The Life Divine – Reading Group, Session #12 [8/23]


(Douglas Duff) #21

I do not have any further intelligence to add from my own human mind (I think the lot of you expertly displayed reasonable depth of insight into AI)…only wish to add a few relevant images and captions from a series of media articles I chanced upon while checking email today.

Many of the images come from advertisements, magazine covers and other media. The series maintains a neutral or slightly appreciative tone of admiration. Some of the images though, I would imagine, influenced many present-day folks, especially how the tech giants manage their technology. As a whole, considering our general trepidation towards technological tyranny, these ominous advertisements occlude us from imaging a bright future. I am wondering what the present collection of creative advertisements will look like in 50, 75 years. Some of the images here could be found in today’s world…


The author of the series notes that some of these advertisers possibly “invented” the future, such as this image from 1953, made by a creative advertiser representing an oil and grease sealing company:

Bezos, take note!


And, as we use our collective imagination for the Earth’s current climate, are ideas such as depleting the mosquito population or cloud seeding such a good idea? Take a look at this 1930 image, “conceived by a group of eminent English scientists” to solve the European overpopulation:

I would imagine a bit of unplanned environmental blowback!


This one is for the Aurobindo fans:

“Your health will be better since doctors can now use the voice of the atom.”
–Union Carbide and Carbon Corporation, 1955.


(john davis) #22

I think it is much easier than that, Ed, and we shouldn’t try to make it more complex than it already is. Most of us have no idea what an ego is, any more than we know what an atomic particle is.

Geneticists, physicists, mathematicians, when they were very young, ran up and down the yard, flapping their arms, making wild sounds, mimicking the flight of the birds…this simple use of the body-mind in motion is where all of math and logic and language come from. It is the basis for modeling complex adaptive systems.

I think the loss of ego or damage to is a disaster, transcending ego would lead to a form of suicide, as Sri Aruobindo strongly suggests.

Embody and liberate is a very human way of operating and is available to most of us or we simple wouldn’t have survived. This, for me, is what leads to useful models which leads to better theory and practice.

Gebser and Sri Aurobindo were modeling the self and the other(s). Not just causes and effects in a physical cage but the ways and means of the subtle ranges of human and other than human. They were pretty good at it. All models have a short shelf life and need to be chucked out. I wish, along with Jennifer Gidley, that our human development projects included more of an inner focus than an outer one. Then we might discover, outer space and inner space, can mirror one another, that we are doubles, playing in multiple modeling projects and trying them on for size, and we can move through the looking glass. I know this because I have done it. And so can anyone else. It is about modeling and training attention.

We already have what we need. And we need a functioning ego. We can give our attention to subtle ranges of experience and when we do we may want to go deeper…and this leads to a deeper conversation, rather than cheap talk about colonizing outer space in the next thousand years or being driven around town by a robot.

Divinizing matter…can we marry the mental with the magical and mythical? Gebser and Sri Aurobindo and perhaps Steiner would certainly agree on this. And many of us already do but dont necessarily advertise or get promoted at MIT or Harvard Business School.

Breakthroughs come through the prepared mind(s) of many us in tandem, from all over the globe…and that I hope is what we are doing here…Art and imagination must lead, however, not the promotion of wide spread use of tech narcotics to dumb us down, so that a hundred fifty pound person can be strapped in a two ton gas guzzling driverless vehicle to go across town to buy a can of beer.


(Ed Mahood) #23

Transcending one’s ego is not negating it (which would be a form of suicide) any more than a a shift from the magic to mythic structure of consciousness was a negation of the magic. It is rather a supersession of it. Egos – whether we know what they are or not – are what drive us (and i’m not using the word in any psychoanalytic, but rather only in an everyday sense). They are – for lack of a better phrase – who we think we are, no more and no less. And we have to – quite literally – get over ourselves, realize that the universe does not revolve around us – individually or collectively – and bring more of the Other (whatever that may turn out to be) into ourselves in a constructive, enhancing way. That’s not complicated, nor is it complex, it is simply difficult for anyone who thinks that getting over themselves is a negation, a giving-up, a loss. I think this is what both Gebser and Aurobindo are saying.

