Krishnamurti’s teachings seem more deep existential therapy than systematic philosophy. Some of us who explore his teachings prefer to stay on an emotional or existential level, while others like to explore his teachings in relation to existing worldviews. At times these two types seem to reject each other’s interests as either parochial or irrelevant. But I see this mutual exclusion as a serious impediment to the natural and necessary evolution of the movement.
The issue in both cases is ‘truth’—be it as personal guidance or as correct worldview. We must remember Krishnamurti’s dialogues with David Bohm, Allan W. Anderson, and other scientists and philosophers. Krishnamurti was obviously also interested in the right worldview. We have these opposing camps in our intellectual traditions because we are fragmented intellectually—in the way Krishnamurti shows us so clearly and in the irrational worldviews we hold. Our thoughts are as fragmented as our behaviors and experience, and until we are whole—thoughts, behaviors, and experience all supporting each other, all of one piece—our world willcontinue in its chaos.
To begin to examine the worldview that is now the tradition of practically everyone on earth, it might be wise to look at its core distinction of spirit and matter, or mind and body. There is much New Age talk these days about healing the mind-body (or spiritmatter) split. And it is obvious to intellectuals in the beginning of the twenty-first century that there is something amiss in a world civilization where the average person has a detached mind that directs the body to do a host of unsavory things (wanton acts of violence, self-mortification, despoiling of environment, etc.).
Philosophers have talked about ‘alienation’ since the Existentialists (in modern times), but we never seem to get beyond the recognition that the mind-body split is the problem, and its ‘integration’ the solution. And this ‘solution’ never seems to get beyond the hyphenization of these two separated terms.
Since this issue seems to many to be the fundamental philosophical problem, I propose we explore some radical ideas towards resolving this issue. And rather than start with bodies and minds directly, I suggest we first investigate the concept of truth. Our ideas of truth of course color the ways we think about possible solutions to philosophical enigmas. For instance, long ago we accepted dualisms as possible true philosophical positions. This was a tremendous decision that from earliest times on was not seriously questioned. (Specific dualisms have been denied, but few have denied outright the possibility of dualisms in general.)
But I would like to question, now, the logical coherence of ontological dualisms. And I would like to posit their utter logical absurdity. It makes no sense whatsoever to believe in the existence of two ontologically distinct realms of reality—realms that by definition are so distinct that they have no common ground through which to interact with each other.
All of us know that what we call ‘minds’ interact with what we call ‘bodies, ’ yet philosophers are unable to clearly describe that interaction. You may ask, so what? Who needs philosophers? I might agree that we may not need philosophers, but I don’t think ignoring the fact that some of the best minds in history were unable to solve this puzzle is a good idea. There’s something very fundamentally and philosophically wrong here.
And I think it is the assumption that dualisms are possible. So if, out of every fiber of logical acumen in our gray matter, we reject the possibility of metaphysical dualism as impossible, then we’ve established a unity to truth that seems fitting both with reason and common sense. For each of us experiences our world as a unity, as everything in it interacting with everything else.
Without dualism, the world must be of one substance. In order to envision this, we must obviously get rid of one side of our current matter/spirit or body/mind dualism. As an exercise, let’s go with the material side, as it is more concrete and describable. In order to honor the experiences that we all have, we then have to somehow explain them as material or bodily. And this is not as difficult as it may sound. If we can successfully describe all the so-called ‘mental’ events in our world as material— without sacrificing what is real in their manifestation—then we will have eliminated the need for the major dualism in our civilization.
It will be difficult to ‘bracket’ or ignore their assumed mentalistic nature—for thousands of years, this has underlain our worldview—but describing them closely in terms of their form should help us. First we should notice that ‘mental states’ are all verydifferent, not of the similar nature that we assume when classifying them all as ‘mental.’Vision, for instance, when looked at closely, is not a perceived ‘state’ at all but an invisibleprocess that renders to our awareness thecontent of the external world. What we seeis our world, not some mental state. (Andthis goes for the other senses as well.)
Sensation should never have been considered a mental state. It is obviously a bodily awareness. The fact that its form is felt rather than seen makes it no less material.
Memory seems to consist of recallable images of events and things past—images that have all the form and spatiality of their original experiences, only noticed in the eyes or in the head as more faint images than the originals. We usually assume they are nonmaterial because they are difficult to attribute location to, and their content is not happening in the world at present. But they do have form, and their place of manifestation (in the eyes or head) can be noticed. (Holograms, similarly-appearing phenomena, are undisputedly material events.)
Thought is perhaps the most difficult to describe, but only because we have not reflected on it very clearly in the history of philosophy. If we actually look at it closely— instead of writing it off as some vague mental state like an ‘idea’—we can see it as remembered or imagined dialogue that we hear or see (as sentences) in our heads, or feel in our vocal cords. Thoughts are statements (“I shouldn’t have been so mean, ” “2 times 55 is 110, ” etc.) or series of statements—perhaps backgrounded or interspersed with visual images. And statements are physical language (formal images, subvocal speech).
Space prevents me from going into more detail here, but if one explores one’s own experience, without succumbing to preconceived mentalistic notions, it is surprising how material the experienced world becomes.
