Life is miraculous

"Life is miraculous"

For most of us, this statement has the clear ring of truth. We can feel in our bones that there is, indeed, something unspeakably profound about being here at all. But we can't quite put our finger on why it feels that way. Life can't be literally miraculous, after all. There was a Big Bang some fourteen billion years ago, and then, well... physics and stuff, right? We basically understand it all; all that's left is to iron out a few details.

Therefore, any sense of life being "miraculous" can only be a vestige of our superstitious past. The idea may make us feel warm and fuzzy, but the only intellectually honest response is to recognize this as the play of rogue neurotransmitters, evolved to distract us from the cold, hard truth: that we are mere machines, pointlessly flailing around in a sterile mechanical universe.

Or at least, this is the modern, "sophisticated" way of looking at the world. But it contains an egregious and fundamental error; one that's extremely simple, yet surprisingly hard to see. Perhaps ironically, recognizing it requires that you be more skeptical than the so-called skeptics; more rational than the most ardent rationalists.

There is a meaningful sense in which life is actually miraculous. In a way, you could say that the whole purpose of life is to see—and live—this profound truth. It also turns out that our bizarre societal taboo against recognizing it is at the very root of our unfolding planetary crisis. This site is an attempt at communicating that sense, so that you may be inspired to see this for yourself.

So let's begin!

Try your best to experience what the following phrase is trying to convey. Really take your time with it.

Simply being here to experience this moment is infinitely profound; impossibly glorious.

Depending on your tolerance for "woo-woo," you might have to adjust its meaning to fit your worldview. But no matter how resistant you are to taking it literally, you can probably still engage with it poetically to evoke at least a little bit (and perhaps a whole lot) of wonder and awe. Take a few minutes to really revel in that recognition.

You will probably also find that there is a limit to how deeply you can enter that experience. After all, how special can this moment really be when you've had decades of other moments just like it—or in many cases, even better than it? And how miraculous can it possibly be, given that we more or less understand what's causing it?

It may be hard to recognize at first, but all of this supposed "understanding" puts a ceiling on how glorious your experience can be. This ceiling may be quite high—it is of course possible to use the scientific lens to marvel deeply at reality—but there is a ceiling nonetheless.

So here's an empirical question: what would happen if you obliterated that ceiling by realizing that you don't know what reality is?

This may sound like crazy talk.

First, wouldn't it be dishonest to pretend that we don't know? Science has taught us a lot, after all. But as we shall see, questions about the nature of reality fall outside of scientific inquiry. In an important sense, we really do not and cannot know what is going on.

Second, would it even be desirable? We obviously need some understanding of our world to help us navigate it. On the other hand, perhaps there is a way to use our understanding practically without taking it literally.

So what would happen?

Maybe, as I'm hinting, reality would appear as infinitely marvelous. But so what? What would that prove, other than the fact that our brains are capable of having profound experiences?

What actually happens is so unexpected that I can't even put it into words. I'm not sure that anyone can, which is why mystics throughout the ages have resorted to poetry. I'm not much of a poet myself, so I'll just put it as literally as I can. Feel free to interpret it as metaphorically as your mind requires.

First, this moment would suddenly appear precious beyond belief. You would be brought to your knees by a profound wonder, awe, love, joy, and gratitude beyond your wildest imagination. You would, for a moment, stop taking life for granted, seeing it with completely fresh eyes.

On one hand, this experience would come as an utter surprise. On the other, paradoxically, it would be the most familiar experience possible—like coming home to a place you never left. It is like remembering something you've always known, but have somehow forgotten.

If I had to put it into words, it might sound something like this:

  • We are all one "being," looking out through myriad eyes.
  • It is not a literal "being," but in some sense, being itself; primordial aliveness itself.
  • To steal from Stephen Hawking, you are fundamentally that which breathes fire into the equations of reality.
  • What you call "reality" is more like a dream than a machine. Everything you see around you—including space, time, matter, etc.—is the dreamer's mind, made manifest, in a way that makes it seem objective and external.
    • Your experience of this reality is not caused by anything within this reality. It is, in this sense, miraculous.
  • It is not your personal dream, and yet the "dreamer" is what is looking out your eyes right now, reading these very words. It is that which you know most intimately as "I."
  • The whole purpose of the dream is to wake up to itself. Put another way: the purpose of your life is to awaken to (and live) this realization. Love is, in a sense, all that matters.

There's a lot more, but that's probably enough for now. At this point we ought to turn to an obvious question: how could an unmediated experience of life's infinite glory teach you all of that nonsense? And even if it did, why would you be silly enough to believe it?

Here we must turn to metaphor.

When you're dreaming at night, it's generally very hard to recognize that you're dreaming. Even if you notice something strange (say, green dragons floating through the sky), your mind will produce a bogus-but-satisfying explanation ("silly me, it's just Green Dragon Tuesday! Duh!") to quell your suspicion. It is normally only after you wake up that you notice the ruse.

But there's another way to discover it. With training (or in some cases, spontaneously) it is possible to have what's called a lucid dream, where you become aware of the dream while still in it. In a sense, you "wake up" into the dream, and recognize it as a dream.