Agreed … but I don’t think many people have a well-functioning ego (and I think you are implying a properly functioning one). It is those self-centered, if not self-absorbed, ones that get the promotions at MIT and HBS and that think space colonization is cool and might make them rich and famous, and that being driven across town mindlessly for a can of beer is a goal worth striving toward.


(john davis) #24

I think you nailed it, Ed, and we might find some wide acceptance of this way of thinking for this study group and hopefully beyond this study. I do believe that our time is well spent figuring this out and appreciate together the paradoxes and the slings and arrows that flesh is heir to.

I hope we can figure out what we want to have happen rather than fixate on what we dont want to have happen. No one wants to destroy the eco system but are trapped in short term fantasies. We of course have to use our imagination to do this kind of subtle discrimination. This is what healthy mental ego can do, and what the deficient forms of the mental fail to do. But all of us can seek repair and more ecological practices can emerge. We are dedicating ourselves to this arduous task or I would much rather go out to the local pub and have a beer and forget about these high intensity zones we are trying to work with. Do not, as Rumi, warns us, go back to sleep.


(Marco Masi) #26

As I understand him, it is the premature loss of ego that can be dangerous. If our mind, emotions and the physical are not ready. He warned also from an ascetic attitude where one draws back into a transcendent nirvana retiring form the world. But once the mind, the vital and the physical have been transformed, ego has done its service. In a supramental consciousness there can be still individuality, but ego has to be abandoned.


(Marco V Morelli) #27

In these chapters we’re reading now, Aurobindo defines Ignorance as an “exclusive concentration” of the conscious-force. He doesn’t use the phrase “inclusive concentration”—but I wonder if that might be a way to think about an individuality, I-sense, or first-person perspective that is rooted in the supramental, transcending ego, but does not dissociate from one’s personal psyche, relationships, everyday life, or world.

One linguistic issue we have is that “ego” just means “I”—yet it’s come to mean the self-centered, self-absorbed, exclusive “I.” However, if the infinite/absolute Self also has an “ego,” which in at least non-Buddhistic Indian philosophy, as well as German idealism, it does, that maybe we can think of this as an "inclusive I,” which (to use a phrase from Wilber) ‘transcends and includes’ the ego or "exclusive I” of the separate self we typically experience.

The issue with AI seems to boil down to the view that a computer doesn’t really have an “I.” It is an “it” and yet we invest it with (project into it) the consciousness of an “I,” and so give away the very source of our dignity and power (rooted in Self) to an automaton.


(john davis) #29

“Transcending one’s ego is not negating it” Ed Mahood

Ladies and gentlemen, please take a moment to check out this brief exercise to get clear about the personal pronoun ‘I’. The exercise starts at 1:23:00 and takes about ten minutes to perform. If you wish to do the exercise yourself you will need a pen and paper.

After you have viewed the exercise the following remarks might make more sense, ’ I’ may be wrong.

About the exercise. We performed this in in another study group but I sense it even more relevant here. The ‘I’’ arises out of the interplay of a repertoire of pronouns (me, myself, you) that are used idiosyncratically by each performer.

If you have followed so far, I hope that we ( I, you, me, myself) can then have a discussion about ego that has some freshness and some depth. There has never been more words wasted on any topic in human history that what ‘I’ is, does, could become.

And thanks for your attention. I do hope this can be useful to our explorations with Sri Aurobindo.


(john davis) #30

If you get a chance, Marco , please check out the video clip I posted above. Hopefully, each of us can share a felt sense of what the ego could become! I believe the 'I ’ is completely immanent and completely transcendent. Iam very curious about your response. Thanks!


(john davis) #31

The ‘i’ is a performer, performing in and beyond time and space. The ‘I’ is more than just a linguistic device. It points to Self and to God, both at the same time. It emerges from a field and returns to the field from which it is emerges.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.” Rumi


(Douglas Duff) #32

Someone like Pinker, mentioned in this related discussion between @achronon, @Geoffrey_Edwards and @patanswer (see below), views our nature’s “better angels” …but I don’t trust Pinker’s stats and tend to side with my favorite pessimist John Gray who states that Pinker is wrong about moral progress and the stats Pinker offers is misleading.

This point for me has always been a middle ground issue; on a personal level, when I reside with a peaceful mind, less at war with myself, I see the world as peaceful. If at odds with myself, the world is at odds. If battling the same battle again and again, I see the repeat of wars ad infinitum. I’d like to see Pinker write his book when residing in the middle of an African desert, no HVAC unit and with brownouts occuring daily while a few mortars explode a few hundred meters away.

