Buzzword Books - unusual, intriguing, intelligent, perceptive

Here, you'll find musings from our authors and staff. We don't promise daily updates. Just posts worth your time.

Saturday, 30 April 2022

THE MAN WITH NO PLAN

 Read this short story by John Alexandra, and despair!

 

For a moment, he came alive. He knew nothing but the chill of his skin and the life and death of his breath.
    He breathed in and took life from air. He breathed out and everything stopped. Thought. Expectations. Hope. Ambition. Fear. Regrets. He breathed out into nothingness, nothing. Died to himself and became.
    Each outbreath drove a gossamer energy through his body. Chest. Gut. Legs. He let it flow. And presently there came warmth - like a fire in the belly, which he saw with an inner look.
    It drew him, soothed, solaced, fed.
    Then he found he wanted nothing - just to remain with the warmth. The cosmic calm, renewed with every breath.
    But soon he was distracted. By thought. Reactions. Moods. And forgot about it. Forgot his birthright in a trice. Identified again with outer life. The primal bliss, discarded, drained away.
    He no longer lived, felt alive.
    He became a series of reactions. The mediocrity he found comfort in. The familiar fog of existing that deadened perception. Effortless. Automatic. Disguised as progress, competence, activity.
    Again he sleepwalked through his life - a well-dressed, responsible zombie.
    That night, in bed, he reviewed his day. And saw that, although everything was done well enough, he was absent from the process - never 'there'. He did not remember locking the door when he went out, where he put his keys, his glasses. Whether he'd turned off the stove. Yet he locked the door, found his glasses and keys and turned the stove properly off. But it was done in a dream. There was no attention at all. He acted from habit, automatically. He did not exist as it was done.
    He determined, next day, to be attentive. He made a plan. He'd start off with a simple task. He'd be mindful each time he touched a switch.
    As he drank his coffee next morning, he remembered he'd switched on the electric jug but while he switched it on, he was occupied with a program on the radio - the radio he'd switched on before he'd switched on the jug. The radio he'd been listening to at the time he shaved. Then he recalled that he'd also switched on his electric shaver.
    So, before he left for work, he decided to switch on something intentionally. He switched the hall light on and off, trying to be aware that he was doing it. For an instant, life became more vivid. As though everything stopped and presence flowed.
    Then he started his car automatically and switched the radio on in the same way.
    In bed that night, when he recalled it, he realized that he was a reaction to events - a person in a waking dream.      
    Then he forgot his plan, his good intentions, for weeks.
    But he functioned well enough. Everything got done. Inattentive he might be but it was the comfortable way to exist. A dull, familiar drifting that required no effort at all.
    And soon his resolve to wake up became just a waking dream. Another thought.

Tuesday, 8 February 2022

DO WE EXIST?

Clinton Smith has now finished his forthcoming book. The working title is: "An Introduction to the Absolute." The fourth chapter, DO WE EXIST? follows. But before you read it, we advise you to read the previous three titled, WHAT DO WE KNOW? WHAT DO WE THINK? and WHAT DO WE BELIEVE?

 

If reality is really within us, it must be cleverly hidden.

It is.

And if we wish to 'look in' or 'know ourselves' and find it, we first need to be here.

So, are we?

We believe we are always the same. After all, we have the same name and body. We are educated people aren't we, with rounded personalities and distinct interests, inclinations, opinions...?

No.

David Hume put it clearly: 'For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself I always stumble on some perception or other of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never catch myself at any time without a perception.' He said that we are, 'nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with inconceivable rapidity, and are in perpetual flux and movement.'

This implies that we are not entities that respond to events but a series of reactions. Our thoughts, emotions and physical tensions are merely reactions to life.

There is a Tibetan parable that compares us to a committee with a succession of individuals standing up and claiming to be 'I'. Each thought, emotion, sensation tells us it is 'I' and what to do, until shouted down by the next. We have innumerable 'I's. And this dispersion runs our lives.

