Monday, 25 February 2019

Mysticism

Experience of the supernatural is known and called by many words, such as "God", enlightenment, spirits, etc.
It has been argued that epiphanies are effectively a state where the boundaries between the ego and the universe disappear due to a temporary or permanent suppression or dissolution of the ego. This may sound good, but can be a very negative experience that can lead to psychosis and paranoia; this is best illustrated (metaphorically) by Isaac Asimov's story "Nightfall".
The dissolution of the boundaries between the "I" and the world effectively means that one cannot distinguish between subjective thoughts and experiences and external events. Everything in the world is related to the "I", and happens because of the "I" or happens "for" the "I".

In the most benign case the experience of epiphany is "enlightenment", where thoughts (seemingly) relate to or predict reality.
In a slightly less benign case, this may appear to be a singular invisible entity ("God"), which is everywhere, knows your thoughts, sees what you do, and chooses how to affect the surrounding environment depending on that knowledge - 'it' makes signs which are recognizable as 'signs' because a similar thought preceded them. The difference between "enlightenment" and "God" is that enlightenment doesn't concern itself with agency, or may attempt to internalize agency ("thoughts shape reality"), whereas "God" externalizes agency. Positing that ego suppression and ego dissolution lead to epiphany is somewhat borne out of historical experience. Hardship(s) suppress/depress the ego -  and asceticism is associated with religiosity in a lot of cultures. This may also explain why Judaism is Jewish; they were slaves in Egypt.
That said, there is also a special case of "Monotheist enlightenment", where "you" (that is Jesus) are "God", agency is partly internalized, thoughts may shape reality (produce miracles), but a special problem arises very soon: dealing with negative events. Remember, epiphany means that all that happens is felt to be directly related to a thought or thoughts or an internal state of mind - and internalizing agency means that everything bad that happens is literally and directly known to "you" as "your" fault. This leads to the natural outcome of either trying to undo negative events (heal people, raise the dead), or consciously attempting to take responsibility for all bad things in the world, or 'miraculously' ending up taking that responsibility (the thought leading to the outcome on its own, but more of that later). It must be pointed out that "monotheist enlightenment" naturally begins as a very positive experience; you are special and everything in the world happens for you, which means that "God" loves you as a child.
The worst case of epiphany is paranoia. This is the same as "God" (external all-powerful all-seeing agency), but attempts naturalistic explanations for what this agency might be. Examples include "The CIA is watching me", "Satellites control/read my thoughts", as well as the Truman show syndrome. What makes paranoia a negative (or self-destructive) experience is not the naturalistic explanation per se, but a self-perpetuating cycle of speculation about possible negative motivations of the real-world agency, then seeing the thoughts relating to those negative motivations projected into the world, leading to fear and more thoughts about some naturalistic entity's possible negative motivations. The Truman show syndrome is an exception to this negative feedback experience, the subject being "the star" of the show.
An unexpected corollary of this line of reasoning is that positive religion, such as Christianity, can function as a psychological safety net (in a 'rationalistic' world).

There are two possible mechanisms that can lead to dissolution of the boundary between the self and the universe.
The first is subjective and related to the dissolution of the censorship (in the Freudian sense). The censorship is a mind sub-entity which sits between the subconscious and the conscious. The censorship's task is to weed out sense from nonsense, as the final product of subconscious processing of the world or a problem. The conscious mind is only made aware of 'ideas' and 'thoughts' that 'make sense'; everything else is discarded. The absence of censorship means that the subject becomes aware of 'nonsense' conclusions to problems (that the subconscious is working on), which suddenly seem very logical. It also means that the subject is aware of the subconscious processing itself; mere observations of the world at the first stages of their processing by the subconscious become equivalent to "thoughts" and "ideas" - this is then the phenomenon which is interpreted by the subject as "my thoughts are outside my head", e.g. as 'signs' or 'miracles'.

