Alone in a world of believers

You are blessed and cursed to have found your meaning in the question of meaning itself.

Blessed to be motivated to take a journey of deepest discovery, not only of the universe without, but of the universe within.

Cursed to be born in a world of believers, who are constantly and continuously tricked by the illusion of certainty and absolute meaning.

You have, through much existential suffering and malaise, arrived at some profound insights: meaning does not exist without, but within. Believers believe in what you have found to be myths; believers implicitly believe in the immortality of their egos, which you have failed to locate in yourself; believers expect judgment from a cosmic judge, now, today, and at every instant in the future, and you have realized you are your own judge.

You were once a believer. You too believed in absolute cosmic meaning. You too assumed and behaved as if your ego was immortal. You too were constantly feeling judgment, worried and fretting over the standards set by your fellow believers, and by the ultimate arbitrator. Put that all together and you have a wonderfully adapted and adaptable foot soldier in any environment at any historical time. Self motivated and self monitoring. Guided by shared myths. An immortal soul assured of favourable judgment resting peacefully every single night.

But you were not a believer for long. Something did not click. Too many doubts led to too many questions which led to your lifelong search for meaning. And let nobody tell you this was an escape, bred of laziness, for the spoiled and weak souls; you have shed more tears, had more sleepless nights, agonized in both body and mind for hours and days, months and years, non-stop. You had to know. And knowing is never achieved without great cost.

You have truly lived as a restless and tortured soul for far too long. The illusion holding power over the believers was not quite powerful enough to hold you. And yet it was not weak. It clashed with your spirit, and created for you great tension and anxiety. You could not reconcile your experience in the world with your true essence. At times you lashed out, arrogantly pointed out all the faults of the universe; other times you turned your anxiety inward, assumed the fault must be in you, and lay for days in bed. You were never still, never at peace, never at ease; there was always tension.

And after all the struggle, which is still ongoing, you have clarified the old and arrived at many new insights. Meaning exists, but only insofar as a ‘mean-or’ exists. So it is right to say meaning exists in the universe, but wrong to say meaning is universal. The ego is an illusion, an amazing trick of the mind, and even if it did exist, it would not be immortal. And finally, after all is said and done, so to speak, there is no judge, no judgment, external to the one in our own heads.

Are these hollow truths? No. Do they matter? Yes.

If meaning is subjective then you have the power to create your own. If the ego is mortal then you should not sacrifice today, in the form of existential anxiety and fear, for the hope of a better future. And, most importantly, you are the judge of your own meaning and striving and deeds. You do not have to fear the wrath of some cosmic lawgiver. If you are true to yourself, and strive according to your own standards, that is good enough.

The world of believers is caught in a web of illusion that serves a purpose, one of which each is unaware. We are, after all, evolved apes running the software of the mind adapted for survival on the plains of Africa, in a world at a time far far removed from the one we inhabit today. And yet, that software has not been, could not have been, updated in all this time. For the updates of evolution take eons, and are never completed. And besides, evolution does not care about your existential suffering, or your search for meaning. Evolution is an amoral process, an algorithm. If you are successful at continuing the legacy begun by the laws of evolution, the grounds of your success will be selected. It really is as simple, and as amazing, as that. What better way for a highly intelligent, social, purpose-seeking, conscious animal to succeed in a universe without absolute meaning – where neither its ego nor its anxieties are worth a damn outside its own head – than to have that creature not only invent, but wholeheartedly believe in, a set of myths, values, meanings, governing rules and cosmic judgments, eternal rewards and punishments?

Believers have not suffered nearly the existential malaise and doubt that you have experienced. Of this you can be sure, because they are believers. That is not to say your path is in any sense better than any other. That is not to say you are superior in any way to anyone else. It is simply meant to illustrate that you are on a different path than most people. You were destined to discover these insights. And the path was hard, and will continue to be overgrown and poorly defined. Not many people have trodden this way. But those who have would make good company. In their presence, at least, you would not feel so alone.

You were born a seeker. You could not rest. Your doubt and anxiety fueled your journey. And you have uncovered some valuable truths.

