[FutureBuddha (47)] Yet Even Further Hunches

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  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39472

    [FutureBuddha (47)] Yet Even Further Hunches

    From the Aggañña Sutta ... The Formation of the World ...

    Vāseṭṭha, at one point, the earth was just a single mass of water and was totally dark.
    The moon and sun were not found, nor were stars and constellations,
    nor day and night, months and fortnights, years and seasons.
    Also there was no difference between male and female. Beings were simply known as ‘beings’.
    After a very long period had passed, solid nectar curdled in the water.
    It appeared just like the curd on top of hot milk as it cools.
    It was beautiful, fragrant, and delicious, like ghee or butter. And it was as sweet as pure bee-honey.
    Now, one of those beings was greedy.
    Thinking, ‘Oh my, what might this be?’ the being tasted the solid nectar with its finger.
    The being enjoyed it, and craving arose in it.
    And other beings, following that being’s example, tasted solid nectar with their fingers.
    They too enjoyed it, and craving arose in them.

    Today’s 'yet even further' hunches and speculations build on my previous essays, entitled "Further Hunches" (LINK) and "Even Further Hunches" (LINK). If you don't buy the wild notions I am selling there, you surely won't buy what I am pushing today. The premises of those essays can be summarized as follows (you can read the rest at the foregoing links):

    • There is something special, deserving special explanation, about the fact that, in a seemingly wild and largely random universe, you find yourself to be a self-aware being able now to imagine and contemplate any point in time in the history of this universe, beginning from a moment after the Big Bang, continuing on through 13.7 billion years to the moment of your conception when, according to our currently accepted notions of physics, chemistry, stellar and planetary development, biology and evolution, the intricate sequence of events headed in precisely a direction necessary for your eventual existence despite the seemingly far greater likelihood time-and-time again that any single event amid the ages-long unbroken chain could, it would be thought, have turned in another direction among the vast set of directions which would have foreclosed your eventual existence, all as proven by the simple fact that here you are, alive and pondering your existence and all it required.

    • Although the same unlikelihood could be claimed for any sentient being, creature or thing that has come into existence at this now current moment of universal history, the fact that the contemplator is not just someone or some creature or something, but rather, you yourself now subjectively contemplating your own personal fortune is a special phenomenon deserving special explanation.

    • You are not the winner of a single lottery (something not particularly amazing), but the always and each-and-every time winner after winner of a string of constant lotteries within lotteries, one after the other in sequence and often entwined in complex parallel, stretching through all time from cosmic expansion to sperm meets egg, which unbroken chain of a googol of wins resulted in you, no step skipped or tripped over, bar none, not a single miss as proven conclusively just by your present contemplation of the most personal outcome.

    • This outcome, if more than brute fact, may point to a mechanism, as yet unknown but open to conjecture, which has served to weight nature’s dice, tilt the roulette wheel, limit the possible results, fix the game. If such a mechanism exists, it need not always remain unknown, its nature can be the subject of theory and, hopefully, testing and demonstration.

    • Though beings identical to you, or extremely close, may have appeared time and again in an infinite universe or ensemble of universes where like circumstances endlessly happen, their existence would not explain your existence, here and now, in this place and timeline where you apparently need to find yourself to be this you right here and now. The others might be doppelgängers or twins, but that would be different from this very you which you need right now in order to be experiencing you.

    I would like to offer a few corollaries to my prior propositions. What are they?

    (By the way, while Buddhism is generally not concerned with "where we all came from," being content in guiding us to Liberation here and now however we got here, Buddhism also does not forbid our investigating such matters. In fact, Buddhism is based on certain suppositions about reality, our deep connection and inter-identity with the universe, and even a "built in" system of ethics/Karma, which overlaps with many of my speculations.)

    Corollary 1 - There is something significant and deserving of special explanation in the fact that you are not some non-conscious (automaton) version of you, nor "somebody else" here or somewhere that is identical to and experiencing what it is 'to be you,' but rather, very subjectively this you right here and now experiencing your you-ness.

    In other words, physics, chemistry, biology including evolution, history and manifold other factors wound around through billions of years in this universe, or in many universes in a multi-verse of universes, and the result is a creature who is you in brain and body (or many or an infinite number of "yous" in a variety of places in this universe or endless universes), but seemingly none of them would have needed to be this specific you who is experiencing your "you-ness" now. For example, there could be versions of you which function as biological automatons, not conscious at all. Or, for example, in keeping with our present notions of "self-identity," there could be other creatures with identical brains and bodies, and even identical whole lives, but who are not "this very you" who is right now experiencing being you, but are like someone else experiencing somewhere else just what it is like to be "you."

