What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Just a stranger on the bus
Trying to make his way home
He’s trying to make his way home
Back up to heaven all alone
Nobody calling on the phone
Except for the pope maybe in rome
Joan Osbourne, If God Was One of Us
Dave Pollard wrote an interesting article last week about a topic rather close to my heart: the nature of being and self, living in now-time and being true to our own nature. He discusses several books with divergent ideas on what our fundamental nature is and finally asks: “Can these three conceptions of who ‘we’ ‘are’ – stories, organisms, and awareness – be reconciled?”
My response to that is an unequivocal YES.
So let’s look at each of the three descriptions for a moment. As Dave wrote it:
“…as Moss puts it “Who we ultimately are, in our essence, is a potential for awareness, but the experience of awareness itself is never reducible to a ‘thing’.”
Thomas King in his book The Truth About Stories says “stories are all we are”. King is from an indigenous culture, and has studied various cultures. So if as Moss argues, these stories about us are fiction, not who we really are at all, isn’t he saying exactly the opposite of King?
Stewart and Cohen in their book Figments of Reality, say we are a complicity of the separately-evolved creatures in our bodies organized for their mutual benefit…Our brains, our intelligence, awareness, consciousness and free-will, are nothing more than an evolved, shared, feature-detection system jointly developed to advise these creatures’ actions for their mutual benefit. We are in essence a collective, they say. But Moss argues that we are not our bodies, singularly or collectively — ‘We’ are only awareness, a space, a no-thing.
Some time back I wrote about E-Prime and the language of quantum physics. (Another commenter on Dave’s article suggested I look into “rheomode” — which I find is a variation on language designed to deal with quantum reality.) In quantum physics you cannot speak of what something “is”– you can only discuss what it is doing, what it could do or what it did. This way of describing reality is also very consistent with animist theology. Contradiction appears when one invokes staticity, as a function of language, and/or as a function of a civilized world view.
So let’s look at these three ideas in the context of an acting world, as opposed to a static world.
Stewart and Cohen are correct, I believe, when they point out that we are a collective organism – there is plenty of scientific data to support this thesis, and it is consistent with the assumptions and findings of evolutionary theory. However, when they discuss this “reality” they are looking at it from the perspective of a single slice in time. They might not agree with me on this, but I suggest that as soon as you look at a human collective(or any other animal-collective) in time the first thing you notice is that not only do the collective bits “act”, but in fact, the collective itself performs actions as well. Therefore the existence of the collective is defined by those actions.
So what about King and his thought on stories? If the human collective “is” its actions, then stories describe our past actions, which then define the actions and choices we make in the present and future. So, yes, we “are” our stories, stories which continue to accumulate throughout time. What is important here, before looking at Moss and his refutation, is that our stories are decidedly not “about” what we believe of ourselves or the world, but rather the details of what has happened and how we have felt and acted in response. The audience can then determine for themselves who we have been.
Back to Moss: the “awareness” that he speaks of is no more or less than the totality of the sensory apparatus that our collective provides as well as the accumulated stories that define the path we have walked to get to this current moment in time. I would suggest that he is correct in his suggestion that we spend far to much of our awareness dwelling on the past (our stories) and our future (a function of our illusion that we are in “control”) as well as on our illusions of self. One could even suggest that the search for self, for our fundamental nature is, itself, just another something that distracts us from being-now 😉