For more information, contact:
Gary Schouborg, PhD
Schouborg, Gary (1998). "The Hard Problem as Koan".
The Hard Problem As Koan (fn 1)
(fn 1) This article owes a great deal to online discussions of these topics with Frank Briganti, Anthony Sebastian, Chris Nunn, Ruediger Vaas, Jonathan Reams, Chris Hooley, Michael Barclay, Mait Edey, Steven Bindeman, and Jed Harris.
Abstract: There is almost universal agreement that Chalmers’ hard problem of explaining why consciousness emerges from physical processes is insoluble. This consensus is obscured by the almost chronic failure of the extensive literature ostensibly about the hard problem to distinguish three distinct issues: (1) the sufficient physical conditions for consciousness — the hard problem; (2) the necessary physical conditions for consciousness; and (3) the influence of consciousness on physical processes. All three address the hard problem factually (on its merits) and are taken up in Part I, which stands on its own. However, readers may also be interested in the hard problem valuationally (in the impact that their conclusions about it have on their sense of themselves). For them, Part II will explain the difference between addressing the hard problem factually and valuationally, Part III will examine five koans (the hard problem is the fifth) to show how they induce content-free experiencing (CFE), Part IV will discuss the nature of CFE and how it enhances ordinary living, and Part V will serve as epilogue.
I. The Hard Problem
There is almost universal agreement that Chalmers’ hard problem of explaining why consciousness emerges from physical processes is insoluble. This consensus is obscured by the almost chronic failure of the extensive literature ostensibly about the hard problem to distinguish three distinct issues: (1) the sufficient physical conditions for consciousness — the hard problem; (2) the necessary physical conditions for consciousness; and (3) the influence of consciousness on physical processes. Chalmers himself equivocates, formulating the hard problem this way:
For any physical process we specify there will be an unanswered question: Why should this process give rise to experience? Given any such process, it is conceptually coherent that it could be instantiated in the absence of experience. It follows that no mere account of the physical process will tell us why experience arises. The emergence of experience goes beyond what can be derived from physical theory. (1995 p. 208)
In a subsequent article, he repeats his position more succinctly: "The hard problem, as I understand it, is that of explaining how and why consciousness arises from physical processes in the brain" (1997, p. 23). In other words, he assumes that the material world is related to consciousness as cause to effect. The problem is that no appeal to physical causes is sufficient to explain how or why consciousness exists, for the simple reason that the premises of physical theories contain no reference to consciousness and are therefore logically prohibited from generating a conclusion that does. Rather than give up immediately, Chalmers suggests we seek out an alternative type of explanation that will not present this difficulty, proposing a theory in which consciousness is a fundamental category, one for which we seek no further explanation. But this is precisely to give up on the hard problem as he formulates it. Without acknowledging it, Chalmers shifts in effect to identifying the necessary conditions of consciousness, pointing to panexperientialism as an intriguing possibility. (fn 2)
(fn 2) Panexperientialism is a limiting case for a theory of necessary conditions. In effect, it holds that the necessary condition of consciousness is any physical process whatever.
Some empiricists are more aggressively shifty, denying that there is a hard problem at all rather than admitting to its insoluble existence (Churchland 1996). Others clearly demarcate it as something that does not fall within the purview of science (Hardcastle 1996). On the other hand, some empiricists claim that consciousness just is some set of neural processes or cognitive functions (Clark 1995, Hardcastle 1996). This so-called identity theory seems to deny the existence of consciousness altogether. We can distinguish, however, between two senses of the claim: (1) it is about the meaning of ‘consciousness’; (2) it operationally defines ‘consciousness’ for scientific purposes. The traditional objection to the first sense is that when we say we are conscious we are certainly not referring to neural activity; our conversation could continue unaffected even if we knew nothing about the brain. Therefore, to say that consciousness just is neural activity is certainly not to explicate the ordinary meaning of the term. The only valid sense of the claim is therefore operational, which recommends a non-ordinary usage for scientific purposes, to identify physical processes which are correlated with consciousness. However, this only shifts the formulation of the hard problem to: How does consciousness in the ordinary sense arise from consciousness in this operational sense? How does consciousness emerge from the neural activity which is correlated with it?
Perhaps the current ordinary usage will eventually drop out in favor of the new one. There seems to be some precedent for this. For example, at one time ordinary language talked of life in terms of soul rather than biological function; now usage seems to be trending toward biological function, so that the ordinary meaning of ‘life’ refers decreasingly to some spiritual entity that keeps us alive and increasingly to biological functions of metabolism, growth, reaction to stimuli, and reproduction. We might therefore suppose that our current ordinary talk about consciousness as distinct from matter is a folk- or proto-science that will dwindle as scientific usage becomes dominant. The analogy, however, does not hold. The soul is an explanans, appealed to in order to explain why designated living things behave the way they do. Consciousness, on the other hand, is not in the first instance an explanans — something to explain how we function — but an explanandum, an experience to be explained. We can abandon an explanans like the soul for a better one like current biological theory, but we cannot abandon or explain away an explanandum. (fn 3)
(fn 3) We experience the difference between consciousness and physical processes, just like we experience the difference between red and green. In each case, the difference is there to be explained, not explained away.
