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DoseNation 27: Mysticism and Consciousness Part 2

Jake and James discuss listener feedback and recent comments related to our podcast on consciousness and mysticism. Much high-level bullshitting ensues. Other topics include mysticism and discipline, New Age ayahuasca cults, psychedelic movies, and other tangents related to psychedelics and spiritual practice.

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Posted By jamesk at 2013-07-24 11:43:56 permalink | comments
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Eugene. : 2013-08-05 19:23:01
Interesting point James, however, computer language IS composed of 0 and 1; rhythm exists as a function of sound/silence; there is existence and there is non-existence, open /close, yin/yang; and there is a mind full of thoughts and there is quiet mind (Samadhi). But you are right, philosophy is nothing more then thoughts chasing themselves into endless rationalizations. What I am interested is in that deepest of states beyond thoughts and ideas. A state that seems to correlate with Zero-point, beyond space-time-ego. It could be a delusion of my own thinking mind, but that does not matter when I TRANSCEND my thinking mind. And all that is left when I transcend my limited thoughts is the quiet Void, still, motionless, and self-radiant. It has no need for proof, justification, rationalization, or theory. It simply IS, in the depths of what I call my consciousness.
jamesk : 2013-08-04 10:28:43
Asking "why is there something instead of nothing?" is a perfect example of how philosophers waste their lives debating poorly conceived questions with obvious answers.
jamesk : 2013-08-04 10:21:27
@Eugene, you are forcing me to "do philosophy" with this one. Why is there something instead of nothing? This is a distracting question which answers or proves nothing, used by philosophers to change the topic when they are losing arguments. The answer to this question is simple, there is something because nothing is an abstract mathematical idea that does not exist. I will say that again, nothing is a concept that was "made up" by philosophers. There is no such thing as "the absence of everything", it is an impossibility, which is why it does not exist. Think about it, you cannot have a "nothing" because then it would be a "something". So, there is only "things" there is no "nothing".
Eugene. : 2013-07-31 15:27:41
Another point I'd like to throw out there is the notion that through science we have eliminated the mystery and the magic of the cosmos through understanding, a point James put forth a number of times, is fundamentally skewed in my view, as it fails to acknowledge the Ultimate Mystery; why is there something when Zero is the most efficient way to be. In other words, Being itself is fundamentally mysterious, and sorry James, a totally magical event. Not only is There Being, but we are Concious of Being..that to me is more magical then anyone of us can conceive. In fact, creating a universe from an infinitely condensed Void is utter magic to me, along with the magic of us knowing the Laws and mathematics behind this creative spark. We may someday understand the mechanics of it all, as with physics and neuroscience, but when we sit there in deep meditation and those ideas and models are allowed to rest and disolve in pure ever- present Awareness, the silence Jake talks about, the Mystery will stand naked, without need for explanation; just Being.
Eugene. : 2013-07-29 17:08:06
Hey All,
great discussion! James and Jake, thanks for addressing the points. I guess what it boils down to is that there are two main paradigms for consciousness. The first, which James subscribes to, is the materialist perspective that describes consciousness as a mere product of the brain. The second, which is rooted in mysticism, is that Consciousness is not only embedded in space-time (as physicist Roger Penrose theorizes), but is the foundation of all existence that we can individually tap into (a unanimous claim of mystics). The question for the materialist is; at what point does consciousness arise from dead matter? Does it all of a sudden ignite in the cell? the organism? the brain stem? or the pre-frontal cortex? Its a jump that material science cant explain. Seems much more plausible that Consciousness is embedded in matter, and that it unfolds and expands in sentience and awareness as matter increases in complexity. This models sees consciousness as an essential element in the universe; it is only in the human neo-cortex that it becomes self-reflective.
Niles Smith. : 2013-07-29 11:59:33
My point is that all the elements of a mammal are contained
in the primordial soup (gas, dust rocks etc) that evolve over
billions of years into that mammalian organism. If you define
consciousness have having a centralized brain "that can make
abstractions and predictions" now, then unless you are an evolution
denier you need to to be able to say how far back in evolution
this capacity arose, at least approximately, or this is not a "full
definition". But it seems what you are saying is that this is the
only aspect of it that you have elucidated or are concerned with.
jamesk : 2013-07-29 09:34:28
@Niles, a rock does not have consciousness. An organism must have a perceptual system and the ability to perform behaviors to be fully conscious. Consciousness can be rudimentary, like plant consciousness, which is mostly reactive and distributed in the cells. Mammalian consciousness is more complex because it is centralized in a brain that can make abstractions and predictions. That is the full definition of consciousness that a rock or a plant will never have.
Niles Smith. : 2013-07-28 18:56:18
Does a rock have consciousness? Given our current understanding of dust and gas congealing to form stars and planets on which
life arises it must have at least the potential for consciousness.
If it doesn't at what point in evolution does it transition from non-conscious to conscious? Clearly there is more to it than describing the neurochemical pathways in our bodies.

OurMethodIsScience. : 2013-07-26 13:27:57
Good episode for sure.

I think we all need to be careful that discipline qua discipline is not taken as necessary mark for authenticity.

Like Timothy Leary and Terence McKenna, I'm not even sure these rituals and contemplative practices actually hold a candle to full-blown psychedelic shamanism. If you need a lifetime to gain unio mystica, then that suggests a poor approach.

