Reality Series: Be Wise in Your Questions

Greetings and may we all remember what Tiny Tim prayed for at the end of the Christmas Carol, “A Merry Christmas to us all; God bless us, every one!”

On this Yuletide Day, we are going to discuss the importance of applying wisdom when you ask questions; for the questions asked provide the building bricks maintaining your current psychofugal structure.

At this point, one might ask, “But, is not the answer to a question more important than the question? For the answer informs us of what to do or not do.”

I would reply, “Yes, Grasshopper, answers have importance and relevance to your progress upon the ancient path. But, if you are heedless, rash and fail to consider the many answers which might fall out from the question, your path to enlightenment will no longer be straight and true, but, littered with paths leading nowhere or worse, back to where you began.”

So to minimize backsliding and dead-ends, it is imperative to understand and differentiate between the primary categories of questions. Most important, you need to learn the difference between ‘the art of generating skillful questions’ and ‘the disease of generating unskillful questions.’ Skillful questioning is a learnable skill and a necessity for successful traversing of the ancient path to self-realization and mastership. Unskillful questioning will keep you immersed in a life of unnecessary suffering and confusion. Only skillful questioning leads to the Kingdom of God Within (or nibbāna if you prefer), the lasting state of true happiness, simple peace, simple joy, pure well-being, and clarity of mind.

The first and simplest category of questions consist of statements about the objective world. Statements which can be verified to be either true or false, correct or incorrect, agreed or disagreed, and yes or no. Such questions fall under the rubric of ‘the law of the excluded middle.’ For instance, “Is Alex taller than Andrew? Is tomorrow Christmas Day? Is this action skillful? . . ?”

A related category of questions concerns objective facts relating to the world (semantic knowledge). For instance, “How many kilometers from Nice to Lourdes? Where was the Buddha born? At this moment, what would be the most skillful action so to maximize my welfare and happiness? . . ?”

A third category of questions is sometimes used so to guide the questioner to a responsive answer. Usually such questions require the original questioner to answer several simpler questions considered necessary to arrive at the final answer. Such questions may be affirmative or even contrafactual. A good example of such questioning was practiced by Socrates.
The fourth major category of questions consists of questions which cannot be answered skillfully for a number of sound reasons. As discussed yesterday, questions arising from subjective opinion and are mutually exclusionary, such as, “Does God exist or does God not exist?” From an intellectual standpoint, a satisfying affirmative answer is impossible as such answers cannot be established by observation of the physical or mental worlds. Subsequently, the question is unskillful and without useful value as to enlightenment.

Even more important, such questions divert our attention from the major task of discovering skillful answers, “What actions must I take so to end my unnecessary suffering? How does unnecessary suffering arise in my life and why? What actions keep me in a state of unnecessary suffering? . . ?”

Buddha refused to answer the fourth category of questions as he realized that the answer would only bewilder and confuse the questioner even more. Rather than waste time, his teachings were pragmatic. He taught how to differentiate skillful from unskillful actions, self observation and self reflection, paying attention to your mind and desires, and the Four Noble Truths. After all, the good arising from knowledge of an intellectual truth is far less than that good arising from extinguishing unnecessary suffering.

This ends the blog for today. I trust it will be useful in your individual journeys. For it is your task to discover who and what you are, keeping what is skillful and jettisoning what is unskillful. It is your path to enlightenment so do not waste it. Beware the Devil’s counter-argument that you have an infinite amount of time for completing the road to enlightenment. For in truth, none have provided hard proof that you have more than one try, and that try is now in this life!

Reality Series: Self and Not-Self v. Self or No Self

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone.

This morning it crossed my mind that I need to clarify something for you. Often, readers presume that an author creates with a specific, concrete plan and distant goal. Such concrete plans and goals commonly underlie papers, theses, and books. But, this is not how these blogs come into existence from non-existence. By temporal and workload necessity, blogs are generally written on the day they are posted and without more than a passing reference to prior blogs.