The second possible mechanism, that can lead to the perception that there is no boundary between the self and the universe, is an objective real lack of a boundary. This does not exclude the absence of a subjective boundary between the conscious and the subconscious; but it rather means that there is just one boundary - that between the conscious and the subconscious, and no boundary between the subconscious and reality.
So let us explore some of the possible manifestations of "the supernatural", in the light of our presumed non-duality of thoughts/signs.
Synchronicity (in the Jungian sense), is the most obvious starting point. An example of synchronicity, given by Jung, is a real event where someone's funeral was preceded by a large flock of crows deciding to visit the house and sit on a tree. The two events - funeral and sudden appearance of crows are said to be synchronous, that is - they happened at the same time, but what makes them special, or supernatural, is that they are meaningfully related from the point of view of the observer. Also, one of these events (crows) is seen to be very unlikely, which adds to it being perceived as special. This example relates to our discussion on epiphany in the sense that thinking funeral thoughts appears to have produced an objective manifestation of those thoughts in the world, as a 'sign' (crows).
In actuality there can be no clear distinction between the signs (crow) and the events (funeral). Both are equally 'an event', which is best illustrated by taking the crows perspective: "Why is it, that sometimes when we decide to hold a party in a tree, one of those big walkers turns out to have died in a house nearby? What a coincidence!".
Let us assume that thinking can link two events meaningfully. Even if that is so, then neither event can justifiably be called 'a sign' without exploring this a bit further. Taking a more general perspective, some events in the world are more deterministic, and some events in the world are more random. If thinking was to 'produce' one of these type of events, and link it to the other, then it is more logical to say that the more random event is the event that is being "produced" acausaly, assuming that the universe has a path of least resistance in the manifestation of meaningful coincidences. This means that the humans could actually be justified in calling the appearance of the crows 'a sign' (crows chose the tree randomly), but the crows are less justified in being superstitious about tree parties (death and entropy are natural and more deterministic aspects of the world).
Another example of synchronicity, or "metaphor projection", is fortune-telling and prophecy, e.g. someone very superstitious goes to a gypsy seer and wants to know if their significant other is cheating on them. The gypsy throws the tarot cards or stirs the tea leaves and sees a vague image of a blond woman/man. Several months later, the subject finds a blond hair on the couch and instantly remembers what the gypsy had said.
The agent of "prophecy" is this case is not the gypsy - it is the superstitious client. Only the client has all the information needed to 'synchronize' events; the gypsy seer never finds out if someone actually did cheat or not. One of the events is the tarot cards/tea leaves which have arranged themselves randomly to form the image of a blond woman/man. The other event is finding the blond hair. And finally, the most important component, the glue that holds those events together, is superstitious thinking, which immediately looks for 'a sign' when confronted with a very psychologically unsettling event. This means that the subject "produced" a sign acausaly and supernaturally back in time. Seen this way, all prophecy is effectively sending messages back in time, with the caveat that those messages must form a feedback loop where they still end up being sent; a prophecy cannot prevent the event that caused it to be sent as a message. This also means that fortune-telling only works for those who believe in it, and that investigative skeptics, such as James Randi, will come out empty-handed. It also suggests that the present can alter the past, within some unknown limits, which is a bit unsettling, given how many history books there are in the world which are being read by a lot of people as meaningful stories.
It might be useful, when dealing with the prophetic aspect of synchronicity, to adopt a timeless perspective: the past doesn't actually exist, all that exists is records of "the past " in the present, and present physical states that are part of deterministic phenomena from which "the past" can be inferred. A specific present event is the state of something in the present. The thought about the event is a state of someone's mind in the present. The memory about a metaphorical "past" representation of the present event is also part of the present physical state of the subject's mind. The physical record, if there is one, of the metaphorical "past" representation of the present event is too something that exists in the present. Jungian synchronicity between all the above mentioned present states  - of the world/mind/memory/records, can therefore be seen as happening entirely "in the present", without priority or with unknown priority if there actually is one (a potential law of least resistance being the best starting guess).