But how can you be sure it is a dream? Often it is possible to control lucid dreams, but in fact control is neither necessary nor sufficient to prove that it is a dream. Instead, with high degrees of lucidity, it becomes possible to gain direct insight into precisely how and why you are conjuring the dream. Not "you" as in your dream character, but "you" the dreamer; a being that transcends the dream, yet simultaneously "looks through the eyes" of your dream character. Once you have seen precisely how you are actively constructing your perceived reality, you no longer need to conjecture or infer a "physical reality" lying behind it—a construct that is fundamentally unprovable anyhow (as we shall soon see).

Something very similar is going on here. No matter how carefully you investigate this dream, it will be clever enough to rebuff your efforts with bogus-but-satisfying explanations: "Wait, how could matter give rise to consciousness? Ah, silly me, it's just, uh... brain chemicals! Duh!" If you actually want to penetrate the illusion that presently surrounds you, you have to become lucid and discover your (very surprising) complicity in fabricating it.

So how do you do that?

At this point, you might be expecting some kind of mystical woo-woo. But actually, the answer is something so rational that even the "rationalists" can't stomach it.

Take a look around you. It's pretty obvious that you're sitting in a world made of stuff, moving through time, right? But have you ever pondered how you know this? For example, how do you know it's not all a simulation, or dream, or other strange possibility?

Some of you will have already contemplated this idea, known as radical skepticism. It's easy to understand that you cannot prove which metaphysics[1] is true. What may be more surprising, however, is that you cannot even assign a meaningful probability to any of them. To put it another way: not only do you not know whether this is a dream, you cannot even say whether this hypothesis is likely or unlikely. To put an even finer point on it: your belief in "physical reality" is pure faith. It is not, strictly speaking, more rational than other explanations. It is merely more convenient.

Numerous philosophers have come to this very conclusion. Since it is so convenient to assume that reality is exactly as it seems, why not go the extra step and pretend that this isn't just a convenience, but an absolute truth? Why even bother realizing that we have no f*ing idea what's going on, when we can bluff and bluster as if we do? That way we can minimize our existential bewilderment, even going so far as to make an unspoken cultural pact to never mention it in public. And then we can all drive to our important jobs in our fancy suits and ties and make polite conversation, pretending that this is all perfectly normal.

So perhaps radical skepticism is useless after all. But there's a gaping hole in this argument.

[1] Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature of reality. "A metaphysics" refers to a particular set of views about the nature of reality.

Anyone who has ever tried meditating before has probably noticed that there's a lot more going on in the mind than we usually notice. If you haven't, then here's a quick example.

Have you ever had the experience of reading a book, only to discover that your eyes are still scanning the page while your mind is elsewhere? In that mindless state, your mind is doing something that isn't exactly unconscious, and yet you are not aware of it.

Something similar is actually going on all the time. Your mind is actively doing lots of stuff that's not really unconscious, and yet that you're not aware of. Even if you stop right now and try to become aware of it, without considerable training you will still fail to see the vast majority of it.

Beginning meditators often think that they are able to concentrate on a single object, such as the breath, for minutes at a time, only to report after days or weeks of intensive practice that their attention is now carried away by thought every few seconds. This is actually progress. It takes a certain degree of concentration to even notice how distracted you are.

—Sam Harris

Even if you are a seasoned meditator, chances are that you're still missing the deepest, subtlest activities of mind.

Those deep layers are continually reinforcing your preferred view of reality, which gives rise to a corresponding experience of reality, which then further cements your beliefs about it. This cycle is very hard to interrupt, but it can be done.

Therefore, the honest reaction to radical skepticism is not a lazy "I tried realizing that I don't know, but nothing much happened, so I'll keep pretending that I do." It is to discover what actually happens when your entire mind realizes that you have no idea what's going on.

Can you feel how uncomfortable that sentence is? "You have no idea what's going on." Doesn't it sound absurd? Of course we have some idea! After all, science!

This should give some sense of how difficult it is to actually take to heart the message of radical skepticism. Something in your mind just won't let you seriously consider the possibility that you are dead wrong, even if you understand that intellectually. It will let you play around with these ideas for a few seconds, but it always convinces you in the end.

Most of us suspect we don’t really know what life is. But really knowing you don't know takes some work. It requires you to clearly see that your story is just a story; and to become conscious of the deep mystery at its foundation.

—Tim Freke

The only solution I know of is meditation (or something very much like it). Start with the one thing you do know—that you surely seem to be experiencing something. Then progressively release all ideas of what, exactly, that "something" is. If it helps, revisit the logic of radical skepticism, so that you're less easily fooled by the insistent voice trying to convince you that it does know.

If it still feels like "nope, this is all perfectly explainable," then you need to dig a little deeper. Get behind the thing that believes it knows. Remember: your mind is actively doing lots of stuff that's not really unconscious, but that you're somehow not aware of. Be patient. These layers of mind take time to discover and unravel.

If you do it right, the "glory of existence" will broaden and deepen. If you manage to avoid the siren call of false knowledge for long enough, you just might suddenly awaken to something that's so remarkable yet so blindingly obvious that you'll wonder how you ever forgot it.

This world is miraculous.

So close you can't see it
So deep you can't fathom it
So simple you can't believe it
So good you can't accept it

-- Tibetan Buddhist saying

Why you don't know what you think you know.

How this all relates to the "climate catastrophe."

Fear and Mental Health

[Work in progress]