Subtle and gross reality | Scientifically Spiritual 2

[Image taken from TuMadre]

In my previous post, Science and spirituality 1, I tried to make clear what the scientific meditator does: He observes reality objectively at a very basic level of observable reality, namely where consciousness comes into contact with phenomena at either of the six sense-doors of feeling, seeing, tasting, smelling, hearing and thinking.

At this level of consciousness it is obviously long before concepts, ideas and beliefs form, as these phenomena are the raw data of observed reality that we stitch together in huge bundles to create the observed reality at large, where concepts, ideas and beliefs come into existence.

Depending on which level is observed, I named these inner and outer realities. But actually there is no need to consider the one reality we live in, as two! Although calling reality by two different names may imply that there are two kinds, there is of course not.

Yet, I use the terms inner and outer reality. So let’s have a close look at how these are actually different.

Let me start out with a couple of analogies, that point to how the inner and outer reality exist.

Analogy 1:
Remember an old tube-TV or PC-monitor? Those big boxes that we stopped using quite some years ago. Looking at one of those from afar, we are able to see a clear image of something, say a face of a woman. But as we move closer to the screen, this face starts to become a little rough in the edges. Moving closer yet, so close that our noses almost touch the screen, the face of the woman disappears completely. What we see from such close distance is just little square lights of red, green, blue and yellow, all switching on and off 50 times each second – What?! Why no face anymore?

The face we so clearly saw from afar was an integrated impression of all the little units that comprised the entire screen. When getting close, we see those units individually and it no longer makes any sense whatsoever to call these blinking lights a face, no matter how many of them we study carefully and individually. They’re just blinking lights, all of a sudden.

So in the case of the old TV screen or PC-monitor, there exists an integrated and a subtle, unit-based way of observing it. They both are valid: The integrated perspective is very enjoyable, and allows us ‘to watch TV’. And to enjoy this there is no need to focus on the details of the individual little lights in the screen. In fact, that would ruin it, wouldn’t it?

The subtle perspective gives an understanding of how the TV-screen works and gives also some insight into how our eyes work with color. So it’s useful to know both perspectives. Gross and subtle.

Analogy 2:
In physics, we may talk of classical physics and quantum mechanical physics. These are essentially two paradigmes in physics that describe reality totally differently. Not that physicists say that there is more than one reality, but simply that it appears so from knowing both of these paradigms.

The father of classical physics is Newton, who lived hundreds of years ago, and in his paradigm, the universe exists of solid objects, which work according to Newton’s laws and are very intuitive, because we know solid objects so well ourselves (chairs, hands, pistols and chewing gum, and all other things).

Later on, during the last century, quantum mechanics developed because physicists realized that Newton’s paradigm wasn’t right in all cases. As it turned out, Newton sucked at describing super small, subtle things.

Very small things (like, a billionth of a meter, or nano-meter) are not like solid objects that move around  like objects in the way we know, and the way Newton described. Apparently they don’t even exist before something else makes them exist by interacting with it.. (Whaaaaa?).

Making a complicated phenomenon a little simpler: Very small things flicker in and out of reality with no solidity, no object-like properties, but really more like waves that have certain probabilities of being both here and there..I.e. not intuitive at all!

In other words, the way which we can observe physical reality at a gross, large format is totally different than the way we observe it when we zoom in on reality completely. Much like with the old TV-screen, we can get some integrated experience when looking at any object in this world from afar (more than one billionth of a meter, so we easily choose this “afar” perspective, automatically). And this perspective is true in every sense. But when looking closer, we start to see what each of the little units that comprise our experience is like, one by one. And each individual unit is nothing like the integrated ‘image’, so to say. Rather, the Individual units of each object blink on and off too. Not 50 times per second, like the little lights on the old screen, but like a gruazzillion super-mega times per second (I don’t know exactly how many times, but a lot!).

So this means that real life material actually is a bit like how the meditator observes it: Vibrating in and out of existence or our conscious, direct experience! Mind blowing, isn’t it?!

Again, both perspectives are completely true and offer different applications. Afar (more than one billionth of a meter), we see objects like the ones Newton described. This is an integrated perspectives that allows us to live the way we do, and have objects! And who doesn’t like objects, after all? Like this PC that I write on, the old TV-screen from before, Sting’s first album and my underwear with Spider man on them! All of these objects demand that we can integrate all of these gruazzillion super-mega many units of reality all at once, without them vibrating in and out of existence. Otherwise we would find ourselves in a reality where there only exist flickers of matter for a qruazzzillionth of a second each, not even having very good chances of appearing in the same spot at the next flicker. So we can really appreciate this gross, integrated view!

On the other hand, understanding that matter on a very subtle level of our physical reality, does indeed flicker in and out of reality, with some probability of being here and there, does help us understand reality better! After all, that’s how we observe it – it’s how it actually IS!

We have already started working on super-advanced quantum computers and other cool technology that work on the principles of quantum mechanics, where Newton just can go suck it!

In both of these analogies there exists a rough, integrated perspective, and a subtle one. The rough seems to be very functional, you know, “objects”, images and stuff like that. The subtle perspective seems to give us insight into how the functional actually works at the base level!