This is all, of course, a bit convenient and seemingly unfalsifiable, but there may actually be a way. There is no need to demonstrate this to someone else who is also an observer who may have expectations which then affect the outcome; nothing in the above reasoning prevents self-experimentation and self-demonstration.
Pick a work of art, e.g. a painting. Spend a lot of time deconstructing the meaning of that painting. Make sure you think about it a lot, but it must also be something that is hard to understand - you can see the elements, but you are juggling them in your head, looking for meaning. This gives your subconscious a task with known elements (those in the painting). The subconscious is now processing that task, with those known elements, and the task is "looking for meaning". Before you find a definite answer, but after you've given up thinking about it (consciously), pick 3 numbers in random that form a date in the last 10 years. Go to the site of the Economist magazine, and find the issue, in the past issues section, which is closest to that date. Has the cover of this issue got all the elements of the painting? You could also do this with someone else, without telling them any of the above (to avoid priming).
It is possible that priming is the key, so maybe the proper way to run this as an experiment would be to actually create expectations of synchronicity. For example, this would mean to tell the experimentee(s) to analyze a piece of art, then ask them to pick random numbers that determine a second piece of art, then tell them (falsely) that someone has drawn/painted an artistic interpretation of the first piece of art that they will shortly be shown and ask them to asses how well that person has done, i.e. to asses how closely related the two pieces of art are. Then show them the randomly chosen (in reality) second piece of art. This still leaves us with the problem of objectively assessing if synchronicity has actually happened, without influencing the result through the process of looking at it, but we can cross that bridge when we get to it.
It is also possible that there might be individual differences in performance, e.g. more analytical (or crazier?) people being better at "causing" synchronicity. Alternatively, it might be a cumulative effect which depends solely on the total number of people who have "looked into" a single specific instance of synchronicity.
One must be careful, when setting up potential experiments on synchronicity, to not (attempt to) violate the laws of statistics; the laws of chance cannot be bent. For example, suppose a lottery machine produces 7 non-repeating random numbers between 1 and 50. The sequences "20 31 1 8 11 4 45" and "1 2 3 4 5 6 7" have equal probability of being drawn by the machine, but the second sequence is definitely a more meaningful sequence. This is therefore a case where meaningfulness does not reduce it's own probability of happening.
On the other hand, if we define meaningfulness as "sequential numbers", then we instantly reduce the likelihood that a meaningful combination would happen, because, statistically, the probability of a combination with sequential numbers happening is orders of magnitude lower than non-sequential combinations.
This example demonstrates that attempts to pre-define meaningfulness would automatically guarantee failure, as the laws of probability assert themselves. Meaningfulness can only be discovered and assessed after the fact; ideally, all possible combinations and outputs of a random meaning generator system would have the potential to carry meaning (as is, for example, the case with Tarot card spreads).

I can personally give a lot of examples of the pure "metaphor projection" kind of synchronicity that I have managed to create/observe (not sure which it is, this is why we need to do proper controlled experiments), but here is the best one:
Clubbed To Death by Rob Dougan - reversed and sync-ed to Born To Be Wild by Steppenwolf
I made this video after noticing that the two songs/videos line-up quite well both forward and in reverse. The reverse line-up shows that the visual elements in the "Clubbed To Death" video match really well with the lyrics of BTBW. I only made the reverse video; if you want to see how well they match "forward", play BTBW and the official "Clubbed To Death" youtube videos side-by-side.
These two "pieces of art" don't just contain the same elements (it being a fact that someone noticed in a short space of time) -  which would have been enough to call it Jungian synchronicity; they also synchronize really well in the conventional meaning of the word  - as video/music clips, which arguably means that this is an example of several separate instances of Jungian synchronicity.
By contrast, a more conventional example of Jungian synchronicity between the "Clubbed To Death" video and another piece of art would be the similarity with the narrative in the song by The Gathering - "Probably built in the 50s". The backstory is that quite a few years ago I spent a long time analyzing the meaning of the "Clubbed To Death" video, and then just happened to listen to some music that included BTBW by Steppenwolf and that song by the Gathering, and, well, this is the result. Conventional Jungian synchronicity of this kind is, of course, much less demonstrable after-the-fact.