Some quantum theorists may be the only ones who take the solubility of the hard problem seriously, arguing that a solution lies beyond space-time, where a nonlocal reality parallels the nonlocality of consciousness in a way that indicates an identity between quantum reality and consciousness (Clarke 1995). However, by itself such a parallel tells us nothing, unless we commit the fallacy of the undistributed middle, thus: quantum reality is nonlocal; consciousness is nonlocal; therefore quantum reality is consciousness. By itself, showing that quantum reality and consciousness have certain characteristics in common fails to explain how consciousness is either identical to, or emerges from, quantum reality. Appealing to nonlocality does not by itself enable quantum theory any more than classical physics to reference consciousness in its premises and therefore leaves quantum theory just as subject as classical physics to the hard problem. This, of course, is not to deny that quantum theory may shed considerable light on the necessary empirical conditions of consciousness. (fn 4)
(fn 4) See for example Nunn (1996), especially p. 481, where he quotes Penrose (1994, p. 408) as saying that large scale quantum coherence "could be part of what is needed for consciousness" (my emphasis).
Purported empirical theories of consciousness are only theories of mental activities which happen to be conscious. They tell us nothing directly about consciousness as such, "only" about the empirical conditions that are necessary for us to be conscious (Baars 1988). (fn 5) This point is missed by Churchland (1996), who finds
(fn 5) Inquiries about parallels between structures of consciousness and physical processes (Clark 1992, Hardin 1992) or about neural correlates (Newman 1997a,b) seek more than mere correlation. If possible, they want to establish in what ways consciousness depends on the parallel or correlated processes — that is, to identify what parallel or correlated processes are necessary conditions for consciousness. But they cannot explain why there is that dependency.
empirical explanations of consciousness satisfactory in principle and the hard problem merely an argument from ignorance. Stronger theories of consciousness — those that are about consciousness as such and not just about mental activities that happen to be conscious — must show either of two things. They must solve the materialist hard problem of how physical processes are sufficient causes of consciousness, or they must solve the idealist converse of the hard problem: how consciousness as such — and not some mental activity which happens to be conscious — is sufficient cause of some physical process. To see how the materialist and idealist versions of the hard problem compete, we must understand the difference between first-level and second-level theory.
A first-level theory operates within the framework of a second-level theory or heuristic strategy. The currently dominant second-level theory is materialism, which is a heuristic strategy that says, in effect: we will try to explain anything we experience in terms of physical processes or mechanisms. Within this framework, any first-level theory of consciousness as explanans competes futilely with first-level physical theories. Thus, if we hear that, "Consciousness comes into play only when novel, biologically relevant, and/or goal-incongruent information is detected by the nervous system" (Newman 1997a, p. 51; his emphasis), we might conclude that consciousness therefore causally contributes to decision making under those conditions. Within a materialist heuristic, however, there is no way to say that we will never come up with an adequate physical explanation. An appeal to consciousness can only be an argument from ignorance: the physical mechanisms of decision making that we know of do not completely explain how we make decisions, therefore consciousness must be a contributing cause. However, in the face of ignorance our materialist strategy is to work that much harder to find the physical causes that remain hidden from us.
Note that appeals to consciousness are futile only within the framework of materialism. The opposite is the case within the framework of idealism, where we are committed to finding non-physical explanations of events. Within this perspective, an appeal to physical explanations can only be an argument from ignorance: we have been unable to explain how consciousness contributes to our decisions, therefore an adequate explanation must lie with physical processes. Idealism and materialism therefore compete only as second-level theories. Once we have committed to one of them, we have left its corresponding first-level explanations in a monopolistic position.
How then are we to decide on our strategy? Until someone comes up with a third-level theory that enables us to decide which of the two is true, our only recourse seems to be pragmatism. Which of the two heuristics has stimulated the more productive research and the more useful applications in the past, and which promises to do so in the future? For present purposes, fortunately, we do not have to answer this question, only note that the hard problem remains untouched by the controversy. For under either heuristic the hard problem is insoluble. Within materialism, physical processes cannot sufficiently explain consciousness, since the premises of physical theories contain no reference to consciousness. Within idealism, consciousness cannot sufficiently explain physical processes, since consciousness as such contains no reference to physical processes.
II. Addressing the Hard Problem Valuationally
The preceding factual discussion of the hard problem has found it to be insoluble, or at least not yet solved and with no feasible solution in sight. We now turn to a valuational discussion of this conclusion. How do we feel and how do we behave? What are the implications for who we are?
Our factual interest in the hard problem is the age-old quest for unity amid diversity. Given the difference between consciousness and physical processes, we are curious indeed to understand their relationship, to have a single framework that ties them together. We therefore understand Chalmers’ reluctance to give up prematurely on the hard problem. As at least a temporary tactic, we look to those scientists who can at least identify the empirical conditions that are necessary for us to be conscious at all. We are intrigued by the suggestive similarities between the mysteries of quantum reality and those of consciousness (e.g., Freeman 1994, Hameroff 1994, Nunn 1994, Squires 1994, Stapp 1996). We are grateful to all these approaches, which provide some picture of the material house within which consciousness dwells. Yet our drive for unity continues to insist on more, on solving the hard problem by understanding how and why physical processes produce consciousness or, conversely, how and why consciousness influences physical processes.
