Parsimony

“It is futile to do with many what can be done with fewer.” -William of Ockham

I find myself questioning many of the ways in which things are done in the modern world.  We think of technology as something that makes our lives easier and simplifies certain tasks.  I, however, think that the systems in place that make the world go around are becoming far more complex.  The complexities allow for finer definitions to be had when relating to concepts, but the networks of complexities intertwine in such a way that most things become intrinsically more complicated and prone to error. 

I have been reading a book written in 1901 by Richard Maurice Bucke titled Cosmic Consciousness.  The book is about illumination, reaching Nirvana, becoming enlightened; whichever new age, philosophical or religious term you care to favor.  The book is focused on cases of illumination throughout history.  Bucke proposes that much like humans progressed from simple consciousness to self-consciousness, our species is heading into a new era of cosmic consciousness.  Bucke gives examples of Siddhartha Gautama(the Buddha), Jesus, Paul, along with many other illuminated beings who walked the earth and seemed to operate at a level that was far more advanced and in tune with the “higher self”.  

The Higher self that Bucke talks of is commonly referred to in our vernacular as god.  Now, why is this important when talking about parsimony or complexities?  Well, I suppose the connection I am trying to make is that as a species we have completely muddled the meaning and understanding of many things pertaining to life and existence, and the continuation of these gifts.  God has become so complex within the liturgies that many believe God must be found, as if God is hiding under the bed in the other room, awaiting a peek-a-boo.  I believe the teachings and writings associated with most worldly religions have good intentions, or at least started out that way.  People need to be given an in; a way to kick the tires and look under the hood and see for themselves if anything interesting or useful stands out.  It is the unfortunate reality that as humans we have an innate tendency to subjectively look upon the things we interact with and pick and choose what works for us and what does not; it’s only natural for comfort and to a lesser degree for survival.  The problem with this subjectivity is that when it comes to picking and choosing meaning and interpretation of liturgy and scripture, the tendency and temptation to skew information towards the bias of ones beliefs dilutes the true message and meaning of these otherwise useful texts.  And to a more harmful degree the influence of desires that one who is interpreting meaning, and furthermore disseminating an interpretation to others who lack the mental faculties to interpret for themselves, can inflict great harm. 

Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as the Buddha, went through many stages in his lifetime.  He started life in a posh and sheltered environment.  Then, shortly after his first child was born he began to realize that life is not all butterflies and rainbows and does in fact involve suffering. Upon learning of people who give up all their earthly comforts and possessions to pursue a life of faith and spirituality he decided to walk the path of asceticism and attempt to become awakened in order to relieve suffering.  He studied under several masters who he surpassed in ability in short periods of time.  The Buddha starved himself, in hopes that his devotion and detachment from worldly desires, like eating food, would get him closer to god.  After 6 years of careful practice he was near death and came to the realization that his path was not going to be the way to attain his goals. He ate a meal and decided that the way he should direct his energies and focus should be balanced; the middle path as it is commonly referred.  With this new realization he meditated under the Bodhi tree for 7 days and was able to attain his enlightened state of consciousness. With his new-found capacity for consciousness he spread the teachings of the noble eight-fold path to enlightenment so that others could walk with him in the light.  

The point being that many people try to do good, do what is expected or asked of them in order to find happiness.  Some choose a path that is too simple, too devoid of pleasure or comfort to actually achieve anything other than misery.  Others choose a path that is too complex to maintain, and crumble from the stress of single-handedly holding everything together even though they know in their heart it is a futile endeavor to embark upon.  We then come to parsimony, and I am referring to the use of the word in the psychological sense.  Psychwiki.com describes as such,

Parsimony: In research, this refers to the simplest explanation about the greatest number of observations is favored and logical to the more complex explanations that may be present. It serves to help scientists to develop more of theoretical models in research than published models. It is often associated with the rule of Ockham’s razor meaning the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.

