TRACING THE ORIGINS OF REALITY
Imagine that we have learned to store experience in a big box. Only certain kinds of experience fit in the box, but these fit very well, for the box has been made to order, and each kind of experience has its own special place. Encounters with substantial entities fit in the box; so do thoughts and fantasies and memories; and so does our sense of self-identity.
Now something surprising happens: The experiences that we have carefully been collecting and storing away are somehow transformed into phantoms. Perhaps they are still there, but when we look at them they seem almost transparent.
In that case, what happens to the box in which we have been placing our collection? Should we assume that its essential structure stays the same? Or does it seem more likely that the box will be transformed as well made newly transparent and insubstantial?
Inquiring into the possibility of expanding space beyond conventional 'space nothingness' is something like
turning to look at the box in which we store experience. But how shall we do this? If we look directly at the structure of the box, we make the box itself into a thing, and our encounter with it becomes another experience of the kind the box has been constructed to hold. In terms of space, we could put it this way: We cannot advance our understanding of space by turning it into an object of inquiry, for in that case we turn away from the nothingness that makes space uniquely capable of accommodating appearance.
There is another way to proceed. We can simply open the box up. But 'opening the box' does not mean lifting up the top, as we do when we store away a new experience. We open the box by taking the box itself apart. We might imagine that the box is made out of cardboard, constructed of flaps that have been glued or taped together. Now we undo the flaps; we flatten the box. In doing so, something remarkable happens: Even the space that the box once enclosed - which earlier seemed to have its own particular kind of substantiality - disappears. With no container, there is also no containing.
Something like this is what we want to do with space. Without turning it into a substance, we would like to open space up, investigating its nature: questioning its nothingness to see what lies beneath it. How shall we proceed?
It is difficult to come at space directly, for we are trained from an early age to focus on what has substance - what appears in space. For space to make itself available, we must first invite it; in a certain sense we
must make room for it, so that it can reappear. The thought experiment of the previous chapter suggests a model for how we can do this. We can start by inquiring into the nature of substance. As we open our usual understanding of what is real, the openness of space will come more readily into focus. By sharpening our understanding of the substantiality of what appears in space, we allow space itself to appear.
The Insubstantiality of the Real
Our inquiry until now has suggested that the objects we encounter and assign identities, with their distinctive properties and qualities, are not solid in the way that we usually imagine. But this suggestion does not accord with our experience. Each object that appears before us specializes in being itself. It proclaims its own reality, voicing a certainty of being that we accept and draw on to compose the substance of our own lives.
Perhaps there is no conflict between these two different perspectives. Even if substance can be analyzed into 'nothing at all', objects continue to affirm their 'realness', which our senses and our experience daily witness and confirm. After all, no one seems able to say how matter came into being or how the universe arose, yet this mystery does not prevent us from treating matter as solid and substantial.
Let us assume, then, that it makes perfectly good sense to regard objects as substantial for at least some practical purposes. A fundamental question remains: What is the nature of this substantiality?
We can start with the discoveries of modern science, the prevailing arbiter of reality:. Here the challenges to substance are well known. In physics at the subatomic level, the objects we encounter in the world dissolve into 'particles' that can only loosely be said to have shape and form or even mass. In certain aspects of quantum theory, even such particles give way to waves of probabilities.
In biology a similar indeterminacy prevails. Structures and functions that once seemed invariant have proved subject to manipulation and recombination, with results that promise to affect our lives profoundly. Technology, though it operates with a different set of concerns, also tends to undermine the view that there is anything fixed and definite in experience, for it creates a world in which the range of the possible and the desirable is constantly shifting.
The claim that reality is objective and substance is fixed can be challenged from a more experiential perspective as well. Although the identities we assign to make sense of the world invite us to think in terms of substance, experience itself is marked by constant transformation. From hour to hour and moment to moment the world is changing, and we know firsthand that the mind that experiences it is changing as well. History changes; specific appearances change, moods and attitudes change. Features hold for a time and then give way, like ice dissolving into water. In the end, nothing endures. The impression of solidity that casual observation conveys proves to be something like the solidity we feel underfoot when we walk the deck of an ocean liner: It belies the movement beneath the surface.
Why do we have so much difficulty bringing this constant transformation into play in the way we interact with the world? The answer seems linked to our use of names and concepts to label experience. Once specific identities have been assigned, reality unfolds as the interplay of the entities that bear these fixed identities. Referring shifting qualities and characteristics to objects virtually compels us to accept the illusion of permanence. But we pay a price for this deception, for our attempts to make sense of experience in this way can never do more than approximate the ongoing flux of what is happening.