Why do some of us easily abandon the hard problem as insoluble and move on to other inquiries, while others cannot let it go? This depends partly on our confidence that it really is insoluble, compared to our suspicion that we just haven’t figured out the solution. It also depends partly on our confidence that our desire for a unified understanding must eventually be satisfied, compared to our suspicion that our intellectual reach exceeds our grasp. There is no easy answer here. If intellectual history is replete with examples of discoveries made in the face of general opinion that a problem was insoluble, it also includes as many instances where inquirers, by giving up on an issue — for example, trying to determine how many angels can dance on the head of a pin — were able to move on to more productive questions.
We may feel intensely frustrated at not finding a satisfactory factual answer to the hard problem, but if our interest is valuational we may even feel a sense of urgency. As a classic Buddhist teaching tell us, if we are struck by an arrow we do not have the luxury of exploring how it happened — we must extricate the arrow. Fortunately, we need not languish helplessly in the face of our insoluble, or at least very difficult, problem of consciousness. Fortunately, the lack of an answer provides us with an opportunity to shift our attention in a way that addresses the more personal problem of who we are.
There are two fundamentally different responses to an inquiry about our identity. The first, dominant in the West, is to search for our defining physical, psychological, or social attributes. A different option, from the East, is to assume that our identity is more than any set of attributes, and as a consequence to search for it in a quite different way. In Part III, we will show how koans are tools of this option. In Part IV, we will discuss in what respect they yield an answer.
III. Five Koans
A tool of self-inquiry, the koan presents itself as an intellectual riddle, but is really a means of shifting our attention from content (an intellectual answer to the riddle) to the questioning itself, then to the ‘I’ that is questioning, and finally to the consciousness or experiencing itself in which the questioning takes place. This shift induces pure consciousness — that is, content-free experiencing (CFE), in contrast to content-laden experiencing (CLE). The rest of this article will refer to CFE rather than pure consciousness, since for many readers the latter almost inevitably has ontological implications of a non-material reality. CFE has the advantage of being ontologically neutral, leaving us free to determine its precise phenomenological nature before exploring its ontological status in relation to the material world.
A koan is usually said to be intellectually insoluble, but that is neither necessary nor sufficient for it to induce CFE. Strict insolubility is not sufficient, since CFE is not a logical conclusion based on insolubility, but a shift of attention involving, as we shall see in Part IV, an as yet unidentified concatenation of cognitive and neural processes. For the same reason, strict insolubility is not necessary. Anything is sufficient that induces us to shift our attention from CLE to CFE, from an intellectual answer to attention to the consciousness or experiencing in which the seeking is embedded.
We will discuss five koans, the last being the hard problem. Each employs different mechanisms for inducing CFE.
1. The Sound of One Hand Clapping
Perhaps the best known koan of all is the question, What is the sound of one hand clapping? It works based on the usual context of ‘clapping’, which involves the palm of one hand striking the palm of another. If my right hand strikes something other than my left, it is slapping not clapping. Of course, we can, and do, extend this usual meaning based on the fact that clapping often expresses delight and appreciation. Thus, you and I can clap by slapping each other’s hand. Violinists can clap for a soloist’s performance by striking their violins with their bows.
A spiritual teacher would be depressed indeed if her student responded to this koan with the preceding analysis. For the koan’s function as a spiritual tool is not to provide fodder for intellectual analysis, but to induce a shift of attention away from the CLE of analysis to CFE. Therefore, the lesson here is that the less susceptible to analysis a koan proves to be, the more likely it is to be inductive (of CFE) rather than seductive (of CLE analysis).
2. Neither Wind Nor Flag, But Mind Moves
A koan that more directly induces a shift of attention is the question: When a flag moves in the breeze, does the wind or the flag move? Answer: Your mind moves. Compared to One Hand Clapping, this koan points more directly to experiencing, since it references one’s mind. However, it is still susceptible to CLE analysis. Thus, the philosopher or psychologist can understand the koan to express the fact that cognitive processes contribute to our perceptions of external reality. Such theorizing, however correct and useful for some purposes, only shifts attention from external to internal content, not from CLE to CFE. Nevertheless, under favorable conditions the puzzlement stimulated by the koan may induce in the seeker a shift of attention to CFE rather than a CLE analysis.
3. Who Am I?
Perhaps the purest form of koan is Ramana Maharshi’s method of self-inquiry (Godman 1985, Poonja 1992, Klein 1990). Here, in response to a seeker’s question, the teacher asks, Who is asking the question? Variations of this question are made in response to a seeker’s question, assertion, or action. The key is to induce the seeker to focus on the consciousness in which the question, assertion, or action is embedded. Even here, however, there is a way out; enlightenment is never inevitable. The seeker may miss the point that the question intends to induce CFE and may respond instead with CLE answers such as her name, attributes, or social roles. Under favorable conditions, however, the question may induce the seeker to shift attention from content to experiencing itself (CFE).