The simplest explanation is usually the correct one.  To me, this implies that all complexities withstanding, your sunglasses are probably on top of your head, and not in the 100 other places you could have misplaced them.  Not a great analogy, but stay with me here.  Complexities are good to be aware of, and important for many of the systems we have in place to keep the information of the world flowing and things people rely on working.  Things like electricity, the economic system, waste and sewage disposal networks, the internet,  are all complex systems and they rely on complex understandings of science, math, collection, storage and distribution systems to operate properly without interruption.  One problem with these systems is that billions of people have little concern or knowledge of how the systems operate, yet billions of people rely on these systems for their daily operations and interactions.  What I’m pointing at is the fragility of everything we think we know and understand to be important and relevant.

I’ll take it a step further by asking you to think of the last time you were without internet connectivity?  Now think of the last time you were without internet connectivity in an environment in which you usually have it readily available and to a greater extent an environment in which you rely on internet connectivity to complete your tasks.  Your internet goes out at work and you may not be able to process transactions, access records, work on documents, or send  time-critical emails.  Your internet goes out at home and your evening plans to sit down for a Game of Thrones or Orange is the New Black marathon is shattered.  Your internet is unavailable on your phone and you may have no access to your music library, which we all know is quite the let-down.  And as we rely on the internet more and more for a myriad of resources and tasks our dependence becomes quite complex and intertwined within our daily functions.  Now think of the fact that your internet connectivity is useless without the modern electrical grid system.  If the grid goes down you can kiss your internet goodbye.  Most people simply cannot function, or at least feel as though they cannot function in the absence of internet.  And that dependency is built upon the various other networks in place that keep things rolling along and allow for internet to be readily available in all urban, and most rural areas. 

The likelihood of the electrical grid failing is low.  And in that same respect the likelihood of the internet and its vast system of networking failing is also low.  However; the technology itself is not entirely necessary in most aspects of survival.  While many may believe that they would die if the internet failed catastrophically tomorrow (think of your favorite teens reaction to such a ponderance), it simply is not as necessary as air, or to a lesser degree water, or to a still lesser degree food.  It has only been in recent years that the importance of water has received any acknowledgment as an important resource.  Water supplies are becoming more stressed by a growing population and a warming planet, and events like Flint Michigan’s water crisis and California’s drought have brought the importance of this commonly overlooked resource to light. 

How far will all this go?  Will we continue to complicate the necessary resources for survival in our attempt to harness the power of the everything we come into contact with?  Will we one day be buying bottled air like we buy bottled water?  If we continue on this path I am afraid that such a seemingly comical notion will become a painful reality.  We can have the power of the sun at the flip of a switch.  We can travel through space and time utilizing fossil fuels and be on the other side of the planet in a matter of hours rather than days, weeks, months, or years.  We can send a message to someone 5,000 miles away and they can receive it instantaneously.  We cannot breathe without air.  We cannot maintain cellular functions of our bodies without water. And we cannot eat our iPhones…and not just because of the phthalates.  Our lives are far from parsimonious, and this path we walk is akin to rats navigating a maze with no prize at the end.  At the end of our path is the dirt that we, as a species, have decided to sweep under the rug.  

Looping back to the Buddha and the middle path, we have gone off trail.  We are lost in the concrete jungles of the world and have no way to navigate back to safety.  Of course,  this is the narrative we choose to believe.  Much like a dieter who has gone off their meal-plan, we are bingeing on the ignorance of the past in order to feed the hunger driven by shame for our future.  And much like an extra one or two hundred calories a day adds up to one or two hundred extra pounds in due time, our behavior and attitude about living for the right now will catch up to us long after the threshold of reversal and redemption has been surpassed.  Scientists who are aware of this are attempting to figure out how we can colonize space and reach other star systems, somehow preserve human life long after we have destroyed our home, the earth.  The darkness has truly consumed our species.  We occupy critical mental capacities with irrelevant dramas relating to individuals and events which have no bearing on our existence or our well-being.  Our minds are constantly stimulated by content, the content of which is not important to survival or well-being.  Rather it is this content that defines most individuals. Many people ARE their iPhone.  They ARE their automobile.  They ARE their video game.  Many ARE the things that are not.  The things are not real. 

