Agnostic mysticism

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chewybrian
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Agnostic mysticism

Post by chewybrian »

This is a term I encountered through Aldous Huxley that seems to have been expressed in many ways through many different philosophies and philosophers. But, he is the one that finally expressed it in a way that made it hit home for me. He may be the greatest teacher I have ever encountered, and I seem to get exactly what he means on the first lap around the racetrack, even if I still might want to revisit what he said, if only to admire the way in which he said it.

What does this idea mean to you? What is the nature or the value of experiences that transcend or are outside the understanding of the world that can be expressed in language and concepts? What authors express these ideas in a way that is meaningful for you? What exercises or activities might help you to achieve this state, assuming that you desire to do so? What do you get out of such experiences?


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The concept (or anti-concept) seems to be that we tend to encounter the world through concepts and language, and in the process we discard or lose a vital part of the experience of living. As Wittgenstein was saying, language fails when trying to express an actual experience. You can sum up your experience by framing it as a series of concepts, and I might get the general idea and relate it to similar experiences I have had, yet I'll never get the real experience by a transmission, but only by experiencing it. Language and concepts lay down a sort of set of railroad tracks upon which our mind travels. This can be positive or negative, through inspirational ideas or prejudice or superstition. Once either type of idea is accepted, further experience takes place within that framework unless something happens to cause us to reconsider our 'world view'. If you've been around here for long, you can see how difficult this is for people to do, even those who wish to consider themselves philosophers.

But, it goes further than language. Even if I try to have a direct experience, I can't help but frame it through concepts already in my head. I see a bird and already think 'bird' and add all sorts of prior knowledge to my experience of seeing the bird. I can't see it in the way a child might experience a bird when seeing one for the first time, without the prejudice of the world of concepts framing the experience. Unlike the child, we frame new experiences in the lens of past experience. But, while seeing the world as the past and the future, we can't help but miss important aspects of the present. The child or the mystic does not think of the world in terms of time and space as we do.

The concepts and the language are both a blessing and a curse, Huxley says. They help us to stay alive and deal with a world that is all too complex without them. He says our brain is effectively a filter, allowing us only that sliver of experience that is relevant to surviving and accomplishing goals we have set. A part of us is still able to experience the world in the way of the child, seeing everything all at once, but accessing this aspect of ourselves is not easy. This is why he was using LSD and mescaline. The drugs partly wiped out the filtering of the brain and allowed him to see the world in a different, perhaps more real way. Meditation is another method to get at this different understanding of the world, and I imagine there are other ways.

So, maybe I've said enough or too much, so I will try to get out of my own light and see what others might have to say about this.

https://www.huxley.net/doors-of-percept ... eption.pdf
According to such a theory, each one of us is potentially Mind at Large. But in so far
as we are animals, our business is at all costs to survive. To make biological survival possible, Mind at
Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out
at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the
surface of this Particular planet. To formulate and express the contents of this reduced awareness, man
has invented and endlessly elaborated those symbol-systems and implicit philosophies which we call
languages. Every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the linguistic tradition into which
he has been born - the beneficiary inasmuch as language gives access to the accumulated records of
other people's experience, the victim in so far as it confirms him in the belief that reduced awareness is
the only awareness and as it bedevils his sense of reality, so that he is all too apt to take his concepts for
data, his words for actual things. That which, in the language of religion, is called "this world" is the
universe of reduced awareness, expressed, and, as it were, petrified by language. The various "other
worlds," with which human beings erratically make contact are so many elements in the totality of the
awareness belonging to Mind at Large. Most people, most of the time, know only what comes through
the reducing valve and is consecrated as genuinely real by the local language. Certain persons, however,
seem to be born with a kind of by-pass that circumvents the reducing valve. In others temporary bypasses
may be acquired either spontaneously, or as the result of deliberate "spiritual exercises," or
through hypnosis, or by means of drugs. Through these permanent or temporary by-passes there flows,
not indeed the perception "of everything that is happening everywhere in the universe" (for the by-pass
does not abolish the reducing valve, which still excludes the total content of Mind at Large), but
something more than, and above all something different from, the carefully selected utilitarian material
which our narrowed, individual minds regard as a complete, or at least sufficient, picture of reality.
"If determinism holds, then past events have conspired to cause me to hold this view--it is out of my control. Either I am right about free will, or it is not my fault that I am wrong."
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Terrapin Station
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Re: Agnostic mysticism

