In recent posts I have mused on new mental techniques like ‘pistons’ in the mind, and also on the mind experiencing time as dimension(s) beyond the three of the material world. I’m going to work these ideas together here a little more.
Lets conduct an experiment. We are sealed in a room, without windows or doors, and are cut off from the real world entirely. Soon, the landscapes of the mind come to dominate our life. Our thoughts seem tangible and real, no less than the solid walls around us. Occasionally a sound can be heard from the world outside, but it is distant and dream like. Gradually, ‘reality’ becomes a thin veil, and loses its solidity. A chair is no longer just a chair, words become meaningless labels and human society seems an enigma. Actually this ‘experiment’ is occurring wherever solitary confinement is practiced. It is also occasionally adopted by monks seeking to dive within themselves. The diving bell for them is meditation, and without it we are likely to be crushed by the pressures of our own psyche, but when well equipped it is possible to explore these deep places, and I can attest that reality quickly seems to fade away.
And yet we consider the mind to be a reflection of reality, a product of our experiences, so why when we lock ourselves away from these inputs does it seem to increase in strength and excitability? Perhaps we have a sort of internal compressor which amplifies the background noise when there is nothing else there. The noise of our neurons – the hiss and hum. Our own memories become close and material, old tunes play themselves in the head with precision and clarity. During meditation we find the content of the mind is remarkable in its inexhaustible breadth and depth and colour.
I say ‘the content of our mind’ as this is the concept with which we are used to describing it. But lets suppose for a moment that all this material had its own existence. Rather than dredging up ‘saved content’ we are simply tuning into a real phenomena which we call ‘our mind’ but is actually as separate from us as is a waterfall or a bird call. Instead of thinking of these memories as being something we have created and stored for ourselves, or of our thoughts as being something we are somehow in control of or at least responsible for, think of them as sense impressions from a world that is as real as this world is, but different to it. They seem familiar just as the front door of our house is familiar, they seem intimate because there is no one experiencing them but ourselves (it seems). But they are no more ‘ours’ than is the front door of our house ‘ours’, or even our hands and body (which return to earth) truly ‘ours’. These are rules we have borrowed from this world, this reality, they do not necessarily apply to another completely different reality.
Now I’m going to take a leap – imagine that we could experience the whole of time, all its paths and rivulets, not as we do in this world, but all at once. I wonder what it would feel like – perhaps it would seem familiar but incoherent, intangible. Perhaps it would seem like we could control things happening, rewind events and see them play out, perhaps explore different event paths based on alternate choices. We could ‘recall’ past events, and also ‘see’ the future – but there would be no difference between the two because we would not be tied to a particular point so the future and past would be meaningless. What would be the meaning of free will? Perhaps it would all come down to where we placed our attention, how closely we chose to scrutinise, when an infinitude of experiences lay before us. The concept of ‘body’ would be meaningless, this is just a vehicle for experiencing the three dimensional world.
Well this experience, I conjecture, is very close to what we experience as ‘mind’, especially when we shut out the ‘real world’. I propose that we are experiencing, in the background, every day as part of ‘ordinary life’ a genuine other kind of reality. It is simply that which we call ‘dreams’ ‘thoughts’ and ‘memories’, but normally we only skim the surface of it. But it is possible to go deeper. And in some ways it is the same reality as this – but in other ways it goes further – and it is different.
It’s a bit of a bold insane claim, but there might be some key ways to test that our mind is another reality; and not just philosophically. It should be possible to glean bits of evidence from the nooks and crannies of our everyday experience.
Firstly, it should be possible, if time is part of this reality, that we can predict or experience the future to some degree. In fact, I think we have all experienced little hints that this can occur. I am thinking of deja-vu experiences and premonitions. These common experiences are easily explained by this model. It might be possible to access ‘the future’ in a more reliable way, but the idea of time being a ‘single thread’ is unrealistic and so pinpointing an event in ‘the future’ might never be possible. Instead what seems to happen is that you have an ‘aha’ moment, as you experience something that you have experienced before. We have all experienced this. I experience it a lot – even more when I meditated regularly. The only other explanation is that a brain chemical is accidentally triggering the sensation of familiarity. But this theory argues against brain chemicals as the cause, much as cone cells in the eye are not the cause of light, although they do cause us to sense it. As an aside, consider how we do predict the future where possible using rules of logic, cause and effect (eg in the future i will get old). Maybe there are other rules which we are not familiar with. Also if you have trouble accepting time travel, consider that we experience the past all the time – this is simply what memory is.
Secondly, if time is part of this reality, it is likely that we have access to ‘alternate pathways’ of time. I don’t think it is realistic to describe time as a single thread which corresponds to our course through life. It seems like that to us from the perspective of a three dimensional world, when you look at world history as a single thread which can be described. But I think it is more likely that time is a vast network of interconnecting events and patterns which play out across different dimensions. Our limited experience of a certain thread is just a product of our myopic 3d understanding. Once we allow that there are many multiple ‘universes’ (actually still very much this universe) ‘out there’ it actually becomes much easier to conceptualise what experiencing time is like. In fact we are doing it constantly. This is simply the activity of our ‘imagination’. We are used to this experience of a jumbled assortment of sounds, images and sensations – of course we are not used to thinking of them as being reality.
