The goal of meditation, as was explained, is not to escape the physical world, but to remind one of its illusiveness and therefore deal with it (live it) in the most intelligent, real, and fruitful of ways. This illusiveness was discovered through meditation by many great philosophers, such as Descartes in his Six Meditations, which embodied the words of Zhuang Zi, the Chinese Taoist philosopher, who wrote:
"Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi."
This inescapable reality, the reality that our physical world is but mass illusion, is not just poetic philosophy. It is equally true in modern science, as contemporary quantum physicist, Nick Herbert, explains:
"The German philosopher Immanuel Kant... began his analysis by dividing knowledge into three parts: appearance, reality, and theory. Appearance is the content of our direct sensory experience of natural phenomena. Reality (Kant called it the "thing-in-itself") is what lies behind all phenomena. Theory consists of human concepts that attempt to mirror both appearance and reality.
"Kant believed that the world's appearances were deeply conditioned by human sensory and intellectual apparatus. Other beings no doubt experience the same world in radically different ways. Scientific facts - the appearances themselves - are as much a product of the observer's human nature as they are of an underlying reality. We see the world through particularly human goggles. Kant felt that the participation of human nature in the creation of appearances explained both the remarkable ability of human concepts to fit the facts and the natural limit of such abilities.
"Our concepts appear to match the facts, according to Kant, because both concepts and facts have a common origin - the human condition."
Nick Herbert, Quantum Reality
We're not just talking about the fact that other creatures experience our physical world in very different ways than we do (examples of which include how snakes, donkeys, bumblebees, and others can actually see infra-red or ultra-violet light, how dogs and cats can hear a range of sounds at frequencies inaudible to us, how bats can see through their ears, and so on), but that nothing we perceive has any relation to what they really are, as Herbert explains unequivocally:
"The world isn't made of things. It's not made of objects… The notion that big things are made of little things, quantum theory doesn't describe the world that way. Big things aren't made of little things. They are made of entities whose attributes aren't there when you don't look, but become there when you do look. The world exists when we don't look at it in some strange state that is indescribable, and then when we look at it, it becomes absolutely ordinary, as though someone were trying to pull something over our eyes. The world is an illusion.
Nick Herbert - Quantum Physicist
That being said, we still have to operate in the world in its illusive form, not the reality behind, and for good reasons, as Dawkins explains:
"Science has taught us, against all intuition, that apparently solid things like crystals and rocks are really almost entirely composed of empty space. The familiar illustration is: the nucleas of an atom is a fly in the middle of a sports stadium, and the next atom is in the next sports stadium. So it would seem that the hardest, solidest, densest rock is really almost entirely empty space, broken only by tiny particles so widely spaced they shouldn't count. Why then do rocks look and feel solid and hard and impenetrable? As an evolutionary biologist I'd say this: Our brains have evolved to help us survive within the orders of magnitude of size and speed which our bodies operate at. We never evolved to navigate in the world of atoms. If we had, our brains probably would perceive rocks as full of empty space. Rocks feel hard and impenetrable to our hands precisely because objects like rocks and hands cannot penetrate each other. It's therefore useful for our brains to construct notions of solidity and impenetrability because such notions help us to navigate our bodies through the middle-sized world in which we have to navigate. Moving to the other end of the scale, our ancestors never had to navigate through the cosmos at speeds close to the speed of light. If they had, our brains would be much better at understanding Einstein."
Richard Dawkins - Evolutionary Biologist
It is clear that we have been given a set of senses, limited by design, to experience the world in a limited and very illusive way, in addition to a set of utilitarian skills designed precisely for our survival in such a world. The more we experience things through our limited senses, the more our consequently-limited perceptions provide us with inevitably-limited information that is useful to cope with our world. The undeniable conclusion here is that we have been wired (encoded; conditioned) to perceive, experience, understand, react, and live in this existence in the way we do. Even our analogies and semantics to describe the reality beyond the illusion, which we know exists with certainty, are a product of that wiring.
We cannot escape our wiring, for without it we cannot even communicate the ideas in these lines. Some rationalize that certain mutations to our DNA may enable us to escape that wiring, but we would only become prisoners of a different one. Even if it was possible to escape our wiring, we should first know what it is; how we are wired, so that we may recognize our escape from it. One method to understand ourselves more is to contemplate what makes us different from other creatures, cats for instance, as Jostein Gaarder did in his masterpiece, Sophie's World:
[the philosopher]: "Imagine there's a cat lying on the floor in the living room. A ball comes
rolling into the room. What does the cat do?"
[Sophie]: "I've tried that lots of times. The cat will run after the ball."
"All right. Now imagine that you were sitting in that same room. If you
suddenly see a ball come rolling in, would you also start running after it?"
"First, I would turn around to see where the ball came from."
"Yes, because you are a human being, you will inevitably look for the cause of every event, because the law of causality is part of your makeup."
This simple example reveals perhaps one of the most important features of our wiring: cats, and virtually every other creature, are not wired to see the world through the goggles of causality as we are. A monkey that sees a fire for the first time may quickly learn through experience and register in its memory that it is harmful to touch. But we have yet to see any evidence that monkeys contemplate how the fire came about in the first place. A human being, on the other hand, who is wired to see the world through the goggles of cause and effect, wants to know, as Sophie did with the ball, where the fire came from. It was only after the discovery of the possible causes of fire several millennia ago that we became able to consciously recreate that fire and figure out, through experiment (i.e. trial and error), what it can be used for.
Observing how bees build their hives, how ants build their subterranean kingdoms, or how birds build their nests would surely astonish the wisest among us. But what is even more astonishing is how robotic their works are. These magnificent creatures show no evidence that their home-building skills were acquired through any kind of learning. It's not as though there was a time when ants made bird nests and birds slept in holes underground, and one day contemplated a more suitable residence. They do not watch and learn the know-how from their parents or ancestors (which has its own advantages). The building of hives and nests, as well as the rest of their knowledge, is clearly imprinted in their DNA wiring and definitely not learned through causality.
Like all other creatures, all their actions are a response (a reaction) to external, physical stimuli. Human beings, on the other hand, have both: the unconscious (animal-like) instinctive reactions to stimuli as well as the conscious actions that have not been induced by any external stimulus. A person can wake up in the middle of a dream, filled with inspiration, and express it through some form of art.
All what's said above is not to convince anyone that we are superior to other creatures. We are certainly not the strongest nor fastest, most able, most ethical, not even the most intelligent. Rather, the point is to show the evidence that we are indeed wired. And of the features of this unique wiring is the way we perceive the world in terms of causality. Logic and math alone, the basis of all our sciences, literature, architecture, machinary and tools, computers, and civilization itself1, could not have existed without the concept of causality. And if it's true that necessity (cause) is the mother of invention (effect), then that is only more proof that our ability to grasp causality is the source of our power to invent, which made us the unchallenged masters of this planet, for better or worse.
July 16, 2013.
Memphis, TN, USA.