, o, u, i - while freely morphing between them. For example, we start with 'a' and smoothly morph into 'e' - aaaaaeaaaeeaaeeeaeeeeee. It's advisable that we first warm up with producing the sounds with our physical voice (make sure no one's around ). We take a deep breath and begin slowly and smoothly morphing among random vowels in one continuous sound until we run out of air. After we get used to it, we continue the exercise but now with producing the sounds in our mind only.
There's very interesting difference when we do the exercise in our mind only - we can do it indefinitely - we never run out of air! The voice in our mind is independent of breathing (well, there's still relation but it will go well beyond the scope of this post to go into that). As a matter of fact it might be interesting to experiment also without breathing - we take a deep breath, hold it and begin producing the thought-sounds. We can't produce physical sound without passing air through the larynx but we certainly can in our mind. The reader may find that it is easier to focus when the breath is held (breathing may act as source of distraction). After we get the hang out of it we can breathe normally and hold the sound as long as possible. If we can morph the sound continuously, without any interruption, without any distraction, for about half a minute, that is actually pretty good. But even if we can keep it for much less, there's no need to be discouraged - even ten seconds can be enough if we do it with the needed concentration and intensity.
The goal of this exercise is to experience our thinking spiritual activity as clearly as possible. Yes, even producing a morphing sound can be considered a form of thinking. When we produce the sound we do that with our inner voice, the same one we use to think with verbal words. The most important thing is to feel as tightly as possible how it is through our own activity that the morphing of the sound is accomplished. The sound should feel as continuous, gradual morphing. The slower we do it, the better we can feel it. The sound should be an expression of our thinking will, of our innermost being. We should resist the temptation to split from the act of sound producing and observe it from the side or think about it. The goal is to fully engage precisely this voice which has the tendency to move in the background and imperceptibly comment on conscious phenomena as a bystander. We need to gather all the forces of this bystander and project them into the sound. We should feel this act as giving us inner stability, as if our sound producing activity finds its stable center in the sound perception. The center where the sound is focused at should be felt in the head region. As long as we're being drawn away from that center, the concentration is not yet as it should be. When our activity meets the sound in the right way, we feel very characteristic stability, almost as if a key fits a lock.
Here some may object that the feeling of being responsible for the sound is an illusion. Above all, this feeling is immediate fact of the given. It is only the thinking about that feeling which can declare it to be an illusion or not, but this in no way changes the given fact. Here we simply stick to the given. We shouldn't arbitrarily discard parts of the given because in this way we may be creating for ourselves an unsolvable problem. So in this exercise we don't postulate anything metaphysical but we simply investigate the living experience of willfully thinking a sound with clear self-propelled intent and tightly perceiving the result.
The Hysteresis process
This is a quite unusual state of mind. In our practical life we very rarely produce a thought just for the sake of intimately experiencing how we produce it. Normally we think about something. If we try to observe our thinking about that something, it immediately becomes a memory image for us. We're no longer thinking about the something but about our memory image of how we thought about the something just an instant ago. This is what we should avoid in the above exercise. We should try to feel the sound as real-time as possible as we speak it forth, without allowing it to recede too far away as memory. We can represent this process in the following way:
Before we continue, please loosen your rigid expectations about the graph. What we speak of is actually very simple. Investing too much in the graph will only make it look much more complicated than it really is. Along the X axis we have thinking in which we're fully submerged. This is usually how we think most of the time. Along the Y axis we have our ability to step back from the usual flow of thinking and observe it as memory image. Normally we oscillate between these modes similarly to a bistable perception:
We can see the image above in one way but then we lose the other. If we switch, we see the latter but lose the former. In a similar way, our ordinary thinking is always oscillating when it tries to grasp itself. If we think intensively about something, we're fully merged with the thought process which is experienced as flow in time. On the other hand if we want to step back and grasp thinking, we paralyze the ordinary thinking time flow and behold space-like memory. Here space-like doesn't means static, it just means that it is similar to processes that we behold in front of us in space, which can be changing.
The problem is that there's always polarity between what we do as thinking and what we are thinking about. When we theorize about thinking along the X axis, we imagine it, for example, as brain processing. What we think about is some general, imagined thinking process of interacting neurons but this says nothing about the real-time thinking which pictures the neurons. On the other hand, if we completely objectify thinking, it becomes a picture which, however, is now beheld as any other process in space - as sequence of perceptions. Our activity of observing is not contained in the memory picture. When the Y axis is taken to extreme, we arrive at something akin to Buddhist meditation where we completely detach from the ordinary flow and behold a magnificent panorama of objectified dependent arising. When the X axis is taken to extreme we have thinking which is completely engulfed by its object.
