Friday, July 21, 2017

What happens to you and me when we die?

This week I witnessed an intense debate for and against the idea of afterlife. I proposed a view quite different from the usual extremes:

Actually, as I near 70th birthday, a year after cancer surgery, I experience a more practical reason to be more concrete about how I view death in my personal planning.
Most people fall into the usual trap of a bias towards black or white thinking on the issue.
I really like Connie Willis's  inspired novel Passages on the issue of life after death, from a more sensitive and less formal black and white viewpoint. She does not endorse the Mickey mouse mundane view that "nothing at all survives death ever" but deeply and sensitively disputes the naive idea that we are the same after death, that we appear as our normal selves in some Bardo or other, to be judged where to walk with our normal two legs.

If in reality we as individuals are a symbiosis or "alchemical marriage" of mundane body and "soul" (which is easier for me to fit with science and with experience both), then of course after death we are missing something quite serious. How serious? It varies from person to person. As Bennett says, in his book popularizing Gurdjieff, which I translate as: "If you have important data to save, put it on hard disk."

For this blog, I should go further on a few obvious questions.

First, I never joined any of the various Gurdjieff schools or groups. At Harvard graduate school, I had two very close friends who did – one a fellow graduate student in the El primo scholarship based in France, set up by ouspensky, and another an undergraduate in the number two group based on Bennett in England. I did read all three of Gurdjieff’s books, and one by Bennett and ouspensky each.

Second, what can I say about the specific methods they propose for “putting your data (and other key information) on hard disk, more permanent storage”? Those schools had their own incredible personality issues and distractions and red herrings; I do not endorse all of that. Above all, in discussing ethics or the meaning of life, gurdjieff suggested  (as a very rough generalization) that people go through three levels of spiritual motivation as they mature: “to know, to do, to be.”
Yes, a lot of folks get frozen out as they pursue dry academic “knowledge” about life beyond the mundane. After a period of intense exploration by experiment (“to do”), they settle down to what matters objectively here (to be?). But in fact, it is usually not natural for a creature evolved from natural selection (on earth or in a larger ecology) to care only about prolongation of its own personal existence.
(E.O.Wilson’s book Sociobiology has some important gaps but deserves a lot more respect than the ideologues would allow it.) Thus is why I hesitate to say much more about the two core serious subgoals gurdjieff presents, the most reliable part of his approach: (1) “crystallization,” simply raising intelligence and knowledge in “the soul” based on mental challenges overlapping with the challenges we use to improve our brains; and (2) connection, in which we, like neurons within a brain, develop strong and energetic connections with other souls of the earth, ideally the earth as a whole.
Maybe these two are not so risky, if one remembers that they both require a high degree of honesty and altruism, higher emotional intelligence, without which many types of catastrophic breakdown can occur.

To that list I posted a few more details in another context:

I am depressed that anyone on this list would reassure us with absolute total conviction  that paranormal connections exist only in a tiny fraction of humanity, somewhere less than .01%. Work in Dean's community, and in western mystical disciplines, suggests that this is false. Priest kings following the tradition of ancient Sumeria have used that lie, and claims of their divinity, to control and repress both brains and souls, for millennia -- most recently support by a follower of Ayn Rand, Mercer, of Ted Cruz, as a cynical way to subvert democracy. (Just search Google news!) As with mathematics ability, another discipline of the mind, DNA does matter, but training (intensity and quality) matters more, and the abilities aren't so strictly personal as the priest kings seem to imagine.

Once again, I highly recommend the article "Are we a nation of mystics?" by Greeley and McCready (sp?), reprinted in Goleman anthology Consciousness, which everyone on this list should own. (I bought it for  $1 used on amazon.)
From what I have seen, paranormal abilities have some analogy to mathematical abilities.  Dean rightly notes that only a small fraction of the people who come to him for testing show dramatic and reliable results, though 30% show something memorable. The classic book Mind Race by Puthoff and Targ sounds similar, and highlights two very special subjects, Swann and Price.

But what if Dean were testing for understanding of the mathematics of general relativity? The percentage of reasonable understanding would be even less -- but would be very much a function of education. Many people who COULD understand the basics of general relativity never do, because their education and motivation does not lead them there. Education in basic mathematics and general relativity is far more available than education in how to use inner powers of mind.  Yoga, AND people like Dean and Julia, have the potential to help close the gap. In truth, I wish for a world where both types of education are more prevalent and effective-- and I believe they support each other because discipline of the mind works best in am integrated way.

I have also been recently near the places of Carl Jung, and people who spoke about the synergy of music, Mathematics and mysticism. 


Later I noticed a funny typo in the label of this post! "die" versus "due." (Lately such shifts are often done by google...) It reminds me of when my father had a few months left to live. "Just another drop dead deadline," he said. "I've been talking about them for years, and now it is just literal.."

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