Each path a life; the worn and barely used alike. The majority of your fellow travelers rarely, if ever, escape their guiding illusions, paths crisscrossing the world, forming wide corridors and highways of frenzied activity. They may have tread many more an empty mile than you, but in your stubbornness and reluctance to step off the curb, you have made the longer journey.

Notes – What is consciousness?

Immediate thoughts after meditation session:

For a brief time I was able to invert the common experience of consciousness being located behind the face and in the middle of the head. I was able to expand the location of consciousness to fill the four walls within which I was seated. I am still pondering this phenomenon. I wonder, if consciousness is a type of software running on the hardware of the brain, a software that models reality, incorporating images and concepts and relations. Does it make sense to assume it must exist somewhere? Sure, consciousness depends on the brain, but it is composed of non-material entities and categories (or so it seems – a claim very difficult for a materialist such as myself to digest), and as such, does not from necessity need to reside anywhere. If consciousness is not a material thing, it cannot be located anywhere. Is consciousness a realm of reality unto itself? And if not, how could the material realm produce such an illusion?

I opened my eyes at the end of the session and looked at my field of vision (a brown leather couch, a bookshelf to my left, a world map directly ahead, lamp and black side table), and was able to understand that this view was being created in my mind, and I was aware of it in the arena of consciousness. Though the software seamlessly makes me think those things which I see are out there in front of my eyes, and I am here, at a node where light waves reflected from those objects converge (which indeed, I think is safe to say, is an accurate description of the physics involved), I was able to grasp the experience of conscious awareness of this field of vision more fully, more accurately. That is, the images ARE NOT OUT THERE, but are in my mind, and I am consciously aware of those images. This deceptively simple realization was hard to achieve, and lasted only moments, but it was real and, I believe, accurate.

Mission statement for 2019

Don’t mistake the crowd for the truth; failing to fit in does not mean you’re broken.

Your horizons might extend further than your neighbour’s, your colleague’s, your friend’s; trust in your own eyes, let others trust in theirs.

With deference to Hamlet, might I add: there is also nothing either right or wrong, but truth to one’s self makes it so.

Alienation: an experiment

Here’s an experiment. Tomorrow, before entering the world, wear your hair a different way. Don socks that don’t match. When asked ‘how are you?’, don’t lie. Frown.

When the queen walks in, remain seated. 

Be honest. Be yourself tomorrow.

Unless you are infinitely agreeable, unless your hair looks equally good parted, unless you are God, prepare yourself. 

Prepare for the onslaught of thinly veiled snideness, disapproval, disdain; prepare for unsolicited opinions, for rolled eyes, for mockery; prepare for all the tools at society’s disposal to keep you in line. To hammer you to conformity. 

You’re a glass half empty kind of person? You best have them walkin’ papers signed and stamped! 

DO NOT ROCK THE BOAT!

You got that?

And always, always remember: FOLLOW THE CROWD. 

I dare you: wear your hair differently tomorrow.

Aphorisms – 2

Heed not too quickly the disapproving gaze, it may be the clearest proof yet you are on the correct way.

…rhyming Homer with Homer…

Insight my mind has not brought!

Endless loops with doubt fraught!

Infinite thoughts pitifully caught!

Stagnation has only wrought rot!

Conversations with myself – #1

I can’t force the parts of me to emerge, to come out from hiding.

That is one of the paradoxes here: set the mind to let go of control, make that a goal, and the mind automatically elects an executor, gives it the label ‘I’, and sets to work.

But by that very act, the goal itself becomes unattainable.

Letting go cannot be consciously willed.


There is a thought here about OCD. Something fleeting, out of reach. It has to do with an intuition, and the realization that explaining, arguing, defending the intuition with logic and reason, would in and of itself be all the argument I would need. The very act of arguing is itself the argument.

OCD needs control. Intuitions are suspect.


Consciousness from a distance, perhaps consciousness unclouded or uninfluenced by emotion or expectation or assumption, by narrative – perhaps that is dissociation. Viewing oneself as from the outside, and realizing that ‘oneself’ is not in fact one, is not a unified essence, but rather an association of multiple parts and systems subsumed by consciousness, abstracted under the simplified label ‘I’.