4. Why Is There Anything Rather Than Nothing At All?
Why Anything, the central question for the medieval philosopher, shifts our attention in yet a different way. The ordinary way to explain the existence of anything is to search for some prior event or cause C that can explain a subsequent event or effect E. Once that prior event C has been identified, we can in principle ask for its cause C’, a still prior event, then its cause C’’, and so on indefinitely. In contrast, the question Why Anything avoids this endless series of causes by asking for the cause of the whole set of things that have ever existed, do exist, or will exist.
Medievalists answered the question by appealing to a necessary being, one whose existence did not itself require explanation, thereby breaking the endless chain of explanations. The assumption was that an endless series of explanations is no explanation at all, so that we are logically compelled to assume a necessary cause if we are to continue to believe that the universe is intelligible. Contemporary intellectuals, on the other hand, are quite comfortable with either or both of the conclusions that medievalists thought absurd, that the universe is not completely intelligible or that an endless series of explanations is acceptable, either in principle or as the best we can do.
The above two paragraphs consider Why Anything factually. However, the question implicates identity more directly than One Hand Clapping, Mind Moves, or even Who Am I. For by seeking to understand the cause of everything, Why Anything necessarily has us reflecting upon ourselves as part of everything that exists. By highlighting the contingency of the world of our experience, the question naturally leads (but does not compel) us to consider our own radical vulnerability. Since any content of our experiencing is contingent, Why Anything urges us to seek anything within our consciousness that is content-free and thereby reduce (fn 6) our vulnerability.
(fn 6) See Part IV.1 for why this is not obscurantist, Part IV.2 for why it is not escapist. Although I do not believe that even the most enlightened of us are liberated from all insecurity, this issue is not critical to any argument of this article.
In short, by requiring that we reflect on our own vulnerability and its relation to CLE, Why Anything is a particularly effective koan in encouraging us to shift our attention to CFE. (fn 7)
(fn 7) I say this based only on my own personal experience and anecdotes from world literature, noting that my claim is subject to empirical testing. Though such testing is important, we must keep in mind that it is only factual; the interest in Why Anything as a koan is valuational or how it impacts our sense of ourselves.
5. The Hard Problem
Although the hard problem has been treated factually in the literature, it even more than Why Anything draws us to reflect upon ourselves and our vulnerability. Whereas Why Anything focuses our attention on our contingency, the hard problem, by highlighting the contrast between consciousness and the material world, suggests to us the following possibility: locate the root of our contingency in the material world and explore whether consciousness can provide some escape from our resulting personal, embodied vulnerability. Since CLE is closely associated with the material world, (fn 8) the hard problem almost forces us to look for CFE as the only possible source
(fn 8) Although some content is about "eternal ideas", our thoughts about even such content are nevertheless fleeting and therefore plausibly hypothesized to be somehow dependent on the material world. I am unaware of any attempt of idealists to explain the fleeting quality of our thoughts. In fact, I am unaware of anything explained by idealists, who seem committed to their strategy for either or both of two reasons: (1) as a promissory note to escape the acknowledged difficulties of materialism; (2) as a conceptually confused way of pointing to what we are exploring here, that CFE provides an experience preferable to any CLE.
of security. In this sense, the hard problem is the mother of all koans. To treat it as such far from denigrates any science of consciousness. Interacting with the hard problem, legitimate science sharpens our understanding of the limits of our knowledge, making the insolubility of the hard problem increasingly clear and thereby enhancing the chances that our drive to understand consciousness will induce CFE.
IV. Content-Free Experiencing (CFE) (fn 9)
(fn 9) The characterizations of CFE in Part IV are extrapolated from my own personal experience. I say extrapolated because I do not claim to be enlightened, only to have CFEs which make small transformations in my life and which, from my own non-specialist reading in the mystical literature, seem to be the same CFEs acknowledged spiritual masters have had, differing from theirs only in degree of transformation. Since traditional descriptions of CFEs have been largely metaphorical, my aim here is to reduce some of the resulting ambiguity by employing methods derived from the phenomenological and analytical traditions in philosophy. My claims are philosophical or conceptual, and in principle empirically testable, though considerable work remains to make such testing feasible.
We have seen that CFE has traditionally been called pure consciousness. It has also been called enlightenment in virtue of our realizing that it is what we have been seeking all along, a more than merely factual answer to the question of personal identity, worth, or meaning. It has also been called liberation in virtue of our finding it preferable to any CLE, whether ordinary or exotically altered.
In every spiritual tradition we can find two opposing schools concerning the relationship of CFE to the world of ordinary activity: a withdrawal from the world versus a way of being in the world. If CFE is a shift of attention from the content of consciousness to consciousness itself, it cannot be maintained during ordinary activity, which requires concentration on content. To be truly happy, must we therefore withdraw like monks from ordinary living? Fortunately for those not so inclined, there is an alternative: CFE indirectly benefits CLE, such that we need to retreat only periodically to gain CFE’s benefits, which we then apply on returning to ordinary life. There exists a dialectic similar to that of sleep and waking, in which the ideal is to have enough sleep so that we are rested and alert when awake. However, the dialectic between CFE and CLE is different in that need for withdrawal decreases as the dialectic progresses. The rest of this article explores the mechanisms involved.