Education, religion, caste or class systems and tradition create pressure-groups of 'I's. This process is completely random and an enormous waste of energy.

Buddha said, 'That which is called a man is perpetual transformation.' This equates with the Biblical statement: 'Man's name is legion.'

As the Dhammapada puts it:  'Consider this body! A painted puppet with jointed limbs, sometimes suffering and covered with ulcers, full of imaginings, never permanent, ever changing.'

And Plutarch: '...each one of us is made up of ten thousand different and successive states, a scrap-heap of units, a mob of individuals.'

There's no unity or 'self' behind this process at all.

We're puppets.

This is the most objectionable thing anyone can hear. But until we know we are marionettes we have no hope of understanding anything.

Portrait of Mr Mediocre: He has the standard motivations — sex, status and security. He is interested in physical comfort, enjoyment, the easy way out. He does not want his opinions questioned, does not want to be disturbed. His self-defence is a balancing-act called self-affirmation.

He's full of hopes, ambitions, dreams. Of opinions, resentments, envy. Of vanity, negativity, rage. Of anxiety, lies and humbug. He has thousands of false ideas and concepts, chiefly about himself, and nurtures his self-pity which he loves.

He is selfish, competitive, possessive and wants to be 'seen of men' — wants a bigger salary, a more impressive house, a smarter car. Not that what he owns is the problem. (Possessions aren't the problem but the possessor.)

As he ages and suffers his quota of disappointments and defeats, he becomes progressively more fearful and depressed because circumstances refuse to grant him what he is certain he deserves.

            This self-satisfied sentimental hypocrite is readily insulted, soaks up flattery, justifies himself in everything and sees all setbacks as personal affronts. Even a late train or bad weather can make him irritable all day.

            He is obsequious to his boss, orders his family around at home but is meek with his mistress whom he fears. He's pious in church but kicks the dog and is furious if criticised. In short, he's a different person each moment and the slave of every situation. He is born crying, lives complaining and dies disappointed.

            Not that he's 'bad' or in any way unusual. He dresses well, wears a nice tie and is your neighbour, husband or good friend. But a flash of anger or other negativity, or an hour of daydreaming or physical tension can destroy all the energy he's received from his previous night's sleep.

Perhaps you can remember a time when you were insulted, ignored, rejected — a time when you felt the resentment of having your precious self demeaned. Can you recall that emotional storm and how it left you drained?

            Now scale that down to the lifetime of minor irritations, disappointments, regrets and smouldering antagonisms that siphon off the substance of your life.

            A loud noise... Overeating... A tense face... Everything takes your attention and fritters your energy away.

            Even reading this is sapping your substance — life energy. It costs you something. Do you feel that slight inner drain?

            So, you are not just completely inconsistent but leak energy like a sieve.

            We believe we have free will but say, 'I can't get that tune out of my head.' Or, 'How dare he treat me like that?'

            We say, 'I love you.' But what in us can possibly love? Today's reaction loves. And in the next half-hour or next breath, perhaps a flash of jealousy hates.

            Although we contradict ourselves in everything we do, the last thing we wish to hear is that we're the pawn of everything inside and outside us.

            As the practical psychologist, Ouspensky, said, 'Observe yourself very closely and you will see that not you but it speaks within you, moves, feels, laughs and cries in you, just as it rains, clears up and rains again outside you. Everything happens in you.'

            He goes on: 'If we begin to study ourselves we first of all come up against one word which we use more than any other and that is the word 'I'. We say, "I am doing", "I am sitting", "I feel", "I like", "I dislike", and so on. This is our chief illusion. For the principal mistake we make about ourselves is that we consider ourselves one. We always speak about ourselves as "I" and we suppose that we refer to the same thing all the time when we are actually divided into hundreds and hundreds of different "I"'s. At one moment when I say "I", one part of me is speaking, and at another moment when I say "I", it is quite another "I" speaking. We do not know that we have not one "I" but many different "I"s, connected with our feelings and desires, and have no controlling "I". These "I"s change all the time. One suppresses another, one replaces another, and all this struggle makes up our inner life.'

