Monday, December 14, 2009

Theodicy Part II: What Place Does Free Will Have In An Acausal Universe

In my previous post on Theodicy: The Problem of Chaos and Causation, I argued that causation is an illusion based on a "flatland" perspective that only examines one dimension of existence at a time. In my last post on neurobiology and consciousness, I argued that even if consciousness is presumed to arise by purely material processes within the flatland perspective of scientific materialism, it cannot be contained or limited within that realm, but naturally expands to universal proportions. An astute commentator puts these two together:
As you point out Broken Yogi there is no known mechanism by which the brain could produce consciousness and it is difficult to even conceive of such a mechanism, let alone trying to discover it. However, it is bizarre a fact then, that changes in brain chemistry produce changes in consciousness and/or consciousness can produce changes in the brain. So, your theory discussed in the previous post, in short that causation is an illusion, seems to me to be a very good one.
A major problem with the neurological approach to consciousness is this simple matter of causation. Suggesting that some material process "creates" consciousness creates just as many problems as the notion that consciousness "creates" matter (and perhaps even more). Likewise, the notion that consciousness and material processes like neurobiology are the same thing does not eliminate the problem at all, but only magnifies it. If our consciousness is identical to our biology, doesn't that imply that consciousness would appear in relation to every other physical structure, including what we consider inanimate objects? Again, this only expands the question, it doesn't resolve it either philosophically or scientifically. A better solution, I'd suggest, is to see that causation is not a suitable approach for understanding the relationship between consciousness and the material world, even the material link between our brains and our thoughts.

Clearly, of course, there is a linkage, in that brains produce discernible electronic signals that correspond to certain thoughts. Some recent experiments have shown that it's possible to analyze brain wave patterns and tell which specific thoughts a subject is thinking. Of course, this does not demonstrate the origin of these thoughts. If one analyzed a cell phone's internal signals, one would of course be able to decipher various words and phrases just by analyzing its electronic pathways. This would not prove that the cell phone itself had originated those words, because in fact it did not. The signals clearly only passed through the cell phone from a prior source outside the cell phone's system. Likewise, the correspondence of our nerve signals to various thoughts we are thinking does not prove that the thoughts originated in the brain. The brain could just as easily be a receiver of thoughts as an orginator. But then again, that route is also fraught with troublesome complications, all of which suggests in the paradoxes they arouse that causation and origination are not the primary modes for understanding this phenomena.

The reincarnational model I've been repeatedly discussing here helps explain some aspects of this dilemma, but it doesn't resolve it entirely. In this model, I've pointed out that both the physical body and the spirit which merges and grows in symbiosis with it from early on are actually semi-autonomous entities in themselves, which have the capability to function somewhat independently of one another. In other words, the physical body is capable of thinking its own thoughts, of generating impulses, actions, reactions, and all sorts of relational patterns without much input from the spirit who is attached to it. That spirit can even take a very passive role in the life being lived, and allow the physical mechanism to do most of the heavy lifting. However, the physical mechanism is not genuinely autonomous, as it has evolved a dependency on the astral spirit which at this point means that it cannot live without that connection. If the spirit severs its connection to the body, that body will die. And likewise, the spirit cannot continue to experience the physical world without this connection to the body. Without it, the spirit too will withdraw its attention from the body, and the world, and will go through the after-death process of re-establishment in the astral mode of attention and experience.

This means that while we are alive, our body is constantly having its own thoughts and impulses, which we may passive experience as if they are our own, or we can consciously participate in and even override through our own higher intelligence. For us to differentiate between which of these thoughts and impulses are "ours" is difficult, in that while we are alive in bodily form, both of them are "us". The body's thoughts are not entirely distinguishable from our astral spirit's thoughts. One of the major problems with incarnation occurs when these two are functionally at odds with one another, or disconnected such that the astral self has little control or authority over the bodily self, or the subtle connections between the physical body and the astral spirit are undeveloped, damaged, weakened, or otherwise "out of synch" with one another. Oftentimes this is literally the case - we fail to recognize that body and mind are actually arising in synchronous affinity with one another, and that neither "causes" the other to act. When the body tries to take control, it is "out of synch" with the spirit. And likewise, when spirit tries to take control, it runs the risk of becoming out of synch with the body, leading to such errors as represssion of the body's natural impulses (such as sexuality). I've pointed out that there's a natural hierarchical relationship, in which the spirit leads the body, but this is not the same as the kind of repressive, authoritarian approach to the body that often appears in human beings, whether they are religiously inclined or not. The natural synchronicity between body and spirit appears in the form of a hierarchical relationship, but it remains an acausal one. The spirit does not "cause" the body to act, nor does the body cause the spirit to suffer or enjoy.