No one will ever find purpose or meaning at the bottom of their favorite soda.  The phone your life revolves around will not explain your existence.  This blog post will not give you anything you didn’t already have.  And that’s it.  You already have it.  As Siddhartha Gautama discovered when he attempted to do without everything and reached his breaking point of giving in or giving up, you already have within you the real content, the real answers, the truth and nothing but the truth.  Moses, Jesus, Paul, Mohammed, Bucke, and countless others who have been associated by various followings with illumination, profess the one thing that is a constant among the never-ending chatter of the organized world societies; that what you seek is within.  We can call it God if we wish, but as a lifelong agnostic I know many will struggle with this simple word as I have.  So lets call it light.  Inside everyone is light, and this light is the root of all things we associate with our physical existence.  The books and organizations associated with the worlds religions are like ornate storefront displays or advertisements, with the purpose of getting your foot in the door so you can spend your money and buy the goods for sale.  I don’t mean to downplay or disrespect anyone of faith with this analogy, I only use it as a way to illustrate my point and tell a story that is easier to relate to and comprehend.

In order to raise consciousness one cannot simply be given a higher faculty or capacity.  And in the sense that the higher faculty in question, the mystical idea of enlightenment or illumination; where words cannot be found to describe the experience of being illuminated, stories serve as a foot in the door for minds that can not possibly comprehend or attempt to fathom the cosmic sense of consciousness.  So religious texts are filled with stories. And humans with beliefs, biases, and earthly desires interpret these stories and GIVE, even supplant meaning.  The one thing that is a constant that underlies all these stories is that if one can simplify and quiet the mind and be silent with themselves and their thoughts, light is at the end of the tunnel.  Meditation, prayer, contemplation, altered states of consciousness; however one refers to the practice of being silent and still, in body and mind, the one thing that comes to be found in these practices is the sense that the individual is no different from the surroundings.  All is one.  Space and the universe is full of love and light, although to the naked eye of self-conscious reality it appears dark and barren.  Bucke asserts that one can move beyond the self-conscious and embody the cosmic consciousness, and in the cosmic sense they will find that the self is nothing more than a physical manifestation of the cosmic force he refers to as love, and that love is the foundation of all life and creation. 

Love, Light, life.  It sounds simple but the practice of seeing the truth for yourself is a rocky path to walk.  It feels harder to reach than a complex life which is easy to access, but that is simply due to conditioning.  The conditioning stems out of the self-concept, being omni-important and individualistic.  To think that you and I are the same, and that furthermore you and I and the tree outside the window are the same is preposterous to most, but crucially important to a select few.  And living in a world consisting of countless manufactured and artificial realities with the simultaneous understanding of the underlying framework and importance of singularity with the true meaning and purpose appears to be more of a burden than a blessing.  It is, in fact, not a burden if the individual can separate from the sense that this reality exists of, for, and to themselves.  Once that sense of self is surpassed, peace can be found in truth; love, light, life.

I offer no solutions, nor do I suggest that I have found this truth that I read and study and speak about.  I do not know parsimony in my life, but I aspire to.  I do not know god, or light, or love for that matter, but I aspire to.  I know what I have read in books; using my conscious beliefs, biases, and desires to search for footing while traveling a path that I may or may not make more treacherous than it need be.  I do know that one day I will find what I have been agonizing over and over and over again.  Why am I here?  Why are we here?  I no longer believe that we are the products of a primordial soup consisting of one part chance, three parts luck, and a dash of happenstance.  These things no longer hold much value in my conception of life and living.  Fate, faith, and faculty are my new beliefs.  I choose to alter my self-conscious view of life and existence in the hope that I may eventually transcend the self, and move on to the higher faculties that are awaiting all beings with the wanderlust for more than this world attempts to force-feed us.  My hope is that I may move so far beyond myself that I can share my journey and explain my path, so that others may find and bask in the radiance of light that comes from escaping the shadows. The beautiful thing about light is that it is attractive, and once it shines brightly in the dark it cannot be ignored, and it becomes pursued by all who are aware of it’s presence.

My struggle with simply being is in no way reserved to my individual experience, as it is shared by many who know the path they walk is not leading where they wish to find themselves.  I’m no Buddha, or Jesus, or Bucke but I do have something to share, and hopefully it benefits others apart from myself, as I have found that we are all a part of each other. 

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A midnight stroll on SOU campus turned street art session when I found an unattended box of chalk. Don’t threaten me with a good time.

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