In other words, dear reader, each blog series is planned and not-planned, thought and not-thought, serial and parallel in explanation, and so on. Or, we could say, [1] each blog has an educational purpose to clarify and be complete in itself and [2] the intent behind any series of blogs is to expand your mental space so you can experience concepts, feelings, and actions from a richer perspective, unique to your psychofugal state. I cannot predict how your mindbrain will react and so I cannot really plan anything for you–so I non-plan for you.

I think you will understand more clearly after today’s blog on the critically important linguistic distinction between ‘self and not-self or non-self’ and self and no self.’ For if one does not appreciate the distinction, he or she will remain ‘lost in the forest of errors.’

If you recall, yesterday, I discussed the fourfold logic using four short phrases. Placing the fourfold logical statements into dyadic form, the first dyad stated, “Self exists and self does not exist.” Perhaps, the meaning of the dyad is simpler to see if I write, “Self exists and not-Self exists?”

If you consider these two terms for a moment, you will see that the dyad of ‘self and not-self ‘ possesses a supporting and conjoining relationship which each other. Each member of the pair is inclusive, and not exclusive of the other. Together, they form one unified, conceptual space. Moreover, such unified conceptual space, presuming the pair members exhaust all allowable possibilities, is a closed, complete set. In fact, they may be a complementary expression of the Absolute.

The linguistic structure of this dyad can be applied to many other ways, including, averring ‘God exists and God does not-exist.’

I think none of you will have much difficulty appreciating the reasonableness of this first dyad and how it can join concepts which seem opposed and exclusive, but, in truth, are not.

Commonly, people use a different formal dyad when they consider selves and God. The vulgate dyad goes, ‘there is a self or there is no self,’ or ‘there is a God or there is no God.’ Notice the exclusionary grammatical conjunction ‘or’ and the denying adjective ‘no’ in the vulgate dyad. Framing the dyad is such a manner creates a divisive tension between the two pair members. The dyad follows the ‘law of the excluded middle.’ Either one is true or the other is true, if one is true the other musts are false.

If one reviews the Buddha’s discourses, one will find that the Buddha argued against all such divisive metaphysics positions. The primary reason being that Buddha saw great benefit in teaching a better way to live ones life and no benefit to arguing philosophy with people who lacked sufficient understanding.

Putting aside suffering and its cessation, divisive dyads are unacceptable utterances and formal positions in linguistics (mathematics) and philosophical thought. The reason being that such dyads form sentences which are self-contradictory and meaningless. For instance, take a more complete, but equivalent sentence, “All selves say there is no self.”

To pose any question, some type of entity must be present so to ask the question. A linguistic analysis of the sentence notes that if ‘self’ is the plural of ‘self’ it contradicts itself. For at least one self must exist to write the sentence. The sentence is ambiguous for it can be interpreted to mean that the ‘set of all selves knows that a certain category of object cannot be classified as a self.’ Again, the sentence is impossible to interpret as the set of all selves is undefined. Or it might mean that the ‘set of all existing selves knows that no self does not exist.’ Regardless, the sentence is not singular in meaning and so should not be asked.

Such sentences are self-contradictory for they refer to themselves inherently. The congruous sentence uttered by a Cretan, “All Cretans are liars,” is similarly ambiguous and self-contradictory. Such sentences in mathematics are said to violate Gödel’s two incompleteness theorems.

The logistic problems which exist with such self-referent sentences are that by being divisive and exclusive, they create two detached circles in linguistic space, i.e., a Venn diagram formed of two noncontiguous and nonintersecting circles which exist in a state of exclusionary tension. Regardless of where we ask the question, we end up in the meaningless space between the circles.

Such cannot happen when we use the inclusive form of the dyad. This dyad is a Venn diagram formed of two contiguous and intersecting circles which share a common area allowing both portions of the dyad to be present as a unit.

As an exercise to further understanding, I recommend a similar analysis of the two remaining dyads so to show why they are not self-referent and are understandable after careful thought.

Tomorrow, we continue with the importance of differentiation as to the various types of questions one can ask meaningfully. Ciao.