Forman (1994) accounts for CFE as a jettisoning of language. He allows that language shapes the road to CFE, but argues that at the point of CFE itself language is completely jettisoned. CFE arises when the seeker abandons the language game itself, realizing that what she has really been seeking cannot be found there. Forman does not address the issue of how CFE could then be active in the ordinary world, which is permeated with language.
Another account of CFE, which we saw in relation to the koan Who Am I (Part III.3), is in terms of identification. The unenlightened mistakenly identify with both their bodily experience and their socially-defined egos. Instead, their identity is to be found in CFE. But if CFE is really free of content, how can we find our true identity (or anything else) there? The answer lies in distinguishing between phenomenology and ontology. Phenomenologically, in CFE there is only consciousness — even we are not there experiencing it. Only upon recalling the experience afterwards do we describe and explain it as something we experienced. Those employing an empirical heuristic strategy might argue that CFE is embodied: it depends on neural mechanisms that support consciousness and it simultaneously suppresses those that support consciousness of content; furthermore, the experience is somehow registered in memory, so that we can recall it afterwards and say that it was ours. Those employing an idealist heuristic strategy might argue that they have somehow escaped their material prison; or they might also have a theory of embodiment, but one where the body depends on consciousness rather than the other way around. By itself the phenomenological account does not presuppose either strategy. In any case, if our true self is found in CFE, how does it interact with the ordinary world of content?
The notion of attention seems to take us a few steps forward, since it allows of degrees. Perhaps CFE does not completely shut out our ordinary experience, just as my focusing on writing this sentence does not completely shut out my awareness of my environment. Rather, we only shift our attention from content to consciousness itself. Therefore, the account of CFE in terms of attention rather than language or identification has the advantage of not necessarily excluding ordinary experience. Nevertheless, it still seems to be incompatible with acting in the world, which requires concentration on content. Furthermore, some descriptions of CFE seem to describe a state where there is no peripheral content of any kind, only consciousness itself. (fn 10)
(fn 10) Forman (1994, p. 41) reports what may be an instance of CFE completely free of CLE. Since the subject he interviewed had reportedly not "blacked out or lost awareness", "was certain he had not slept", and yet had "no recollection of anything" from that experience, I can only assume he means no recollection of any content. Perhaps we might want to distinguish strong and weak senses of CFE, where strong CFE is literally free of any content whatever and weak CFE is free of ordinary contents but not free of certain subtle ones. This is an issue beyond the limits of this article, which does not depend on its resolution.
Whether explained in terms of language, identification, or attention, CFE seems to be incompatible with ordinary living. To resolve this difficulty, we must understand how inner fullness results from CFE and then mediates between CFE and valuation.
2. Inner Fullness
Inner fullness results from CFE and provides the ultimate basis for our valuations. This can be seen by contrasting inner fullness with its common prelude, the dark night of the soul, a despairing sense that the world of ordinary experience can never satisfy our deepest desire for happiness. This cousin to depression (fn 11) is often the first
(fn 11) I want to distinguish the symptoms of the dark night of the soul and clinical depression by saying that the former is despair of never satisfying our deepest, unformulatable desire, whereas the latter is despair of never satisfying particular, formulatable desires (e.g., I’ll never be loved, rich, etc.). I suspect, however, that the universal and the particular may be mixed together so tightly that this distinction may not hold up under close scrutiny. In any case, "treatment" of the two clearly differs. We move out of depression by relearning that we can achieve particular desires (self-confidence) and that we are worthwhile (self-esteem). We move out of the dark night of the soul by shifting our search for happiness from our ordinary world to a resting in awareness itself. One wonders how many people diagnosed (perhaps rightly) as clinically depressed have been encouraged only to develop self-confidence and self-esteem without either the client or the therapist realizing that an even greater prize was within reach if they had known about it.
phase of the path to CFE. It is the realization that our deepest desire can never be satisfied by any content of our experiencing. The second phase arrives when our attention shifts from content to experiencing itself, in which our emptiness dissolves into an inner fullness, a sense of presence that we recognize as what we have been looking for all along. CFE thus results in an inner fullness which we experience (fn 12) as
(fn 12) To say that we experience CLE as secondary to inner fullness is to assert that there is a fundamental preference for the latter over the former and that from this preference our valuations arise. To say that we evaluate CLE as secondary to inner fullness is to assert that any preference for the latter over the former arises from valuation. Valuations and preferences are often dialectically related — sometimes the former generating the latter and sometimes the reverse. The assumption here, however, is that the ultimate starting point of that dialectic is with preference.
preferable to any CLE, (fn 13) an inner fullness which is by virtue of this preference the touchstone of all our valuations.
(fn 13) I am aware of no systematic studies testing this claim, but I am also unaware of anyone in history who has experienced this inner fullness and preferred CLE. In any case, this issue is amenable to empirical test.
If CFE is truly content-free, how can it involve a sense of inner fullness? Since an identifiable quality has content, CFE cannot itself have the quality of inner fullness. Rather, the latter is a result, the fruit of CFE. The sense of emptiness and loneliness that often precedes CFE is our psychosomatic sense of being alienated from ourselves. Overly focused on content, we are pulled away from ourselves. Our body registers a lack of integration or balance that is its birthright.