Yet I still agree with @justcallmetony, that some sort of integral perspective will soften the blows. On the personal level, if we carry a stable mind throughout our days, the blows easily ricochet. If we carry this to, say, our social media world, we learn how to interact without causing blowback, softening the reactions of others a create a positive space for optimal interaction. It will take more than a few reasonable people to change the state of the world though. Even stable countries seem to be perpetually on the verge of breakdown like a confused adolescent. Maybe its just a result of living in current America…:roll_eyes:


(Tony Sauer) #33

@johnnydavis54

Sorry I havent done this exercise (yet). Buddhist philosophy in the east and western thinkers like David Hume, as well as neuroscience recently have pointed to the nonsubstantiality of the I for some time. Neurocience tells us that activities in the brain are spread out across the brain. There is no substance to an “I” sense that is central and persistent in the brain.

Kant added the idea of a transcendental self that is basically a witnessing self, in contrast to Humes
relative understanding of the self or I sense that is coming and going, arguing that there is a higher self sens that’s the same over time. I think that that higher persistent self sense is the door to the contemplative life and has more of a soul dimension to it. It’s not that ego-sense you try to get beyond in that exercise but a witness that could be seen as a higher ego-concept that is persistent but not the ego-sense you need for functioning in the world.


(Geoffrey Edwards) #34

The point about Pinker for me is that he makes a bold and unpopular argument. I like writers who do this - they provoke us into thinking about things in interesting and new ways - even if their arguments are sometimes suspect for other reasons. It’s a reason I like Roger Penrose’s ideas about consciousness, or, for that matter, Frank Tipler’s Physics of Immortality


(Douglas Duff) #35

@justcallmetony mentioned in Session #12 that Wilber’s recent work The Religion of Tomorrow covers a broad range of contemporary versions of deficient integral (Wilber calls them dysfunctions and allergic reactions to “lower levels”), including Wilber’s 2nd-tier (the first truly integral worldview, which often has an allergic reaction to the postmodern “greens” and their sometimes overkill versions of various truths/realities) and 3rd-tier (which align with Aurobindo’s overmind, supermind, etc. ; an example common dysfunction for these evolved folk is “spiritual bypassing”). Although I do not currently recommend this massive book to anyone creeping through Life Divine, the “shadow” work described as needed to make any real, integral change aligns with our discussion here. Wilber, the integral world’s favorite scapegoat for all things “Ego” related, does have an often overlooked depth into how to transcend our egos. I would argue that he has thought through and not just about. (Maybe Tony has more to say about his interpretation of the book?)

We are the ones that can view that the computer really does have an “I” …we are within it. It will not transcend us. It will include us. We will be the ones to transcend the technology, yet we too are learning to include. By “we” I mean those with a “functioning ego” …without an agenda of sole self fulfillment or “self-promotion.” By “transcend” I mean we will use technology as a smoother pavement or a quicker route to achieve desired destinations. Yet this is not a call to travel into the future at high speeds. Catalyzing cosmic communities…we needn’t become Martians to survive. We needn’t go anywhere for that matter. Our conversation here is a result of a cosmic community aided by AI, or technology. Who is listening? Just as Aurobindo repeats, we are caught between a rock (Nature’s Inconscience) and a hard place (our limited Knowledge); he quickly reminds us of the way out. Just remove the giant stone from your tomb and fly away. Remove the veil from your silly self and see what is right there, beyond or behind the eyes. The Inconscient (AI) needn’t be our driver, just another passenger as we go about our path towards “_________.”


(Ed Mahood) #36

Historically speaking, American is an adolescent (but never underestimate the damage an adolescent can do).


(Douglas Duff) #37

And…I cannot resist a bit of ego! Buy my album! Fulfill my self-promotion goals! I do not have anything for you to purchase, just some thoughts and sounds if you find the time…pardon my poor humor!


The Self Driving Far in a Self-driving Car

I created this song last October with the intention to write an essay to be read while listening…I never finished the essay (nor edited the song), but think it finds its home here. By the “we” in the poem-essay, I mean me and other daily commuters. The song has intention to sound as if trekking down the highway while the “passenger-driver” (enters in around 1:35) is in some sort of reflective state.

