THE BI-DIMENSIONAL BEING
Nature’s masterwork, the brain, is an extremely sophisticated piece of biological engineering. Discarding physical metabolism, it feeds itself on symbolism and environment-dependent experience.
Environment dependent experience in a way is the principal medium though which it grows to maturity; however, while confined to its own everyday experience it seems to every extent - and the main proof of this is the symbolic life (archetypal substratum) that it manifests - that atavic experience is not lost to itself - or to us - that is to say that the evolution of the human brain is not only physical (reptilian, limbic and neurocortical, the triune concept of the brain) but the experience of the species is somehow mysteriously stored within it by way of genetic encoding: "We are only beginning to understand how molecular events influence the structure of neurons and how these structural changes are translated into changes in brain function. As we try to answer such questions, we hope to get closer to understanding how the external world comes to be mirrored in the microscopic structure of the brain. Ultimately the answer will lead to a profound appreciation of how each individual person, in spite of being formed by inexorable genetic processes, is also the unique product of experience." 1
While there might be diverging opinions concerning the unity or duality of the brain and mind, the problem could be solved very simply by observing that the brain is a tangible biological organism while the mind is our concept of an abstract exteriorization of the brain’s activities translated into our everyday’s life. Very simply stated this means that there is neither duality nor unity in so far as brain and mind are concerned but they cannot be reconciled so much so as a brick and a thought cannot be reconciled simply because they are on two different planes of existence - material and abstract - and this should solve the unity/duality debate.
One is the thing, the other its manifestation; neither one nor two but again, two different planes of existence, both real and undeniable.
"Even though the basic organization of the brain does not change after birth, details of its structure and function remain plastic for some time, particularly in the cerebral cortex, the tissue that forms the brain’s convoluted surface. Experience, - sight, smells, taste, sounds, touch and posture - activates and, with time, reinforces specific neural pathways while others fall into disuse ... The developing brain can be likened to a highway system that evolves with use: less traveled roads may be abandoned, popular roads broadened and new ones added where they are needed." 2
The working of the brain and the experience of the mind exercise a mutual action on each other so much so that one develops and the other’s horizons widen and neurological research seems to have shown beyond any doubt that mental exertion contributes to new synaptic connections and obviously, in return, more synaptic connections mean more circuitry - more access to the CPU - more power for abstract exteriorization. The exchange is a mutual feedback beneficial to both planes, material and abstract and the materialization of the abstract - the translation of the thought or idea into factual activity.
Even though molecular biology, biochemistry and electron microscope scanning are telling us many a tales about the brain’s chemistry and structure, the boundary line between the material and the abstract cannot be found nor comprehended as it stands to our thinking, as in the shadow’s story recounted before, in the same relation as the three-dimensional object which stands in between the shadow and the light source. We lack the means to understand this boundary line so much so as the shadow lacks the dimension of height and some things which we can mentally feel or grasp are inexpressible just like the shadow becomes inexpressible under the full light.
Just to exercise our imagination and supposing that a shadow has a life of its own: once it is lit by the light which brought it into existence it vanishes, but being alive, even if not existent as a shadow any longer, it retains the experience of its own shadow-life, that is to say that it is no more a shadow as such but somehow it still exists as an experiential realm. This is to say that the same could be of complex physical organisms, let us say: man. When he vanishes as such he won’t vanish as an experiential being and this could be part and parcel of the greater mind, the domain, the domain itself being the species’s total experience, the unity on a different plane of the experiential life of the species - if not of organic life as a whole! In such a case the question: are we using our mind or is MIND using us could be answered by saying that: we are using our mind while MIND is using us.
This capital letters MIND, the master superset with no overset above it and to which all sets and subsets confluence or belong to, and to which all sets and subsets owe their origin, the domain, is the experience of man from the emergence of reason, from his emergence as man far back or even before the Australopithecus Afarensis of the desolate Danakil plains of Ethiopia (or perhaps on the evolutionary scale even tens of millions of years before - do we not also have a reptilian brain in our encephalic heritage?), "the Ancestor of all" 3 and it is subtlety manifest symbolically and well recognized as such by way of the atavic and ancestral symbolism common to us, that symbolism which can very aptly be equated to Jung’s collective unconscious.