Unlike James, the older I get, the less I have been fixated upon scientific criteria like measurability, falsifiability, testability, etc. (still treasured, but no longer considered epistemologically exhaustive).

Greg. : 2013-07-24 19:50:40
Howdy Y'all,

This is a reply to Jake's query about the full body nervous system tingling he experienced. I'm gonna use some really obnoxious language to describe this stuff, so bear with me.

I'm a massage therapist and yoga student with seven years practice of the latter, and I've flirted around with holotropic breathwork, vipassana meditation, and various psychedelic yadayadaya, and I've had a variety of different experiences of a similar nature.

I've felt something akin to some yogi's description of kundalini - a burst of tingling, sexually tinged energy running up the spine - the first time I performed an upward bow asana as well as when combining LSD, pranayama, and a moderate degree of sensory isolation. I don't mean tingly as in the uncomfortable sensation of a compromised nerve. This charge felt totally comfortable, even healthy.

I've also felt a heavy, warm, almost gooey energy travel through my body during holotropic breathwork sessions. Not at all like the feeling of flush in my cheeks when I'm embarrassed, this energy was much, much thicker and weightier.

I've also felt adrenaline rushes: swerving to hit a deer on the highway, or learning to rock climb and getting seventy-five feet off the ground for the first time. Adrenaline is nothing at all like the other two energies I've described. My experience of it as a physical sensation coursing through my body is muted, while my conscious experience is of telescoping time and a mind almost totally empty of internal monologue.

As a bodyworker, I've spent a few years working with the mystery of energy as a healing tool. I really don't know what it's about at all, but there are a lot of people in the field with very strong opinions about its nature and efficacy. A significant portion of them are total jackasses. Probably a blanket statement, but these are the Deepak Chopra groupies who can't even agree on which of the chakras in the yogic system are which. These people seem to me to be perpetually anxious, and frequently insist on their versions of reality. Receiving energy work from them, I often feel very little within my own body, while they babble relentlessly about what's happening to my aura.

However, I've also worked with a man who has spent decades studying Qi Gong, and my experiences of energy work with him are of a totally different nature. One day, not warning me what he was about to do, he stood across the room from me, and made a throwing motion with his arms. An invisible and fuzzy weight hit me in the chest (not strong enough to hadoken me across the room, but definitely strong enough to register in my mind as unmistakably real).

There's a confusing middle ground between these two extremes. I saw an energy worker for a while who talked far too much about pseudo shamanism and what I ought to be doing with my life, and seemed to have a lot more bluster than knowledge. But once in a session he used a pressure point technique that totally overloaded my nervous system. He ramped me up with more and more of this springy bouncing energy, until I rolled off the massage table in a fit of convulsive laughter that lasted for minutes. It felt remarkably like an overwhelming, springy bouncy energy I had experienced under the influence of DMT as well as with psilocybin.

I'm rattling off this list for two reasons. The first is to demonstrate the variety of supra-mundane energies that can arise in the nervous system with and without drugs. These are only the ones I've experienced in the past seven years or so. There probably are many more. I certainly had no idea they existed or that I'd be experiencing even one of them when I was 19 years old.

The second is to encourage people to seek these experiences out. Most people are justifiably skeptical of the existence of these energies. Some people are so committed to co-opting these experiences for the purposes of their own anxiety-soothing new age identity and philosophy that they push many genuinely inquiring minds away from the experiences entirely. So it's up to open-minded people with scientific minds, people hesitant to slap labels on things, people with a genuine desire for understanding to approach these strange nervous system sensations, track them down in the dark nooks and crannies of mysticism and shamanism, and bring them into the light for discussion so we can get better and better information on what they truly are.

But in discussion lies the problem. In this Podcast, y'all talked a bit about objective and subjective experiences. The way that I personally differentiate between the two is that objective experience is easy for us to point to. There's significantly less debate about what it is we're actually talking about. Subjective experiences are difficult to point to, difficult to describe, and spiritual guides have been saying for centuries that we just have to experience them directly rather than absorb someone else's story about them.

Some attempts to do so do not go well. Anyone who has taken a friend on their first psychedelic journey knows that that friends will spend a lot of time inarticulately babbling about the cosmic buddha frisbee that just sliced his brain in half. Some spiritual traditions incorporate a lot of metaphorical language into a blueprint of these realms, such as the Tibetan Buddhists and their bardos. This can be a useful framework for some, and an uncomfortable restriction for others.

However, I still feel strongly that discussion should follow the experience of these strange energies. For example, I love Psychedelic Information Theory. And while PIT is largely about objectively obtained scientific data, it came about because of people who, for example, smoked DMT, saw elves, did not stop at "I saw elves!" and progressed to "what are these elves?"

The more angles we can approach the nervous system from, the better able we will be to discuss these experiences. It's not easy, and people have been trying for millennia to do so, but we humans get better at everything all the time. I'm confident that we can build better and better models for understanding these experiences.

As a final note, I understand that the words "energy", "Qi", "mysticism", and "shamanism" have become dirty words to a lot of us involved in this discussion. I wish I knew words that could express these concepts without conjuring up thoughts of those ridiculous New Agers and causing knee jerk reactions.

Thanks for slogging through this preposterously long essay-comment. tl;dr?

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