The reincarnational model certainly does support a dualistic understanding of mind, body, and spirit, but it is not supportive of their being either a "split" between them, or any necessary conflict between the two. The conflict that does arise is most often the result of a failure to recognize the acausal, synchronous nature of the relationship between these two, and the imposition of a causal, control-based model which is unnatural to us. When we presume ourselves to live in a causal relationship with mind and body, it seems natural that we have to "side" with the causal source, rather than the causal effect. Neuroscientists are doing just that when they see the physical brain and nervous system as the causal source of our thoughts and consequently our actions. Religious preachers are doing the opposite when they argue that our spirit is the guide for all our thoughts and actions, and that we must use our spiritual nature to control thoughts and actions. In both cases, the causal model seems to necessitate an emphasis of one side of the relationship over the other, and a corresponding cosmology and moral universe develops on that basis. The atheistic scientist will begin to see subjectivist religion as the source of all evil in the world, and the religious or spiritual subjectivist will see materialism as the source of all evil.

My suggestion is that what we generally call "evil" is nothing more nor less than the delusional conflicts created by our imposition of causation upon our own acausally synchronous existential nature. This applies both to the personal conflicts at originating at the psychological and human level without ourselves that lead to evil actions on our part, and the misperception of seemingly random events outside of our own personal control. We tend to see all such things, but interior and exterior to ourselves, as causal events, rather than acausal events. This creates tensions in ourselves that lead to conflict and warfare not only within ourselves, but in relation to the world itself. Likewise, we tend to try to solve these conflicts by siding with one or the other dimension of our existence which we thinks is the causal source of these events, and this only exacerbates the problem.

The sense of conflict within ourselves is a result of not comprehending that events, whether they are thoughts and impulses in our mind and body, or the outer events of the objective world, are not caused at all, and are not the result of some causative chain of events. Even the seemingly random events of life, or the random thoughts that fill our minds, are not actually random at all, but are arising in synchronous waves that reflect the same pattern in both dimensions. One does not cause the other, and one is not the effect of the other. One could try to compromise and say that they are interdependent, or that each affects the other, but even this merely tries to preserve some kind of causal viewpoint. The deeper truth is that causation is simply a false model for how the world works, whether we are looking at the internal subjective world or the external objective world.

Causation is therefore one of the primary illusions that leads to conflict and separation in our lives, and in the world itself. It leads to the notion of blame and guilt, for example, in which we are constantly trying to find out who is responsible for the mess we are in when things go wrong. We try to trace the chain of causation back to a responsible agent who began it all, and we call that causative agent "evil". It may be the devil, or it may be our parents, or it may be our political enemies, or it may be some clearly bad guy like Hitler. The problem with this approach is that we think that if we can eliminate this evil cause, that evil itself will be vanquished, and never appear again, and that we will be free of evil and only have good. What it doesn't understand is that this very approach is what creates evil, and ensures that it will re-appear.

For one, every cause we can find has a previous cause, and thus we cannot ever trace causes back to some original source, and eliminate that source. We can't find the Devil and kill him, and then live happily ever after. Nor can we go back to the Big Bang and re-arrange its laws and patterns so as to only create a "good" universe. So long as notions of causation guide our understanding of evil, we will always find evil amongst us, even in ourselves. In fact, they will only multiply so long as we constantly try to fix the causes of the trouble we get into. The causative view, one could even say, "causes" an endless series of battles to unfold both in our psyche and in our lives.

Adopting the acausal viewpoint, however, undoes much of this conflict and misery. It does not see mind and body as being in a conflict that necessitates a program of control and conquest, but of a harmonious and natural balance between the two. This does not make for paradise, however, as this balance means an acceptance of the limits of both physical and mental worlds, rather than the perfection of either. It does not mean that we will live forever, in other words, or that we can create a utopia here. Disease, death, and the struggle for survival on the physical level will indeed continue. Likewise, the demands of the spirit to grow and love in the midst of these struggles also continues. One simply will not see any of these as a struggle with evil. The metaphysical existence of evil vanishes from the equation, and along with it a great deal of unnecessary strife.

