Science and Sorcery
By David Worrell
Castaneda was too smart to fall for it. He carefully avoided ever directly comparing his model to any scientific principles, and even went so far as to say that "the perceptual claims of sorcerers, when examined in terms of the linear concepts of our world, make no sense whatsoever." Of course he's asserting that ALL our concepts must be linear, but in this and similar statements he played it very safe indeed. The closest Castaneda ever came to making any vague reference to science that I can recall was when he used the metaphor of black holes at galactic centers to describe the "binding force" which allegedly holds together our being. He suggested that in some mysterious way that our syntax was responsible for the way we view the world.
My main concern actually isn't with language, logic, or syntax. In fact, I'd say that's one of Castaneda's (and perhaps some phenomenologists') assertions, that such things actually have a primary impact on perception. There may indeed be effects, but are those effects truly "basic"? I am becoming somewhat skeptical of such assertions. Obviously, if the sorcerers' descriptions (not the experiences themselves necessarily, but the conceptual or "energetic" descriptions of the experiences) are rubbish, then of course there may be no "logical" connection between those descriptions and scientists' descriptions of reality.
In other words, it may well be that Castaneda arrived at real experiences of some kind, but then simply concocted a conceptual/"energetic" framework which could seem phenomenologically sound" to "explain" those experiences in a novel fashion. That is actually somewhat similar to what I believe L. Ron Hubbard did. So, until I have better evidence to the contrary, I will proceed with caution, swallowing regular doses of salt.
There may be logical connections between the things scientists discover, and certain unusual experiences we have which may appear to defy what they discover. But this does not mean that there must be logical connections with Castaneda's model in specific; indeed there may not be.
Intuitively it seems every bit as problematic (and perhaps more so) to claim that perception is based on consciousness as it is to claim that consciousness is based on perception. To me, it seems they must ever walk hand-in-hand, but so far perception is more amenable to experimentation than is "consciousness."
That aspects of reality could be "non-local" is a whole new can o' worms, but there are lots of different models of consciousness which could take that ball and run with it. And theoretically, our brains and bodies could have "non-local" capabilities just as easily as could some seemingly more "ethereal" models of perception and awareness. Then again, something I've observed is that people love to take aspects of sub-atomic physics which may not apply in any pragmatic fashion at the "macroscopic" level of our lives and, without any evidence, assume they can freely apply them as if they do.
To give just one example of how it might go, since I'm somewhat familiar with the model, let me first briefly present the Scientology model. They say that human beings are immortal spirits who inhabit physical bodies. Physical bodies, they say, are really rather crude constructions, which actually only emulate or imitate a rather small range of the total perceptual, intellectual, and emotional range of the consciousness of the immortal spirit. They were intentionally built that way, you see, and have been used for both entertainment and enslavement for nearly an eternity. The problem with we immortal spirits these days, they say, is that we have been playing the game of inhabiting our "physical creations" for so many billions of years, in so many different galaxies, etc., that we have forgotten that once upon a time we created the physical universe and everything in it, and now believe that we need all of our "stuff" in order to continue playing our eternal games. The implication here is that all creations in what we call space-time are really agreed-upon creations, creations of immortal spirits who lie outside of space-time, and are therefore not really subject to "physical laws," except by the power of their own agreements and "postulates." Sure then, they might say, spirit is "non-local." It is outside space-time completely, therefore it could access any point in space-time just by "postulating" itself there (similar to intending). It could travel a million light years in no time at all. It could access the past or the future, and all it would need to do in order to do that is to break it's own enforced agreement not to. Like Castaneda, the Scientologists say that Earth is a prison planet. They say Earth is an out-of-the-way planet where criminals, disruptive genius-types, and general nonconformist immortal spirits were dumped once upon a time, after being given the most hideous electronic behavioral implants imaginable, to get them out of the hair of some major galactic civilizations. Hubbard was a sci-fi writer before he became a cult leader. :-) In general, many model of consciousness making use of "immortal souls" could potentially go bananas with the concept of non-locality.
The human brain models perception. We don't have to just say it can, not in this case, because there now exists all kinds of information about just how it is doing it. Sure, they don't completely understand it, but at least the model isn't "invisible," like Castaneda's, LOL. Whatever "reality" may ultimately be is another matter, the point is that the brain can model perception, and until we know otherwise that is what we must treat as if it is reality.