            You, in other words, are a function and not present to yourself at all.

            What does this mean?

            It means that you have never observed your inner dispersion for one moment.

            Worse.

            It means you merely have a vague waking consciousness. You are never truly 'here'. And it's not just you. Everyone around you exists in a state of waking sleep. In this state, we can do nothing. It all happens. We don't love, hate, desire. It happens. Wars. Revolutions. They all happen. All our deeds, actions, words, thoughts, feelings, convictions, habits are the result of external influences and impressions. So, everything goes in the only way it can go.

            It's as if we are hypnotised.

            Zombies.

            We sleepwalk through our lives.

 

            We have said that nature is not our friend, but still cherish the quixotic notion that we live in a well-meaning world. We believe we understand nature, forgetting that we are part of it. Can the part comprehend the whole when it doesn’t even understand itself? We are symptoms, not the cause.

Apparently, nature needs sleeping people. There is an Eastern tale about a rich magician who had a great many sheep. The sheep wandered into the forest or ran away because they knew that the magician wanted their flesh and skins. So, the magician hypnotised them — told them that they were immortal and would not be harmed when they were skinned. That he loved them and if anything bad was to happen to them, it wouldn't be that day. He told them they weren’t sheep at all. He told some that they were eagles, lions or magicians. The sheep were soothed and never strayed again. They waited obediently till he slaughtered them. 

We are sheep!

And need to be.

Otherwise the system doesn't work.

We are asleep. And everything, including the cosmos, conspires to keeps us snoring. We are reactive, hoodwinked, helpless, conceited, posturing mechanisms.

Slaves.

Used ─ then massacred by millions.

We know nothing. Can do nothing.

We are 'done'.

As individuals, we don't exist! Yet some of us have the temerity to think that this bundle of exploding rat traps that we fondly label 'ourselves' merits life after death or immortality!

How can something that is not stable for one second survive the shock of death? And what would be the point?

As for fathoming the cosmos — forget it.

Saturday, 9 October 2021

HOME ECONOMICS

Martin Jensen - author of How to Keep Fit Without Exercise and How To Get What You Want ruefully examines the current plight of middle class Australians.

 

You are the average, middle-class Aussie husband married with two kids. You earn $80,000 per year. Perhaps $100,000 if you are fortunate. A princely sum ten years ago but now the average wage. Still, on the face of it, you're much better off than some.

Deduct the mortgage and insurance, kid's schooling or school expenses, rates, taxes, repairs, payments to plumbers, electricians, lawyers, tax agents, computer geeks. Plus medical expenses: dentist, orthodontist, optometrist, physio, podiatrist...

And then there's the cost of getting around. Car registration, petrol, road tolls. NRMA, tyres, batteries, servicing…

And don’t forget groceries, chemist, shoes, clothing, gym subscription, birthday presents, holiday expenses, motels, restaurants, entry fees to exhibitions, and that child in Kenya or fire-damaged Koala your wife has been conned into paying XX dollars a week to support, although everyone knows that she is funding more expensive commercials to make the organizers rich.

Then there's planned obsolescence. The fridge, washing machine, clothes dryer, stove, hot water system, mower, hedge trimmer, heaters, aircon, vacuum cleaner and hot blanket will fail at factory specified intervals.

Forget expensive hobbies. Sky-diving will have to wait. Tennis lessons for the kiddies have to be put on hold. Forget the caravan and jet ski, the opera subscription and scuba gear. And you'd better quit coffin-nails or thousands more dollars go up in smoke. 

So it's important that no one in your family becomes seriously ill, develops psychological problems, is involved in car smashes, falls off a ladder or otherwise injures themselves. Because that initial $80,000 has now been spent several times over and you are looking at a second mortgage on the house. Or, God help us, slinking in to a payday lender!