On the other hand, evil people do not magically disappear from the earth just because one has learned not to see the world as a series of causes and effects. Those who do see things that way will continue to do so, and they will continue to wreck havoc on others. People like Hitler will still makes causative scapegoats out of innocent people like the Jews, and righteous religious crusaders will still strap bombs to their bodies to kill the infidels they think are the cause of the world's miseries. We can try to "educate" such people about the real source of their problems, but it is unlikely they will soon listen or change their approach. So, as Krishna said, there is a necessary battle that must be waged, even by those who understand the transcendental viewpoint that this world is not caused, that no man is the "doer" of action, and that even our own lives arise in asynchronous harmony with the very consciousness that experiences this world. Evil does not disappear just because we no longer support it.

What does disappear is the notion that any of these outer acts of evil we see in the world arise apart from our own consciousness. They are seen as being as much a part of us as the fingers on our hands. It is only that our relationship with them is synchronous in nature, not causal. We do not cause the evil we see or even experience around us to arise, but we do exist in synchronous relationship with it. Thus, we cannot cause it to stop either, but we can live in harmony with it. That's a strange turn of phrase, to be sure, because the idea of acting in harmony with that which is disharmonious seems strange indeed. And yet I believe it is the only genuine way to create harmony where it is lacking. Conflict only breeds further conflict, whereas harmony breeds greater harmony by its very nature. Thus, by relating to evil and conflict by synchronous acausal harmony, we turn even evil around, inverting its structure so as  to create harmony in others, rather than blaming them as if they are the causal agents of the evil they may do.

It is easy to blame someone like Hitler or Stalin or Mao for the evil they have done. It's also easy to try to relieve them of total guilt by pointing to the blame others share for their actions, or the social and political forces at work, or the historical roots of these evils. None of that actually changes much of anything, because it leaves in place the principle of causation which brought these evils in the first place. We must remind ourselves that each of these men and their movements sought to place blame for their nation's miseries on one or another group of people it had identified as the "cause" of their problems. For Hitler it was Jews and the racially impure and communists and democracy and weaklings and betrayers and Germany's enemies around the world. For Stalin it was capitalists and monarchists and fascists and more betrayers and the West and the bourgeousie, etc. Similarly for Mao. In all cases, the pattern is similar: someone is to blame, someone or some system is causing trouble, and if we remove those causes, we remove the problem, and all will be well. Instead, we end up with monstrous wars and monstrous evils.

Blaming Hitler and Stalin and fascism and communism for these evils, however, only perpetuates the problem, and it does not produce harmony as a result. As we can see from the present day world, we have not created a harmonious world simply be eliminating these kinds of people. If we've made any progress at all, it has been by developing new approaches that are less prone to blame and trying to eliminate the causative agents of evil. The western winners of World War two did not make the mistakes of the previous war by imposing draconian punishments on the losers. Instead, they helped the losers, Japan and Germany, to become more productive and harmonious societies, and that helped break a terrible pattern. Unfortunately, this did not result in a wholesale abandonment of the principle of blame and causation, but at least it made a sizable dent in it. But it does give at least some great examples on the world stage of how living in harmony with one's previous enemies can make for a better world than trying to punish and exclude them.

If the problem of theodicy is described in absolute terms, such that the very existence of evil is considered a sign that God cannot exist, then there is perhaps no satisfactory answer to it, except to say that even that criticism is framed as a causal relationship. It is presumed that God caused the universe to come into being as it is, and thus, if evil exists, God must be responsible for it, and thus, there can be no loving God, for how could a loving God cause evil to come into existence. But if God did not come into existence, we can only ask, how did the viewpoint of causation itself come into existence, and who is to blame for that? That, of course, is a hilariously circular question, since it still roots itself in a causative viewpoint. The better question is, if the universe is not causal in nature, how does the illusion of causation come into being?

The best one can say, I think, is that all potentials exist, including the potential for illusion. That is because the nature of existence is infinite in all possibilities. But the existence of the illusion of causative evil does not mean that evil itself has come into being. Even what we call evil is not evil at all, perhaps, if we examine it in reality rather than from a causative viewpoint. It is, after all, arising in synchronicity with us. It becomes evil to us, perhaps, only when we reject it, and refuse to live in synchronous harmony with it, and even then, that is an illusion which can be overcome by living in synchronous harmony with it, thus resolving its contradictions in our own self-experience.

