Here, I'm not so much interested in Dennett's ideas on consciousness as I am in his ideas concerning privileged access.


I like the opening idea that there is the folk-belief among people that everyone is an expert on their own consciousness. After all, they have a direct relationship with their own consciousness, and this, thereby, makes them an expert on consciousness.


I'm not all that impressed with this talk -- not that it's not good -- but he really only presents one piece of evidence, and we are lead to the inference that we don't know our own minds only indirectly through that evidence. I was hoping for something a bit stronger.


I like though how he incorporates real time thought experiments into his work.

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Perhaps you've forgotten, or were never aware of, our previous discussion of “letting daylight into magic” when Batchelor said:

“Tibetan Buddhists regard these gods, whether of the unawakened or awakened variety, as conscious, autonomous beings, every bit as real as you or I.

"The main difference between it and other religious worldviews is that Buddhists know all these gods to be empty of any inherent reality. Everything, they would say, is merely an appearance as ephemeral and insubstantial as a dream. Such statements have led some in the West to assume that the gods of Tibetan Buddhism are no more than archetypal symbols: they perform a psychological function in the process of spiritual transformation, but only the naive would say they represent beings independent of the practitioner?s own mind. Yet however useful this kind of Jungian interpretation may be, it is not how most Tibetan lamas understand the world they inhabit.

“For gods to be empty of inherent existence does not mean that they cannot be autonomous beings capable of making choices and existing in their own heavenly realms. In this sense they are no different from humans, who are likewise empty but perfectly capable of making decisions and living their own unique and fallible lives. The doctrine of emptiness only teaches us to see ourselves and the world in a way that frees us from the reification and egoism that generate anguish. To say the world is empty neither affirms nor denies the claims of any cosmological theory, be it that of ancient India or modern astrophysics.”

Sometimes the link to the stored discussions isn't working. One can also view Batchelor's article here.
Hi, e,

Yes, I've definitely seen people who are apparently "malevolently possessed" by the demon of alcohol -- I am calling my step-father's dark, brooding, utterly altered face to mind right now -- and, no, I don't at all believe that there is a "real demon" in the alcohol that takes folks over (if we mean by that some disembodied, self-existing entity). But, while even the alcohol and my step-father are "empty," under Buddhist analysis, both the alcohol and his face carried "ontological weight" in the sense I am using the term here. I used to try to avoid using ontological language altogether (influenced by my then-understanding of Buddhist anti-realist rhetoric), but now I'm taking a different tack -- speaking in terms of an enactive ontological pluralism (which does not presuppose inherent self-existence).

Best wishes,

Look Edward, I am with you buddy, I have no use for ontology or metaphysics. So I have taken a bit of license with Tara. I associated with a Kagyu center close to home for awhile. One day this newbie walks in and the chat turns to Tara. Well this newbie says she sees Tara. The senior students ask, ‘oh yeah, when and where’? She says,’ I see her right over your heads right now’. The senior students are taken aback, they look sideways at each other and they pick their jaws up off the ground (it’s obvious they have been practicing for years and cannot envision Tara like this) and they ask her how she learned to do this. She said, ‘I bought Tara in a Box from Barnes and Noble and have been practicing by myself for a few months’. The senior students regain their composure and then surmise that she in a previous life had connections with Tara and that she needs to get an empowerment from a lama in order to make the practice “official”. I sat quietly and chuckled inwardly.

So what do I make of people with highly vivid imaginations seeing ghosts and Tara all over the place? It takes a lot to wean people off the belief in ontology. (The ancients believed the earth elements were controlled by gods i.e. Poseidon et al and sprits and sprites were around every corner). In other words people cannot approach selflessness directly. So it seems that Yiddam practice is an igneous way to use this belief in ontology and certain people’s highly vivid imagination as part of the path instead of seeing them as hindrances. You first envision a “perfectly enlightened being” before you and then merge your identity with that identity. The fact that Tara knows that she is not real allows the practitioner to don a “lighter” ontology and from that lightness of being, selflessness has a greater chance of being intuited.