Hence we could say that man in a way is a bi-dimensional being because he lives in an experiential world made of two distinct planes, the physical and the abstract - man is just like the shadow - he simply lacks an all necessary dimension enabling him to explore or comprehend the higher realm to which he belongs to but notwithstanding this he feels that there must be a higher dimension and just like the shadow he tries to leap onto the object of a superior degree of dimensions so as to be enabled to get on its other side only to be annihilated, this annihilation, or death, equated to a spiritual rebirth, or a raising from the dead, or if you prefer to an after-life life: "among all bestialities, that is most stupid, inert, vile and most hurtful, by which any believes after this life no other life to be". 4
Personally an after-life life is not enticing to me, I would rather favor my concept of duration which, shortly stated, says that we are beyond the limits of time, the time which Moses Maimonides defined as a created accident 5 and which I define, so as to place somewhere my concept of duration, as a time when there was no time - "we are" - thinking thus does not make me an entity but I am an entity because thus I think! - I think therefore I am. And a short flash of this "are" is what is manifest to us as our physical garment and its capabilities. And what is this physical garment? Might it not be that it is the three-dimensional object in the way (elsewhere I referred to it as the encephalon - here I refer to it as the whole psychophysical entity) between the light source and the shadow? Do we not exist as shadows because of this object’s presence and do we not vanish, get annihilated as shadows, if this object in the way is removed because it is no more necessary? When this three-dimensional object, our physical garment, returns to the dust whence it originated, in the world beneath the shadow, the shadow too is lost to physical perception but not to the causative light - like an ending eclipse, it thins out in space while expanding itself.
Were it so, we could say that we undeniably live in two worlds; we cannot perceive the boundary line between them and somehow we have a dim perception of another world which does not belong to the two planes, physical and mental, familiar to us. It is another plane of existence which does not belong to this world nor to our perceptual means but which nonetheless is hard for us to deny otherwise we find ourselves hopelessly lost in nothingness, we get physically and psychically lost and spiritually annihilated - and we do not like that, it frightens us!
Nor do we like senseless and purposeless things like living for a while striving to live as fully as we can, at our best, just for the sake of it, for nothing in return. Hence we must devise a reason for our existence and we must give a meaning to it. What more meaningful than an Ancestor of All or a Necessary Existent, a causative source which we ideally and symbolically identify with light it being light which gives life to our beautiful planet?
Midway this way of life we’re bound upon,
I woke to find myself in a dark wood,
Where the right road was wholly lost and gone.
Ay me! how hard to speak of it - that rude
And rough and stubborn forest! The mere breath
Of memory stirs the old fear in the blood;
It is so bitter, it goes nigh to death;
Yet there I gained such good, that, to convey
The tale, I’ll write what else I found therewith.
How I got into it I cannot say,
Because I was so heavy and full of sleep
When I first stumbled from the narrow way;
But when at last I stood beneath a steep
Hill’s side, which closed that valley’s wandering maze
Whose dread had pierced me to the heart-root deep,
Then I looked up, and saw the morning rays
Mantle its shoulder from that planet bright
Which guides men’s feet aright on all their ways;
All this a little quieted the affright
That lurking in my bosom’s lake had lain
Through the long horror of that piteous night. 6
This is only the beginning of Dante’s travel from darkness to light; that light - the rays of the sun - which at first simply appears as a dispeller of fears, our most common experience, and at the end will culminate in the transcendental light of love, our most uncommon experience - if by love we mean an unbounded, unfettered and impartial sentiment - the mystic light, a light of the color of the heart of a diamond.
Our environment is such that darkness and light are the two most prominent and used symbols to convey the meaning of ignorance and fear on one side and knowledge and love on the other.
These two, light and darkness, are the condition sine qua non into which we have to exist as physical beings; conversely, on a mental plane it is comparatively so easy to abide in darkness, or ignorance, so much so as it is a gargantuan feat to reach the light of knowledge, understanding and certainty, that light which gives man an unwavering stride in the search of his own self and the meaning beyond it: the Necessary Existent, the continuum beyond this earthly life, that is, to get in touch with his own experiential self - the one abiding in duration , his true reality.