Inner fullness is therefore our experience of re-integration, of restoring integrity or balance to our psychosomatic processes. This explains why mystics have conceptualized enlightenment as awakening or remembering our true selves, rather than as a developmental achievement. We are born integrated, but in overly focusing on content in order to meet the demands of our environment, we put ourselves on chronic emergency. CFE, by relieving our focus on content, takes us off emergency and restores us to ourselves. However, we will see in Part IV.3 that enlightenment is also developmental.
Our inner fullness is thus the pearl of great price, not merely because it is greater than any other satisfaction, but because it is the root of all the others — its lack drains any satisfaction we might otherwise derive from CLE. Such satisfaction is undermined by clinging (see IV.4), which disrupts and therefore alienates us from our inner process, so that we lose our psychosomatic integrity, the font of our ability to experience pleasure and satisfaction.
Within a materialistic heuristic (fn 14), a cognitive theory of valuation adds to CFE and
(fn 14) I have not yet come across anything within an idealistic heuristic that does any more than lapse into metaphor — e.g., the material world emanates from world consciousness. There are of course many legitimate uses of metaphor, but it is the task of science to move beyond them. Or, if you believe all of science is rooted in metaphor, then my problem with an idealistic heuristic is that the above example of emanation shuts off, rather than encourages, further inquiry. In other words, it provides a comfortable sense of resolution but is not heuristically fruitful (does not generate further discoveries).
inner fullness the necessary step that enables us to bridge CFE and ordinary experience. Only CFE, inner fullness, and valuation together explain how the enlightened individual acts in the world. We have just seen how inner fullness provides the ultimate basis for valuation. We now consider how the latter nourishes and maintains the former.
How can we maintain CFE, attend to our resulting inner fullness, compare its superiority to our current experience, and still act effectively in ordinary life? Clearly we cannot juggle all these things on a conscious level within the time demands of a normal life, but we can manage if some of them operate unconsciously. By developing valuation structures or habits we can deal with ordinary reality exactly as we do now, where our habits relieve us of many conscious tasks. (Fn 15) The more developed the habit,
(fn 15) Guy Claxton (1996) suggests that some functions involved are those that create, maintain, and change our psychosocial identity and sense of worth.
the more quickly and intuitively we can assess our present circumstances. The valuation must be conscious only when the unconscious valuative habit is inadequate to the situation. However, the distinction between conscious and unconscious will not work for CFE, since it is conscious by definition. But by virtue of its resulting inner fullness, we can identify the mechanism by which CFE is indirectly operative in ordinary life: a mutually reinforcing cycle of inner fullness and valuation. The enlightened individual experiences CFE, as a result experiences inner fullness, prefers that inner fullness to any CLE, consequently begins developing the habit of valuing CLE as secondary, which developing understanding motivates the individual increasingly to seek CFE. (fn 16) the
(fn 16) In Part IV.3, we will see that inner fullness flees those who seek it directly.
intensity of the resulting inner fullness is then increased by the previously developed valuation and understanding, which in turn grows in depth and understanding from the increased intensity of the inner fullness. (fn 17)
(fn 17) The development of cognitive structure is what distinguishes true enlightenment from using CFE as merely a relaxation technique, which has restorative but not transformative effects.
The development of valuational habit is the crucial difference between its dialectic with CFE and inner fullness on the one hand, and the cycle of sleep and waking on the other. The cycle of sleep and waking is only restorative, not transformative or developmental. Consequently, we do not require less and less sleep. In contrast, the dialectic of CFE, inner fullness, and valuation is transformative or developmental. We develop habits of skillfulness in shifting our attention and in valuing CLE in relation to this dialectic. As a result, our inner fullness becomes more solid and reliable, which in turn feeds the other habits. Whereas in the beginning, we needed a great deal of time to withdraw from ordinary activity in order to fumble around getting this dialectic started, as we advance we need less time. Our enlightenment becomes increasingly habitual and correspondingly resonates more deeply and extensively throughout our psychosomatic system.
Through inner fullness we are liberated from CLE, since by virtue of being experienced as secondary CLE ceases to be an all-important obsession or idol. Since inner fullness is itself one kind of content (fn 18) and therefore included within CLE, the
(fn 18) However slippery it may be to describe, inner fullness is something we can roughly understand. In contrast to the dark night of the soul, existential despair, a neurotic sense of emptiness / hollowness, or even depression, inner fullness is a rooted sense of ourselves, a being in touch with ourselves, a contentment or inner peace. However vague, there is something there; we are not saying that inner fullness is simply not any of those negative things. On the other hand, that is exactly all we can say of CFE, that it is not CLE, which is why we must resort to koans and such rather than even the rough descriptions that we apply to inner fullness.
notion that it liberates us from CLE seems contradictory. How can it liberate us from itself? The answer lies in its paradoxical quality, universally reported to exist at the core of life: inner fullness dissolves as soon as we cling to it; we must lose our life to find it. To resolve the paradox, we must understand the nature of clinging, which is identifying with any content and thereby making it more important than it really is.