Bruce, what is the difference between ‘enacting the drunkenness demon’ and simply ‘getting drunk’? Outside of the obvious fact that ‘enacting the drunkenness demon’ sounds way cooler! :-)
Hee hee, I'm so glad e is back!
Balder, kela, e,

You all seem to agree that this is a valid means to get beyond ontological absolutness but the examples provided to me prove the opposite. Those most practiced in the traditions, up to an including the Dalai Lama, while overtly expressing "selflessness"--and in some ways also exemplifying it--nonetheless promulgate and maintain a mythological worldview which in itself it less than postmetaphysical and has significant, negative political implications and consequences. To continue to accept the traditions as they are--they mean well after all--and hoping you can pour the new wine of postmetaphysics into the old wineskin of metaphysics is not only wishful thinking but enabling the latter in its archaic and hegemonic agenda. I'm with the agenda of this forum in finding new ways to be "spiritual" but think accepting traditions as they are is an anachronism that needs liberation. Even updating or recontextualizing them, that is, continuing to practice them in the traditional sense and adding a so-called integral perspective, seems to just be so much lipstick on a pig and the pig still wins out on the subconscious levels while the conscious(ness) is fooled into not seeing its pigness. Integral capitalism is another such example that we've explored.
Edward, it still seems we're approaching this from different angles. I was just attempting a descriptive account, not a prescriptive one. As for what constitutes the "best way forward" for an integral postmetaphysical spirituality (or nonduality), I share your basic concern not to simply repeat or unconsciously carry forward what has gone before, at least for myself and for any particular spiritual community I might join. But with that said, I think we probably also have different views on religion and whether it can be worked with, and changed, from within, or whether we should just scrap it altogether. I'm not willing, at this point, to scrap it. In any event, for the time being, I believe it's here to stay.

e: Bruce, what is the difference between ‘enacting the drunkenness demon’ and simply ‘getting drunk’? Outside of the obvious fact that ‘enacting the drunkenness demon’ sounds way cooler! :-)

I like the ring of that, too.

To answer your question, I want to take a few steps back. In talking about 'ontological pluralism,' I am not trying to posit the 'inherent existence' of objects, forms, etc, which is what I think you might be concerned about. I am not equating 'ontology' with (Buddhist) 'inherent self-existence,' in other words. In the example of the deity which appears to manifest with 'ontological / ex-ist-ential weight,' I am not saying it exists from its own side; nor do I accept the traditional, mythical account that this deity actually is an (albeit dependently originated) entity which may inhabit some invisible realm or plane of being, as a number of Tibetan teachers believe even today. Have you interpreted me as saying anything like that, or are you objecting to something else?
Hey James, good to see you…how are you buddy?! I have been pretty busy…why didn’t anyone warn me how time consuming and how much work is involved in raising a child…I thought you guys were my friends!! :-)


Edward, I really don’t care what people in or out of the traditions make believe in… people are entitled to their beliefs. I spent a lot of time at a Thai Wat. There were many Thai people who had cultural beliefs about Buddhism and were more devotional and less meditation practice oriented. They stuck to their time honored lay follower responsibilities of feeding and clothing the monks, etc. There were some Thai and most of the Americans who were more interested in meditation practice and Buddhist philosophy. All under one roof. One American monk gave most of the Sunday Dharma talks. He would usually quite colorfully explain but remain quite faithful to what was in the Sutras and so it was up to each to get whatever they could out of the talk. So people interpreted the sutras differently based on their perspectives. Here are a few quotes from Joseph Campbell that seem appropriate.

"Mythology has been interpreted by the modern intellect as a primitive, fumbling effort to explain the world of nature (Frazer); as a production of poetical fantasy from prehistoric times, misunderstood by succeeding ages (Muller); as a repository of allegorical instruction, to shape the individual to his group (Durkheim); as a group dream, symptomatic of archetypal urges within the depths of the human psyche (Jung); as the traditional vehicle of man's profoundest metaphysical insights (Coomaraswamy); and as God's Revelation to His children (the Church). Mythology is all of these. The various judgments are determined by the viewpoints of the judges. For when scrutinized in terms not of what it is but of how it functions, of how it has served mankind in the past, of how it may serve today, mythology shows itself to be as amenable to the obsessions and requirements of the individual, the race, the age."