Post by Terrapin Station »

chewybrian wrote: June 3rd, 2021, 7:09 am The concept (or anti-concept) seems to be that we tend to encounter the world through concepts and language, and in the process we discard or lose a vital part of the experience of living. As Wittgenstein was saying, language fails when trying to express an actual experience. You can sum up your experience by framing it as a series of concepts, and I might get the general idea and relate it to similar experiences I have had, yet I'll never get the real experience by a transmission, but only by experiencing it. Language and concepts lay down a sort of set of railroad tracks upon which our mind travels. This can be positive or negative, through inspirational ideas or prejudice or superstition. Once either type of idea is accepted, further experience takes place within that framework unless something happens to cause us to reconsider our 'world view'. If you've been around here for long, you can see how difficult this is for people to do, even those who wish to consider themselves philosophers.

But, it goes further than language. Even if I try to have a direct experience, I can't help but frame it through concepts already in my head. I see a bird and already think 'bird' and add all sorts of prior knowledge to my experience of seeing the bird.
I know a lot of people agree with the above/it's a common view, but I don't agree with it--at least it's not necessarily the case in my view. Maybe that's what a lot of persons' conscious experience is like, but I can't relate to the idea that all conscious experience, or even most of it, is like that. That's not how I experience the world.
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Re: Agnostic mysticism

Post by popeye1945 »

"If the lenses of perception could be cleansed everything would be seen as infinite.'' Great Post!! ChewyBrian
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AmericanKestrel
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Re: Agnostic mysticism

Post by AmericanKestrel »

chewybrian wrote: June 3rd, 2021, 7:09 am This is a term I encountered through Aldous Huxley that seems to have been expressed in many ways through many different philosophies and philosophers. But, he is the one that finally expressed it in a way that made it hit home for me. He may be the greatest teacher I have ever encountered, and I seem to get exactly what he means on the first lap around the racetrack, even if I still might want to revisit what he said, if only to admire the way in which he said it.

What does this idea mean to you? What is the nature or the value of experiences that transcend or are outside the understanding of the world that can be expressed in language and concepts? What authors express these ideas in a way that is meaningful for you? What exercises or activities might help you to achieve this state, assuming that you desire to do so? What do you get out of such experiences?

------------
I totally agree what Huxley says about language being inadequate in expressing everything we want to say, and in particular transcendental experiences. This came home to me in my study of advaita. Much is lost in translation from Sanskrit to English because there are meanings that are expressed in Sanskrit that simply do not exist in English. Also I totally agree with using sketches for what we mean rather than words. Some of the concepts I studied I actually needed to sketch them out several times until they made sense.
"The Serpent did not lie."
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Re: Agnostic mysticism

Post by Gee »

Every one of your posts that I read make you more interesting. I truly enjoyed this one.

Gee
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Sculptor1
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Re: Agnostic mysticism

Post by Sculptor1 »

chewybrian wrote: June 3rd, 2021, 7:09 am This is a term I encountered through Aldous Huxley that seems to have been expressed in many ways through many different philosophies and philosophers. But, he is the one that finally expressed it in a way that made it hit home for me. He may be the greatest teacher I have ever encountered, and I seem to get exactly what he means on the first lap around the racetrack, even if I still might want to revisit what he said, if only to admire the way in which he said it.

What does this idea mean to you? What is the nature or the value of experiences that transcend or are outside the understanding of the world that can be expressed in language and concepts? What authors express these ideas in a way that is meaningful for you? What exercises or activities might help you to achieve this state, assuming that you desire to do so? What do you get out of such experiences?


