“The fundamental game of being is like the game of hide and go seek. We hide in the thoughts we don’t know we’re having. They become who we are. Then one day, something or someone wakes us up and we realize we were playing a game the entire time. This could take 10 seconds or 10 years depending on the person. But, the game goes on several times in a single human life, played out in a different way each time. Just imagine all the ways the game is being played across all of humanity. The game of being a good person and not an evil one. The game of seeking happiness. The game of seeking enlightenment…”
– Me in Ego Traps
Some of you just read that thinking something along the lines of “What on earth is he talking about? He’s gone off the deep end”. Skeptics would say I’m peddling Deepak Chopra level woo-woo. And I can’t blame them for thinking that. Take the first sentence “The fundamental game of being is like the game of hide and go seek”. If you read that as a literal statement, it’s unfalsifiable at best and meaningless at worst. The rest of that paragraph and parts of other posts tagged “spirituality” have the same problem. For that, I apologize. I never meant to peddle woo-woo. I am definitely no Deepak Chopra and I have no intentions of promoting pseudoscience or irrational thinking.
At the time I probably wasn’t even sure how I wanted those posts to be interpreted. I was unsure of my writing because I was unsure of my thinking. You can see that in my protracted preface to Doublethink:
As a quick note, what people post online is often taken as something they will forever agree with and are forever held to. This is unreasonable. There needs to be some equivalent of forgiveness if one posts something horrible online, but that’s a topic for another post. I’m not saying people aren’t responsible for what they post. But I am saying we should aspire to take the most charitable interpretation of what people post if we care about advancing the conversation. Obviously a person’s character is a factor in how you interpret what they post.
On my blog, I want to retain the right to post not only ideas that I understand well. But I also want the freedom to talk about things I’m not sure about. That means I run the risk of being wrong. No one posting their ideas online openly should expect to be immune to criticism. Criticism comes with the territory. But I want to say I’m interested in sharing ideas. If it’s clear to me you’re only interested in taking my words out of context, twisting what I write or using cheap gotcha’s because I didn’t state something perfectly, then I probably won’t respond. If you want clarification about anything I discuss, visit my about page for contact details. With that cleared up, let’s move on to the meat of this post.
– Me in Doublethink
Anyone who has tried to express spiritual experiences and concepts can attest to the difficulty of conveying them to others without sounding like a quack. I don’t have a good remedy for that. What I do have is an explanation for why it’s so difficult.
Why Talking About Spirituality is Hard
There’s a simple reason talking about spirituality is hard. It’s because words never do justice to spiritual experience. Nothing I can say in the English language, or any other language, can convey the gravity of a truly spiritual experience. Spiritual orators therefore appropriately resort to analogy, myth and storytelling to allude to their spiritual experiences.
Spirituality and Skeptics
The problem skeptics readily point out is most spiritual orators are all too sympathetic to pseudoscience, religion and woo-woo. This leads them to conclude that spiritual experiences are just forms of mental illness and irrationality. What they don’t realize is spiritual orators gravitate to pseudoscience, religion and woo-woo precisely because skeptics fail to connect to the character of spiritual experiences. That is to say if I want to talk about spirituality I have a much better chance at effectively imparting my experiences to a priest than a skeptic. To quote Sam Harris' blog post What’s the Point of Transcendence?:
“…experiences of self-transcendence are generally only sought and interpreted in a religious or “spiritual” context—and these are precisely the phenomena that tend to increase a person’s faith. How many Christians, having felt self-transcending love for their neighbors in church or body-dissolving bliss in prayer, decide to ditch Christianity? Not many, I would guess. How many people who never have experiences of this kind (no matter how hard they try) become atheists? I don’t know, but there is no question that these states of mind act as a kind of filter: they get counted in support of ancient dogma by the faithful; and their absence seems to give my fellow atheists yet another reason to reject religion.
Reading the comments on Jerry’s blog exposes the problem in full. There are several people there who have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about—and they take this to mean that I am not making sense. Of course, religious people often present the opposite problem: they tend to think they know exactly what I’m talking about, in so far as it can seem to support one religious doctrine or another. Both these orientations present impressive obstacles to understanding.”
Harris has even had to defend his use of the word spiritual and argue that spiritual experiences actually happen. Us spiritual skeptics have always been on the defense of spirituality against skeptics that seem to have never had a spiritual experience in their life. Or if they have had such an experience they somehow failed to see the significance of it.
I don’t want to always be playing defense when sharing spiritual ideas. But I do want to avoid making unsubstantiated and vague claims about the nature of experience. So from this point forward posts tagged “spirituality” are not to be interpreted as truth-apt, even in the limited context of subjective experience. In other words I’m not making any truth claims. But I also want to clarify that I’m not writing mere “poetry” either. What I am trying to do is offer a body of text, which is artistic in nature, that corresponds to a real subjective experience had by myself or someone else.
If you read the experiments on headless.org that I have referred to in the past, my spiritual writing going forward will be similar to that writing style. It’s the same sort of writing. However the reason I want to avoid making truth-apt claims is that we all have different subjective experiences. The final authority on your experience is you. If your subjective experience contradicts my writing, your subjective experience should take precedence. My inner world is almost certainly different than yours and I’m not trying to impose by saying you must relate to a specific myth or poem or experiment that I find compelling.
The reason I share that myth or poem or experiment is because I found it compelling or at least I saw how others could find it compelling in their spiritual journey. Your experience may be completely different and that’s absolutely fine. It’s to be expected because we’re dealing in subjectivity, not objectivity.
As for my past posts on spirituality, you should interpret them in the same way. Think of my spiritual posts as doors to experiences. Some doors are locked. You’re forever barred from what lies behind them. Those experiences are simply not in the cards for you. Other doors require a key. It’s possible to find out what’s behind those doors, but it takes some effort. Other doors are missing doorknobs. They might already be cracked open or you might open them by accident. It’s perfectly fine to be drawn toward certain doors and not others. This doesn’t mean you can’t make missteps on your spiritual journey. It just means my journey isn’t identical to yours.
In summary, read the spiritual texts you find most compelling by all means but give your own conscious experience precendence over any text. I’m not trying to make objective truth claims about reality or present a theory in the typical sense of the word. My spiritual writing is expressly written with the hope that you relate to it in your inner world or are entertained by it. In the best case it even helps to further your spiritual life journey. That’s all I’m trying to do with these posts. Nothing more.
I’ll link to this section in future spirituality posts where it’s applicable so there’s no confusion on how to interpret my writing.