Making Sense of the Mental Universe

Try reading the following paper while keeping the Mind Only Buddhist interpretation of our world in mind.

In 2005, an essay was published in Nature asserting that the universe is mental and that we must abandon our tendency to conceptualize observations as things. Since then, experiments have confi rmed that — as predicted by quantum mechanics — reality is contextual, which contradicts at least intuitive formulations of realism and corroborates the hypothesis of a mental universe. Yet, to give this hypothesis a coherent rendering, one must explain how a mental universe can — at least in principle — accommodate (a) our experience of ourselves as distinct individual minds sharing a world beyond the control of our volition; and (b) the empirical fact that this world is contextual despite being seemingly shared. By combining a modern formulation of the ontology of idealism with the relational interpretation of quantum mechanics, the present paper attempts to provide a viable explanatory framework for both points. In the process of doing so, the paper also addresses key philosophical qualms of the relational interpretation. (Making Sense of the Mental Universe)

Edit: The explanation offered in the linked paper, without saying as much, provides a very reasonable way to see Buddhist rebirth occurring without there being any soul or pudgala being reborn. Nothing need fly out of the body or transmigrate anywhere.

Instead, the classic Buddhist description of karma alone giving rise to a new life works perfectly. Rather than conceive of ourselves as fundamentally material beings, we can conceive of our personal individuality as being (a part of a “mental universe”) enclosed within a Markov blanket.

If there is still karma, a new Markov blanket or bodily form will be “reborn” or rearise after the extinction of its prior existence. In Kastrup’s way of putting it, our physical bodies are themselves Markov blankets causing or allowing us to arise as forms separate from the wholeness of the mental universe.

I suppose we might venture to say that enlightenment occurs when the karma, or reason for our separation in a Markov blanket, is gone and “we” remain the whole (of the mental universe) without being reborn (in a body).

Is the thought “I should have seen that” where we draw the line between higher and lower awareness?

As humans, we cannot but think sometimes: “I should have seen that. I had all the information but had not put it together.”

I am pointing this out because this ineluctable thought is an aspect of our consciousness itself and not of our culture or language, whatever those may be.

Do conscious beings who have no language think thoughts like this non-verbally? Do they have a sensation like we do that accompanies a similar realization in them?

Maybe they do and maybe they don’t. Non-verbal beings on earth obviously correct their behaviors, but how far does that travel in their awareness? Do dogs laugh at themselves? Do they have a feeling of self-recrimination as we sometimes do when we realize I should have seen that?

Is at least some of the feeling of shame grounded in this thought? Dogs clearly manifest shame.

Would a computer that can pass many tests of consciousness have the thought I should have seen that?

It seems to me that beings higher than us—angels, Bodhisattvas, Dharma protectors, prophets, and more—would very probably have this thought sometimes.

The full enlightenment of a Buddha as understood in the Mahayana tradition seems to indicate a state of awareness where the thought I should have seen that no longer arises.

In his life as we know of it, the Buddha did make new rules for monastics as conditions dictated. At such times, did he have this thought or not?

In your view, is the highest consciousness possible unbounded? Such that it must also think this thought?

Would you be happier if you never had the thought I should have seen that or not?

Is consciousness inert, like water, yet permeates everything? Inert but does not permeate everything?

I should have seen that is interesting because this thought seems to inhere in consciousness itself and not arise from language, culture, training, or other conditions. It seems to be accompanied by a sensation, at least in us.

Is it subject to Buddhist “dependent origination” and thus a feature of ordinary consciousness but not of ultimate consciousness?

Are the conditions it depends on its own conditions? Or other conditions? This might be a very big question.

A materialist would say consciousness is an epiphenomenon of matter dependent on matter. A true physicalist would not speak so fast because conscious may very well be a primary aspect of all things, even the driver of physical laws.

Is the thought I should have seen that where we draw the line between higher and lower awareness? Do single cells, which can change their minds, have a sensation that expresses this thought? Does God never have this thought? Do Buddhas?

Notice that a great deal of humor depends on bringing to our awareness something maybe not that we should have seen but that we could have seen. Humor like that gives us no new information outside of our ourselves, though it does fit together information we already have in a new way,

So, I should have seen that can be occasion for delight and laughter. Fundamental to feelings of relief or peace of mind; it’s a feature of consciousness that arises in consciousness and that we react to consciously, almost always with some sort of sensation.

“Our Constitution doesn’t exist to protect us from religion; it exists to protect religion from government” Betsy DeVos

Too many misinterpret a separation of church and state as an invitation for government to separate people from their faith.

In reality, our Constitution doesn’t exist to protect us from religion; it exists to protect religion from government. The First Amendment affirms our free exercise of religion, and we don’t forfeit that first freedom to anyone or in any place, especially in public schools.

~Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos

Announcement of the Guidance on Constitutional Prayer in Public Schools

A universal feature of human consciousness is the capacity to sometimes say, “I should have seen that.”

By this I mean, you had all the information but had not fit the pieces together.

I can avoid waking my partner with the coffee timer (stove timer) by simply setting the timer for one minute more than I want and shutting it off early.

That knowledge was all there and I had used it for others timer chores, but not for coffee (French press) until yesterday morning. The reason probably is early morning haze, but that is not the deep point.

The deep point is the doing of that or the not doing of that could have been better and I can now wonder why I didn’t see it before. 

This small thing is compounded by my partner having already informed me that the timer sound does not and has never bothered her at all. And that looks like grounds for yet another I-should-have-seen-that moment somewhere down the road.

For why am I concerned if she is not and also I completely believe her? Is that a bug in my head or a seed of something more important?

Another example is for years I was not drinking enough water. The information was there, I had it all, but did not put it together for a long time.

Seeing this as a universal feature of human consciousness highlights in retrospect that a fundamental aspect of consciousness is its capacity to arrange or rearrange bits of information to affect intent.

When we rearrange even minor bits of known information, we can sometimes feel I should have seen that before. (If our rearrangement is based on new extrinsic information, we more often will feel aha, now I’ve got it or that will do it.)

Philosophically, I wonder if God also has this feature. That is, does this feature of human consciousness extend to the highest level of consciousness possible in our universe?

For hard atheists, the same question would be does an invented God have this feature?

How do angels or beings much higher than us but less than God see us?

Surely they will sometimes be perplexed by this same feature of consciousness. I expect that would make them sympathetic to us. Maybe they feel even worse than us.

Does this help explain to you why our world is so messy and sometimes just awful? And sometimes so beautiful?

Master Huiyuan

Huiyuan (Chinese: 慧遠; Wade–Giles: Hui-yüan; 334–416 AD) was a Chinese Buddhist teacher who founded Donglin Temple on Mount Lushan in Jiangxi province and wrote the text On Why Monks Do Not Bow Down Before Kings in 404 AD. He was born in Shanxi province but after a long life of Buddhist teaching he wound up in Jiangxi province, where he died in 416. Although he was born in the north, he moved south to live within the bounds of the Eastern Jin Dynasty.

Huiyuan was posthumously named First Patriarch of the Pure Land School of Buddhism. His disciples included Huiguan (慧觀), Sengji (僧濟), and Faan (法安). (link)

Pastor Wang Yi sentenced for ‘inciting subversion’

Wang Yi, a founding pastor of China’s Early Rain Covenant Church, has been sentenced to nine years in jail by a Chinese court for inciting subversion of state power and other crimes.

Wang was detained in December 2018 along with other senior figures in the prominent unsanctioned church during overnight raids across various districts of Chengdu, the southwestern city where the church was founded. (link)

Pastor Wang Yi from the sermon The Gospel and Church-State Relations on May 27, 2018 at Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, China.