Reality Series: The Virtual Self (4)

After reading the existing set of blogs, I feel it prudent to discuss our understanding of the Buddha’s teachings upon the contentious matter of ‘self’ and ‘not-self.’

To appreciate the original teachings of the Buddha, one must consult the earliest doctrinal texts of Theravadins, the Pali pitaka (basket of discourses). Tradition states that shortly after the transition of the Buddha, a council of elders convened a conference of monks so to collect and preserve his legitimate discourses. This body of discourses was recited orally from the 5th to the 1st centuries BCE. It was preserved in writing during the fourth Buddhist council in 29 BCE. .

While, such were composed some 450 years after Buddha’s transition, experts believe that they represent an accurate rendition of the preexisting oral discourses of the historical Buddha.

Over the centuries, the original teaching of the Buddha were corrupted by later commentators as Buddhism spread to other Asian countries. The indigenous populations of these countries practicing different religions and existing under varying social systems, all at variance with the traditional systems of India. For Buddhism to be successfully established in such variant environments, it would be expedient to adapt it to local belief systems and practices. However, though most likely well-intended, such adaptations introducing inconsistent and contrary doctrines into Buddhism which grew and evolved over the last 2500 years.

The easiest starting point for our discussion of self and not-self is by reviewing the four-fold logic model used by the Institute.

In an earlier blog, I introduced the mathematical system of four-fold logic stressed by Buddha. To review, in the earlier blog (The Changing Face of Spirituality 12/12/15), I began with standard logic theory with its ‘law of the excluded middle.’ That is, if one of the two statements ‘X’ or ‘not-X’ is true, the remaining statement must be false. Interestingly, human psychology (arose million of year prior to logic theory) operates similarly. Evolutionary pressures operating on our forebears for millions of years instilled, in each one of us, the innate ability to automatically characterize creatures and objects into friend or foe, dangerous or not, pleasant or unpleasant, liked or disliked, correct or wrong, and so on ad infinitum (referring to the apparent infinity of Aristotle).

During our tale of the Tower of Babel, we moved beyond the ‘the law of the excluded middle’ and into a more user friendly logic system consistent with the operational rules of neuronal circuits of the brain. In the neuronal-based system, both linear causality and associative causality are allowed, i.e.,

Self exists,
Self does not exist,
Self both exists and does not exist,
Self neither exists nor does not exist.

Alternatively, we can expand upon the above by noting that [1] the temporal relationships of standard causality: comes X, comes Y, goes X, goes Y and [2] the ‘here-now’ associative relationships: with X is Y, without X is without Y.

Judicious application of the four-fold logic system to the question of self and not-self avoids the paradoxes and exclusions of standard logic. Clearly, addressing metaphysical questions rationally requires consideration of inherent limitations and contextual nuances reading upon the question asked.

Unfortunately, most arguments over whether or not individuals possess an aphysical self (permanent or not) arise because the proponents employ the law of the excluded middle. Either a person has an aphysical self or he does not. The doctrinal extremes being eternalism proclaiming permanent souls and materialism teaching that man has no soul nor afterlife are materialism. Clearly, finding a middle road is impossible.

So how does one rationally approach the subject? Do we approach the question from a pragmatic, psychological prospective, as did the Buddha? A teaching introduced as a practical method for ending unnecessary suffering and distress and securing abiding happiness. Or do we approach the question from a scientific prospective, observing, hypothesizing, and testing until a proper, temporary model is found so to have a definitive answer, useful or not for living life? Or, perhaps, we do both hoping to maximize the psychological goals?

Tomorrow, we begin addressing the question of self vs. not-self in the context of removing unnecessary suffering so to find a more abiding happiness.  You will find that our explanation is very close to that of Buddha.

Reality Series: The Virtual Self (3)

Yesterday, we introduced a rational neurophysiological explanation for the development of the ‘concept of self.’ Clearly, the development of our ‘individualized feelings of selfness’ is dependent upon psychoneurologic ontogeny; the Institute recognizes that psychobiological factors are insufficient to fully explain the ‘concept of self.’