They say freedom is when the wife's divorced you, the kids have left home and the dog's died. But not financial freedom. You've married someone you now hate, given her half the house plus landed yourself with a maintenance burden that will possibly sink you. And next you're supporting two families. No, there's no way out.

Is there a moral to this story? Yup.

Being born is our first mistake.

 

You can source Martin's books on Buzzword.




 
 

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

WHAT DO WE BELIEVE?

 Here is the third chapter of the book currently being drafted by Clinton Smith. Enjoy.

 

What do we believe? Generally, just about anything we're told.

We can fervently believe any piffle, poppycock and balderdash. 

We can believe in atheism, spiritualism, cargo cults ─ in literal interpretations of the devil, heaven, hell. We can believe that God is on the side of our armies, that he notes the sparrow's fall, that human sacrifices placate him, that killing infidels is his wish.

Once we believed that the sun moved around the earth and that we were the centre of everything. 

In 1492, clerics believed that an all-loving, all-forgiving God hated heretics. So, they stretched them on the rack or burned them at the stake. 

Today, Muslim martyrs wearing bomb-belts believe that, if they incinerate a crowd of non-believers, they'll go to paradise and be pursued by 72 concupiscent virgins. 

But even fanatics can't believe in a purposeless universe and still believe in 'God'.
When science dumped understanding for knowledge, it sabotaged religion. And when religion abandoned insight for belief, it became equally uninviting. Science can't see the wood for the trees and religion can't see the trees for the wood. So, both now inhabit a wasteland of blowing paper and dried bones. 

It wasn’t always this way. 

Long before the Dark Ages, the knowledgeable ones were, at once, priests, scientists, alchemists, natural historians and philosophers. Whatever we now think of their notions, their search was integrated by the striving for a single world view. 

In ancient Egypt, Greece, India and medieval Europe, science was an aspect of religion and psychology — and remained an integrated study even as late as the 1500's.

For instance, Descartes, was an engineer as well as a philosopher. He studied optics and analytical geometry. He formulated the First Law of Motion before Newton did and repudiated magnetism, gravity and action at a distance. He thought that inertia made bodies persist not in a circular but a straight motion and that planetary orbits were the result of vortices in ether. He reduced the world to particles whose only reality was extension in space and motion in space and time — a sally at physics that so pleased him that he hoped to complete it entirely by himself. As a philosopher, he believed that the idea of god implied his existence. Today, despite his flawed assumptions, we would call him a Renaissance Man.

The Cartesians (those with notions deriving from Descartes) saw animals as machines. They believed that the human animal, however, was fitted with an appendage called mind. And that God was still around somehow, tacked onto the system.

Then Newton worked out that planetary orbits were governed by gravity and centrifugal force. His billiard-ball universe was accurate enough to be a benchmark for 200 years. His Laws of Inertia, Acceleration, Reciprocal Action et al banished mystery from the cosmos. But he was still unable to account for the precise movement of the planets. So, he considered God a corrective force guiding the worlds. He was, in fact, a Deist — believed that a divine mechanic governed the machine. 

Darwin, who wrote The Origin of Species was also vexed by a meddlesome god. In 1860, in a letter to Asa Gay,  he wrote, 'I cannot think that the world as we see it is a matter of chance, and yet I cannot look at each separate thing as the result of design. ...I am, and shall ever remain, in a hopeless muddle.' The whole point of his thesis was that variations were not directed. In a letter to Hooker in 1856, he cited, 'the clumsy, wasteful, low and horribly cruel works of nature.'

Although Darwin hardly used the term 'evolution', the dumbed-down popularisation of his theories has become the non-thinker's mind-worm — the vaunted 'theory of everything'. We now believe in progress, the continual advancement of knowledge, the progressive refinement of politics, conduct and social systems. Even though bald evidence shows the futility of these views.
Take progress, for instance. Are things really developing, getting better, or merely becoming more complex? Every innovation creates six more insoluble problems. Technical advances are matched by an increase in generalised stupidities. Such as the scores of SSBNs (Ballistic Missile Submarines) lurking in every ocean, ready to vaporise the world's cities. 

