About a decade ago I was in my friend Michael’s apartment when we were having a discussion about what might be “real” and he said, “Russia doesn’t exist.”
As I pondered this he continued, “If you fly over a large land mass in Eurasia and look down you see a bunch of land. The fact that we consider it Russia is simply agreed upon by many humans.”
And he said humans and homo sapiens don’t exist outside of human understanding.
In today’s context I would cite the many speeches given by politicians that proclaim “America is an idea” – exactly right, and we now know that the idea originally was that an American was a male property owner – sometimes with slaves.”
The slavery concept, of course, needed to be enforced with power and those who were its objects might not have known the word “slave” but they knew exactly what their reality was day to day.
Right now the concept of the “Dollar” is under assault by foreign governments and entities that want to substitute their own idea of something that can concretely represent value – cypto, digital currency, anything that would also reduce the power of the current concept of “America.”
But the concept of the dollar remains pretty strong for the moment, although the ability to move conceptual dollars electronically has created many problems and now threatens its stature because if the world completely grasps that the dollar is just an agreement – it’s time might be limited.
All concepts as actually implicit or explicit agreements among a collective sharing a common language and consciousness.
Big problems arise when these concepts evolve – for example many immigrants came to America because they believed in its concepts – but group after group like the Irish and Italians, before the current African Americans and Asians – discovered that those that were already here did not actually think that the newcomers were American.
Problems with more significant concepts like Justice and Truth.
Each group had to learn and adapt to the collective agreements about these subjects, and sometimes they were enforced by a government which had been agreed to – and sometimes they were decided in other ways, often violent.
Well are all concepts just agreements and ultimately meaningless?
Science (another concept) actually suggests that no, with systematic analysis and experiments we can know certain truths.
Mathematics seems to ratify this with “constants” like Pi and finite measurement of seemingly solid objects.
But you could show the numeric sequence of Pi, or the human symbol, to alien and it would mean nothing until you and the alien agreed on the values for those symbols.
And it turns out that a big part of the usefulness of concepts to measure and perhaps understand what seems to be real is good faith. The humans using the concepts have to agree that what they’ve agreed upon still stands. Alternatively, the concept of fraud arises.
While neuroscience strongly suggests that concepts are electrical signals in the brain, upon deeper investigation those ideas are once again – just more concepts.
We use the word “mind” conceptualize how ideas and words arise, and many believe that they are the products of independent sentient beings – again in their brain.
If we try to define precisely what we mean by mind it gets sticky
Where exactly is the “here” that arises in the mind? Is it somewhere amid the conceptual lines of longitude and latitude that we have conceptually overlaid on the planet we seem to inhabit?
Philosopher Ken Wilber coined the concept of two different realms of Mind – he called them Big Mind and Little Mind.
Little Mind seems to be the independent self that concepts convince us that we are – separate from “everything else” and with an interesting concept that we call free will.
Big Mind is what we might call a Metaphysical concept and refers to the presence of an intelligence beyond our brains and physicality that is infinite and without limits or separation.
This is presumably where the current concept of nonduality in philosophy comes in – plainly what happens with ideas or concepts is the arising of a “thinker” who seems to be separate from everything else – particularly the objects of thought. There seems to be, especially within the structure of the language we use to articulate concepts a subject and an object to reality.
But is there really? Can you find the subject that seems to be “you”? Is it behind your eyes, or in the brain with the “neurons”? We now know that there are neurons elsewhere in the body – like the gut and even the heart.
So theoretically if the concept of gratitude somehow arises – it might literally be happening in the heart – or even the gut.
And of course, it would appear that we being “organic” creatures that something like gratitude would be biochemical reaction or electricity of some sort? That’s what neuroscience might suggest.
I’ve had a lot of time to think about these issues because I’m not working and have been recovering from a brain injury.
In my recovery I’ve become familiar with the work of a psychologist specializing in trauma – Dr. Gabor Mate – who has a new book which I have not read.
But I’ve watched a lot of Dr. Mate’s videos and I love the title of the book: “The Myth of Normal.”
I love the title because in the course of my recovery very little has caused me as much anguish as the concept of “normal.”
As I connect to physical sensations that cause discomfort I can connect many of them to notions what I have been conditioned to believe is “normal” – or the way things “should” be.
It has been mainly by questioning all of these concepts and seeing them as agreement rather than facts or absolute truths, that I have been able to lessen their hold on me, and with it the power of what I think Wilber calls Small Mind and others call the Ego.
This would be the repository of concepts and beliefs with which I was socialized – first by my parents and then by society and peers – beginning with the concept of my name as “me.”
But when the Greeks suggested at Delphi that one should “know thyself” they wouldn’t have taken one’s name as the actual self. They were going much much deeper.
Maybe what we are – and I believe Jesus said, “You are the truth” – perhaps we are Big Mind fooling itself with the dream of Small Mind while the life force animates our organism.
Can we wake up from this dream? Maybe but we’d have to be sure we weren’t attached to another concept.