-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The concept (or anti-concept) seems to be that we tend to encounter the world through concepts and language, and in the process we discard or lose a vital part of the experience of living. As Wittgenstein was saying, language fails when trying to express an actual experience. You can sum up your experience by framing it as a series of concepts, and I might get the general idea and relate it to similar experiences I have had, yet I'll never get the real experience by a transmission, but only by experiencing it. Language and concepts lay down a sort of set of railroad tracks upon which our mind travels. This can be positive or negative, through inspirational ideas or prejudice or superstition. Once either type of idea is accepted, further experience takes place within that framework unless something happens to cause us to reconsider our 'world view'. If you've been around here for long, you can see how difficult this is for people to do, even those who wish to consider themselves philosophers.

But, it goes further than language. Even if I try to have a direct experience, I can't help but frame it through concepts already in my head. I see a bird and already think 'bird' and add all sorts of prior knowledge to my experience of seeing the bird. I can't see it in the way a child might experience a bird when seeing one for the first time, without the prejudice of the world of concepts framing the experience. Unlike the child, we frame new experiences in the lens of past experience. But, while seeing the world as the past and the future, we can't help but miss important aspects of the present. The child or the mystic does not think of the world in terms of time and space as we do.

The concepts and the language are both a blessing and a curse, Huxley says. They help us to stay alive and deal with a world that is all too complex without them. He says our brain is effectively a filter, allowing us only that sliver of experience that is relevant to surviving and accomplishing goals we have set. A part of us is still able to experience the world in the way of the child, seeing everything all at once, but accessing this aspect of ourselves is not easy. This is why he was using LSD and mescaline. The drugs partly wiped out the filtering of the brain and allowed him to see the world in a different, perhaps more real way. Meditation is another method to get at this different understanding of the world, and I imagine there are other ways.

So, maybe I've said enough or too much, so I will try to get out of my own light and see what others might have to say about this.

https://www.huxley.net/doors-of-percept ... eption.pdf
According to such a theory, each one of us is potentially Mind at Large. But in so far
as we are animals, our business is at all costs to survive. To make biological survival possible, Mind at
Large has to be funneled through the reducing valve of the brain and nervous system. What comes out
at the other end is a measly trickle of the kind of consciousness which will help us to stay alive on the
surface of this Particular planet. To formulate and express the contents of this reduced awareness, man
has invented and endlessly elaborated those symbol-systems and implicit philosophies which we call
languages. Every individual is at once the beneficiary and the victim of the linguistic tradition into which
he has been born - the beneficiary inasmuch as language gives access to the accumulated records of
other people's experience, the victim in so far as it confirms him in the belief that reduced awareness is
the only awareness and as it bedevils his sense of reality, so that he is all too apt to take his concepts for
data, his words for actual things. That which, in the language of religion, is called "this world" is the
universe of reduced awareness, expressed, and, as it were, petrified by language. The various "other
worlds," with which human beings erratically make contact are so many elements in the totality of the
awareness belonging to Mind at Large. Most people, most of the time, know only what comes through
the reducing valve and is consecrated as genuinely real by the local language. Certain persons, however,
seem to be born with a kind of by-pass that circumvents the reducing valve. In others temporary bypasses
may be acquired either spontaneously, or as the result of deliberate "spiritual exercises," or
through hypnosis, or by means of drugs. Through these permanent or temporary by-passes there flows,
not indeed the perception "of everything that is happening everywhere in the universe" (for the by-pass
does not abolish the reducing valve, which still excludes the total content of Mind at Large), but
something more than, and above all something different from, the carefully selected utilitarian material
which our narrowed, individual minds regard as a complete, or at least sufficient, picture of reality.
[yid=lUV65sV8nu0[/yid]
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Re: Agnostic mysticism

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Re: Agnostic mysticism

Post by AmericanKestrel »

