What is Mysticism? – Part 1

Background:

In a comment on my previous post, I wrote:
“My working definition of mysticism is:
Any claim about reality (not just the self) which cannot be verified by another person.”

“If you say that your mind tells you X and my mind does not tell me X, and there is nothing in external reality that can validate X, clearly we are at an impasse. No further communication is possible, which, not surprisingly, is the core of all mystic claims”

To which Ajit Jadhav replied:
The matters of truth and falsehood are not established in reference to other people. It’s all between your own self, and reality, full-stop. The objective standard is (your grasp of) reality, not other people. And, note, “reality” also does include consciousness, i.e., “self” (and the selves of others). Primacy of existence doesn’t deny that fact. Consciousness is real.

the issue really is only with the qualifier: “external.” Agreed? If so, would you please tell me why you insert that qualifier? And, could you offer me a definition of the term “external?”

Main post:

The exchange above raises the crucial question: How does one evaluate claims related to consciousness- such as telepathy?

Quoting Rand:

A consciousness conscious of nothing but itself is a contradiction in terms: before it could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of something.

Directly or indirectly, every phenomenon of consciousness is derived from one’s awareness of the external world. … It is only in relation to the external world that the various actions of a consciousness can be experienced, grasped, defined or communicated.

Communicated, yes. But experienced, grasped and defined too? Can one not experience pain or pleasure without relation to the external world? What exactly does external mean here? Consciousness (mine as well as other people’s) is a part of reality. It exists too. Does the external world include the consciousness of other people but not one’s own? Does it exclude all consciousness?

All concepts are formed by a process of abstraction. One cannot form a concept from a single unit. That holds for the concept of consciousness too. Before a consciousness could identify itself as consciousness, it had to be conscious of other entities having consciousness. A baby raised in total isolation with no conscious entity around it, could not conceive of consciousness, could not conceive of any difference between the external world and the products of its own consciousness, could not achieve certainty about anything. It should be clear now that what one perceives and infers about other people’s consciousness is crucial to the concept of consciousness as such.

For instance, a child may see people walking around a table instead of colliding with it. This allows him to infer that the table exists external to the consciousness of these people and his own. The child sees (readily) that his mother does not understand what he wants. This allows him to infer that his desire is internal to his own consciousness and is not accessible to his mother. The child sees (readily) that he does not understand what his mother wants. This allows him to infer that her desire is internal to her own consciousness and is not accessible to him. Without such an understanding of what is internal and what is external, the child would not be able to develop the concept of consciousness at all.

The external world is those aspects of reality to which other people have access. Or, employing the concept of consciousness, the external world is those aspects of reality to which any consciousness has access. With this understanding of the external world Rand’s “It is only in relation to the external world that the various actions of a consciousness can be experienced, grasped, defined or communicated” makes sense.

That is enough for this post. I will pursue this later.

The Times of India and its liberal writers

Two days. Two ugly pieces in The Times of India.

First, in a pice titled Dilemma of a liberal Hindu, Gurcharan Das writes about his discomfort in acknowledging his Hindu beliefs among his secular friends.

Why then do I feel uneasy about being a liberal Hindu? I feel besieged from both ends — from the Hindu nationalists and the secularists. Something seems to have gone wrong. Hindu nationalists have appropriated my past and made it into a political statement of Hindutva. Secularists have contempt for all forms of belief and they find it odd that I should cling to my Hindu past.

I admitted that I had been thinking of the Mahabharata. “Good lord, man!” he exclaimed. “You haven’t turned saffron, have you?” I think his remark was made in jest, but it upset me. I found it disturbing that I had to fear the intolerance of my “secular” friends, who seemed to think that reading an epic was a political act.

He concludes

As we think about sowing the seeds of secularism in India, we cannot just divide Indians between communalists and secularists. That would be too easy. The average Indian is decent and is caught in the middle. To achieve a secular society, believers must tolerate each other’s beliefs as well as the atheism of non-believers. Hindu nationalists must resist hijacking our religious past and turning it into votes. Secularists must learn to respect the needs of ordinary Indians for a transcendental life beyond reason. Only then will secularism find a comfortable home in India.
(Emphasis mine)

Das says “Secularists must learn to respect the needs of ordinary Indians for a transcendental life beyond reason.” It is amusing to see that Das knows that respect cannot be demanded. But he wants it nonetheless. So, instead of demanding respect for himself, he demands it for ordinary Indians.

Das is clearly a mystic. Yet he wants respect from people who are not mystics. That shows how much respect for the truth he has.

——————–

And today, Jug Suraiya has a piece on the ethics of humor.

The classic comedy scenario involves a man, preferably fat and pompous-looking, walking down the street, stepping on a banana peel and falling on his well-padded bottom…Perhaps of all forms of communication – the tragic, the poetic, the prosaic, the descriptive – humour is the one that is most in need of a code of ethics to regulate it. The reason is that humour has in it an intrinsic element of cruelty, of rejoicing in the misfortune of others…can you laugh at yourself? If you can, you’ve passed the first test in the ethics of humour: before you laugh at anyone else, first learn to laugh at yourself. Like charity, humour begins at home. There is one proviso, which is the second test in the ethics of humour. Legitimate humour is always directed from the lower to a higher level: always laugh at (or with) those who are metaphorically above you, socially, economically, physically, or in any other way.
(Emphasis mine)

Contrast that with Ayn Rand’s position on humor

Humor is the denial of metaphysical importance to that which you laugh at. The classic example: you see a very snooty, very well dressed dowager walking down the street, and then she slips on a banana peel . . . . What’s funny about it? It’s the contrast of the woman’s pretensions to reality. She acted very grand, but reality undercut it with a plain banana peel. That’s the denial of the metaphysical validity or importance of the pretensions of that woman. Therefore, humor is a destructive element—which is quite all right, but its value and its morality depend on what it is that you are laughing at. If what you are laughing at is the evil in the world (provided that you take it seriously, but occasionally you permit yourself to laugh at it), that’s fine. [To] laugh at that which is good, at heroes, at values, and above all at yourself [is] monstrous . . . . The worst evil that you can do, psychologically, is to laugh at yourself. That means spitting in your own face.
(Emphasis mine)

Suraiya’s position – “always laugh at those who are metaphorically above you” – is just plain disgusting. What can be more nihilistic than that? But it is not particularly surprising. Suraiya, after all, is quite happy to participate in The Times’ “experiment” of not capitalizing the pronoun ‘I’ on its editorial pages.

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