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More than Allegory

BERNARDO KASTRUP
2016

Myth
  • A myth is a story in terms of which one can relate to oneself and the world. Myth has historically provided context and perspective to our presence in the world and has enriched the lives of human beings since the dawn of our species.
  • In a culture obsessed with literal truth and pragmatism, such as our own, the impoverishment of myth is increasingly - if only instinctively - felt.
  • We can roughly divide the chain of subjective experiences we call life into two realms: an outer realm of perceptions and an inner realm of emotions and thoughts.
  • The sole facts of the outer realm are images and their respective interactions in space and time. Everything else arises in the inner realm through an act of interpretation.
  • Consensus reality doesn't express any conclusion, emotional or intellectual. All we can consider to be its facts are the images and interactions themselves, not our interpretations of them.
  • The outer realm is shared across individuals. After all, we all seem to live in the same world.
  • Meaning and emotion cannot be directly shared the way the images of consensus reality are.
  • None of what we call consensus reality, or the "real world out there", expresses meaning or emotion directly.
  • Outer and inner realms are simply different modalities of subjective experience.
  • Our mind needs a code to translate consensus images into thoughts and feelings. Without it, there would be no bridge or commerce between outer and inner realms.
  • Myth is a story that implies a certain way of interpreting consensus reality so to derive meaning and affective charge from its images and interactions.
  • Myth is the code that each one of us constantly uses, whether we are aware of it or not, to interpret life in the world.
  • Consensus reality is a realm of pure form. It triggers our myth-making capacity so to evoke thought and emotion within. Our role is to interpret the pure forms by projecting a myth onto consensus reality. The myth implies a way to translate pure form into meaning.
  • The absence of myth would require a complete lack of interpretation or judgment of consensus reality.
  • A deprived myth is one that favors narrow and lame interpretations of consensus reality, interpretations that do not resonate with one's deepest intuitions.
  • Today, we don't live in a mythless society. Our condition is much more tragic: we live in a society dominated by increasingly deprived myths. Young adults, in a natural attempt to self-affirm, are often distracted by the deprived myths of consumption, power and status.
  • One always lives according to a myth, for a continuous interpretation of consensus reality is inherent to the human condition. The question is whether one's chosen myth resonates with one's deepest intuitions or runs counter to them.
  • The whole impetus of life is to transcend: to get beyond the separateness, insignificance and transience of the ordinary human condition through association with something timeless and boundless.
  • A special type of myth - a religious myth - can bring transcendence into everyday life, thereby saving the human animal from existential despair.
  • Because of the contemporary tendency toward cynicism and fundamentalism, we've marginalized our religious myths and made them small and flattened. Consequently, we've lost our connection with transcendence.
  • Traditional religious myths flood a community's very environment and its inhabitants with transcendence. The temporal and eternal worlds become linked. Mere trees, animals and holes on the ground take on the significance of divine footprints.
  • A common motif across many traditional religious myths is the notion that the world is the imagination of a divinity. The divinity then enters its own imaginings, taking on a lucid, self-reflective state of awareness within it. It is this that brings concreteness to an essentially dreamed-up universe.
  • Religious myths are powerless if they aren't seen as true. But unlike traditional cultures, we subject our mythical intuitions to the scrutiny of reason. Therefore, if our lives are to be colored by religious myths again, it is imperative that we rationally understand how and why they can be true.
  • Something glaringly essential is lost when we reduce religious myths to just allegories.
  • Allegory is a more or less artificial representation of generalities and abstractions which can be perfectly well grasped and expressed in other ways. They just indirectly point to a truth that - we assume - can ultimately be described in some direct, explicit, accurate and precise way; that is, in a literal way.
  • Allegories cannot carry the power that we now reserve for literal truth.
  • Language underlies the way we reason and delineates the boundaries of what we consider possible. Language mirrors the very way our intellects process information about reality.
  • We assume that if something cannot be unambiguously said then it cannot be true.
  • Because our self-reflective reasoning is constructed in language, we assume that if something cannot be unambiguously said then it cannot be true.
  • But truth does not care about the limits of human language. There are many natural truths that cannot be said and, hence, reasoned. These are transcendent truths.
  • Where the intellect stops intuition picks up. We can sense truth even if we cannot articulate it in words or derive it from logical schemes.
  • The symbolic obfuscated mind is less constrained in the way it organizes its cognitive processes than the linguistic intellect.
  • Truth can be intuited even when it cannot be articulated in language. Such intuition is rooted in our broader obfuscated mind, which can apprehend - in symbolic ways - aspects of reality beyond the grasp of our self-reflective thoughts and perceptions.
  • To restore meaning to our lives, we must develop a close relationship with the transcendent truths symbolically unveiled by the obfuscated mind in the form of religious myths.
  • Many religious myths reflect a culture's intuitive apprehension of transcendent aspects of reality. They aren't merely roundabout ways to refer to something literal, but the most direct and accurate utterance of transcendent truths. A religious myth is symbolic - never literal - because it emerges from the obfuscated mind.