Amazing scene. The sketch says it all, no words can.
"The Serpent did not lie."
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chewybrian
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Re: Agnostic mysticism

Post by chewybrian »

Terrapin Station wrote: June 3rd, 2021, 8:25 am
chewybrian wrote: June 3rd, 2021, 7:09 am The concept (or anti-concept) seems to be that we tend to encounter the world through concepts and language, and in the process we discard or lose a vital part of the experience of living. As Wittgenstein was saying, language fails when trying to express an actual experience. You can sum up your experience by framing it as a series of concepts, and I might get the general idea and relate it to similar experiences I have had, yet I'll never get the real experience by a transmission, but only by experiencing it. Language and concepts lay down a sort of set of railroad tracks upon which our mind travels. This can be positive or negative, through inspirational ideas or prejudice or superstition. Once either type of idea is accepted, further experience takes place within that framework unless something happens to cause us to reconsider our 'world view'. If you've been around here for long, you can see how difficult this is for people to do, even those who wish to consider themselves philosophers.

But, it goes further than language. Even if I try to have a direct experience, I can't help but frame it through concepts already in my head. I see a bird and already think 'bird' and add all sorts of prior knowledge to my experience of seeing the bird.
I know a lot of people agree with the above/it's a common view, but I don't agree with it--at least it's not necessarily the case in my view. Maybe that's what a lot of persons' conscious experience is like, but I can't relate to the idea that all conscious experience, or even most of it, is like that. That's not how I experience the world.
How do you experience the world, then? If you are saying that you don't suffer from the illusion of objectivity, I don't think that is a real possibility for anyone. You can't help framing the world in a way that is affected by your culture, and it takes hard work and conscious effort to minimize this problem. Even those who think they are fighting the system might be too apt to take the opposing view, seeing the world as a dichotomy rather than a spectrum of possibilities. Ironically, those who are most confident that they are fully objective are likely to suffer the most from the bias.
"If determinism holds, then past events have conspired to cause me to hold this view--it is out of my control. Either I am right about free will, or it is not my fault that I am wrong."
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chewybrian
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Re: Agnostic mysticism

Post by chewybrian »

popeye1945 wrote: June 3rd, 2021, 12:14 pm "If the lenses of perception could be cleansed everything would be seen as infinite.'' Great Post!! ChewyBrian
Gee wrote: June 3rd, 2021, 1:02 pm Every one of your posts that I read make you more interesting. I truly enjoyed this one.

Gee
Thanks for the kind words. Epictetus says we should not be prideful of any excellence which is not our own. If the writings of Chrysippus were not so ambiguous, then nobody could be admired for their ability to interpret them. In this case, Huxley's writing is as clear as it is elegant, so it takes no great effort to restate what he says.

Putting his ideas into practice is another thing. I'm not sure how to proceed, and my gut says I won't get too far. I doubt I'll go the drug route, and I don't get much out of meditation. I feel like my brain is hard-wired to see things through logic, and artistic creativity does not come easily, if it comes at all. I feel like the best I can do is to carefully reset the foundations of my logic over and over, in a way that opens up more possibilities of seeing the world differently, and removes the burdens of being locked in to alleged truths. For example, I am very fond of Socrates' idea that nobody is purposely evil. When someone seems to be harming me, I can see it as the result of ignorance rather than malice. I can decide that they simply don't see the value of virtue, and that if they did, they would be kinder. So, I can take pity on them rather than being angry or resenting them.

I think I was caught up in that trap of understanding the world only through concepts for many years. It's easy and comfortable to assume that the world is a giant math problem, waiting to be solved. If you don't have all the answers, at least you have the prospect of discovering them over time. I could lean on the logic for support in that way that a believer might lean on the good word from the big book. But, the world is a big bloody mess, with roadblocks in all directions or overflowing with wondrous possibilities, or both, and this is a source of frustration when set against the world of forms, math and logic. Logic helps me to get along in the material world, but fails to provide meaning or to help me feel better or get along better with others. But now, when I am sad, angry or anxious, I look for an unfounded assumption I might have made that could lie at the foundation of my frustration. Really, the only assumption with a proper foundation is that I am having experiences. All the rest is up for grabs.

