Lee_A_Arnold

Posts

Sorted by New

Comments

The Sacred Mundane

Yvain, a professor named Steven T. Katz argues that mystical states of consciousness are always culturally informed, although I personally believe that is incorrect.

The problem talking about this sacred stuff is that a higher state of consciousness is attainable, but the experience of is not rationally describable to people who haven't attained it. There is a severance of rationality that is necessary for the change in consciousness. So we get the Zen koans and the talking burning bushes. Yet the ability to use the tools of rationality re-enters after complete attainment. That is the meaning of “First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.” Religious theologies are almost entirely composed of attempts to describe, using the scientisms of their olden days, the conditions in the universe that would explain all of this.

Then, a new circumstance entered. Since the Enlightenment, i.e. over the last 300 years or so, religious institutions have lost the esoteric meaning of theology, and both established religion and science became almost entirely ignorant of the existence of a higher state of consciousness. Or else they call it “hallucinations,” etc. Only very recently has science started to raise questions, largely as a result of the comportment of some psychedelic experience with descriptions from the mystical paths of the Eastern religions. So we will get better descriptions as science starts to investigate. There are accidental and fleeting attainments (such as the girl who has the "brainstorms") vs. practiced and held attainments. This practice is called mysticism. (Zen is historically a mystic path out of Buddhism. Otherwise the mainstream religions have almost entirely eliminated any mention of their mystical practices -- even though these are the bases of their theologies!)

Notice I wrote “some” psychedelic experience. A real problem for scientific analysis via psychedelics is that many or most people who have taken psychedelics believe they have had the full experience, but they have not. This is exhibited in some comments here, and all over the internet, all the time.

For example, most people don't know the following: there are NO hallucinations in the final state. In fact, final transcendence on psychedelics includes a complete return of all rational and calculative faculties. Go check the older clinical literature on this. (This is also indicated by the greatest religious mystics: Sankara, Buddhaghosa, John of the Cross.) Nowadays, most psychedelic users expect to see colored patterns or to get crazy drunk. It's dangerous, it’s debilitating, and it's a shame. One of the biggest mistakes was Tim Leary's promotion of LSD to the streets -- it would have been better to have kept it categorized as a psych med.

People shouldn't get the wrong idea about psychedelics. They are general brain amplifiers. Each session is very likely to be vastly different. One session is not indicative of the effect of the drug, although that is a common opinion. The first few trips can be painful and can even turn into bad trips. A beginner should only do it with a very experienced person who is a guide or a sitter. Psychedelics bring everything to the surface in an abreaction, by an order of occurrence that is specific to each individual, and which includes a lot of repressed memories that cause neuroses and body tics. Without a guide, you can hurt yourself, and you can also get the wrong idea about what is going on, as evidenced in comments all the time.

Back in the days when it was legal, the standard course of LSD psychotherapy was around 5 to 10 sessions, eyes completely covered with a blindfold for most of each session, with earphones piping in instrumental music without lyrics (usually classical.) These sessions were spread out over a year or more, with non-psychedelic therapy sessions in between. Among people who took this route, around 70 percent or so finally came to an "illumination," a full transcendent experience, and their descriptions are very close to those recorded by the great religious mystics. (And as with all the great mystics, there is no particular theological content, but rather a certain realization that all religions are in search of this same state of consciousness.) Cary Grant is a famous example of someone who realized he was a terrible egotist who hadn’t been living a full life, and threw away his day job: i.e. being a movie star.

The best two books on the subject are both by Stanislav Grof: Realms of the Human Unconscious (1975) and LSD Psychotherapy (1980).

But now, most users ruin their value as psych meds or "sacraments." As mentioned above, a lot of people think you can experience it “all” in one session. This never actually happens, and it can actually damage you. You can have a "cosmic" experience -- but it will be without abreacting all of the repressed material in your life, which takes a lot of clock-time to do -- and then you can be more or less stuck in that ego-situation throughout subsequent trips. This is epistemologically hazardous and may lead to a life of related misunderstandings. We all know the case of the insufferable old hippie who tells everybody how to run their lives: a typical casualty.

Another big mistake is taking the early trips without blocking off the outside, so then your environment triggers visual and aural hallucinations. This is enormously counterproductive because it impels you away from necessary introspection, and then you get stuck in that mind-set, and it has reduced many a person’s understanding of psychedelics to "party drugs." Rationality won’t even re-enter, here.

But what can you gain rationally from a real and COMPLETE mystical, “sacred” experience, with or without psychedelics? In essense, there is no change in the tools of analysis, but synthetical ability and the license to creativity are greatly improved.

There is no difference at all in the analytics: splitting, counting, weighing, mathematics all remain the same (although, like the mystic Brouwer, you may come across a new idea of what mathematics is.) It also won't make you a more talented artist, although it can release you from deeply buried and unsuspected inhibitions, to develop your talent. Many people think that there is at least a slight increase in IQ although I am not sure that a full study has ever been done. But there is a known improvement to the synthetic integration of rationality, and some of those people already disposed to having scientific talent are led to reintegrate knowledge beginning from the current historical level of analytic understanding. There are a fair number of self-identified examples. Kary Mullis is one. Psychedelic use was reportedly widespread throughout the early Bay Area / Silicon Valley computer community. Among known historical examples of creativity initiated by a reported mystical state, Descartes is an astonishing case of creative invention and synthesis at the level of primary symbolic understanding.

A Sense That More Is Possible

I'm not a theist, and so you have made two mistakes. I'm trying to find out why formal languages can't follow the semantics of concepts through categorial hierarchies of conceptual organization. (Because if they had been able to do so, then there would be no need to train in the Art of Rationality -- and we could easily have artificial intelligence.) The reason I asked about Gödel is because it's a very good way to find out how much people have thought about this. I asked about Bayes because you appear to believe that conditional probability can be used to construct algorithms for semantics -- sorry if I've got that wrong.

A Sense That More Is Possible

Surely Gödel came to it through a very advanced rationality. But I'm trying to understand your own view. Your idea is that Bayesian theory can be applied throughout all conceptual organization?

A Sense That More Is Possible

Eliezer, what do you say about someone who believed the world is entirely rational and then came to theism from a completely rational viewpoint, such as Kurt Gödel did?

Raising the Sanity Waterline

Think of something you might have said to Kurt Gödel: He was a theist. (And not a dualist: he thought materialism is wrong.) In fact he believed the world is rational and also was a Leibnitzian monadology with God as the central monad. He was certainly NOT guilty of not applying Eliezer's list of "technical, explicit understandings," as far as I can see. I should point out that he separated the question about religion: "Religions are, for the most part, bad -- but religion is not." (Gödel in Wang, 1996.)