As for the advent of social media, the internet and instant communication, its data gathering and manipulation is deeply destructive. It creates multiple problems such as identification and information theft, scams, bullying, fake news, propaganda, and increasing slavery to IT technology. And incites an abnormal world-wide reaction to a single local stimulus. 

Everything is designed to be engaging, to grab and keep our attention — to commodify our love of gossip, sensationalism and hyperbole. To waste our time and dumb us down. To manufacture compulsion. The need to click produce an instant dopamine hit. If we engage with social media for ten minutes, our oxytocin level soars. 

At last count, forty-eight countries have at least one government agency engaged in placing blatant falsehoods on social media and engineering consent and dissent. Shady media outlets on corporate payrolls fabricate doubt, disorientation and distraction. They control information through the censorship of outlet-swamping or 'noise'. This promotion of mistrust, fear, disinformation designed to manipulate thought and behaviour is now a profitable market using the methods of advertising and PR. The appeal is emotional, compulsive, addictive and amplifies negative traits. Advertising, of course, is propaganda. Not truth but hype.

This destructive digital gully-trap promotes conspiracy theories, outlandish claims, deep fakes, confusing 'facts' and fiction. The constant bombardment of tainted 'leaks' makes us question the validity of all media. 

With the internet now manipulated by pressure groups, multinationals and state autocrats, the upshot is social divisiveness and public chaos. Monopolies such as Facebook and Twitter pay lip service to removing tainted accounts, but are acutely aware that this cramps their bottom lines. So, as long as gathering subscribers is their business model, malicious actors will continue to thrive.

Meanwhile adolescent girls are given the chance of indirect aggression, the ability to shame and belittle with 'who's in, who's out rants. Adolescent boys are fed first-person war games that have been found by psychologists to promote callous indifference.

Everywhere you see agitated, self-promoting zombies shackled to their cell phones, compulsively micro-managing their profiles. Long before such technology was invented, Reich was already talking about, 'Compulsive, contactless sociability.'

The 'evolution' mind-worm also prompts us to believe that life started from inorganic matter, or arose spontaneously from amino acids in the oceans of the primitive earth. This assumption fits a barren cosmos devoid of sagacity or purpose because it negates all semblance of design. It means our presence here is incidental and reduces us to sophisticated apes.

The materialist, Hobbes, prompted this comment from a complaining theist: 'The root of all atheism consists in making senseless matter the only existent thing.' 

Despite such protests, God is no longer 'needed on voyage'. Knowledge and reasoning are enough. We believe in appearances only and believe that life can be organized through science alone.

Scientists believe that the whole can be understood by examining its parts. Their method isolates things from their surroundings. It separates items that can be weighed, numbered and measured from things that can't. It works in stricture of useful abstractions and finds in these fragments no meaning or design. But the layman, believing the analysis inclusive, accepts that view automatically, no matter how much clerics argue that the whole is more than the sum of its parts. 

But can one really explain anything in terms of itself? Is it credible that nature created itself — was self-derived? That matter created matter? Can we, for instance, by dismantling a radio, extract the music and voices it emits? Or extract thoughts by dissecting the brain?

So, as the gap widened between science and religion, the inner and outer aspects of cosmology became progressively opposed.

As science began to learn more and more about less, the less it understood. But it knew enough to shred believers in benevolence from above. It reduced the hierarchy that had guided our values and equated religion to a childish fiction equivalent to Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. 

In a godless world, we became governed from below — by isolated objects, genes, atoms, blind laws of attraction, random forces... By an automated cosmos and closed system. Meaning became meaningless. 