We spend our days restricting ourselves in cars. Those able to use public transportation have a freedom. Those in self-driving cars will have a freedom, regaining a segment of time while in transit, reclaiming a chance for daydream, for reflection, for the self to drive itself far, to tap into the realm of potential. The time spent driving is limited in freedom to explore. A self-driving car allows the self to drive far. You are now free to move about the cabin.

What would we choose to seek?
Splintered cells or Eastern retreat?
Read the paper
Another fundraiser
Another announcing self-defeat.

I have read recently about the Bardo realm, dream yoga, sleep yoga. The most intriguing idea was the dark retreat. 49 days of enclosed, complete darkness…a bed, a table, a chair, toothbrush maybe.

How far can we shoot off in any direction and still remain our core?
A central vestibule and ventral tendril tenticles, extend and grasp more?


(Douglas Duff) #38

If by history you also mean the perpetual present, then I agree completely…!


(Ed Mahood) #39

Thank you (and @justcallmetony) for this. I’m not up on what Wilber is up to; I’m just inferring from what I recall hearing around here.

(Having said that, however, the size of the book is less daunting for me than the description of all the tier-color-dysfunctions-levels-etc. in the middle of this paragraph. I wouldn’t doubt for a moment that I’m leaping to conclusions, but that kind of jargon just strikes me – as Gebser would put it – so very mental-rational that I’m uncertain that I wouldn’t end up in a mental-rational maze. If what he’s saying were integral (in Gebser’s sense), then it would be a through, but if it is as mental-rational as it strikes me as being, then it’s still just about. I suppose I’ll never know. In the interim, I’ll just see how the Wilberites act around here … I’m a by-their-fruits-you-shall-know-them kind of guy. :roll_eyes:)


(Marco Masi) #40

I did. :wink: For me it was a nice and revealing exercise how words and feelings/perceptions are intimately related.

However, a note on what we mean by “ego”. I suspect that the problem may arise due to the fact that we use the same word for something to which each of us associates a different meaning. The word “ego” in spiritual teachings such as yoga or religious spiritual as mystic traditions, might be somewhat different than the “ego” western psychology and/or philosophy talks about. Also the word “consciousness” and “soul” (the “psychic being” in integral yoga) might get mixed up with the same words in other contexts and disciplines which however intend something else.

Therefore, I thought it might be useful to look up some quotations from Sri Aurobindo about the subject. I just copy and past what I found randomly in ‘Letters on Yoga’… perhaps that might clarify a bit what Sri Aurobindo means by ego.

“The ‘I’ or the little ego is constituted by Nature and is at once a mental, vital and physical formation meant to aid in centralising and individualising the outer consciousness and action. When the true being is discovered, the utility of the ego is over and this formation has to disappear - the true being is felt in its place.”

“The ego is a formation of Nature ; but it is not a formation of physical nature alone, therefore it does not cease with the body. There is a mental and vital ego also.”

“For the most part the Supreme acts through the Jiva and its nature and the Jiva and the nature act through the ego and the ego acts through the outer instruments - that is the play of the Ignorance.”

“What people call themselves now is only the ego or the mind or the life-force or the body, but that is because they think in the terms of the formations of Prakriti and do not see behind them.”

“The central being [my note: the Jiva-MM] and the soul are both in different ways portions of the Divine. They are in fact two aspects of the same entity, but one is unevolving above Nature, the other evolves a psychic being in Nature.”

“The vital being is not the I - the ego is mental, ,vital, physical. Ego implies the identification of our existence with outer self, the ignorance of our true self above and our psychic being within us.”

“The monistic Adwaita aims at the disappearance of the ego, not of the essence of the person; it arrives at this disappearance by identity with the One, by dissolution of the Nature-constructed ego into the reality of the eternal Self, for that, it says, not ego, is the essence of the person - so’ ham, tat tvam asi. In our idea of transformation also there is the destruction of the ego, its dissolution into the cosmic and the divine consciousness, but by that destruction we recover the true or spiritual person which is an eternal portion of the Divine.”

“The true object of the yoga is not philanthropy, but to find the Divine, to enter into the divine consciousness and find one’s true being (which is not the ego) in the Divine.”