Skip to main content

Confessions of a Skyhooks Buddhist

A Skyhooks Buddhist insists that there is something pulling us upward. It is not all just that we (and all life) are pushed up from the soil. The Buddha famously instructed that we not waylay our practice by engaging in vain speculations about matters metaphysical, which can endlessly, pointlessly spin the wheels in our heads.

Picture is of a 56-foot-high statue in Trafford Park, in the metropolis of Greater Manchester, England.
But people are a curious lot, who nose into everything. And a lot of progress has been made in the two-dozen-plus centuries since Buddha walked the rocky soil. We have absolute understanding, today, about things Buddha, if it had been his inclination, could not have guessed about. Matters abstruse have a way of yielding under the microscope of an eons’-long gaze. Data accumulates. Facts fall into our laps like ripe apples loosed from trees. We chip away at the mountain of things hither-to-now unknown and add precious stone to the pile of that which we have become certain.

Still, our very existence, and matters surrounding it, remain a peculiar and near-absolute mystery. Why are we here and how is life even possible? Why shouldn't there be an absolute nothingness?

The reductionists think that life, including humans, is just some sort of mechanism. Our mind is only our brain.
The reductionists and the physicalists are now having their day. We are getting ever-better at understanding molecules and their behaviors, the keys to chemical reactions and what manifests from many phrases in our DNA. It’s as if the puzzle pieces are beginning to fit to explain life as a wholly physical process. We are all just these soft, squishy replicating robots that sprang up from the ground. From a bounty of mistakes and seeming flaws we became ever better at sustaining ourselves and replicating ourselves until we, pretty much, have taken over the earth. And here we now are: Billions of buttheads, the winners of a grand interspecies game of King of the Hill.

But I abstain from accepting that ready conclusion. There is something else; I don’t know what.

Perhaps it is somewhere in altruism at fullest bloom – when some of us act discordantly with the rush of self interest that supposedly propels our species – where something other, better, higher can be found. An RSA viddie from a couple years ago has Oren Harman talking about Radical Altruism in other species and in us.

There is also the mystery of consciousness. The physicalists think that the brain is the mind; that that hunk of cheese in our skull is of such amazing capability that it creates our world for us – or the connection with the world outside.

But for me, and for the Dalai Lama, there is the puzzle of color to contend with and other matters of what we experience that must be "something else." We know – we think we know, anyway – that color is just wavelength that we interpret as a field of hues. But if color isn't color outside of us, where does it come from? How does the hunk of cheese, our brain, stir red – or any other color – into being?

Philosopher Frank Jackson made an argument that is famous in the 'philosophy of mind.' He supposed there was this woman, Mary, who had never experienced the color red. She's fully brilliant; experiences everything else, but is "locked out" of knowing "red." Indeed, she becomes a pre-eminent neurologist and comes to know everything knowable about the physical side of what there is in the world. Suddenly, the doors of perception are flung open and red is made available to Mary. Doesn't this show that red is outside of the physical world and is pure perception, or qualia as it's called – something of a different order of existence/experience/being.

Indeed, I would say that Jackson is right. I "buy" this demonstration/proof of dualism. Hooray, Frank Jackson – only, Jackson, the creator of "What Mary Knew" has come to disagree with his proof and has, now, fallen in with the damn materialists/physicalists/reductionist bastards!!

You can hear Jackson, interviewed by the boys of Philosophy Bites, in a fifteen-minute audio podcast, explaining "What Mary Knew" and why he has abandoned dear dualism: "Philosophy Bites: Frank Jackson on What Mary Knew."

Despite the frustrations, I know – I just KNOW – there is something UP there. Something vaster and meaningful. We are greatness, that added extra to our hunk of cheese.

A version of this post first appeared in the Progressive Buddhism blog.


Tom Carr said…
I don't know if there is something up there, or if we evolved from matter. I think either way the truths of Buddhism hold. I think that being attached to either view could be a problem.

Were you just joking when you said "the damn materialists/physicalists/reductionist bastards!! "? If you were not joking, I suggest you look at your attachment and aversion to particular point of view.
Tom Carr said…
I don't know if there is something up there, or if we evolved from matter. I think either way the truths of Buddhism hold. I think that being attached to either view could be a problem.

Were you just joking when you said "the damn materialists/physicalists/reductionist bastards!! "? If you were not joking, I suggest you look at your attachment and aversion to particular point of view.
Tom, I lapsed into joking. I was firing a cannon at my physicalist/materialist friends. But I do think that if the physicalist theory proves to be correct, it creates problems regarding any meaning to being alive. Also, as I tried to show, there must be other things going on about what we are that go beyond or go outside an all-physical explanation.

Whether Buddhism survives the Ultimate Ontological Understanding of who we are, I would hope so, but can't say.

Popular posts from this blog

The Mission Five Years Ago, And Today

I have spent the night the past two weeks plus at the Union Gospel Mission and am having an excellent time of it -- not only regards to sleeping in the dorm that the mission has, but also listening to the sermons that are delivered in the early evening. The Christmas music that is performed is also splendid. [And the food -- the FOOD -- has been fantastic during my stay so far! A happier Tom there couldn't be.] I chatted with a pal last night about The Mish – about how things were about five years ago when we both used the mission’s services frequently, and how thing are, today.
Five years ago, there were a lot scuffles between the guys when the front gate was opened in the early afternoon and in the area near the contact window there were some brawls as guys fought over where guys were in line to get a bed in the dorm.
Nowadays, however, the mission is very much a peaceful place both on the grounds of the facility and and out on the street.
I do not know what transformative eve…

Homeless Sacramentans lose case that would have given them the right to set up outdoor camping

8/11/13 I certainly give attorneys Mark Merin and Cat Williams credit for pursuing a case against the city of Sacramento to give homeless Sacramentans the right to set up tents and a campsite. I wanted them to win their case, but they didn't. They lost it.

BUT, it is also necessary to look at the particulars of the case that Merin and Williams brought and see that the situation underlying the court case was not very compelling.

During the period eight years ago when 22 homeless campers set up their tents and brought in supplies to Mark Merin's vacant lot at C Street, near 12th, there was loud noise and plenty of other mayhem. Drug dealers were on the street encouraging buys from the campers. The Hernandez couple that lived in a house nearby were constantly being taunted by the campers, disrupting their lives.

Per always with Safe Ground camps, calm was deserted for the sake of boisterousness.

Leader John Kraintz and the other Safe Grounders would claim to have signed strict a…

New Triage Shelter [on Railway Rd.] moves toward completion

I received a generous response from Leo McFarland of VOA on the status of the 200-bed Triage Shelter that is progressing toward completion on Railway Rd.

McFarland writes,
Tom, all the contacts and referrals to the Triage Shelter are coming from the outreach team called the Impact Team.  No walk ups are allowed per our contract with the City. Last night's opening was scheduled to be limited to 50 individuals for several reasons. First the Impact team transports each referral over to the Shelter which limits the number that could be handled by this group on opening day.

Secondly, and more to the site permit challenge, we have not completed the full interior build out as yet. We are going to erect physical walls in the Shelter to provide for guests' privacy in the sleeping areas.

Everything is complete for this build except we cannot begin to set it up until the city issues us the building permit.  It is under review by the city and we expect to get the green light v…