Meanwhile, the remnant of religion, still convinced that 'design' required a vaguely anthropomorphic deity, closed its cage of thought in defence of its beliefs. 

Now, the literalists who still attend its temples are well-meaning people with conventional minds snared by self-comfort, establishment and routine. Or those having a bet each way. Or doing it for the kids. Or emotionally cathartic happy-clappers swaying to the rants of money-motivated 'prosperity theology' evangelists.

But beyond the churches, mosques and synagogues are still a reticent few who covertly believe that there is 'something out there'.

Is

Monday, 22 March 2021

WHAT DO WE THINK?

 Our last post was actually the first chapter of a forthcoming book by Clint Smith. Here is the second. Now read on:


We have reviewed the mystery of existence from the scientific aspect. However, physicists are not the only specialists studying the nature of reality. The riddles of cosmology and consciousness also exercise philosophers. 

Here we find monists, dualists, pluralists. And, in the Western tradition, sub-categories such as epistemologists, idealists, logical analysists, positivists, empiricists, existentialists, phenomenologists, postmodernists, utilitarians… All have notions about the world, mind, existence, conduct and morality, generally expressed with a sophistry even academics find obscure.


 There are more than a hundred established philosophers in European history and to catalogue them opinions would need a second book. So we have selected a representative few who tried to fathom the enigmas of reality.


We will leave Socrates and Plato for the present and begin much later with the first of the early modern philosophers, Descartes (1596-1650). He was a dualist who believed in two substances ─ mind and matter ─ and is known for his assertion Cogito, ergo sum. (I think. Therefore I am.)  This maxim is derided by quietists who point out that discursive thought is a barrier to consciousness and that 'I think. Therefore I am not.' is closer to the truth. While this is obvious, it is also out of context because Descartes first established the fallibility of sensations. He said that our senses were too limited to experience reality.  And, as it was possible to think independently of sensations, he reasoned that thought, and thought alone, proved that he existed.


Spinoza (1632-677), a neutral monist, believed in one supreme infinite substance named god or nature. Contrary to Descartes, he believed that this was a material entity and that mind and matter were aspects of the same substance. All was god or nature. 


Leibniz (1646-1716), an idealist and theist, claimed that everything must have a reason for existence. And this reason must lie in something outside the world of appearances.


Berkeley (1685-1753) claimed that we have an intuitive knowledge of ourselves and that 'To be is to be perceived.' Therefore, there was no such thing as matter. As matter was inert and senseless — neither perceived itself nor was perceived — it simply didn't exist. Then where was a bucket, for instance, when no one perceived it? Ah-hah, said Bishop Berkeley, a benevolent God perceived it and so it was sustained by the mind of God.


Hume (1711-1776), an empiricist and sceptic, had a secular philosophy and doubted human experience could yield knowledge. He disputed Berkeley's claim that we had a self and said that we are nothing but a bundle of perceptions ─ that we know the mind only as we know matter, by perception. Therefore, the mind is merely an abstract name for ideas, perceptions and feelings. As mind does not exist, reason is no final test. He said, 'If we take into hand any volume of metaphysics, let us ask, does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number. No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter or fact or existence? No. Commit it then to the flames for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion.' 


So, for Hume, mind did not exist. And, for Berkeley, matter didn't either. As one wit said of them, 'No matter. Never mind.'


Enter the Prussian philosopher, Kant (1724-1804) who rejected both empiricism and rationalism. He said that the apparent world derives its structures from the nature of the mind that perceives it. 'What objects may be in themselves remain completely unknown to us. We know nothing but our mode of perceiving them.' He said that the world is an appearance constructed by our minds and that there must be some kind of reality beyond the phenomenon. This would be the thing in itself — the noumenal — but that we can never know this reality.