"Myths have four functions:
1. Mystical. Realizing what a wonder the universe is and what a wonder you are, and experiencing awe before the mystery. Myth opens the world to the dimension of mystery, to the realization of the mystery that underlies all forms.
2. Cosmological dimensions. This is the dimension with which science is concerned-showing you what the shape of the universe is, but showing it in such a way that the mystery comes through.
3. Sociological. This supports and validates a certain social order. These myths vary from place to place.
4. Pedagogical. How to live a human life under any circumstances. "

So we can investigate myths within traditions and touch the mystery without the serious snare of metaphysical belief. So for me I plan on reading Aesops fables and the Jataka tales to my little girl all the while telling her that these are stories to enjoy and learn from. That is, try and gently guide her from #4 to #1 in Campbell’s list above. Campbell also felt that one of the reason’s our (post)modern society and it’s alienated people have “issues” is that we no longer have functioning myths as people have lost the ability to think mythologicaly. One more quote from Campbell that I really like.

"Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths."

So without being saddled by the weight of belief in ontology (metaphysics), I don’t see any substantial issues with mythology (public dreams) or traditions etc. in the same way I don’t have any issues with my dreams at night upon waking.


Bruce, I have always used ontology the way the dictionary defines it i.e. as a branch of metaphysics. Does Tara have a metaphysical existence? If not, then she lacks ontology (btw what doesn’t lack ontology). Are you saying she exists metaphysically because more than one person sees her and they agree to believe she exists i.e. her ontology is a consensus make belief? The more people that believe in her metaphysical existence the weightier her ontology becomes? Or are you saying when one person really really make believes in her metaphysical existence and becomes possessed by her, her ontological weight increases? Other?
My only response is to post this from Mark Edwards, from his blog post on climate change but relevant to this topic as well:

"Should metatheorising try to include all views even when those views may be endangering human sustainability? Is the task [of] integration endangering the responsibility to advocate particualr visions? And what does that mean for the goals and methods of doing metatheory? Are our ideals of being 'integral' rendering us impotent to present a particular way forward? Is the maxim of 'true but partial' reducing integral visions to 'balanced and irrelevant?' "

theurj said:
My only response is to post this from Mark Edwards, from his blog post on climate change but relevant to this topic as well:

"Should metatheorising try to include all views even when those views may be endangering human sustainability? Is the task [of] integration endangering the responsibility to advocate particualr visions? And what does that mean for the goals and methods of doing metatheory? Are our ideals of being 'integral' rendering us impotent to present a particular way forward? Is the maxim of 'true but partial' reducing integral visions to 'balanced and irrelevant?' "

I can empathize with the concern but am not quite sure why integral meta-theorising precludes one from taking the recycling out to the curb on Sunday night?
Are we going to admit that Tara "exists" in the way that the coffee cup in front of my face exists? IMO, that is not just a recipe for bad ontology; it is also a recipe for fostering schizophrenic states.
I'm glad you "bumped" this thread again, Kela. I've been meaning to return to it.

One, to respond to e: I think we're using ontology somewhat differently. Yes, 'ontology' is a classic branch of metaphysics, but in more recent years a number of authors have also been exploring the notion of a post-metaphysical approach to ontology, and that's what I'm interested in looking at. I posted a recent thread in the book club section of the forum which touches on this.

Two, to echo Kela: I also am not suggesting that "Tara" exists as a coffee cup exists. Although I wouldn't say that either exhibits or possesses (Buddhist) 'inherent self-existence,' I do think we can meaningfully distinguish between kinds or types of forms, objects, or appearances; and in this case, I would consider Tara primarily a (subtle) mental object and the coffee cup a (gross) empirical or sensory one (with corresponding differences in modes or forms of 'access').
OK Bruce, I will check it out...thx!

Kela here is a normative approach to visualization practices. Jerry Rice and Michael Jordon (and many others) used it before games and they both played crazy out of their minds at times without any stigma or PA bugaboo. :-)

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What paths lie ahead for religion and spirituality in the 21st Century? How might the insights of modernity and post-modernity impact and inform humanity's ancient wisdom traditions? How are we to enact, together, new spiritual visions – independently, or within our respective traditions – that can respond adequately to the challenges of our times?

This group is for anyone interested in exploring these questions and tracing out the horizons of an integral post-metaphysical spirituality.

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