I think that if we begin to approach what to us seem like problems from an acausal viewpoint, and rather than trying to root out their causes and take control of them in some way or other, we simply learn how to relate to them in harmonious synchronicity, we will find that resolutions to these problems can occur spontaneously and even naturally, without any of the processes involved appearing "miraculous" except in their final result. If we take another modern example of peace achieved in politics, I had always presumed that South Africa's apartheid problems would never be resolved except by brutal wars and violence. Instead, Nelson Mandela and De Klerk took a path that eschewed blame and causation, and instead emphasized harmony and peace, and the result was a largely peaceful transition to democratic rule and the end of segregation. It's not that all of South Africa's problems came to an end, but something that most people considered simply impossible miraculously came to pass.

Examples like these are often misinterpreted, I think. Oftentimes, the emphasis seems to be on the non-violent approach Mandela took, or that others like Gandhi and Martin Luther King used. There's certainly some great truth there, but it hides the fact that what led them to adopt these non-violent approaches was an abandonment of the notion of causation and blame. Rather than pointing to the causes of their nation's problems, and wanting to root that out, they tended to focus on establishing a harmonious relationship even with those who might have wronged them. This is the heart of Jesus' approach to "love your enemy" or to "turn the other cheek". Within these non-violent messages is an even deeper message that is often obscured, which abandons the causal viewpoint altogether, and which suggests that we forgive and forget - in other words, to abandon causation as the principle of our actions, and allow for harmony and forgiveness to instead be the operative principle for resolving our conflicts.

The abandonment of causation as our primary structured viewpoint for dealing with conflict has some other great consequences. For one, it does away with time as the primary structure by which we view the world  Causation of course depends on time, on the notion that what is happening now is caused by something which occurred in the past, and that the only way to change something is to undo those past causes and thus produce different effects. The problem is that this simply embeds our problems all the more deeply in time, and thus it requires more and more time to resolve, which itself embeds it further in time, and ends up making problems intractable difficult and perhaps even impossible to resolve.

The acausal synchronous approach, however, discards causation as the primary structure for understanding the events of our lives, and in so doing it releases us from time and its causal limits. This means that problems can be resolved much more quickly than before, and seemingly intractable problems can be resolved in far less time than had been expected. The key is to bring an entirely different awareness to the situation, and not to see the problem as something that is occurring within time, defined by past causes, but as something that is literally arising in the present, in synchrony with our own minds and bodies. When that is done, we release the past and work to resolve the present situation, which is often much simpler than it would appear from a causal viewpoint. Further, our work with the present problem becomes naturally harmonious, even in relation to serious conflicts, and need not try to harmonize with the entire chain of events that seemed to lead to this moment, because those events did not actually cause the present to appear as it does. The present appears as it does in many respects only because we are seeing it as being caused by the past, and we don't let ourselves change it by present actions, but let it be shaped by the past instead, by past causes rather than by present attention.

Human actors are terribly vulnerable to arguments of causation, and they have a hard time understanding that our present miseries are not caused at all, are not the result of past actions on our part, but are the result of what we are doing in the present. This is why I am against the commonly held notion of karma, as if it were something that literally creates present action out of past actions. It does not. The right understanding of karma is that it is an illusion, that "karma" is the illusion the past creates when we see the world as a series of causes and effects, and that these illusory causes and effects embed themselves in our lives, creating the conflicts that we suffer only because we see the world through their viewpoint, rather than freeing ourselves from karma by seeing the world as arising acausally, in harmonious synchronicity with everything else rather than as separated by time and causation.

Karma is bondage only because it enforces its own self-generated timeline of causation upon us. We are freed from karma as we begin to see that the world simply does not appear as a series of causes and effects. The present moment could, indeed, arise in a state of perfect harmony, if we would simply allow it to. The only thing which prevents this is our attachment to causes and effects, which we not only see ourselves through in relation to the past, but which guides our viewpoint and actions in the present, and which thus produces a future that is also bound by the past. All of that can be changed, and much more quickly than most of us imagine possible. The world, and our personal lives in every respect, is not caused by the past, and it does not have to reflect the past in either the present or the future. Because our relationship to the past is an harmonious one, the changes that will occur as the past is released will also be harmonious, and not necessarily disconjunct or disruptive. There will be the usual bumps and grinds along the way. But if our relationship to ourselves and the world is released of the causative principle, and allowed to appear in harmonious synchronicity at all levels of life, then even these changes will seem miraculous and yet naturally easeful, if not entirely effortless. And this can be helped along by everyone simply choosing, within their own mind and life, to release not just the past, but the very notion that the present is caused by the past. Real freedom is actually possible even within this world, because this world is not truly bound by karma at all, it is freely arising in the present moment, as a manifestation of the very God who is the reality of our own being and who dwells as our very heart.