These two modes are never completely independent of each other and are always rhythmically alternating (not necessarily regularly) in hysteresis-like fashion - they never really settle. The exercise that we describe is one way in which the hysteresis process can spiral into unity. This is achieved when we preserve both thinking activity and its perception. The simple key is that we can only do that when thinking tries to observe as closely as possible what it is really doing. The hysteresis manifests because what we're doing and what we're perceiving are out-of-phase. We think of something (for example table) but the meaning that we experience about it, contains nothing about the thinking process itself. We're fully merged with the thinking about the table and we experience only the meaning of 'table', not the meaning of 'I'm thinking about a table'. Similarly, when we try to 'step out' of all thinking in order to perceive it objectively (the Y axis), we can do that only if all our spiritual activity becomes something monolithic - encompassing, perceiving, being aware, etc. Yet this is still something that is being done, we specifically guide our spiritual activity in order to achieve this. Just as in the former case, we're completely merged with this activity of 'experiencing' but we don't notice it because it is not reflected in the panorama of objectified thinking. Just as the fact that we're thinking about a table is not reflected in the concept of 'table', so the act of stepping out of all intellectual activity is not reflected in its objectified panorama. So the blind spot is there in both cases. Along the X axis we're thinking about million things but the things themselves don't in the least reflect to us the fact that we're actually willing that thinking. Similarly, along the Y axis we will our spiritual activity such that we step out of the thinking about million things and behold it as an objective panorama, but this panorama reflects everything except the fact that we're now doing something else, that we're willfully seeking this vantage point. This latter point causes great misunderstandings in mystical conceptions precisely because through the detachment from the objectified world content and seeking pure awareness, the fact that one is pursuing this state with one's own spiritual activity remains in the blind spot - it is nowhere to be found reflected in the objectified mystical panorama.
So if everything so far is understood, it should be clear that the reason for the bistable oscillation in cognition is because what we perceive doesn't reflect what we're doing with our spiritual activity. They are out of phase, so to speak. If we try to grasp what we are doing through ordinary means (in the way we're used to think about the sensory world), everything simply rearranges - the bistable mode flips - now we're beholding different panorama (memory image of former thinking) while a new kind of spiritual activity remains in the blind spot - the one contemplating the memory image. Please note that the fact that spiritual activity is in the blind spot doesn't mean that it is not experienced! It only means that we're completely and indistinguishably one with it. We experience all its inner meaning but this meaning doesn't tell anything about the fact that we're thinking it. It's similar in the Y axis where we objectify the world content as if by trying to rise to pure awareness but this objectified panorama doesn't reflect back to us the fact that we're willfully doing the objectification. In this sense, the X axis can be thought of as extreme subjectification where we're totally merged with the flow of spiritual activity without 'raising our head' to notice what we're doing. The Y axis is extreme objectification which goes so far in this 'raising its head' that it becomes objectively aware of everything except the fact that the 'raising of the head' is not to be found within that objectified panorama.
When we do the vowels exercise we seek to balance this bistable oscillation. We're not mesmerized by the subjective flow, neither we pretend to encompass the fully objectified world while forgetting that we're still using our spiritual activity to do that objectification. We aim to perceive exactly what we do. This is what we do when we speak the vowels. We have the objectified sound but in the same time it is direct reflection of what we're doing. What we perceive is what we do with our spiritual activity.
I would like to note that all above may sound very abstract to some. This happens if all these things are only being thought about intellectually. Most likely such a person hasn't tried to experiment with the exercise but simply thought about it: "Speaking sounds in the mind? Yeah I get that, what's the big deal?" All these things - bistability, hysteresis process, X and Y axes, etc. sound highly technical but are in reality very simple imaginative expressions of self-evident inner dynamics when we engage with seriousness in the exercise. When we learn to understand the axes not simply as abstract words but as the actual realities of inner engulfment in thinking and objectifying detachment, then X and Y are simply symbols for something living, in the same way the word 'love' is only a token for a real spiritual experience. In this sense, the hysteresis symbol is only an expression. Please don't read too much into its literal form - especially don't try to imagine some mechanical laws which cause the oscillation between the two modes, or try to imagine the activities as somehow geometrically perpendicular to each other.