To identify with content is to believe it affects who we are. We therefore cling to it, because losing it means annihilating our sense of ourselves. We will naturally resist losing anything desirable, but our resistance turns into clinging only if we identify with that desirable and think we will be annihilated by losing it. We cling to anything if we believe that without it we will have nothing left. Inner fullness liberates us from CLE by providing meaning and satisfaction even if we have lost everything else. Once we realize the supreme value of inner fullness, our first impulse is naturally the self-defeating one of clinging to it, turning even it into an idol. But that is precisely the problem: inner fullness eludes our grasp as soon as we cling to it. We must delight in it, but allow it to come and go as it may. It is the supreme gift, to which we must show an unselfish gratitude.
By liberating us from CLE, CFE provides us with the only real security we have. The sense of security we get from CLE — health, self-reliance, material resources, social support — is at best unstable and usually based on considerable denial of how vulnerable we really are. Clinging is our futile attempt to shore up any sense of security derived from these inherently ephemeral sources. Of course many people live quite satisfying lives this way, but they are not the same people who are intensely curious about the hard problem and its implications for who they are. They are probably not the readers who have persevered this far into this article.
In contrast to any sense of security we derive from CLE, which is greatly dependent on the vicissitudes of our environment, what we receive from CFE is under our control. At least this seems to be the testimony of the spiritual masters. Unfortunately, those of us on much lower rungs of the developmental ladder seem to experience the opposite: we are better skilled at manipulating our environment to gain security than we are at shifting our attention to CFE. Furthermore, we have just seen (Part IV.4) that inner fullness is a gift and therefore apparently beyond our control.
Indeed, there are probably sufficient individual differences in the ability to achieve CFE that this path to security is not for everyone. Nevertheless, for those with the sufficient requisite skill, this path is one which minimizes the seeker’s dependence on the environment and maximizes her own control. And although inner fullness is a gift, and one that comes and goes the lower we are on the developmental ladder, the higher we climb —the more skilled at achieving and maintaining CFE — the more the gift of inner fullness is likely to result. He who seeks will find. (fn 19)
(fn 19) Note that the sense of security referred to is phenomenological, a feeling. There is no necessary ontological implication that we have found a state impervious to our embodied vulnerability, a liberation from eventual death. That issue must be addressed on its merits (see Part IV.9).
Any feeling of insecurity is amplified to the extent that we identify with CLE. For to that extent, the very core of our existence, of our identity, appears vulnerable. By identifying with CFE instead, we associate ourselves with the source of the greatest security we have. We identify with our true self, which is beyond the psychosocial self, the sum of everything that can be attributed to us. This identification in no way denigrates our psychosocial self, which helps us usefully orient ourselves to our environment. It does insist, though, that our true identity is more than that.
In Part IV.1 we glimpsed the paradox that although we talk about finding our true self in CFE, we really find nothing. Phenomenologically, we are not even there to find anything; and a true self is not there either. The question of who we are turns out to be an illusion, a trap, insofar as it raises the false expectation that we will find a CLE-related answer. Rather, the question of who we are is yet another koan that leads us beyond CLE. Once again, however, we must be clear that by itself our phenomenological identity has no ontological implications. Perhaps we are more than our bodies. On the other hand, to say phenomenologically that we are more than the sum of all our attributes may very well be consistent with ontologically identifying ourselves with our bodies while noting that the set of possible attributions that we can make about our embodied selves can grow indefinitely. The lesson then is that we should never identify with any set of attributes, since we can always grow beyond them. To identify with "no self" may be more an expression of possibilities than of an escape from our body. In any case, it is certainly not the self-contradictory claim that we find an identifiable self within CFE.
Accounting for CFE in terms of valuation is key to solving an age-old problem in spiritual development, discernment. Linguistically expressed moral rules are emotionally safe compared with going beyond them to live from our innermost impulses. Yes, rules threaten us with punishment, either from inner guilt feelings or outer authorities; but they contribute even more to our security by defining our world and our role in it. Breaking rules therefore threatens us with punishment, but leaves our sense of ourselves intact as long as we continue to believe in them. In contrast, grounding our behavior on our inner impulses rather than rules is radically threatening, since we open ourselves to destructive as well as constructive forces within us, forces that not only punish us but that threaten our very sense of who we are. Thus, in living out his teaching that charity (inner impulse) had superseded law (moral rules), St. Paul once got involved with a first-century BC movement called enthusiasm (from the Greek, en theo, meaning god within), but scurried back to the relative safety of more clearly defined moral rules when he could not solve the puzzle of discerning constructive from destructive inner impulses. Every mystical tradition is replete with stories of seekers who began on the path to CFE and lost their way, to the destruction of themselves and their followers. The political landscape of our own century is littered with millions dead because a Hitler, Stalin, or Pol Pot thought he was above moral rules. Going with the flow is not a strategy to be adopted glibly, but in fear and trembling.
Inner fullness — our experience of psychosomatic integrity and the touchstone for our valuations — is as distinct from emotional or sensory intensity as CFE is distinct from CLE. Every spiritual error can be traced to missing this distinction, a failure that confuses psychosomatic integrity with the relatively secondary experiences of unity that arise from conceptual and imaginative syntheses (CLE), a confusion that causes us to inflate the importance of anything that inspires in us strong feelings or sensations, thereby inflexibly wedding us to our ideas or our concerns, however noble they may be otherwise, because "God is on our side". Such destructive attachment is especially seductive in regard to special or altered states. Spiritual masters of every tradition instruct us not to become attached to any spiritual talents we may have or any extraordinary experiences we may enjoy. Inner fullness is uniquely safe in that it alone will not allow us to cling to it.