The Institute does not subscribe to Vedic-type views of a universal soul, the Atman, or other metaphysical speculations (see previous blogs). Neither does the Institute ascribe to later Buddhist view.[1]  I will discuss what appear to be the Buddha’s original teachings on the complementary pair, self and not-self (anatta). At the moment, I will discuss a corruption of the original teachings propagated by later commentaries.  I am doing this since to prevent misunderstanding before it arises. [2]

Briefly, the early Buddha noted that physical existence is plagued by three qualia:

1. All things are impermanence and experience uncertainty, change, and transience (anicca) .

The Institute is in agreement with this statement as far as it applies to things comprised of and utilizing matter-energy in timespace. Impermanence of form applies to all animate creatures, including, the psychoneurological world experience of human beings.

2. The very natural of existence is inherently unsatisfactory as all things, living and non-living, are subject to disease, pain, illness, misery, loss, and suffering (dukkha).

The Institute is in full agreement with this Buddhist tenet. Moreover, the Institute finds truth in the Buddha’s Noble Path and the teachings of Taoism.

3. Many persons misinterpret the Buddha’ actual position on ‘self and not-self.’  Typically, later commentaries taught that the Buddha disagreed with the Vedic concept that animate creatures possess a permanent, eternal, perfect, and unchanging self or soul.  Such commentaries claiming that the Buddha taught that one source of the ‘feeling that we possess a permanent self’ arose from the chaotic operation of five universal factors, or aggregates (skandhas), i.e., form, sensation, perception, mental formations, and consciousness.

1. Form refers to the operational functions of the physical body.

2. Sensation refers to our emotions and sensory organs data.

3. Perception refers to our cognitive functions, including, conceptualization, reasoning, categorizing, labeling, naming, and so forth.

4. Mental formations refers to our belief systems with their cognitive-affective biases, habits, and prejudices and our volition. Also included in the fourth skandha are attentional capacity, pride, desire, vindictiveness, and all other wholesome or unwholesome mental states.

5. Consciousness refers to simple awareness of the existence of something physical or mental.

These five aggregates work together, automatically and mechanically, as soon as awareness of the presence of something via form and sensation arises; perception recognizes the object and assigns a value to it; mental formations are brought into play so that desire or aversion arises; and lastly, consciousness ties the whole experience together as a unit.

The later commentaries claim that Buddha maintained that the continual operation of these psychoneurological factors proves that a permanent, unchanging, eternal self cannot exist.

In Institute terms, we would simply note the whole process using the phrase ‘stimulus-evaluation-response patterned activity’ or SERPA. Moreover, such are seen in all forms of life. Moreover, the five aggregates would simply be recognized as psychological factors, though modern psychology would reclassify such. I think these aggregates help maintain our belief in a personal self, but, miss the mark overall.

Tomorrow, appears to be a good time to discuss the fullness of the Institute’s view as to the concept of self and not-self.  It is quite similar to the Buddha’s original position in the Suttas.


[1] In truth, the set of post-Buddha views as to the existence or nonexistence of an unchanging soul are internally inconsistent. The Theravada teaches anatta, while, the Mahayana teaches inherent Buddha-nature. The Institute teaches neither. Regardless, such views serve as pedagogic strategies for working on enlightenment.

[2] Many fine discussions of the Theravada’s concepts of not-self, impermanence, and unsatisfactoriness of existence and the Mahayana’s concepts of Buddha-nature, emptiness, and non-duality are available online.

A Teaching Tale for the Children

10/24/08  Dr. Michael Jon Kell©


Once upon a time,
the sweetest of young girls
went walking in the dark woods.
She was sweeter than bee’s honey
and as tender as mother’s love.
Her heart reached all the way to the moon
and she longed to share her all with another.

She gave her trust,
but was betrayed mercilessly,
finding faith no more in love,
never hoping to see it again,
she became lost in the dark woods.

