Friday, 8 October 2010

God's Arithmetic

Where knowledge is active, the human mind rules. We need the mind. It makes a good servant; but a bad master. For in the Present Moment there are few thoughts (try it). When we are aware of that, the consciousness of the universe is active in us. And very different way of being has come to the fore: the spirit rules.

How can we live in the world the right way up: with our spirit ruling us rather than our minds? Obviously the first step is to live aware of each present moment as it is. Nothing can be more important. Where else can we be alive?

Our culture conspires against such a move. To sit "mindless" is to be idle, i.e. lazy and unproductive. The values we live amongst esteem mind and ignore spirit. Stepping out of this poisonous atmosphere is possible. Jesus showed us the way saying, "Blessed are the poor" amongst other things. But the price is too high for us rich folk, accustomed as we are to our fridges, TVs, cars and mobile phones.

Simplifying things

However, maybe we can embrace a little simplicity at least. I once heard a Zen master say, "You have a saying 'to kill two birds with one stone'. That is not our way. We kill one bird with one stone."

One way we can become spirit-simple is to distance ourselves from arithmetic. There is lots of philosophical stuff I could spout about why that is valuable, but I won't. We feel intuitively that numeracy and humanity are incompatible, like oil and water, and most of us prefer humanness.

The second step toward staying the right way up is to avoid arbitrary thoughts. Some thoughts arise spontaneously out of the needs and uses we have of the present moment. Those are good thoughts: they have sprung from the real world. Other thoughts arise from our mind's activity. Those are the ones that bring us grief.

I call them "arbitrary" because they have no relevance to what's going on in the Present Moment. Ideas, concepts, beliefs and plans only exist in a (sometimes widely shared) "world" that is our human mind's way of trying to cope with the real one. They appear real, but they aren't. As I said at the start: where knowledge is active the human mind is in charge; and that's not so good.

Arithmetic is an excellent example of arbitrary thought. In the 1950's a psychologist called George Miller discovered the magic number 7, plus or minus 2. He showed that there is a limit to what we can hold in our heads at any one time. It varies: some can only hold 5 while others manage 9, but most people can manage to remember up to seven things without having to resort to tricks.

Even crows and pigeons are able to "count" in that they can recognise groups of things according to their number, up to about 6 or 7 items. Think of the immediate recognition of dice numbers — we don't have to count the dots, we know the number as soon as it is there before us.

A bit of naughtiness (to lead you astray)

Working with bigger numbers requires that we think, not with ideas that arise in the moment (good thoughts), but with concepts (numbers, processes) that arise in our heads. As soon as we go down that road we have lost contact with reality: left the truth behind dwell amongst descriptions about it.

Let me take you there, and hopefully make a point in the process. We are told that 2+2=4, and such human arithmetic is OK when counting descriptions (concepts, ideas, representations we have in our minds). Unfortunately where living happens, in the Present Moment continuous experience, it comes to a lot more. In God's arithmetic*, my rather ignorant estimate of 2+2 is over 40!

Consider what happens when we absorb two lessons from the same Present Moment experience. We not only learn those two separate lessons but we also experience them together. They are intimately connected at a deeper, more immediate level than intellectual comprehension.

If we are not conscious (in Eckhart Tolle's sense of awareness-of-reality-as-it-is) the connection is made using acquired conditioning. If we have learned the trick of being present where we are, the connectedness is made at an immediate-consciousness level — somwhat similar to the awareness of an aikido or kung fu master: a knowing without thought. Either way, in God's arithmetic 1+1=3.

[OK, but how come 2+2 comes to over 40?

  • Say each lesson learned has two parts, like "if A then B". That Moment has more than the lesson parts (4: A, B and C, D) and their interactions {each interacts with the other three (6: AB, AC, AD, BC, BD, CD)}.
  • With just two things there is only one interaction. But here we have more than one interaction, and these can also be compared. So we now have another level comprising the interactions between the simultaneous interactions (14: 5+4+3+2 of AB-AC, AB-AD etc.)
  • So far we have confined ourselves to the scientists trick of trying to see each of these entities in isolation. But as well as existing in themselves they also exist in relation to everything else: all that is "not them".
  • So 24 (4+6+14) instances become 48 awarenesses, plus one because there is also a new totality of things.

Many more instantaneous learnings are happening than simply the two aspects of two lessons. Thought or language processes must be manageable, so we ignore most of the real stuff, keeping what we hope are the headline points. From there its a short step to believing reality is as limited as our descriptions.]

And finally, down the rabbit hole

If you skipped the last bit, don't worry. I was trying to show how arbitrary and irrelevant all this arithmetic stuff is. It confuses us and makes our brains hurt, for good reason.

We don't belong in a world of descriptions — the one thinking uses. That is a made-up world whose "reality" comprises stories, beliefs, even arithmetic. (Yet how many of us have spent so much time there, we've begun to believe these made-up things actually exist?)

We belong in the real world, with the things themselves — the one where we are breathing and moving: alive. Without "arbitrary" (derivative) thoughts clogging our heads we would be calm and clear, stable and peaceful. Isn't it likely our actions would be more "in tune", too?

Give it a little thought and you'll see just how deep this rabbit hole goes. It subverts pretty much everything Western society depends upon. But for now, consider this for a bit of fun.

If God made us (or we have evolved) so we can directly perceive around 7 things, perhaps we don't need to count higher? After all, bigger numbers were only invented so we could do more, get more. Not unlike trying to kill two birds with one stone.

This is my guess at the numbers God would use if he needed arithmetic.

"One" and "two" are fundamental. Then we have "a few" for any easy number, up to seven or so. After that we have "lots" for more than "a few" but still a manageable number. And beyond that, "too many".

I bet we could get by quite happily with those, though we might not be able to afford Sky TV, of course.


[*I've used the term "God's arithmetic" for counting with consciousness, i.e. without thought. Normal arithmetic is a system of thinking about counting. "God's arithmetic" is concerned with how we experience the reality in the present moment. It is the difference between things in themselves and descriptions of them.

Unfortunately our culture values scientific thought so highly, few people understand that science (the pursuit of precise and accurate descriptions) can never lead to truth, which surely must be about the being of things in themselves. To value any thought system (here, arithmetic) over the reality it references is like going into a restaurant and eating the menu instead of enjoying the meal: stupid to the point of ridiculousness. Yet we do it all the time.]