When I see what Huxley is after, though, I feel like whatever benefit I grabbed from things like stoicism or existentialism amounts to the smallest baby steps. Huxley wants me to take off the training wheels, and I'm not sure I'm up to it, or how best to proceed if I am.
"If determinism holds, then past events have conspired to cause me to hold this view--it is out of my control. Either I am right about free will, or it is not my fault that I am wrong."
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Re: Agnostic mysticism

Post by Terrapin Station »

chewybrian wrote: June 4th, 2021, 5:53 am How do you experience the world, then?
So, to start, the bulk of my perceptual experience is not tied up with concepts and/or language.
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Re: Agnostic mysticism

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AmericanKestrel wrote: June 3rd, 2021, 10:01 pm
Amazing scene. The sketch says it all, no words can.
I don't when I saw it, but I was very young and wept buckets.
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Re: Agnostic mysticism

Post by chewybrian »

Terrapin Station wrote: June 4th, 2021, 7:38 am
chewybrian wrote: June 4th, 2021, 5:53 am How do you experience the world, then?
So, to start, the bulk of my perceptual experience is not tied up with concepts and/or language.
Perhaps I am only projecting my own experience of the world, but I can't see how this is possible. I can't look up at the light bulb above me without immediately understanding its purpose and the way it works. I can't simply experience the glow and the shadows and such and pretend that I don't see it as a light bulb. I believe that this problem of getting in our own way is universal. Are you saying that you can forget what you know and experience something known as if it were new, or are you just saying that you don't think it causes any problems for you or limits your experience of the world?
"If determinism holds, then past events have conspired to cause me to hold this view--it is out of my control. Either I am right about free will, or it is not my fault that I am wrong."
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Re: Agnostic mysticism

Post by Terrapin Station »

chewybrian wrote: June 4th, 2021, 8:57 am
Terrapin Station wrote: June 4th, 2021, 7:38 am
chewybrian wrote: June 4th, 2021, 5:53 am How do you experience the world, then?
So, to start, the bulk of my perceptual experience is not tied up with concepts and/or language.
Perhaps I am only projecting my own experience of the world, but I can't see how this is possible. I can't look up at the light bulb above me without immediately understanding its purpose and the way it works. I can't simply experience the glow and the shadows and such and pretend that I don't see it as a light bulb. I believe that this problem of getting in our own way is universal. Are you saying that you can forget what you know and experience something known as if it were new, or are you just saying that you don't think it causes any problems for you or limits your experience of the world?
For the majority of my perceptual experience my mind is "blank" aside from perceptual data as such. Re most perception, I don't at all think of words for anything, concepts of anything, meanings, functional relationships, etc.--it's just raw perceptual data. I don't perceive a light bulb and think "light bulb" or anything like that, unless I try to do that or unless I'm oriented towards thinking about light bulbs as such in the first place.

In some contexts, such as when I'm playing music or if I've just exercised or something like that, it can take me a moment to "switch gears" and think about anything linguistically. I've had plenty of times when I've just finished playing a song, for example, that it's difficult for me to talk for a moment.

As a little kid, I also didn't start talking until relatively late--they were starting to get worried about it by the point when I started talking. So that could be related to the fact that my brain tends to work differently when it comes to this.
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Re: Agnostic mysticism

Post by AmericanKestrel »

Terrapin Station wrote: June 4th, 2021, 7:38 am
chewybrian wrote: June 4th, 2021, 5:53 am How do you experience the world, then?
So, to start, the bulk of my perceptual experience is not tied up with concepts and/or language.
To explain something by what it is not signifies either there is no such thing or it is so esoterical that you simply have no words to describe it. Maybe you can sketch it :D
"The Serpent did not lie."
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