February 02, 2008

Beyond me

Been listening to various Rudy Rucker podcasts and reading his blog, so picked up Infinity and the Mind online, without being able to browse. A mistake, as the math is beyond me. Anything that can't be done on a cell phone calculator leaves me baffled. So far I've been skipping all the pages full of symbols, but maybe I'll sit down and try and find out what they mean. I can probably get only 10% of the whole thing into my head.

Fortunately, 10% of infinity is still infinity.

He quotes Benjamin Blood, who [working before William James] would hold a cloth soaked with ether to his face and slip into unconsciousness, then as his hand fell away he would come to again, moving from trance to full awareness, which in this quote he refers to as sanity:

I think most persons who have tested it will accept this as the central point of the illumination: i) that sanity is not the basic quality of intelligence, but is a mere condition which is variable ... ii) and that only in sanity is formal or contrasting thought, while the naked life is realized outside of sanity altogether; iii) and it is this instant contrast of this 'tasteless water of souls' with formal thought as we 'come to' that leaves the patient an astonishment that the awful mystery of Life is at last but a homely and common thing, and that aside from mere formality the majestic and the absurd are of equal dignity. p217 [my bold]
The problem with transcendent experiences is the difficulty of integrating what's been felt with everyday life. What I like about the line above is that it says that both sides of the experience are equally valid, and that it's in the moment of crossing from one state to the other that something useful is learned. In Rucker's case this is the moving from awareness of the infinite - the one - back to the everyday - the many.

We have to live in the everyday world - get a job of somekind, turn up and perform, ideally with good health and the desired level of human contact. Jeremy Narby, author of The Cosmic Serpent, says this is what he learned from shamans:
...do what you can for those around you (including plants and animals), but don't make a big deal of it. ... I spend my time promoting land titling projects and bilingual education for indigenous people, and thinking about how to move knowledge forward and how to open up understanding between people; I also spend time with my children, and with children in my community (as a soccer coach); and I look after the plants in my garden, without using pesticides and so on. But I do this because I think it needs doing, and because it's all I can do, but not because it's "spiritual."
The challenge is in not getting blitzed on transcendence as an escape from everyday situations that it's possible to overcome or do away with, and instead to use those moments out of time to work toward the change.

The week-long vacation for Chinese New Year starts in 20 hours, and I'll be getting blitzed.

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