A third test is that it should be possible to make contact with other beings within these time dimensions. This is probably the most unbelievable claim but it flows from the others and is integral to the theory – after all what is a reality if it is not shared? There are several possibilities here. For a start, it could be possible to communicate in some way mentally with others, if they are experiencing the same space and you can interact with them. Second, it should be possible to communicate to some extent with people who have died, or not yet been born, all you would have to do would be to travel to a place in time where they exist (and this raises the question of what birth and death is all about but i won’t go into that). Thirdly it should allow us to communicate with other ‘alien’ beings, as there can be no doubt that there are countless beings out there, many of them just like us.
It is also illuminating to examine the content of our heads in an every day context and consider what or who might be inhabiting that space that is not ourselves. The majority of us have the mental strength to rein in the various thoughts and impulses that exist there, but that doesn’t stop these things from existing. To identify too closely with our thoughts can lead to confusion about who we are – but then ‘who we are’ becomes a central question when meditating.
In our thoughts we can be anyone. However we tend to use our existence in this world as a starting point. It is still necessary to use these real world prompts as a springboard into thought spaces. The two are not separate. The way I conceptualise it, the 3d world is contained within the world of the mind. In fact the world of the mind does not disconnect from this world at any point, if you like the 3d world is the ‘body’ which experiences the next dimension (time) which is what we know of as mind. But how is it all connected?
Consider the universe – its vastness is so mind boggling, we tend to ignore it in order to function. But the fact that it is so mind bogglingly large means it is certain that there are other earths out there, and in fact, I would say it is certain that there are other humans out there. Consider convergent evolution. The skull of a Thylacine (Tasmanian tiger) and a red fox (Vulpes vulpes) are so alike that it can be hard to tell them apart – yet they are completely unrelated species. The shape of their skull is fitting a niche – it doesn’t matter too much the exact pathway that was taken to get there. My poem Our Planet considers that we (humans) are the natural expression of a certain chain of events, a certain limb on the ‘event tree’ and it is without doubt that on planets out there which have experienced similar histories, in order to create a certain niche (the perfect Goldilocks zone), there will be humans. This is simply a matter of convergent evolution. The size of the universe is easily large enough for the ‘earth experiment’ to be run many times. The seeds are simply organic molecules which exist more or less everywhere. If you place a petri dish on the kitchen bench for a few days you will get yeasts. If you place a planet in the goldilocks zone for a few billion years you will get humans. It’s as simple as that.
That should be elementary enough (update: actually, it’s not – see my later post about the Fermi Paradox). But if you really consider the size of the universe you can take it further. Crunching the numbers, it becomes apparent that there should be many, many billions of human colonies that come into being in the course of the life of the universe. These will be to a greater or lesser degree like our own. Some will be very similar. The convergent evolution idea can be applied to societies as well – we already have the notion of ‘history repeating itself’. I think we underestimate how many universal norms are playing themselves out in human society, we tend to imagine ourselves unique and special. Well, there is undoubtedly something unique about us, just as each person is unique – but how unique? A possibility emerges naturally from the enormous size of the universe and immensity of time, which is that you – I – each of us – has close analogues living (not necessarily at the same moment in time) on other planets probably in far flung regions of the universe.
This might all seem very speculative and random, but it is an intrinsic part of the time-is-mind theory. As mind gives us access to alternate pathways of time, and in fact demands that these exist somewhere ‘in reality’, it requires a universe the size of the one we just described in order for this to work. I’m not going to start entertaining ideas of alternate universes. I suppose this is possible but the current universe seems to be big enough. Anyway, for mind to be able to explore all of time, the space between things also becomes immaterial, as distance is just a product of time. What brings things together in this realm, is likeness. So although two events might be occurring at other ends of the universe millions of years apart, from the point of view of mind, they might be intimately connected if they have a likeness to one another. This likeness is as intrinsic a relationship as cause and effect or physical distance between particles. I like to imagine that I am seeing time and space sliced in cross section, and this image has as its parts things that are intimately related by this likeness. In fact the image that is formed by mapping the peculiar connexions between apparently unrelated events might not be unfamiliar. I often amuse myself by thinking that a light switch can in some way perfectly map the rise and fall of the austro-hungarian empire, if only we can make the right links.
Well I suppose I have lost everyone by about now. I am just spilling out my crazy ideas in raw form, courtesy the internet – I haven’t worked out the inconsistencies – for instance at the moment I’m not sure if time is simply a single other dimension placed over the three familiar ones or if there might be multiple additional dimensional component. I suppose it is hopeless but I think there is some good in this idea. It makes some far-out sounding predictions, but nothing that hasn’t been thought of before (predicting the future, telekinesis etc). Crucially, I only think these would be controllable with a lot of mental training (meditation), and perhaps not even then.
What I am reacting against is that we currently sweep all of our dream and imaginative experiences into the scrap heap of ‘mental activity’ with only some fairly pithy explanations for what it is all about (mind rehearsing events for life, etc. With apologies to neuroscientists who I know are working very hard in this area). If we accept that the mind is a keyhole to another genuine reality then first of all we have an explanation for why all this mental activity seems somehow important in its own right, and secondly it frees us from the misconception that we are a random freak event of nature on a far flung arm of the galaxy with no connection or way of relating at all to what’s going on in the rest of the universe. It also explains all my crazy technicolour dream episodes.