  • If a religious myth resonates deeply with your inner intuitions and survives a reasonably critical assessment of its depth, then you should emotionally - though not intellectually - take it onboard as if it were literally true.
  • There is no better description of transcendent truths than the religious myth that resonates with your heart.
  • Faith is the sincere emotional openness to the transcendent truths connoted by a story, beyond the superficial, literal appearances of the story's denotations.
  • Taking a religious myth to be the literal truth at an intellectual level plants the seed of fundamentalism.
  • The symbolisms of different but valid religious myths are the shadows of transcendent truths.
  • Cynicism and fundamentalism are the two sides of one coin. Both practice voluntary blindness toward transcendent truth: one by refusing to acknowledge that shadows convey valid insights about it, and the other by taking a shadow to be the sole and complete truth.
  • Because of its very nature, there are no arbiters of mythical veracity other than intuition, or sense of the heart.
  • The proven effectiveness of the images of consensus reality in evoking transcendent ideas is non-trivial. It is as though consensus reality were a symbolic language connoting something beyond or behind itself, which may be trying to reach out to us.
  • In the traditions of no-myth, the emphasis is on stopping the effort to interpret consensus reality, thereby relinquishing all myths. Instead of actively engaging with the symbolic activity of the obfuscated mind to understand its insights, the emphasis is on silence and stillness.
  • The delusory myth of personal identity and separateness is at the root of human suffering. It is also at the root of our loss of contact with transcendence. By enabling one to drop the delusory myth of personal identity and separateness, the traditions of no-myth also help bring a form of transcendence back into one's everyday life, just like religious myths do.
  • Both no-myth and myth help ease suffering by enabling one to drop one's futile struggle against reality. This is by dis-identification with the ego or by surrender to a higher power.
  • Whatever evolutionary pressure pushed the human organism towards self-reflection also rendered it vulnerable to the myth of separateness.
  • The potential pitfall of the no-myth traditions is the failure to see that not only may illusions carry symbolic truth, they may embody the only possible expression of transcendence.
  • When you see the world you see God. There is no seeing God apart from the world.
  • Myth and no-myth can be complementary. The traditions of no-myth help us put the intellect in its proper place and attune to our mythical intuition. They also help us unblock our view of the symbols of consensus reality, so we can reflect upon them more clearly and advance religious myths.
  • The true value of self-reflection is not in answering, but in asking. As we've seen above, the self-reflective but language-limited intellect will never be able to produce the transcendent answer to the riddle of life. But by progressively refining the way the riddle is posed - that is, the way the questions are asked - the intellect can nudge and guide the obfuscated mind toward increasingly more insightful answers.
  • The limitation of the obfuscated mind is that, because it lacks self-reflection, it simply doesn't occur to it to ask the questions.
  • The intellect self-reflectively contemplates its circumstances and asks progressively more refined questions, while the obfuscated mind - nudged along by these questions - reacts intuitively with symbolic answers.
  • Since answers to the ultimate questions of life and reality are always intrinsically transcendent, the only way to reduce their obfuscation is to frame them in the form of a religious myth.
  • Consensus reality isn't inherently meaningless or purposeless, as the traditions of no-myth may inadvertently suggest. On the contrary: it is a symbol actively engaging our self-reflective intellect to generate the right questions and, through them, our myth-making obfuscated mind to unveil the answers.
  • Consensus reality is trying to get us to ask the right questions.
  • A religious myth can create the conditions for a direct experience of a transcendent reality. If and when the experience actually happens, the myth dissolves itself. But once the experience is over, the religious myth remains an important link - a reminder - between ordinary life and transcendence.
Truth
  • Three culturally sanctioned concepts of truth are:
    • Perceptual truth: the validity of perceptions in the present moment
    • Explanatory truth: the validity of explanations, whose essential elements are inferred past causes.
    • Predictive truth: deals with future possibilities.
  • Our confidence in the objectivity of the past arises from our subjective, intellectual models of reality.
  • The past is a mental, intellectual construct meant to give context to your present perceptions. If the past is entirely subjective, it follows that there can never be explanatory truths. The attempt to attribute objective truth or falsity to any explanation is as nonsensical. All we can hope to establish is whether an explanation is consistent with memories, present perceptions and our intellectual models of reality. Thus, there can be no explanatory truths.
  • The future is a mental, intellectual construct meant to give perspective to your present actions. Therefore, there cannot be predictive truths, for they require mind-independent future states of affairs that are never really out there.
  • Past and future exist only as mental explanations and predictions, images in the mind projected backwards and forwards. But these projections are experienced in the present, for there is only ever the present. Our intellect mistakes particular qualities of certain present experiences for a past and a future.
  • The overwhelming majority of what we consider "true" is conjured up by the mind in the form of explanations (projected past) and predictions (projected future).
  • The present is an intangible moment squeezed in between a growing past and an approaching future. Therefore, perceptual truths are, at best, an inconceivably fleeting part of the experience of life. The bulk of life consists of internal myths.
