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A discussion between Mark
Otter and Pete on nonduality and
physics, from the Nonduality Salon:
This might surprise you or not, but we have never touched a human skin, not even our own.
Matter of fact, we have never touched anything. Just when our lips are about to touch our beloved,
the electrons in her skin repulse ours. Our lips get tantalizing close, but no contact is made. A
tiny gap that can never be bridged separates us from everything. True, the gap is very small, just
a few nanometers wide, but your skin never directly touches anything.
If you have no idea how small a nanometer is, imagine that only six atoms fit inside a nanometer,
while one million atoms fit inside the period at the end of this paragraph.
You might say a gap that small doesn't matter, but you're wrong. Small as it is, you never feel any
surface, what you feel is the rejection, the pushing away of electrons refusing to touch.
You're hermetically sealed inside your skin, and rejected by everything in the universe. So, OK.
let's not get too gloomy, If someone you love let you get a few nanometers from her skin, that
rejection feels damn good. ;))
I'm often a wee bit surprised at how folks involved in nonduality use physics concepts. It seems to
me that the key to nonduality is moving beyond the "personal." And physics is completely
non-personal. It's the description of how inanimate objects interact. And yet, Pete seems to have
decided to use it as a metaphor for the personal (i.e. making physics appear personal.) At least he
got the physics right.
Electrons do indeed repel each other via the electric field that each has. If you place two
electrons (each has a "negative" charge) next to each other, they will move apart. If you place a
proton (positive charge) next to an electron (still negative charge...), they will move towards
each other. This has nothing to do with the connotations we tend to use for the words "positive"
and "negative." Physicists could have equally well used the words "plus" and "minus," or even "up"
and "down..." as they did with a similar concept describing quarks.
Once one moves to the realm of the very very small (nanometer scale - one billionth of a meter...),
I'm not so sure what the word "touch" means. I'd argue that moving one object close enough to
another so that the electric fields begin to overlap and cause repulsion is a reasonable definition
of "touching," rather than suggest that things never touch. There is no clear "edge" of a thing, so
I'm not sure there is a better definition. If you doubt the wisdom of this definition, go kick a
rock as hard as you can.
Believe it or not, you were the "mark" of my post. I wanted you to respond because you're the best
qualified here to discuss the role physics could play as a teaching tool in nonduality.
Here is where I think physics and other sciences could play a role: as you know, through millennia
culture has created a social pseudo-reality that most people never question. I think the first step
in liberation is to question that reality, and maybe the next to the last is to realize there is no
one reality out there. Reality is a shifting landscape which is not the same for us as it was for
humans centuries ago.
Physics because it gives a very counterintuitive perspective, which clashes with our everyday view
of the world, could be an excellent tool to make people question that world.
If I made physics seem personal, it's because it's the person I'm aiming for. So popularizing
physics could be a mean to bring about a nondual world view. What do you think?
I think there's a good deal of merit in the approach, and some potential traps (as in all
approaches...) The main trap as I perceive it - which I think some emminent physicists have fallen
into - is, as usual, mistaking the pointer for the thing. This is a particularly attractive trap
for nonscientists, who may even fail to see the metaphor being used for lack of understanding of
Having said that, I got pretty interested in grad school in books such as "The Tao of Physics,"
"The Dancing Wu Li Masters," and "Stalking the Wild Pendulum." Even while I read them, though,
there was some unhappiness at how the topic of physics was being used to try to point past the
topic of physics, but it sparked an interest. The problem as I see it, is that physics describes
the rules of the game, while nonduality announces that it IS a game, set within a larger, deeper
playing field, which is fundamentally more "real."
Now, perhaps, being a "God - level" game, there are pointers within the game rules. For example,
some cosmologists suggest we inhabit just one of many (perhaps an infinite number?) of universes,
all with different laws of physics, and that we just happen to inhabit one which is well suited for
mammalian life forms. But, so what? We can't, so long as we identify ourselves with human bodies,
explore other universes, so whether or not they exist seems moot to me. The nonexistence of time,
nonlocal communication, and the precedence of consciousness over matter are also being pointed at
by some physicists, but I don't know how well they serve to bridge the scientific community to the
spiritual community because they are probably seen as "fringe" by both groups.
Actually, it's psychology which holds the greater interest for me as a science that intersects the
quest for Self knowledge (as a sequel to 'self-knowledge...'). In particular, the transpersonal
psychology of Stanislav Grof and others. This seems so much more potent a study of 'nonordinary
states of consciousness,' which then lead past 'states of consciousness,' because they point out so
directly the possibility that the 'normal state of consciousness' is not all there is. These can be
directly experienced in practices such as holotropic breathwork and others, so one need not remain
on theoretical footing, and therefore working solely with the waking mind.
So, as an experimentalist, my path seems to have started out with a combination of the theoretical
stuff: Dancing Wu Li Masters through Carlos Castaneda, with a simultaneous tour of psychedelics,
then discovery of Ram Dass, who had already made the leap from LSD to Neem Karoli Baba, to (again
theoretical) exploration of the various esoteric traditions, to the M group, to the Nonduality
Salon, back to experimental work with holotropic breathwork, and living on an ashram, and going to
satsang, etc, etc, etc...
Yes, physics can be a potential attention grabber, but it was "early days" for this particular
exploration, and no longer of much "personal" interest. (not to say that where I am right now is
not also "early days...")
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