And that is what the Jivanmukta has understood, and why the liberated man is able to live in this world, in harmony with all who live in it, and yet not be bound by any of it. He does not find himself in conflict with the world, even with those living in illusions about their own selves and the world. He does not limit the world to its chain of causes. He sees the world as it is actually arising in the present, and he finds himself in perfect harmony with it, because it is not in the least bit separate from his own Self. By living as the Self, the Jivanmukta is able to draw the world beyond its own karmic viewpoint, and into the viewpoint of the acausal reality. There is no "transmission" involved, other than the harmonization that is natural when one lives in reality to those who are not aware of what is real. His "transmission", in other words, is not caused, nor does it produce causes as an effect. It is not a power that produces effects, it is a presence that merely synchronizes with our own consciousness, reminding us of how reality actually arises. In so doing, we experience the peace of the acausal reality as our own being and nature, not because the jnani changed us in any fundamental way, but because he lived free of the false presumptions that we allowed ourselves to be defined by, and our world to be created by. He points to another possibility entirely, the possibility of a life lived in present reality rather than as the result of past karmas. By living it that way, he makes the possibility real to us rather than merely another idea in our minds. And by responding to that reality, and taking up the same path, we enter into the world with a real capacity to change it, by allowing our participation in the world to conform to its reality rather than merely to its own causal karmas. We change the world by abandoning the karmic viewpoint, and releasing our own karmas in the process. That means relating to it entirely differently than we are used to. And that means relating to ourselves entirely differently than we are used to. One cannot say or predict what that will mean without actually walking down the road and seeing what happens along the way.

Getting back to the original discussion of free will, we have to recognize that the very inability of most people to get a handle on this question is due to our tendency to see free will within the context of causality. The most common understanding of the concept of free will is the notion that we can freely cause things to happen, that we can choose to do one thing rather than another. This suggests the existence of an "independent agent" in the mind, who can cause actions to occur in the body and world, rather than one for whom all actions occur automatically, instinctively, or because of some process in the body that the subjective person has no control over. This of course looks at the whole question as one of causation, rather than through the lens of acausal synchronicity. And it is why the question is constantly bandied about from one side to the other, like an endless ping-pong game, with neither side every gaining the upper hand. From the materialist point of view, causation seems to favor the body and its evolutionary instinctual determinism, and free will is seen as non-existent. From the consciousness point of view, our spiritual being seems to be in charge, and is able to manifest whatever material reality it wishes, if it is willing to expend the attention and energy necessary to bring it about. And yet each of these views remains wedded to the notion of causation, which is simply not how reality actually works across the full breadth of conscious experience.

It makes no sense to speak of us having the free will to cause things to happen, if nothing occurs as a result of causation. What could the concept of free will actually mean then, in the context of an acausal, polysynchronous reality? Well, for starters it would mean freedom from the entire cycle of causation. That's what "freedom from birth and death" actually means. It does not mean that the cycles of life don't begin or end, it means that they do so without causation, and without the limitations of time. It means that we are free in the present to always act in complete harmony with the cycles of our own appearance. We are not in control of those cycles, but no one is. They arise simultaneously in all places and in all dimensions, without any single thing or level of appearance causing anything to occur. Our mind, therefore, is not causing our body to act, and neither is our body causing our mind to react. The brain does not produce thoughts, but neither does thought compel the body to act. This is freedom, not bondage, in other words. Free will not only survives the transformation of our viewpoint to acausal polysynchronicity, it flourishes as never before. Free will is simply no longer defined by the principles of causation. Rather, it finds its real place as the primary sign in harmony and synchronicity. The indpenedent actor in the mind who imagines himself the cause of his bodily life in the world is seen as a fraud, a charlatan, and imposter. But this does not mean that we are then the prisoner of the body and its material determinism. The body, too, is freed of the illusion that it determines our state of mind and the course of our actions in the world. Rather, body and mind act as a single force perfectly synchronized with one another, not because of some effort on our part to keep in synch, but because that is how reality actually works, and we have surrendered ourselves to reality, rather than to causation.

I'll post this now, and try to get to some questions and comments others have raised about this thread.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Busted Yogurt,

So causality is evil and we can release ourselves from the stifling bonds of karma by abandoning causality? I hear you saying that embracing causality causes evil. Which has me confused. What are, precisely, the effective limits of causality? Should it be merely bridled or abandoned altogether?