We can also see with these analogies how this same principle of the Scientific Meditator holds in modern science. Very cool…!

So to recap a little bit here, the reason for these analogies, is that the science of the meditator is one of the subtle, experienced, inner reality!

As mentioned; all that we can be aware of at a very subtle level of experiential reality is phenomena appearing at either of the six sense-doors (hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, feeling and thinking/mind).

When we meditate and observe each of these sense-doors closely, and we see that phenomena also appears in flickers! Again, there is the same pattern, as in the two analogies given above!

We don’t notice this is any normal situation, because our experience of being in any normal moment consists of having thoughts after thoughts, feelings in the body, things to look at and pay attention to, things to listen attentively to, along with smells and taste impressions. So instead of being aware of all of these individually in ultra fine detail at all times, we get some general, integrated impression of each moment instead. And that helps us not go nuts and we can essentially handle a lot more life data all at once.

Looking closely into each component of our integrated experience at any time takes a lot of practice – hence all the hours on the meditation cushion! But as I just mentioned, the same flickering nature is seen in our sensory impressions at all times. Just like the TV-screen that really flickers 50 times a second, and the atomic and sub-atomic particles flicker in and out of existence at a much more extreme pace, so does our experienced phenomena at each of the six sense-doors.

An example could be given by observing the sense-door of eye-sight. When we look at something, an object, we see the object in one, integrated image. But if we have developed the sharpness of our attention sufficiently in meditation, we can ‘zoom in’ on some little (read: TINY!) area of our visual field and actually see this flickering.

I find that this is easiest with our eyes closed, where we just see a relatively smooth layer of darkness with a mix of little flickering colors blended into it. Go ahead and try, but keep in mind that this may take some practice before you’ve got it!

This flickering of our eye-sight makes sense bio-physically as well, since the way our eye works is through little, tiny optic fibers in our eye. These fibers somehow convert incoming photons to an electrical signal that ends up in the brain. These incoming photons are never completely homogeneous in their in flow, but discreet. Additionally, we know that the signal firing of brain neurons are also discreet – about one signal every 200 milliseconds!

Therefore there will be some “mechanical noise” incorporated in the final product of this photon->eye->brain->perception – mechanism, or just seeing.

Perhaps this mechanical blur is what creates the flickers we see when we “zoom in” on the details of a visual perception?

The same flickering nature is found when we listen to something and perceive it by hearing. If we for instant hear a constant tune, that seems obviously constant and homogeneous to us at a gross, integrated level. But if we really focus, and if we are well practiced, we can start noticing that there is actually a vibration.

Again this makes sense physically as well. We know that all sound really is a product of vibration.

in fact, this is the same for all of our experienced phenomena at any sense door. But I will not continue to give more examples on this, as all this will only become clear when one really starts practicing meditation seriously – until then one can either just believe it to be true or not.

And for the Scientific Meditator, beliefs are totally worthless aside from functioning as a motivation to start working for oneself!.

The scientific meditator has to follow the #1 rule of science: Objective observation! So until observations are made that verify all that this post has claimed to be true, all of this is no meditator’s science!

One must experience these truths directly for oneself. After all, if we just think about it or believe it, we are again in the domain of outer reality, gross reality!

The insights that follow immediately from investigating our experienced sensory phenomena at a subtle level are many. One important one is that all we experience on a gross level, as an outer reality of objects, ideas, concepts and such, actually is made up of many smaller, subtler experiences at the first-hand experiential level of sense-door phenomena. This means that, the world we perceive as outside of ourselves, literally is only in us, as far as we can observe objectively!
This caused a lot of confusion for me initially as it seemed a paradox: Does the world actually exist as a fixed, objective world outside of us, or is it the world just our direct experience, which we only know to be one place: in our direct, internal, individual experience and not outside of us! The resolution to the paradox is of course that both are true, but each from a different perspective; a gross and a subtle.

Paradoxes are showing up all the time on this meditator’s path because of the perspectives that are offered by observing in a gross, integrated way and in a subtle way. One must learn to accept that these perspectives are just that: perspectives! And it’s not so weird that different perspectives yield different apparent truths, after all.
Imagine five birth-blind men that were to investigate an elephant and report on their findings about what an elephant is. One blind man, standing at the elephant’s rear might have gotten a hold of the tail and thus reports: An elephant is like a brush! Another blind man might have found the leg and reports: An elephant is like a post! In this way all the five men may report five different things, as observed correctly and objectively from their perspectives. All would be right, but each just partially.
Subtle and gross reality are also partial truths by themselves. Together they have the ability to hold more of the truth than by themselves, in the same way that all the reports of all five men investigating the elephant, would be more of a whole truth than just one of their reports by themselves.

Knowing the subtle truth of our experienced reality gives many more insights that are important with respect to the one goal of the practice of meditation, which essentially is to experience a better life! These truths I will get to later on, as they are too complex to just fling around in a paragraph now. So stay tuned!

For now, this should offer a quick intro into what the difference is between subtle and gross realities -And why it matters so much to the meditator, who is interested in gaining insight into how stuff works!

In the next post, we will go through the units of reality, to get a little more feel of how the scientific meditator stays scientific in a field of science that is so very different than the conventional physical sciences.