  • The present moment is an intangible singularity containing all existence. It seeds a cognitive "big bang" unfolding in the human mind, whereby intrinsic attributes of the singularity are symbolically projected onto past and future, in the form of myths. These myths conjure up the volume and substantiality of experience.
  • Perceptual truth depends on a metaphysical abstraction: a hypothetical external world independent of consciousness. All three culturally sanctioned concepts of truth thus rest on intellectual projections. The very foundations of truth are inherently subjective.
  • Space and time refer to qualities of experience, not the scaffolding of a world outside consciousness.
  • The latest experiments in the field of quantum mechanics have shown that observation not only determines the world perceived at present, but also retroactively changes it, so that its history becomes consistent with what is measured now.
  • The universe seems to be inherently a phenomenon of and in mind; an internal story; a myth. In Western philosophy, this is known as the metaphysics of idealism, according to which the universe consists solely of ideas in consciousness.
  • Idealism is precisely what many of the world's religious myths have been hinting at for thousands of years. There is nothing more to the world than experience itself. What meaning can there be in trying to determine the "validity" of an experience?
  • Without an external reality, our culturally sanctioned notions of truth are meaningless concepts. They fallaciously suggest that an experience is either nothing or other; that it must be either killed or exiled. So we surrender intimacy with our own lives and become estranged from ourselves.
  • Myth and therefore life itself is how the "hoaxer" symbolically projects out its nature, so it can perceive these projections as seeming objects and thereby inquire into itself.
  • The absence of external truth does not refute reality, insofar as experience is real as such.
  • The closer to perception an explanation - including memories - or prediction lies, the higher is its potential for consensus.
  • Consensus reality is a cognitive space not only comprising, but also surrounding, perception.
  • Religious myths are, by and large, explanations and predictions. They do not correspond to facts outside mind, but neither do scientific cosmologies. The only value of any religious myth or scientific cosmology is symbolic. The only meaningful way to interpret them is as icons of the now.
  • Our own nature is clearly transcendent, for that which conjures up time and space through a trick of circular reasoning cannot itself be bound by time or space.
  • True religious myths can help bring transcendence into our lives, thereby delivering us from existential despair, in three ways:
    • By helping us turn our gaze inwards to realize the truth of our own nature;
    • By projecting symbols that cancel out the implications of deprived cultural inferences and abstractions;
    • By lifting us up to the edge of the "hole" of cultural conditioning, from which grace can help us take the final step to freedom.
Belief
  • Uncritically and implicitly taking something for granted is the effect of underlying, obfuscated layers of your cognition.
  • A realm of mentation - that is, a particular reality - only feels real for as long as you are unable to reflect lucidly upon what's happening in the layers of your cognition that underlie the corresponding belief system. In other words, what you call reality is a reflection of the first layer of your cognition that escapes your critical self-reflection.
  • Belief, when experienced from within, generates a reality. When an experience doesn't evoke any memory, emotion or insight in you, you hardly remember it; it becomes meaningless and intangible, as if it had never happened.
  • It was the emergence of a self-referential loop of cognitive associations that created the first enduring reality, the first universe.
  • The mind-at-large punched through and entered its own imaginings. This transition from conceiving to dreaming, from outside to inside, is the change in context that mind-at-large underwent once it entered its own imaginings. And from within, the rules of cognitive association governing the universe were now believed in as autonomous realities.
  • There are two singular but analogous moments in the cosmological history of any universe: the first is when surging mental energy circulating in a self-referential loop forces it to blossom out into a tangle. The second is when surging mental energy circulating in the tangle forces it to blossom out into life.
  • Life isn't an accident but an inevitability implied by the very nature of reality
  • Sense perception is the view from the inside out that isn't available before the cognitive collapse.
  • Vague, ambiguous ideas and feelings are a kind of wave of possibilities that percolates upwards through our cognitive structure, getting filtered according to the expectations and beliefs in higher layers. Then, whatever possibility survives the filtering congeals in the form of a concrete, classical reality at the level of clusters.
  • How this wave gets filtered and then congeals into one particular reality - a process that your quantum physics calls Wave function collapse depends on the belief system running in those higher layers.
  • Because the subatomic realms are so far removed from ordinary experience, they escape the reach of expectations, hence revealing the unbound creative activity of mind-at-large prior to the formation of stable tangles.
  • The sun represents an outpouring of universal love, the mental energy that moves the world. Love nurtures but also smothers, depending on the dose and perspective.
  • There is only now and, in the now, there's no death.
  • The mystery of death is the change of perspective from observing the universe to being the universe! As long as you experience the cognitive category called perception, you most certainly are in some level of deception; in an imaginary world of your own making, which you mistakenly believe to be autonomous and independent of yourself.

These notes were taken from Bernardo's book.
See his website at www.bernardokastrup.com


RELATED NOTES

» The Idea of the World 2019
» More than Allegory 2016
» Brief Peeks Beyond 2015
» Why Materialism is Baloney 2014
» Meaning in Absurdity 2012
   Bernardo Kastrup


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