    "This very you experiencing you" right now does not seem to have been necessary even if there was some you somewhere (which leads to the additional question as to why the universe or universes needed "any you anywhere" at all.) Perhaps it is just a "brute fact," or a product of the happenstance that, in an infinite set of universes, EVERYTHING must happen, so "this very you right now" had to happen ... but it seems too that reality would not have missed much if it skipped over "any you at all" completely (sorry). Furthermore, it seems logical that the universe could have cooked up "you" in other universes, places and times, but did not need it to be in -this- universe, and space and time, where this current "you" is experiencing subjectively your "you-ness" now. Could the multi-verse have gotten on fine with all the other "yous" alone, but not "yours?" Why this one? And even for "this one," why is it not "some other you" right here who looks, walks, talks, smells and smiles like you right here and now ... but really is just a "you" poser, some other "you" in your shoes married to your spouse, not this "you you" here and now?

    For some earlier mad speculations regarding a mechanism by which any group of neurons in a particular configuration, place and time, had to be subjectively the "you" that is "this very you here and now" (in much the same way that any iPhone that comes out of the Apple factory has to be "that particular iPhone" which receives internet and calls to its particular number in its particular location even if there are countless identical or similar iPhones scattered about), please see my original essay of hunches ... called just "Hunches" (LINK).

    Corollary 2 - For there to be a "you," it had to happen, not only in a very particular kind of "place," but also within a relatively narrow window of time ... and perhaps in a most specific place and time.

    For there to be any "you" possessing your particular physical body and brain structure, you need to the product a very particular local set of conditions involving a relatively narrow chain of physical, chemical, biological, historical, etc., causal events which "set up" those specific local conditions, leading to that very particular set of conditions existing at the time of and necessary for your conception and birth. Any significant change in those conditions (e.g., a hotter sun which rendered earth uninhabitable, the failure of a meteor to wipe out the dinosaurs thus letting our mammal ancestors attain dominance, ancestors providing your particular genetic combinations not meeting or mating, and any of countless other differences) would have made your body and brain, and thus "you," impossible in this or any particular location in the universe/multi-verse where a "you" were to be born. In addition, a "you" could only arise within certain windows of time, for example, such an event would have been impossible in the very early universe before the appearance of each element of the periodic table constituting your body and brain, nor so early in universal history that planetary formation and evolution would not have sufficient time to progress, nor too late in the history of the universe when stars would have cooled to such a point that any life resembling "you" would be impossible.

    As well, we also might consider that any "you" that had appeared earlier, later or somewhere else in this universe might walk, talk, smell and smile like you, but might not be "you you" (only perhaps a twin or doppelganger, given our present understanding of what constitutes self-identity) unless that "you" had been conceived and born, not only in the right physical place presenting the right necessary conditions, but just at the right time, right on time. Would a "you" conceived a year earlier or later, even if with identical DNA and made of the exact same structure of atoms, still be this "you?" It is an open question. Seemingly, if your brother were born somehow with the exact same DNA combination from your same parents, but from different atoms and from a separate pregnancy, say, a year later, we would assume that brother to be just your identical twin (although a somewhat younger one.) But any further time gap makes it extremely unlikely that any "you" much like you would be born at all, not even a twin: It is simply unlikely, given the chain of historical events in earth's and human history, including all that was necessary for your parents and other ancestors to themselves be born, meet and breed, generation by generation, that any "you" could have been born even a hundred years before, let alone a million, and maybe not even an hour before if conception required a specific egg and sperm.

    It is possible, of course, in an infinite multi-verse (or in a simulation) that conditions for your birth just "popped up" all set up right then and there, or even a few minutes before or any time earlier, skipping all or part of universal, earth or human history which would seemingly have led to that point. In other words, the "movie" of events could have started by picking up at any point late in the story, just hinting at all that would have come before the first frame.

    Corollary 3 - Your birth and life right now is dependent on much of the universe being just as it is, this planet being pretty much just as it is, and the immediately local conditions around you being exactly (or nearly so) just as they are.

    The universe has some aspect of being like a huge sheet of cloth, with intertwined threads, whereby tugging on any one place of the sheet effects all the threads close by, but also has effects ... (although often barely, or isolated from and practically none at all) ... in distant corners of the sheet. What you do here on earth likely has little noticeable effect, if any, on events in distant galaxies. Likewise, most events in distant galaxies appear to have little or no effect on life here on earth. Nonetheless, some events in the early and/or distant universe seem to have very important effects on our planet, and our lives (including your life) are dependent on those long ago and far away events. The atoms in your body, all of which have been refined by passing through multiple exploding stars, are but one important example. As well, if the universe is structured something like a game of billiards, our sun and planet being where and as they are, and our being here upon that planet, must be the result of events near and far, relatively recent or long ago, ranging from collisions of comets and meteors in our solar system, to galaxies forming and colliding in ways which impacted our galaxy and solar system, to seemingly chance collisions and interactions of particles in the early universe setting off chain reactions leading to all subsequent particle collisions and interactions. It seems, at first glance, most unlikely that precise events, both large and small, near and far, came together so precisely within narrow corridors of outcome in order to create the specific local conditions necessary for your conception and birth.

    Corollary 4 - As strange as it may first sound, for "you to be you," it is necessary that "good and evil," "change," "birth and death" and several other aspects of human life all exist as enabling conditions as posited by Buddhism.

