These streams of thought are contagious, Kuba. This really is a fun one to contemplate. What’s remarkable is how when one starts playing with one’s perspectives one ends up playing with one’s experience. May I join in on the play? Note I won’t be trying to establish anything definite or final with these musings; none of what follows is strictly scientific, so there is liable to be errors. Point them out if you see them! This is not an attempt to mislead anyone (as if what I write is all that compelling). A suggestion to the reader: if what follows appears unbearably dry, irrelevant, or nothing more than intellectual masturbation, you may exercise the freedom to ignore it. Or don’t, it’s your call. It’s not required reading. It’s just the writer having fun with his perceptions and experiences. Hm, so maybe this is like having a bit of a wank. Anyways, starting from the impression you had of simultaneous “firm boundaries” with “no separation,” I’d like to change trajectory only a little, modifying the course just slightly. If that, in turn, spurs your thought processes slightly elsewhere, that’s fine. Hopefully we all come out a little bit disoriented.
I’d also like to add that this “type of play” draws inspiration from one of Richard’s “taped dialogues.” Decidedly my favorite:
Richard: For me there is no separation between the finger-tip and the brain. The finger-tip is the brain on stalks and I do not locate myself ‘out here’. To locate yourself somewhere – out on the finger-tip – is to separate oneself out from some perceived ‘whole’. You see, I do not locate myself anywhere in relation to the universe, because there is nowhere in particular to be. When one realise that being here is to be nowhere in particular, then here is anywhere at all … this is what infinite and eternal means. Now – and I have no wish to appear mystical – anywhere at all amounts to everywhere all at once.
R: Put it this way: I am sitting here, on this couch. I can locate this body, locally, in reference to these walls; I am one metre from this one and three metres from that one and so on. The boundaries of this room give me a location, a position, a place in space. The physical infinity of the universe has no boundaries, so we are not ‘somewhere’ in relation to some edge. There is no edges to the universe, so there is no place ‘inside’ of ‘something’ – like this room – to be. The nature of infinitude is that to be anywhere is to be everywhere all at once, for time comes into it. Time, being eternal, has no beginning and no end. Therefore there is no middle. Just as there is no centre to the infinity of space, there is no middle in time. We locate ourselves in time, locally, in reference to yesterday and tomorrow. With infinitude, there are no reference points at all … either in space or in time. So if one says: ‘I am here. In infinitude, I could equally be there or there’ Now I am pointing to places in this room. Take the walls away, and this location does not mean anything. Therefore the phrase ‘anywhere at all’ gives the sense of a place in space and a moment in time … which is purely local. The actual experience of the infinitude of space and time is to be ‘everywhere all at once’, because all time and all space are right here … and right now. There is nowhere else but here and no time but now. Anywhere is everywhere and everywhere is anywhere.
Thank you, Richard.
Distinction & Discernment
“Firm boundaries” and “no separation.” I am sitting in a room. There is a laptop in front of me atop a small table. Looking at the laptop, I begin to pay attention to its individual components. I take notice of its keyboard. Looking at the keyboard, I discern individual keys. I’m also able to see how each key is distinct from the whole of the keyboard. On the other hand, I can’t help but notice that the keyboard is its keys, that is, there is in fact no distinction between the keys and the keyboard. Take away the keys, you also take away the keyboard; take away the keyboard, and there go the keys. It could be said then that the components and the whole are both distinct and indistinct from each other, at the same time. The hell?
How do we notice things? What does it mean to discern? To discern is to distinguish, and to distinguish is to see differences – that is, we discern a distinct object by seeing that it is different in some way from surrounding objects. Consider this: We are born into the world seeing jumbled blotches of shapes, colors and lines. To aid our survival, we are programmed to instinctively recognize and respond to a selection of these blotches (e.g., a milky tit). We come to notice how certain groups of blotches stand fixed together, or move as if united. At this point, we discern not just individual blotches, but individuated sets of blotches. Later, we learn the names given to these individuated sets of blotches, “Mama,” “Dadda,” “Ball,” “Doll,” “Green,” and so on. For the rest of our lives, we will continue dividing and uniting, grouping and individuating all the blotches in our world.