"There is nothing to find when it’s found,
there is nowhere to go when it’s here,
there is nothing to do when it’s done,
there is nothing to look for when it’s seen,
there is nothing to be when we ARE." 7
This is "the point of intersection of the timeless with time" 8 and to reach it "we must imitate the creative act, not the thing created". 9
"And so we see that every being
Has first to be essentially itself,
Before it can become all other things
Within the cycle of his changing forms.
Therefore the Mind, wherever it exists,
Has a twofold function to fulfill:
That of maker and destroyer.
It must gather strength to spend it
In a work of self-undoing.
For, both as vehicle and obstacle,
At once uniting and dividing,
It lies athwart the road from self to Self." 10
The point of intersection of the timeless with time, the creative thing and not the thing created, the road from self to Self, are very clearly understandable antithetical propositions which reflect the two worlds which are enshrouded within the temple of our being, the two dimensions into which we exist and which are so well exemplified by the apparent contrast by brain and mind, the two realms into which we move without being able to find the point of intersection between them. Hence we cannot but express ourselves in dualistic terminology or with antithetical propositions - are we not, after all, bi-dimensional beings?
Man has forgotten his own identity.
If you find it, hide it
or be crucified.
Relax, close your eyes and think: "Who am I ?" - Within the answer, if you will ever get a complete answer, do you see just a bag of skin full of bones?
People often think about the unsolvable mystery of life but perhaps they might get closer to a tentative answer if they were more used to think also about the unfathomable wisdom of death. However, can it be that we live this life as we live it, this unique physical dimension, and that all is all that there is to it? In my opinion the mere fact that our mind can envisage different states of being, different realms which are not confined to the physical existence, is in itself proof - and as such one which has been accompanying humanity since the emergence of reason - that life is not confined to the physical plane of our everyday experience ... but by the way, what is life?
We entertain no doubt as to the fact that living things exist as well and contrasted to inert, or apparently lifeless ones; science defines life as: "Life, the temporary reversal of a universal trend towards maximum disorder, was brought about by the production of information mechanism. In order for such mechanisms to first arise it was necessary to have matter capable of forming itself into a self-reproducing structure that could extract energy from the environment for its first self-assembly. Directions for the reproduction of plans, for the extraction of energy and chemicals from the environment, for the growth sequence and the mechanisms for translating instructions into growth all had to be simultaneously present at that moment. This combination of events has seemed an incredibly unlikely happenstance and often divine intervention is prescribed as the only way it could have come about." 11
(A humorless cynic might say that life is the greatest cosmic sin as it is, in all its aspects, inexorably sentenced to death!).
Life must be a cosmic presence, in a way a universal constant, which manifests itself when conditions are favorable to sustain it ... as such, favorable conditions might even be other that the mere biophysical conditions known to us. This I mean to say: there are one hundred billion galaxies each containing one hundred billion stars and this means that there must exist billions of planets which may present conditions favorable to the sustenance of life 12 - life not necessarily as we know it even if to the present point we are hardly able to visualize other life-giving conditions apart from the earthly biospheric ones, which can support life as we know and experience it. Nothing could be more absurd than the postulates:
I will now let you ponder a question - simply because I do not have a definite answer to it: does life exist because the physical universe can sustain it, or does the physical universe exist because life sustains it?
In spite of all evidence pointing to the contrary - that we do not know of any other form of life in the solar system nor as of yet have we foolproof evidence of any other form of organic life in the universe - my tendency is to say that the physical universe exists because life sustains it. This is a very far-fetched if not completely unsound statement so that I need explain it: we can date the physical universe, about fifteen billion years; we can foresee its end, the time when it won’t expand anymore, when the power of the stars will be exhausted and it will recoil and collapse onto itself and perhaps implode and terminate in a still poorly understood little but awesome cosmic thing called black hole, where mass it concentrated to the point that a black hole of the size of a matches’ box would have the same weight as the earth, this tremendous mass having an attraction which won’t allow even light to escape from it.