Pragmatically, until it is known what reality ultimately is, experience must be regarded as primary. But that's not as simple as it sounds, for "experience" can be seen to include things like witnessing cellular and chemical reactions, right down to even "atomic" phenomena. When they are smashing atoms and watching the little trails fly around, whatever they may actually be doing, they are still having an experience, yes?
And thus it is in actual replicable experiences that it has been shown how the brain processes sensations, shapes, colors, smells, tastes, sounds, etc., and thereby constructs our perception / experience (apart from whatever "ultimate reality" may be).
But you experience when you are dreaming, right? Is that "real"? If you kick a rock in a dream, and it hurts, is the pain "real"?
If you were in a sleep lab, and were appropriately wired, and could be woken up at that instant to say "I was in pain," it might be possible to associate your dreaming of pain with the activation of the same centers in your brain which process "pain" in waking. I'm pretty sure they can do things like this already, but I'm a little out of touch with the data.
So what if you can become a grand master being of light and conquer multiple universes, all within the privacy of your own fertile brain? What if the brain can, in waking, construct experiential elements and "superimpose them" on the models it already constructs from "whatever is ultimately around us"? The argument is that the brain can not only *receive* data and use it to model experience, it can also directly create models of experience using what it has learned from experience.
The thing which may separate the models the brain "receives" from the models it can "create" is that perhaps there are no limitations on what it can create. Just as how in a movie people can create the most amazing "effects," so too the brain can take the elements of ordinary experience and recombine them in new ways in order to extend experience far beyond the ordinary.
Well, okay, who is aware of all these received or created "models"? Who or what is "I"? That is a bigger question. But I'm just talking about perception, and models of perceptual experience; I'm still not saying anything about identity or conscious awareness (therefore not saying anything about intentionality). There are still all sorts of issues and possibilities left in that arena. . .
But that may be the biggest illusion of all, that there is an I which is apart from all the "perceived machinery of life." There are cases of people whose brains have been damaged in such a way that they do not have memory. Such people exist only in the moment, forever. Thus, they have no idea "who they are," because they have no memory of anything they have ever done. So, in what sense do they have "identity"?
And let's look at memory for a minute. Castaneda tells us that to relive a past experience is a result of assemblage point movement, but it has been shown that stimulating certain areas of the brain directly can cause a full blown recollection of the past to come into consciousness in full detail. So there it is man, you poke here, and your fourth birthday party comes up. So . . . is this where Occam's razor shaves off the assemblage point? No, I still think Occam's razor doesn't quite cut it (ha ha), but it suggests to me that if there IS an assemblage point it has to be directly tied to what takes place in our brain somehow. . .
Another point about memory. The man who had no memory lived only in the moment. Castaneda would have to say that the person was incapable of moving his assemblage point to any prior experiences. The scientist would point out that connections had been severed to major areas of the brain where memories are stored. But this points out to me the interesting fact that at any given time, I can remember a wide panoramic range of hundreds of different memories. I can look back over my history with lightning, keeping in mind simultaneously large portions of what I've experienced in life. How could I do that, if it were related to a matter of the assemblage point needing to be on a certain point in order for me to recall things?
Now where this brain stuff gets weird is where one can be "modeling the experience" of oneself being in two places at once. I've done that. That's the kind of thing that led me to believe in Castaneda's model, but now I must admit, there is actually no necessary reason the brain could not do that. In fact, now I'm asking for a way to prove it, and I came up with one possible solution that . . . perhaps one could even learn to be in three places at once. :-) I'll work on it and let you all know, LOL. . .
See, I even have to ask questions like: what if, built right within our brain and body, as is, is the capacity to actually model viewpoints outside of ourselves in space-time? In what sense is a "luminous sphere" or "assemblage point" or even a "dreaming body" (none of which I have ever directly perceived) even necessary in order to model such experiences? Are these necessary constructs?
Some people say, well I've had the experience of being outside my body and looking at it. I would reply that perhaps it is within the capacity of our brain to model viewpoints of reality which are outside of the body. Why not? Then I would ask them, didn't you always wind up back in your body again pretty quickly? If they say: yes, but I was five miles away from where I started from, then I would say that's fascinating, perhaps it is within the capacity of our body and brain to actually travel in space-time! Would that really be any more unbelievable than the idea that, in such a change of location, the dreaming body somehow "drags" the physical body along for the ride? It would not, IMO, and the model is simpler.