Different. Distinct. Separate. Those are words signifying the same thing. All referring to division. From etymonline.com, Different is from Latin differentem meaning "set apart,” from dis (apart)+ferre (carry), so “carry apart” or “take apart.” Distinct is from distinguere meaning “to push apart,” also containing the root dis (apart)+stinguere (prick), literally “prick/pierce apart”; and Separate is from separare meaning "to pull apart,” from se (apart) + parare (prepare, make ready). They all describe not just things but activity – setting apart, taking apart, pulling apart; actively dividing something up; taking something whole and splitting it. And isn’t that what we do when we discern something?
Discern etymologically shares the same connotations as the words above. It derives from the Latin discernere “to separate, set apart, divide, distribute; distinguish, perceive.” Discernment then is not passive, but active. It is the literal action of splitting our world apart. The exciting implication is that the pieces and things we observe around us aren’t “pre-cut”; they don’t start-off “separate.” The brain, detecting properties of objects in its environment, automatically discerns – that is, it separates – its surroundings along these “property lines” in a way that is useful or advantageous to it. Thus we are the ones actively cutting and dividing.
There’s something arbitrary in all this. We (or our brains) are the arbiters, the judges, who are – automatically or manually – deciding, as a tribe or as individuals, what in our environment gets divided, and what it gets divided into. For instance, the European and the Eskimo can look upon the same set of snowflakes and separate that phenomenon in different ways. The European may discern seven types of snow, or rather, he separates “snow” into seven categories; whereas the Eskimo may discern fifty types of snow, or rather, he divides his environment even further than the European, and in a way that suits him. We discern (we separate) trees from forests, leaves from trees, forests from the rest of the land, and divide (distinguish) land from ocean.
Just as we have this “power” to separate, we have the power to integrate, to combine, merge and unite. We can organize, group and arrange. We can also “solidify” these arbitrary arrangements by marking them as “individual” (literally a non divisible). Something or someone is deemed an individual essentially because we say so. We could just as well, acting as arbiters and judges, divide something deemed indivisible into its constituent bits. Or conversely, we could take the individual, categorically arrange it with other individuals, and designate them as constituent parts of another larger individual, whose properties and boundaries we also define and delineate. We can go back and forth, from the individual forest to individual trees, and then vice versa, all by adjusting our criteria and perspective.
Shall we apply this “power” to take a trip across the universe? We can achieve this by doing nothing more than playing with perspectives, boundaries and categories. All we need to do is be here, and contemplate what that means. Our arbitrary powers allow us not only the ability to define blotches, but to define the limits of this place. Here extends as close or as far as we want. Here can be the edge of our seat, the walls of our room, the exterior of our home, the boundaries of our town, the borders of our country, the exosphere of our planet, the fringes of our solar system, the outer spirals of our galaxy, and on and on, to the ends of infinity. Why not? By being here, in a snap, we can be anywhere and everywhere in the cosmos.
Point to yourself. Where are you pointing at? Is it your chest? Well, then that’s not yourself, that’s your chest. Or is it not the same thing? Point to the device you are using right now (pc, mobile or whatever). Did you point to the screen? Is that the device or is that the screen? Are they not the same thing? Now, point to the planet earth. Where did your finger land? Was it the floor, a TV, a car, a beach, a rock, yourself? Whatever it was, it was the earth. (The things that make up this planet are not just on this planet, they are this planet.) Same happens when you point to the Milky Way Galaxy. Wherever you point, that will be the Milky Way. Finally, point to the universe. Same thing happens. The universe is here, it’s there, it’s inside, it’s outside. There is nowhere and nothing you can point to that is not the universe. It has no boundaries.
We discovered that we have the “power” to take all these bits, pieces, and parcels we encounter, slice them off from the rest of the universe, and call it “rock,” or “me,” or “you,” or “truck,” or “planet.” We can slice out ever larger individual systems, complexes, and structures. No ceiling, no limit to how big a single “thing” can be or what it can include. In a sense, limits are entirely arbitrary, which means, in actuality, there are none. Boundaries are somehow completely fixed yet completely flexible.