The sciences and the humanities are slowly but surely developing heuristic structures that reduce the chances and consequences of conflating inner fullness with other CLEs, by creating a systematic context that increasingly highlights the distinction between what we do and our enlightened relationship to it.
CFE is not disengagement from the world of our ordinary experience. We still act to shape and improve the world, because we have an impulse to do so. Liberation only frees us from our attachment to our doing; as CFE it relieves our attention from an over-focus on content, it does not exclude or denigrate content. CFE therefore enables us to live in the present without denigrating or excluding the past or future. However, by not being overly focused on content, CFE keeps us from being obsessively pulled by the past or future and thereby alienated from our present. CFE is thus the reference point by which enlightenment guides our attention and by which liberation establishes our priorities.
Far from being escapist and impractical, CFE promotes involvement and usefulness. In fact, because liberation frees us from attachment to content, it fosters practicality by making us flexible, freeing us to work on things according to their own requirements rather than having them drag us around by the nose of our own clinging. Furthermore, the innermost fruit of CFE is a fullness that does not require that the intellect supply us with a grand plan to make our endeavors meaningful. Consequently, the postmodernist conclusion that there is no grand plan need not lead to despair in a meaningless existence of practical busyness. Rather, from the perspective of CFE we can see the lack of a grand plan as yet another koan that invites us to shift our attention from any grand plan to realizing that what we most seek is found in CFE itself. Only then can we experience that inner fullness which provides meaning or satisfaction to whatever we do. In fact, a "reconstructive postmodernism" is already moving in this direction (Haney 1998).
CFE is not obscurantist, because it does not exclude normal cognitive functioning, only shifts our attention from the content of our experiencing to the experiencing itself. CFE therefore does not substitute for intellectual inquiry, but allows intellect its proper role. It does not presume to answer any of our conundrums, which must be dealt with on their own merits. It can both accept with equanimity the limitations of our intellect and exult in legitimate inquiries.
As a result, CFE is not pseudo-spiritual. It does not confuse phenomenology with ontology, perception with reality, and therefore does not prematurely assume that unusual, altered-state experiences are windows into non-material realities. That conclusion is an ontological one, to be made by intellect. (fn 20) Therefore, CFE is merely an
(fn 20) Transpersonal theories (such as Wilber 1997, p. 85 and Deikman 1982, 1996) conflate phenomenology and ontology, unjustifiably concluding that there is a special ‘knowledge’ to be found in mystical states. I am not saying their conclusion is false, only that transpersonalists have not yet done the work necessary to show how their ontological conclusion can be drawn from their phenomenological experiences.
experience whose link to neuroscience and psychophysiology the intellect must strive to understand. CFE may or may not wholly depend on some special combination of cognitive, neural, and psychophysiological processes. I think that likely, but the crucial point here is that CFE by itself cannot provide an answer, only intellect dealing with the issue on its own merits can do that.
V. The One and the Many
Distinguishing between phenomenology and ontology, as we have done throughout this article, both leaves us with a duality and allows us to resolve it. Because CLE is multifaceted, it is a source of instability and vulnerability. The problem of the one and the many, the oldest human conundrum of them all, is how to introduce some unity to this multiplicity, some unity that will provide intellectual coherence and emotional stability. Western philosophers have emphasized the intellectual problem, Eastern philosophers the emotional or experiential one.
The intellectual problem is ontological, to understand our multifaceted CLE in terms of a single principle. By seeking an intellectual formulation that will conceptually link consciousness with the material world, the hard problem is simply one variation on this ancient approach. By definition, however, we can never have a nondualistic conceptual understanding, since concepts are inherently dualistic by their very role of dividing the world into categories. The problem of the one and the many is therefore as intellectually insoluble as the hard problem, one of its variants.
Fortunately, duality is resolvable experientially, in CFE itself, a fact better known to Eastern philosophers and some Western pre-Socratics such as Heraclitus, than to the Western tradition. The one and the many turns out to be yet another koan which invites the seeker to shift her attention from the conceptual to the consciousness itself in which the inquiry is embedded.
To pursue identity experientially is to desire integration, to seek the pearl of great price, a touchstone that enables us to know deep within ourselves what is truly important and what is secondary. Since we know from centuries of reports from spiritual adepts that CFE is usually achieved with great difficulty, why should any of us make the effort? The short answer is that that depends on how much each of us wants integration. Perhaps some of us do not seek it because we are afraid to confront unpleasant truths that such a search might involve, or for many other reasons. Perhaps others seek it because of the example of an inspirational figure, or for many other reasons. Perhaps there are simply individual differences in our need for integration. All of these possibilities are amenable to empirical study. In the final analysis, it is entirely up to the individual reader whether her interest in the hard problem and similar puzzles is exclusively intellectual or sought as a clue to her personal identity, worth, or meaning. If the latter is true, it may be profitable for her to employ such conundrums as koans.
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