A little later, a real prince was hunting
in these same dark woods
and found to his great surprise,
a sad little heart, so scared and alone,
fractured into so many odd shaped pieces,
that tears filled his dear blue eyes
and his heart opened so very wide.

Holding this little heart ever so gently,
he brought this dear, little heart to his home.

He took all of the pieces,
like an ancient Chinese puzzle-master ,
he put them all back together;
and as he worked, his tears fell onto the heart
and his magic brought it back to life.

As time passed,
this young girl lived in the castle of her princely savior.
She saw how kind he was,
courteous and generous,
clever and well-meaning,
and how very sad his own heart really was,
and her heart began to beat once more.

One day she was pruning roses in the great castle garden,
and she saw a wondrous, beautiful butterfly
come to rest upon a red-green rose leaf.
As this butterfly moved its wings
her heart began to beat to match its rhythm.

She became very still and quiet
and a little voice within said to her,
you have found your true love,
you love your prince and he loves you,
go to him and tell him right this moment
for there is no time to waste.

And the young girl
knew the voice was correct
and her heart could love again,
even deeper than before,
and tears came to her eyes
as she realized she loved her prince,
and how much her prince needed her love.

Love higher than to the moon
love higher than to the sun,
she loved him all the way to God.

She went to the prince,
taking his hand in hers,
she looked right into his soul,
my friend, the finder of my broken heart,
you are my true love
and I know you love me dearly.
I am yours my love,
marry me and be mine.

The prince and the young girl
were married in his castle
and they loved each other more and more each day,
until, one day they forgot about themselves
and knew only the other.

Sons and daughters had they,
then grandsons and granddaughters,
and on and on.

And you know what,
dear children?
Even dear old God was happy!

Reality Series: The Virtual Self (2)

Merry Christmas (substitute your favorite holiday) everyone. It is my sincere wish that each make measurable progress toward finalizing the core for a permanent soul.

Today, we continue our exploration of that part of our psychofugal complex (our mental symphony, mindbrain or psychocerebri ) giving rise to our feeling of possessing an individual self or soul.

Generally, the earliest feeling of ‘selfness’ and ‘being distinct from others’ arise in a child somewhere between 15 and 18 months postnatal. After 18 to 24 months postnatal, concepts of ‘me-mine,’ as an author of a motor action or as a receiver of another’s motor action, is present and often expressed verbally. A child can be quite possessive during these years as to what he or she perceives ‘as belonging to me,’ responding with aggression when another child attempts to play with his or her toy.

As linguistic concepts and skills continue to expand over the next few years, the sense of self is clarified and solidified under societal guidance. By the time a person has reached adulthood, such feelings are strong and difficult to dislodge, unless a person is willing to invest effort in concentrated experiential and cognitive work (preferably in a School).

Subsequently, the first matter of business is looking into those factors which are responsible for human beings possessing the idea and feeling that an aphysical self cohabits with the physical body.

[1] The primary factor underlying our convictions of possessing aphysical selves arises from three dimensional, virtual body images which are co-spatial with our physical bodies. Such overlays constructed by an inward-imago operator using sensory, somatic, and visceral input from the peripheral nervous systems. Moreover, embedded within this virtual body is a representation of the extracellular biochemical environments of much of the body tissue.

[2] The second factor concerns the generation of accurate, virtual imagines, duplicating the spatial extent and constitutional appearance of objects in the immediate physical environment, by the outward-imago operator. As children learn to interact with their immediate environments, they gain knowledge that some of the objects are similar to them as to appearance and motor actions.

[3] The third factor concerns the interaction of the inward-imago and outward-imago operators so to enhance physical survival and successful enculturation as to ‘this is me and mine’ and ‘this is you and yours.’

[4] I opine that the human capacity for developing a ‘theory of mind ’ or ‘folk psychology’ is primarily dependent on the two imago operators. By theory of mind, I refer to our cognitive and affective abilities to imagine that another person can think what I think and feel what I feel in similar circumstances.