The brain abstracts. This is a fact. Is it any surprise, that once consciousness emerged, the brain abstracted itself? It has awoken to itself and given itself a name.

Just as the abstraction ‘tree’ denotes the concept of a tree, the abstraction ‘I’ denotes something, and not another thing. But what is that something?

Subsumed by the concept ‘tree’ are many types, forms, varieties. There exists a spectrum of entities with ‘treeish’ qualities. But, Plato aside, there is no form of a perfect tree, of which all actual trees are mere approximations.

No. At the extremes of the set of all possible trees will be trees that, for example, could arguably be classified as ‘shrub’. That classification would be a matter of arbitrary boundaries, imposed by humans on an evolved spectrum of entities.

What about the concept ‘I’? I know what I am not. I am neither ‘rock’, nor ‘tree’. But am I a unified entity as I sense myself to be, most of the time? Am I the actual ‘I’ in this sentence? What does that even mean? Does the question make sense?

In my more introspective, more passive moments, when I refuse or am exhausted from interaction with this world, I intuit I am an illusion.

I exist, and can be defined, only as concretely (if that!) as the concept ‘tree’. At the extremes of defining myself, I find a blurring of the me and the not me, and it becomes impossible to identify a clear boundary. It is experiencing this boundary, directly and clearly through introspection, that the illusion of a defined, unified ‘I’ becomes apparent.

This illusion is belied by the intuition of being united and disjoint, sad and happy, clear and muddied, young and old, wise and naive, SIMULTANEOUSLY! These are not sequential observations apprehended by the mind in quick succession; these qualities exist at the same time, in the same person.


Something unified, whole, one, cannot, in the strictest sense, contain contradictory parts. Show me a truly unified country. Show me any organization that doesn’t contain inherent oppositions. In reality, no amalgamation of disparate entities and divergent qualities is whole, is one, in the strictest sense. Harmony is constantly fought for, is hard-won, is at perpetual risk of collapse. Simple abstractions such as ‘I’, ‘Canada’, ‘United Nations’, masks these facts.


We could redefine the commonsense label ‘I’ to include all these disjointed, multiple systems and parts. We could do that at the risk of being misunderstood. Or we could speak with clarity, and say the person is a conglomeration of contradictions and strained relationships, that manage to coexist and, often, cooperate toward some greater end, such as reproduction,  democracy, world peace. Perhaps the simplification, the abstraction, performed by the mind on itself is a useful trick, a rule of thumb, to operate more effectively in a complex world.


Consider again the contradictory qualities apprehended by consciousness. I am inclined to say that these qualities, in fact, constitute consciousness. Consciousness and the ‘objects’ of consciousness are one and the same. Self-awareness then is a special case of consciousness taking itself as the object of consciousness.


‘I’, like ‘tree’, properly understood, must fall on a spectrum, if we insist on keeping the term at all. It is a useful term in fact. It does seem to denote something, that is, as opposed to nothing, or anything.

But the illusory ‘I’, the executor of your ‘free’ will (another illusion), does not exist as you think it does. It is a simplification, a useful abstraction, no doubt, but also potentially dangerous. It demands and often commands too much respect. It often weds the ego, or simply is the ego, and takes a life of its own. The illusory ‘I’, like the body it inhabits, refuses to die (which is perhaps beneficial to the body). But once its usefulness has been exhausted, it still clings to life, clings to the illusion it requires to exist.

To me, my ‘I’ represents the dictator of my life, is addicted to control, needs exactitude and axiomatic precision. Not only does it insist I be a certain way, demanding strict obedience to its dictates, but that reality be a certain way as well. Oh the arrogance! Conformity of reality to my boundaries ensures my deepest fears never become actualized (or, more precisely, I blind myself to their actualization), never bubble to the surface of consciousness, where they would need to be dealt with.


In a world of total control the substance of fear cannot form, cannot organize, cannot act. In a world of total control, fear is banished and forbidden to enter. The illusion of control: that is the reason my ‘I’ is so reluctant to die.