The spiraling of the hysteresis process into unity is not the end of the world
Here I want to note that what we perceive in the vowel exercise as sound is still only a precipitation of our activity and not the activity itself. The activity is what we innerly do, the sound perception is the expression of what we do. The former we can call the inner thinking gesture, the latter is the thinking perception. We know how we can make bodily gestures with our will. Our willing of the movements of the vocal tract when we speak, can be conceived as another kind of bodily gesture. The willing intent is innerly experienced, the expression of the will is perceived through the senses as something that has already separated from our activity and is in the process of becoming memory. Similarly, when we step in the sand, it is our activity which moves the foot, while the footprint is the expression of the activity which remains as memory. In pure thinking we don't move our body parts but nevertheless we do something with our thinking-will. That's why it's appropriate to call our invisible activity, thinking gestures, while what we hear is the sound produced in our imagination, receding into memory.
The above should also immediately hint that the unity of the hysteresis is not a static point. It only symbolizes 'in-phase' relation between spiritual activity and perception. In the exercise we're fully active, our morphing keeps going completely dynamically. The only difference is that what we're doing is very tightly reflected in the sound. The more smooth, uninterrupted, centered, stable and intense this process is, the more we can say that we're spiraling into the unity of the otherwise bistable (dual) mode of cognition oscillating in the hysteresis. Please note that this unity is different from the common understanding of the non-dual state which is really the extreme Y axis, as already shown. In our exercise we don't aim to step outside everything so that we can contemplate it from the standpoint of the supposed pure awareness (while forgetting to account for the stepping out itself) but instead we take fully conscious control of spiritual activity and seek to bring it in-phase with the perceptual element. It's of utmost importance that this is grasped properly. The unity doesn't lead to some stagnant point but only ends the hectic oscillations of the mind where spiritual activity chases its tail without ever catching it.
What we have thus achieved is actually much more significant than it may look. We can approach that through an analogy. Imagine a fly and how difficult it is to catch it. Why is that? Imagine that you're looking at the fly and then the conscious experience is put 'on pause'. Just by looking at it can you tell in what direction the fly will turn next? We don't really have a reliable method to do that. In our perceptions we're always in the past. We live in perceptions which are already receding as memory and based on that we try to predict the future movement of the fly. This is not easy because the behavior of the fly is highly erratic.
Now consider once again the exercise. In certain sense we also morph the sounds randomly but this randomness doesn't surprise us. It's not like we expect one sound but we hear another. Instead, all feels completely lawful. It's not about getting in argument whether our choice of the sounds is free or not. It's simply that we feel our thinking activity to be extended in time and uniting the separate 'sound frames'. In certain sense we're the engineer of time for the sound. It is as if we feel not an infinitesimal small 'now' moment but a tiny slice of time for which we simply know where things are coming from and where they are going. We know this because it is our own activity which spans the law within which the sound morphs. This is such an important observation that I'll label it with (T) for future reference. T - for True Time. This really coincides with Bergson's concept of duration which Ashvin often quotes (for example here). The meaning that we experience, which spans time, is the temporal glue which makes the sound to be perceived as something for which we know the past but also something of the future. What is here being said can never be understood in the right way if we simply think about thinking as some objective process similarly to the way we think about 'digestion'. In the latter case we think about a sequence of images and time remains a mysterious law which somehow propagates the images. But in the exercise we must not think about thinking because all our thinking activity should already be fully focused in the speaking forth the sound. Yet as a kind of higher intuition we simply know where the sound is coming from and where it is going. That's why I call it True Time - because it's the only thing for which we understand something of the past and the future in this unique and immediate way. We experience the immediate meaning which in itself is also the temporal law for the sound to be experienced in the way we do.
This may leave the reader with a question "But this observation is useless! Feeling the sound up close doesn't answer any practical riddles of existence. We need the hysteresis process to continually split from our thinking and objectify it in order to create theories about its workings." This has been the dominant paradigm in science and philosophy for the last centuries but we'll see that the (T) experience can lead us as if through a portal, to a quite different way of knowing of how our thinking works. We'll continue in Part 2.
I’ve been puzzled since forever (peripherally) by an image of multiple mirrors that reflect each other ad infinitum, a kind of vague representation of endless but closed nesting. This, for the first time, seems to offer a way through! I say ‘seems’ because the practice of this exercise is challenging for me.
It’s as if what’s been going on until now - at the scale of humanity or at the scale of one individual life - is like we really are in kindergarten, where we somehow managed to escape the teacher, put our hands on a higher shelf we were not supposed to reach, and grab this shiny mega utility tool - thinking.
And now, like curious indocile kids, we are trying to play with it intently and shake it, strike it on the ground, and break it open. Of course it’s dangerous and we have no idea how it works… Now if the teacher doesn't hurry up to put us back to safety what will happen first, that we grow up and learn how to properly use it as we go on playing with it, or that we wreck it, and us with it, before we realize what we are doing?
Hopefully the tool is robust enough to endure a whole life of, or millennia of, childish misuse…