Therefore, cosmic conundrums are beyond us. Space and time, he said, are not things perceived but modes of perception. So, for instance, when knowledge tries to decide whether the universe is finite or infinite, the mind rebels against either proposition.  
Similarly, the question of time, and whether all we know had a beginning. Just as we can't conceive eternity, we can't conceive a first cause because a first cause uncaused is inconceivable. Is there an escape from these blind alleys? Kant said there is. It is to remember that space, time and causation are modes of thought and not external to our limited perception.
Equally, he said, religious concepts can't be proved by theoretical reason. He contrasted the symmetry and unity of nature used by religion to indicate creationism or supernatural design with the other side of nature — waste, duplication, suffering and death. He considered design no proof of providence. For him, design was internal design — the design of parts of the whole. He then attacked the concept of life springing fully formed from dead matter. This can't explain, he said, the growth of even a single blade of grass.


So Kant, at one swipe, deconstructed science, religion and the mechanistic view of evolution.
Later philosophers such as Heidegger (1889-1976) claimed that existence is fundamentally a 'being there' which is entangled in the world that surrounds it and that the part serves to disclose the whole. He coined the term Dasein, meaning the being which we ourselves are, or the primacy of being in the world. Our being, he said, is grounded in what we do, culminating in a stoic reverence for the possible, despite the meaninglessness of life and the inevitability of death. 


Then came the pessimism of Schopenhauer, the nihilism of Sartre and the romanticism of Nietzsche. The 'death of God'. The primacy of ego and the will. Man stripped bare — thrown entirely on his own resources.


We again became lone truculent voyagers in the arid waste of space and to think otherwise was a dream. An impractical ideal. Humanism now paralleled the purposeless universe of science, providing thin gruel indeed for the young and impressionable mind. Even theism's emotional nourishment dwindled.  Western thought foundered on the unyielding rock of despair.
 
So much for the thought-addled West. The East had a different approach.


The Vedic sages (1500BC) were concerned to discover the one thing, which if known, could allow them to understand everything else.
By disciplining the mind, they intuited that nothing is separate. They said that only Brahman, the supreme entity, is real. That 'Thou art that'. And that the Self is Brahman. That when the separate observer disappears, our innermost essence is revealed as identical with the Unformed, beyond time space and causality. 


The Hermetic view coincided. The tablet of Hermes Trismegistus (127BC) states that all things come from the One and from the mediation of the One and have their birth from it by adaptation. As above, so below. That which is above is the same as that which is below. And its force is above all force, for it vanishes subtle things and penetrates all solid things. And that we need to separate the subtle from the coarse.


Lao Tzu (around 300BC) asserted that non-existence is not equivalent to nothingness but is the condition before existence came into being. That existence and non-existence are co-dependent. 'The wheel is useless without the centre hole in the hub.' So the sage should see, as his inner goal. absolute vacuity. 'Forever tarrying in purposelessness.' He who knows himself is enlightened. Not knowing that one knows is best.
'He who knows does not speak. He who speaks does not know. The great Way is always inactive yet there is nothing it does not do. All things come from existence. And existence from non-existence. By non-action everything can be done.' 


The Buddhist Mahayana teachings (100AD) include the seminal Heart Sutra which states that form is not other than emptiness and emptiness not other than form. That all things are marked by emptiness — not born, not destroyed, not stained, not pure, without gain or loss. 'This is truth,' it adds, 'not mere formality.' 


The sutra's connection with quantum states has been eulogized by New Age enthusiasts. It also coincides with Vedantist and Taoist views. Buddha refused to engage into the cosmological speculations of his disciples, declaring them 'matters not conducive to edification.'
Plotinus (204-270) said that an ineffable 'One' structures all existence. And that this being/non-being is everywhere, nowhere and beyond all language and thought. But, as it wills itself to lower graduations of unity, it becomes multiple and material. And that the undifferentiated unity can be experienced intuitively by a person able to strip themselves bare of all concerns and concepts.