[5] During enculturation, the realization of our aphysical selves is solidified and ‘validated’ by the following;

a. We each have a single physical body.
b. We are identified by our name.
c. We are held responsible for the actions we author.
d. We acknowledge Verbal and physical actions directed toward us.
e. We have a feeling of personal ownership over stuff, usually respected by others.
f. We are taught to use the word ‘I’ when we initiate actions and ‘me’ when we receive them.
g. We have dreamworlds in which individuals interact with each other.

[6] During our childhood development, we are exposed to many different kinds of persons, persons with different societal roles, persons who act differently, and so on. Much of this data is automatically introjected into our subconscious minds and used to create personas or ego-state clusters. These I discussed previously.

[7] In many religions, the adherents believe in the concept of souls, spirits, and Jivas and teach such to their children by stories. Such stories possessing ‘authoritative power’ and much emotive content.

I am sure all of you can extend my list of reinforcers for our concept and feeling of self. It is likely a useful cognitive exercise to do this.

So far, today’s discussion, as to why people have egos, seems to suggest our individual selves are little more than epiphenomena associated with the biological laws involved in the operation of the human CNS and its cognitive conditioning during enculturation. Based upon what has been presented, I would agree that most of the factors supporting our belief in ‘our self’ discourage acceptance of the existence of the aphysical or the spiritual.

However, this is not the final answer to this problem.

Tomorrow, we will delve further into this matter.

Reality Series: The Virtual Self (1)

In yesterday’s blog, I discussed how the CNS, given sufficient sensory, somatic, and visceral neural input, generate two separate, mental images, or imagines (sing. imago). When I use the word ‘mental’ I am not referring solely to the traditional operation of the neuronal circuitry of the biological CNS. Included, in the word ‘mental,’ are: [1] the timespace-variant electromagnetic fields associated with neurons and glial cells, [two] an observing function to experience these imagines as realized pictorial representations, and [three] a nonphysical residuum (which arises from a generalized quantum metric theory unique to the Institute).

The outward-imago operator duplicating the spatial distribution of objects in the immediate physical environs in a virtual image which is externalized and overlaid upon the parent physical. The inward-imago operator creating a three dimensional virtual body image of sufficiently fine scale so to reflect the temporal physiology of all the organ tissue volume elements of the physical body.

As discussed previously, during the day all of us are ‘neurologically aware’ of our physical surroundings via the continuous activity of our outward-imago operators (realizing that I am implying an operational hierarchy of awareness). Clearly, it is important for us to be conscious of our surroundings so to avoid injury. However, most times of the day, the body and brain automatically control our overt motor skills and navigational capacity, allowing our full conscious awareness to focus elsewhere (driving and chatting). In fact, all of us would survive and perhaps prosper in the physical world without full conscious awareness, i.e., knowing that I know what I know and knowing I am not you.

However, our mental awareness is much more interesting in our dreamworlds. For instance, during dreaming, the CNS generates different scenarios, or pictorial dramas, situated in most interesting geographies populated with objects, persons, archetypes and mythical creatures. Dreams arise from the operation of the outward-imago operator creating an inner space to be filled with object-apparitions and imagine constructed using information stored within our several memory systems.

The best evidence for the actual existence of mentally-generated virtual images, or imagines, is in our psychological experiences in the dreamworld. For dreams are always experienced from the perspective of an act of observing, be it ‘movie-like’ or as one of the internally involved dream characters.

During the act of watching nonhorror movies, generally, our attention is captured by the flickering images and our awareness is fully passive. We do not reawaken to our own personal existence until the movie is completed. It can be a rather unpleasant experience to return to personal life realizing that one has forgotten that one existed for a few hours.

Alternatively, we may find ourselves acting as one of the dream characters and so experience the dream as a ‘living event.’ Sometimes, we consciously observe the dream from a disembodied vista while realizing that we are also present

Regardless, in every dream scene, our mindbrain is experiencing the virtual world as either a disembodied (functional perspective) or embodied (a personalized agent) observer. If such be accurate for dreams, it must be accurate for diurnal awareness.

We will continue discussing such ‘observers’ in our next blog.