There still remains the task of showing how the actual experience of the world is material rather than mental. If we didn’t have mentalistic assumptions that our direct experience of the world can’t be material— because it is too alive, too conscious, too different from neuronal activity in the brain—we wouldn’t have to address this task. So to show that our experience of our world is material or physical is to show how artificially mentalistic the concepts of mind, consciousness, and experience really are.
Scientists believe all conscious experience is the result of electrical signals sent from the sensory receptors to the cortex. Yet our conscious experience looks nothing like electrical pulses in gray matter. On the contrary, it has color, form, and macro size. But why do we assume that the endpoints of synaptic pulses in brain tissue don’t manifest in color, form, and real-life dimensions? In vision, millions of signals arrive at the visual cortex. They are manifested in an exact array that may in fact represent the array of conscious experience. After all, form is just the juxtaposition of areas of color, and colors are just varying intensities of electrical energy. (Contrary to tradition, colors are not simply various wavelengths of light, for color is a perceptual experience caused by what the retina does with this light—how the receptor cells capture various intensities of light and convert them into electrical pulses sent to the brain. Without sensory apparatus, nervous system, and brain—light would just be electromagnetic radiation.)
When we surgically look at another person’s brain, we see gray matter and notice amplified electrical activity. This is what we (or neurosurgeons) see looking at the inside of a brain. But our direct experience is not some ‘self’ or homunculus or other part of brain looking at electrical pulses. These pulses are manifesting our experience without an experiencer. In other words, these electrical signals are our experience of the world. All the color, form, intensity, aliveness, consciousness, ‘thusness’ of our everyday experience is the material manifestation of sensory/electrical activity—period. Neuronal pulses are not interpreted to appear as the forms of our world—there is no interpreter. They are the forms of our world, projected by a material brain.
Our experience is thus not special—if by ‘special’ we mean mental or ‘higher than physical’. It is special in that all matter is special because matter is what is. What is is special. I believe it is because we have artificially and illicitly created a ‘special’, ‘higher’ realm in life, that we have consequently denigrated the ‘ordinary’ material world. The ‘mental’ is ‘spiritual’ (in German, they’re the same word) and godlike. We value professors over laborers. We (educators) entertain and fuss over the ‘mind’ much more than the body.
Seeing the materiality of the so-called ‘mental states’ does not eliminate them as experiences—that would be absurd. We all think, imagine, and feel. But we need to begin to separate the actual experiences of reality from their conditioned perception and articulation. And, of course, we will need to do this with matters of ‘spirit’ also. Unfortunately, spiritual phenomena are less directly observable and describable— precisely because they are not material or worldly—so it will be harder to translate them into a materialistic worldview.
With spirit, it is not so much translating everyday and familiar phenomena into nonmentalistic descriptions, but rather choosing whether or not to hang on to ideas that are believed but not experienced. And here the idea that sits where the mental and spiritual meet—the ‘self’—is the key one. To deny the existence of mental states is to deny the existence of a non-physical mind having them. If, as Krishnamurti says, there is no consciousness behind its contents—and the contents themselves are not mental—then there is no self that is a mental or spiritual consciousness. There is no self that is not a projection of thought using bits of experience to create an illusion of substance behind content.
With the non-existence of a spiritual self behind our conscious states, the remaining spiritual phenomena are soul and god. And these are so beyond normal observation and awareness that at this point it is moot to call them ‘spiritual’ or ‘material’. But remember, the world, the universe, is one substance. In my high school classes, my students write essays about their beliefs in soul, and their descriptions are almost unanimously sensuous and material—it’s actually very difficult to describe something spiritual.
You see, the mind-body problem, the spirit/matter split, the puzzle of dualisms, is not merely an historical-philosophical problem, an academic issue. It is actually a fundamental error in the intellectual worldview of both East and West, an error that seems to me to be at the root of our modern symbolic (i.e. mental, imaginary, image-ridden) lifestyle. And it is this lifestyle that is poisoning both the material world and the social world.
Materialism has had an undeserved negative reputation in history because it dared to deny existence and spiritual status to the so-called ‘mental’ realm. It was opposed to mentalistic ethics (in religion) and became associated, unfairly, with libertinism. But if we really honored and experienced the material world—the world—we wouldn’t oppress fellow creatures or pollute the planet. It is precisely because we only symbolically interact with matter—we deal in images and symbols and artificially created values—that we are alienated from it and abuse it.
Labels and ‘schools’ are also symbols, so it is obviously unimportant whether we use the term ‘materialism’ or not. Remember, this was just an exercise. But what is important is that we reflect on the intellectual schizophrenia of our civilization and begin to see beyond it to a whole world—to a world that because it is whole has no isolated corners from which to turn against itself.
I feel strongly that each of us—and our society as a whole—needs an intellectually coherent worldview in which to fit, logically and meaningfully, all of our myriad daily experiences. I will go even further here: I think that without a worldview that makes the most sense out of our vast current realm of knowledge, we will go on seeing the world through the distorting lenses of past faulty dualisms—and will never have a chance to experience directly and truly.
If the world is a whole, the brain must be a whole—perception and intellection must support their common truth. It is time we all left our inherited ontologies—those pernicious dualisms, those hackneyed mentalisms and spiritisms—and used our marvelous brains to create a truly modern worldview.