How We See the World (written 2006)
I'm reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Liking it. Liking it. Liking the puzzles of new ways of explaining. The author says that such things as gravity, the laws of science, are inventions of the human mind...not things that were “discovered”. They represent a way of looking at the world. “All are mental constructions,” the Flower Ornament Sutras (traditional Zen texts) would say. This rockets me to a different level, a new perspective.
I'm used to thinking this in trying to understand my loved ones, my contemporaries. The way my husband looks at the world, my sons, my sister, a friend. Shaped by their individual experiences, the contexts of their lives. I've even said this sort of thing in trying to explain to my kids things like riots or crime or prejudice. And I've thought it in my passionate study of medieval history, what shapes a period of history. The context of lives.
But something here turned me around to look in the mirror. To consider why I'm both fascinated and made uneasy by talk of ghosts, for instance, or magic, auras and numerology. All that. Why they seem a little silly even as my Celtic heritage draws me to them . This time I live in provides the context of science, which I've often thought of as the religion of our time. Invention. Another way of explaining.
On the level of thought, our minds work within the contexts they have known and accepted. Is there deeper knowing available when we let go of these? This is Zen's territory. The territory of koans, of the sound of one hand clapping. Breaking open the mind. Shaking the ground of reasoning.
I'm running with this now, trying to capture here the thoughts turning. Philosophy, the search for truth. The idea was presented to me in graduate studies that in philosophical inquiry we are trying to move closer to the truth. The idea that truth is somehow somewhere there, then we approach it. Our human hypotheses are tools intended to get us closer. We test different explanations against each other for consistencies. We try to see what explains most effectively. Science uses this method. The triumph of science over what we label as superstition is that it explains more thoroughly. Goes deeper. So the laws of science seem to be truths. Things we discovered.
But now I'm turning this in my hands like a coin discovered in the sand and looking. And I see another side. The laws as our inventions. We make them up to explain what we see. Like the ancient Greeks made up their gods. Like tribes over time have made up myths and stories. And in the context of our lives they explain adequately. Yet, right now, classical physics is undergoing a crisis of faith as the weird world of quantum physics explains things we couldn't see, didn't see or take into consideration before. The ancients couldn't land on the moon or use atom splitters. They had a different point of view to explain from. In another several generations what explanations, what inventions of the human mind, will make most sense?
Inner investigation requires the continuing peeling away of assumptions and contexts. Looking into the things that seem to us to be irrevocably true...the views and opinions we hold dear. Indeed, the views and opinions we come to see as being this self. We polish the mind in meditation and stillness, so that its bright mirror-like surface allows us to look anew and to examine even what we'd rather not see.
I'm trying on a new way of thinking about the closing lines of the Metta sutta: “Without fixed views and opinions, the pure hearted one, with clarity of vision, free of sensory desire, is not born again into this world.” Of course. For this world we are born into moment by moment is formed by our views and opinions, our sensory desires, our less-than clear vision and less than pure hearts. When we're able to shed these, a new world awaits.