Shankara (686-718), who reformed Hindu philosophy, said that the objective universe has no real existence. That the ineffable is reality itself and that it intrinsically has no diversity whatever. That it is stainless, indivisible, unbounded, unmoved, unchanging, beyond all action and absolute, without beginning or end. That the world is nothing but utter consciousness, knowledge and peace. That the cause of our bondage is the mind. And a pure mind leads to liberation. That the aim of the philosopher should be to free his mind from all distractions, to attain dispassion and bask in the consciousness of the ineffable.


Avicenna (980-1037) a Muslim born in Bukhara, said that we know we exist and that existing things come and go. They do not exist by themselves so arrive through a cause. And, as a chain of causes cannot be infinite, they must end in a sole self-subsistent entity. This is considered, by Islamic scholars, as a proof of the existence of God.


The Sufi poets (1000-1029) used mystical analogies to express their ecstatic cosmology:


The Centre is within me and lies as a circle everywhere about me.
I am the Merchant and the Pearl at once.
Time and space lie crouching at my feet.
I plunge into myself and all things know.


There is none but Him. But, alas, no one can see Him.

First you must cross seven oceans and a very long road.
Then a fish will draw you to him — such a fish that
When he breathes, he draws into him the first and the last.
This marvellous fish has neither head nor tail.
He holds himself in the middle of the ocean.
He sweeps away the two worlds
And draws to himself all creatures without exception.


There is a fundamental difference between Western and Eastern views. The Western approach is intellectual — the mind fussing with the attempt to rationalize infinity. But the Eastern approach doesn't start with the mind at all. It begins with quietening the thoughts and attempting to be present enough, nakedly aware enough, to arouse raw insight and intuition.
Kant, for all his intellect and sincerity, never achieved this insight and never met anyone who had. So it may seem odd to see his conclusions equate with Sufi mystics, Plotinus and the Vedanta. 


Gurdjieff, the monumental being who changed Eastern insights into Western terms remarked, 'If Kant had introduced the idea of scale into his arguments, many things he wrote would be valuable. This was the only thing he lacked.'


The idea of scale? 


This is expressed in the Hermetic teaching, 'As above, so below.' This cryptic statement needs to be investigated or, as people now say, 'unpacked'. It means that, if everything is an aspect of the One, then the individual is the Universe in miniature. That the Microcosm mirrors the Macrocosm — of course, on an infinitesimal scale. 


According to this theory, we are an image of the universe and subject to the same laws. And that, by studying ourselves in depth, we will be able to understand everything else.
Is there any evidence for this view? There is in so-called esoteric teachings where methods of practical psychology (the 'how' of religion) have presumably been preserved.


Maharshi: 'When the creature sees and knows himself without attributes, that is knowledge of the Creator, for the Creator appears as none other than the Self. The whole cosmos is contained in one pinhole in the heart.'
Shankara: You yourself are the non-duel Brahman, spotless like the ether, without inner or outer, without attributes, changeless, timeless, without dimensions or parts. What else is there to know?
Attar: 'The Centre is within me and its wonder lies as a circle everywhere about me. I am the merchant and the pearl at once. I plunge into myself and all things know.'
Zen Master: 'You must realise that the centre of the universe is the pit of your belly.'
The New Testament claims that the Kingdom of Heaven is within us.
And so on and so forth.
This brings us to Plato's teacher Socrates (469-399BC), the man who said, 'Gnothi seauton.' 'Know thyself.'  
Do you see the implication?


It suggests that we cannot know anything by simply thinking which is, at best, a peripheral, superficial process that occupies one aspect of ourselves. But if we truly are the Microcosm, the mirror of the greater world, by looking into ourselves profoundly, we can understand the cosmos. 


Here is an extract from a book of Eastern wisdom, quoted by Gurdjieff:

'To know means to know all.
To know a part of something means not to know.
It is not difficult to know all, because in order to know all one has to know very little.
But in order to know that little, one has to know pretty much.'

Hence the assertions of the Vedic sages.
By truly knowing ourselves, can we understand all?
Is the way in the way out?