discussing reality with a sufist

Over the weekend, I had a visit from an old friend – Belinda McGowran, a reiki master from Dublin. She was up visiting someone in Emyvale, and decided to pay a passing visit to myself while heading back home.

She had a friend with her, a Sufist who’s name I can’t quite remember – Parva Herrity, I think it was.

We talked a lot about spiritual life, and we discovered that there are quite a few parallels between what I believe, an atheist, and what Parva believes, a Sufist.

While I think a lot of the stuff she talked about was a bit too outlandish for me, some points I agreed with completely. I won’t break them down, but instead, I’ll try to explain what we agreed.

Life is disorderly and cruel. Some people are lucky, and some people are unlucky. Sufists believe that this is all fate, that unlucky people are in that state because they need to learn from it. I think this is akin to “being in the gutter, but looking at the stars”.

Realising that there is no point to life is an important step in the growth of the self. At first, there is a mental anguish and an urge towards self-destruction, but eventually, this clears into a contented peacefulness with your own state of existance. This is true for both myself and Parva.

It is very difficult to explain an experience of “enlightenment” (or “realisation” or even “gestalt”) to someone that has not experienced it.

Here is part of the above description:

Simple techniques that strengthen our ability to concentrate are meditation, chanting (with awareness), and mentally affirming what’s happening now (“I am breathing in,” “I am tasting my food,” “I am driving my car and passing exit 89.”) Over time they help us being aware of (i.e. realizing) what’s happening in every moment.

This sounds elementary, but it’s actually quite difficult. For example, imagine your trip to work. Are you aware of everything around you? Most of the time, I find that I daydream on the way to work, and can’t describe anything that I have passed on the way. Enlightenment is a feeling of awareness, where you suddenly realise your state of being.

I won’t dwell on that, as I’m probably the wrong person to describe the feeling. For me, though, I believe I felt “enlightened” after I went through a very dark period in my life. Coming out of the other end, I realised that life, even if it is pointless, is worth living. I can’t describe the feeling – but it was a bit of a shock.

Another thing we agreed on is that the whole universe is basically a dream. Parva described us all as thoughts of God – that we think we’re real, but that we are actually just virtual versions of even more “real” versions. I described the philosophical idea of Platonic Idealism (the Cave story can explain it) to her, and she said that this was what she was trying to describe.

My own take on this is that the entire universe is just one probable configuration out of an infinite number of them. That, when taken individually, each universe is “real”, but when summed up, the total existance of these universes is null. This is kind of similar to the idea of virtual particles – that at any point in the universe, there exists a particle and its anti-particle. When taken in sum, those particles do not exist (ie: they are “virtual”), but each of the pair has the potential to exist. This is where Hawking radiation comes from – in essence, something has popped from virtually existing, to really existing. This is how I think the entire universe is – that in sum, it does not exist, but we live in one “potential” reality of it.

Again, that’s a hard concept to devour, but I think Parva understood what I was trying to say.

I enjoyed the talk. It was fun. I’d like to do it again at some point, after we have both had time to digest what the other was saying.

2 Comments.

  1. Hmm, you know Plato’s allegory of the cave doesn’t necessarily imply we live in a dream, but possibly is more a commentary on knowledge, perception and the limitations of perception.

    Plato himself may or may not have believed we mostly live in a shadowy world, unable to perceive fully it’s magnitude (or even coherently describe our perceptions of it to each other), that doesn’t though mean the allegory means to imply there /is/ a “fuller” world outside our cave.

    Godel’s incompleteness theorem essentially says the same thing (if interpreted philosophically), where a consistent system (eg, the prisoners in the cave describing and agreeing on the shapes) can not be shown to be complete (for that requires verifying the system from outside itself – eg a prisoner would have to leave the cave). If you apply that to Plato’s cave allegory, even when the prisoner leaves the cave and goes out into the sunshine, he only acquires full knowledge of the cave. He can see how incomplete the perception of the prisoners within the cave is obviously. However, the question is still left: How complete is his is *new* perception of the real world? 🙂 Even if the prisoner could transcend this new world (eg get in a spaceship and view the world from outside itself), and verify his perception of that new world – what about this new view? For Godel’s theorem is recursive..

    In essence, we can *never* really know whether we know enough about our world, for we must keep stepping ‘outside’ of our world, ad infinitum, if we really want to verify our view of that world.

    The important thing, possibly, to take away though is that while we can *never* know whether our view of a system really is complete, we *can* at least check it is consistent within itself. In other words, while the ultimate truth of our construction of the world may never be discernible (proof is infinitely recursive), we can at least ensure our constructions hold true within our views of it.

    In other words, stop worrying about all this meta-physical stuff – it’s literally unresolvable, and (I would hold) hence pointless. Instead focus on figuring out what is and is not consistent /within/ our ken of world…

  2. Absolutely. I agree with everything there – it is impossible to know all that there is about any system (an idea that manifests itself physically in QED’s Uncertainty Principle). All we can be sure of is that our own beliefs make sense to ourselves and are consistent with what we see.

    In fact, I think that “enlightenment” is a result of a person learning to see his present condition from “outside the cave” (as it were). It may not be total knowledge, but it is huge change in perspective. Parva called it “advancing to another level of knowledge”.

    I am by nature a skeptic, so tend to wring the truth out of everything, and always come down to one simple truth – I am not sure about anything. In fact, as I sit here, and try to be aware of myself and my surroundings, I note that simply by trusting my eyesight (a philosophical argument for another day), it is not possible to be sure that, for example, the universe continues to exist behind me. Maybe it doesn’t? After all – why render polygons when the view screen will not need to display them 😉

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