Below is an excerpt from a book review of a recent book called Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion, and the Appetite for Wonder, by Richard Dawkins. I think it's an interesting point. . .
"The final chapters deal with the wonderful machinery of perception. One example is how the nerve cells economize by registering only changes from moment to moment and ignoring the more common stasis-all the boring stuff. Computers are poor at recognizing patterns such as faces, but humans, through evolution, have become superb at these and other pattern-recognition abilities. We usually create fairly accurate models of the world but can also create illusions and concoct hallucinations when something goes just slightly awry. "A brain that is good at simulating models in imagination is also, almost inevitably, in danger of self-delusion," Dawkins warns. When we see visions of angels, saints, or gods, they seem real because they must; they are models put together by the normal simulation software in the brain using the same modeling techniques that it ordinarily uses when presenting its continuously updated edition of reality."
Replica Watches Replica Watches
How does partaking of chemicals alter one's perception? How does it move the assemblage point, for obviously, partaking of chemicals is something the body does within a given "reality." What is the relationship between "the bodily changes" and the assemblage point shifts?
Of course it is still just an assertion that any perceptual changes are due to "assemblage point shifts," or that perceptual changes are even associated with "assemblage point shifts." But IF the assemblage point is really the primary agent of perception, then somehow it must be infinitely sensitive to anything ingested by the body, and must be somehow responsible for the millions of continual changes the body is undergoing. But how? No relationship has ever been elucidated. Gazillions of relationships have been established for how various chemicals directly affect our perception, via our bodies and brains.
If I so much as drink a cup of coffee, it causes perceptual changes. And again, they can show precisely how the chemicals are broken down and absorbed and carried in the blood stream, and what centers of the body, brain and nervous system are stimulated by them, and just precisely what effects will be caused, and how those effects will be manifested--and consequently they can say a great deal about exactly how my perception will be altered by that stupid cup of coffee. On the other hand, all we can say is:
Uh, somehow it causes the assemblage point to shift a little bit, aligning different fibers. And, uh, that somehow causes millions of things to change. Uh.
This is totally unacceptable. :-)
Castaneda never gave any connection between what the body ingests and how this somehow moves the assemblage point (allegedly).
In fact, I must admit that when one looks carefully, rationally, the idea can seem quite ridiculous. If the primary agent of perception is really the assemblage point, then we would have to say things like: "an assemblage point shift caused me to drink a cup of coffee and get all nervous." You know, the same way we say "an assemblage point shift made me dream I was riding a polar bear and cut out his liver with a samurai sword and ate part of it to get the power to fly to the moon." In other words, if the assemblage point really is the primary agent of perception, then any time perception changes, however minutely, it must be caused by an assemblage point shift. And if this really was the case, we couldn't say that "taking drugs causes the assemblage point to shift a lot." We'd have to say that "large assemblage point shifts cause us to take drugs sometimes." :-)
Castaneda could just say things like: jillions of emanations go through the assemblage point. Uh. When it moves, different ones go through it. They go every which way. Uh.
Great. But how are those emanations "played" by the assemblage point? How are they "interpreted" and "projected" by the assemblage point? How is it possible for factors within the field of assembled perception to change the position of the agent of perception? There must be an elaborate feedback loop between one's awareness and the agent of perception, and between one's field of perception and the agent of perception. There must be a relationship between intent and the agent of perception. Etc.
I am not asking for a complete description of how Castaneda's model relates to what we already know about perception, I am asking for any detailed description of how it does. Even anecdotes are welcome at this point. :-) How do assemblage point shifts relate to our readily observable physical systems of perception?
Researchers can demonstrate everything they say about, for example, how motion is perceived. The demonstration is pragmatic. They can track the path of perception in great detail. They can't say ultimately what our total "consciousness" of the concept of motion includes (whether it is merely a conglomerate of accumulated perceptions or what), but they can show exactly how a given instance of motion is perceived. They also have considerable detail on things like perceiving shapes, colors, tastes, smells, sounds, etc. Now YOU tell me, in even the crudest detail, how a given instance of motion is perceived, using the assemblage point model? Or tell me how any perception is "interpreted" by the assemblage point from "threads of light" into things like beer cans, rock concerts, liverwurst, mountains, dogs, etc. Uh. Never mind.