We do not know what was eons before the big-bang (personally the big-bang theory is not very enticing to me!) took place nor can we imagine what will be eons after the universe will have collapsed onto itself (such an hypothetical implosion indeed presupposes a big-bang! and this would point to a cyclic recurrence of a physical universe ... the days and the nights of Brahma - four thousand years before contemporary science, before the universe in terms of E=mc2, the Hindus already knew this!) but a force, a cosmic law sustaining all this grandiose events must exist, whether we like it or not - and this same law includes the potentiality for life to manifest itself: it is a law for life and, as such, it must pre-exist the manifestation of any physical universe. This Necessary Existent law and its potentialities pre-exist the physical manifestation of the cosmos and sustain it when somehow it comes into physical existence. The physical universe is not, nor it can be - eternal; not according to the physical laws manifest to us. But we cannot negate eternity even if time "is a created accident" or the "moving image of unmoving eternity, which it imitates by revolving in a circle". 13
Eternity is a concept of our time-bounded mind; in reality it cannot be spoken of in terms of time simply because it is eternity, it is not bounded by time, it is beyond time gone or to come - eternity is a different state of existence, a principium not bound to motion-due accidents but a principium causative of motion due accidents; and these motion due accidents are the experiential realm of eternity.
Bi-dimensional beings have no means or power to know what is beyond the causative of their existence; they lack an all necessary dimension, but if as shadows they exist they know that there is a causative agent beyond the three-dimensional object; they lack a perceptive dimension and cannot get to the root, just like a leaf high on a tree won’t be able to see the root deeply buried into the soil. Yet the leaf cannot not know that there is something sustaining itself and the tree simply because it cannot exist as such unless there is a source of sustenance hidden somewhere.
Notes to chapter 7
1 - Chiye Aoky and Philip Siekevits. Plasticity in Brain Development. Scientific American. December 1988. p. 42.
2 - Ibid. p. 34.
3 - So Arjuna addresses Krishna - Bhagavad Gita, 11-39. Translated from the Sanskrit by Juan Mascaro’. Middlesex. Penguin Books. 1970.
Another rendering is "You are Brahma, the first living creature, and you are the great-grandfather". His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The Bhagavad Gita as it is. Lichestein. The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust reg. 1983.
4 - Dante, in the "Convito" - as quoted by Oscar Browning, M. A. in Religious Systems of the World. The Religion of Dante. p. 493. Bloombury. Swan Sonnenschein & Co. Limited. 1905.
See also note 23, chapter 4.
5 - See note 3, chapter 2.
6 - Dante Alighieri. The Divine Comedy - Hell - canto I, 1-21. Translated by Dorothy L. Sayers. Middlesex. Penguin Books. 1971.
7 - Wei Wu Wei in The Middle Way. Journal of the Buddhist Society. May 1975. p. 3.
8 - T. S. Eliot quoted in "Buddhism and T. S. Eliot" by Ann Leet in The Middle Way. February 1973. p. 171.
9 - Concerning Forms in Art by Frithjof Schuon in Art and Thought. p. 11. edited by K. Bharata Iyer. London. Luzac & Company Ltd. 1977.
10 - Aristide Messinesi. A Craft as a Fountain of Grace and a Means of Realization. op. cit. p. 40.
11 - Stanley W. Angrist and Loren G. Hepler. Order and Chaos. Middlesex. Penguin Books. 1967.
12 - "Fred Hoyle, the great astronomer, dealing with the regularities found by astrophysicists in the heavens, has been able to say in all seriousness that he now assumes from the observed regularities that there are at least hundreds of millions of stars with planets that could sustain human life. He finds it logical to assume human life to be present in this universe on at least one hundred million planets." - R. Buckminster Fuller. Utopia or Oblivion: the Prospects for Humanity. p. 141. New York. Bantam Books. 1969.
13 - See note 3, chapter 2.
Chapter 1 The Mind
Chapter 2 The Image
Chapter 3 The Domain
Chapter 4 Rational and Irrational
Chapter 5 The Rational Being
Chapter 6 Symbols
Chapter 7 The Bi-dimensional Being
Chapter 8 Memories of the future