Another, more general example of synchronicity is the Baader-Meinhof effect. The conventional explanation of this effect is that it is a purely subjective effect. My take on it, in the context of the current subject, is that rare new words or concepts are likely to be thought about subconsciously for an extended period of time, which would would then lead to their a-causal/synchronous/supernatural re-manifestation.
The best most recent example of Jungian synchronicity of the prophetic/"message back in time" kind, that I have found, is a video doing the rounds on Twitter (not originally discovered by me): it's a movie clip made in 1958 depicting a man called Trump who wants to build a wall.
Another recent example is Arthur C. Clarkes's book "Randevouz with Rama", which may be seen as describing the passing of the Oumuamua asteroid through the solar system. This doesn't mean that "it's aliens"; it only means that the "message back in time" reflects people's analytical process of what Oumuamua might be, and not necessarily the conclusion or the resolution of that process. "Messages back in time" are just that - "messages", and subconscious ones at that, the information contained in them is not necessarily (always) factual.
A better example of the same nature would be the book "The Wreck of the Titan", which seemingly predicted the sinking of the Titanic 14 years earlier. In both cases, an emotionally moving event made a person (or people) "remember" a book they had read; "reverse" causality created the actual physical memory of the book, the actual writing of the book, all events in between that were necessary for the memory to form (e.g. picking up the book by chance in a bookstore, events leading to being in the bookstore etc.), as well as all the chance events that led the author to write the specific story. Arguably, the opposite is also possible; reading the book about the Titan "caused" (a-causally) the reading of news of the sinking of the Titanic shortly thereafter, which "caused" the actual sinking, which "caused" all the events that led to the sinking. Going back to our discussions on the duality of signs-events, whichever of the two events (book writing vs. sinking) was easier to happen by chance is likely closer to "the sign", and the other event is likely closer to "the event" ("path of least resistance"). These likelihoods a probably very hard to assess and likely not very different from one another in all event chains where people are predominantly involved, which is why it is probably more useful, to collectively call both events/signs "synchronicity" as Jung does. That said, the passage of an asteroid is an event that is significantly more deterministic than the sinking of a ship, due to it being almost entirely Newtonian in nature for a long period back in time, which means that the two examples aren't completely equivalent to one another.

The retroactive manifestation of a long chain of events may sound a bit unrealistic from a statistical perspective, but it must be noted that a lot of possible events can serve as the cause for a specific end-state; there isn't a specific and very unlikely chain of events leading to a final state; it is rather a pyramid with a lot of increasingly possible lower elements that leads to the single end-state at the top. An analogy in purely thermodynamic terms, is that for a fixed end-state of a container of gas molecules, where each molecule's position and momentum is precisely defined (if possible), there exist an increasing number of states back in time, the further back in time one goes, that could potentially lead to the final desired state. This is the consequence of quantum mechanics and the universe not being strictly deterministic; the passage of time destroys information about past states and the past is not 100% infer-able from the present, which can be taken to mean that the past doesn't "fully" exist.

I would caution anyone looking into this against "always looking on the bright side". It is tempting to only want to see "good" in the world and happy, meaningful events. It is natural to want to treat all "signs" as related to good events, and hope that they predict good events. However, what this actually does is that it suppresses all possible bad, dumb and meaningless interpretations of a "sign" to the subconscious. In other words, what this does is that it internalizes a subconscious censorship (again - in the Freudian sense), which then filters good from bad interpretations of a sign, as generated by the subconscious, and keeps the bad possible interpretations in the subconscious for a longer time than the good. This then ensures that the subconscious will a-causally manifest the bad event, even if a good event has already happened; both events matching the original "sign".
One should always keep a psychological possibility for negative, neutral and meaningless events to occur, as is the case in the world.

/ last edited 15 Jan 2020 /