    For you to have been born, it goes without saying that the possibility of "birth" had to exist in the first place. However, "death" also seems to be a necessity, given that this planet would be a very crowded place had all your ancestors, let alone the dinosaurs and every other plant and creature, stuck around permanently. Due to such overcrowding, it is possible that this world would be as unpleasant as a packed elevator. In fact, "change" is necessary, or else all would be frozen like a still picture in time.

    But in addition, "good and evil" are necessary to your existence for several reasons:

    First, if your birth is the product of all earlier human history, that must have included (alas) many human-made events such as wars, murders and other violent crimes, rapes and the like which abound in human history, and as the ground setting for your personal genetic tree, most of which harsh events we humans might judge to be "evil," "bad" or just "sad." One slight delay in an invasion, pogram or physical assault somewhere, and your grandmother might not be, meaning that you seemingly would not be. Likewise for a single mistimed happy or welcome event. We humans are the products of the existence of "good and evil."

    Second, we need "good and evil" to be ourselves. Life would not be life as we know it without our experience of a moral sense, judging some things "good" and some things "evil." Imagine, for example, if we felt everything with total ambivalence and equanimity or, in the alternative, all events equally "good, welcome and fun" including even the wars and violence in our lives: We would be very different in personality, perhaps more like animals without moral sense at all (although even they seem to manifest their own judgements and preferences, either pursuing or fleeing, making their own choices.) Or imagine that we lived in a world where everything was actually "good," always cotton candy clouds, always our favorite flavor of ice cream, our every wish granted: I imagine that it would be a kind of opiated life (like the gods in Buddhist heavens, lost in their own endless pleasure) which, while tempting, would result in a one-sided and somehow deprived experience (like a life of only comedies, robbed of the dramas), an experience of life somehow so different from human life that we could not call "you" as you at all.

    Our human life somehow requires the existence of "good and evil," as much as it requires air and gravity. Personally, I wish that it did not ... and that many aspects from war to child abuse to cruelty of all kinds could be left out of the mix ... but, right now, all that somehow comes together to make this world which allows "us." In this sense, we are truly children of good and evil. A less violent and sometimes ugly world in the past, or even right now, would probably preclude your birth and present existence, including your experience as "you" right now.

    However, that does not mean, fortunately, that we are prevented from working for a world free of war, abuse and evils for the future!! From this point forward, let us work to do away with those!

    But, given that "good and evil" exist, where did they come from? Is there appearance just "chance" too, just the roll of the dice?

    Several possibilities exist, including some suggested by traditional Buddhist beliefs:

    - 1 - In many Mahayana Buddhist conceptions, "good and evil" do not actually exist in an ultimate sense until the human mind judges, subjectively, what is "good" and what is "bad" according to what pleases or displeases the human. Otherwise, events are just events. A volcano erupting is not a "bad" event until humans who happen to have build their town at the mountain's foot now face its lava flows (and, even then, it might be considered "good" for having created the ground for humans to set their feet on in the first place.) As for "natural" events, no less for "human-made" events because, in reality, we are as much facets of nature as volcanoes. Volcanoes erupt with lava, people with anger and violence. Even so, "good and bad" do exist in the world for human beings, as much as human beings exist (although Mahayana Buddhism brings that fact of "humans themselves actually existing" into question too, at least in an ultimate sense.) Even so, phenomena do exist in a relative sense, which is real enough. So, the fact of such things not existing in one sense still begs the question of how and why they all came to be in practical sense.

    - 2 - Brute fact. Volcanoes just happened to come to be, humans just happened to come to be, our innate ability to judge "good and bad" just happened to come to be. Nothing to see here, folks, it just is what is ... move along.

    - 3 - It is necessary to our survival, coupled with our freedom to choose between them. This is indubitably true, for we survive in part by seeking what is good to our eyes, avoiding what we see as bad. Because we see volcanic eruptions as "bad" and threatening, we tend to run away from them, not into them.

    - 4 - There is something about the structure of reality and life in which "good and evil" and our ability to choose is somehow basic, as fundamental as gravity, matter, light and life itself. Is "good and evil" simply an illusion, a brute fact, just a biological survival mechanism, or is it somehow so necessary to human life that it is, in fact, as basic to human life being human life as gravity, matter, light and life itself, not to mention literature, science, love, longing. You could not be "you" (or, at least, you would be a much reduced version of "you") without all our human things, including "good and evil." Since the whole world strangely wound round-and-round to spit out "you" despite all it took, including gravity, matter, light and life necessary for you, did the universe also wind round-and-round to manifest "good and evil?" And if you are not as much the chance event that we first might think (given all the unlikeliness of you), perhaps "good and evil's" having appeared is also not as chance an event as we might think given that it is so tied (like gravity and all the rest) to your and all of our appearing despite all it took.

    If so, then what is the purpose? Just a survival mechanism? Or perhaps, as a game, test, obstacle course to pass through on our road to what's next? The latter is what many religions, including Buddhism, posit in their own way.

    More on that next time ...

    Gassho, J


    Last edited by Jundo; 08-17-2023, 06:35 AM.