If objects do not exist or endure in the solid and substantial manner we imagine, perhaps we can still found solidity on trends and directions and continuity over time. After all, although appearance changes, we can trace the source of what appears; we can point out its derivation and its destiny, its 'from' and 'to'.
But here a different difficulty arises. Directions can be calculated only from a particular perspective: a location in time and space. Imagine looking at activities on the earth from a point in outer space: Would the up and down or forward and backward that we would ordinarily associate with such activities still apply, or would there simply be movement free from labels? More generally, if we could somehow stand apart from the universe in space and time, the comings and goings that help us make sense of things would no longer serve as points of orientation. The trends we discern appear to be more a construct of our concerns than an objective basis on which to found substantiality.
Suppose you are sitting quietly in a moving car. Within your body there is movement at many levels, and though your body as a whole is at rest, we can hardly claim that it is completely still either. Then there is the movement of the car - not just forward, but also up and down and from side to side. There is also the movement that makes this movement possible: the revolution of the tires, the pumping of the pistons, the circulation of gasoline and oil and other lubricants. Beyond this, there is the flow of traffic around us. Perhaps we should also consider the flow of events that contribute to our being in the car, headed in a particular direction with particular purposes in mind. And then there is the range of larger movements that mostly go unacknowledged: the drift of the continent, the rotation of the earth, the sweep of the planet as it orbits round the sun, the movement of the solar system in the galaxy, the passage of the Milky Way through cosmic space.
No description that we offer can take all these aspects into account simultaneously. Only when we settle on a particular set of concerns and understandings can we speak of derivation and direction, of going from and to, as though we were referring to a single objective truth. Whatever specifics we seize on, it is our concern and our interpretations that make them spring into being - not some solid and unmoving foundation.
The Whole of Reality
Perhaps we can discover a more substantial basis for experience by turning from particular entities to the
reality of the whole. The fundamental intuition that supports this move is that we do in fact encounter 'something' in experience, no matter how we characterize or make sense of it. Each individual appearance refers back to this 'somethingness', which is common to all things that we encounter. Somehow the whole of what is differentiates and specializes itself into various interacting and co-referring entities and qualities; somehow it 'seeds itself' into identified entities in a way that allows for tracing sources and interactions and derivations. Even if the particulars can be questioned, there is this underlying 'realness' that the whole communicates forward to its parts.
Just what is it that constitutes this realness? A painting that presents a meaningful image or scene consists of paint on canvas; the fabric in which patterns are found is woven of thread; the lyrics of a song take form through sound. Then what is it that makes up the realness of all that is?
Although this question seems reasonable enough, it invites inquiry to follow a path that we have already put aside, for it calls for an answer in terms of particles or entities that are somehow ultimate or indivisible. Even if we did want to revive this approach, it seems inappropriate here. Suppose that we named an ultimate particle: To affirm its realness in the present context, we would refer it to the whole, while to demonstrate the realness of the whole, we would refer back to the realness of this particle. Traveling in this circle, we could hardly expect to further our understanding.
Perhaps a more fruitful approach is to view the 'realness' of the whole in terms of meaning. When we accept something as real, we are asserting a claim about how that thing will behave across a wide range of circumstances. To say that something is real means that we can count on it to operate in certain specific ways and to be subject to certain specific kinds of confirmations.
This way of making sense of 'realness' shifts our focus from individual entities to the interactions among entities. Just as in a painting a single patch of color or single brush stroke becomes meaningful only in relation to other patches of color placed on the canvas by other brush strokes, so objects take on their identity and significance only in relation to everything else that appears. Like echoes bouncing off the walls of a cavern, appearances interact into one another, creating experience as a constantly shifting composite. Even the apparent independence of individual entities is an assigned meaning that refers back to other entities. These coreferring manifestations together make up the reality of the whole.
However, it would be inaccurate to equate this 'reality of the whole' with the specified interactions that let us connect one meaningful entity to dozens or even hundreds of others. Our experience in this particular moment refers back to a reality that is more than the sum of its parts. Beyond all particular interactions and all possible communications, there is the field of these interactions. This field steadily communicates its own availability as a field, together with a structure and a patterning that characterizes field operations. What we
find meaningful depends on this global communication: the 'field communique'.
Exploring the Field Communique
The individual appearances that make up the content of experience manifest in terms of the field communique, which unites them in somewhat the way that stock ownership unites the shareholders of a corporation. Emerging from the field, entities appear hand in hand. They enact a special intimacy that allows for characterizations, distinctions, and an interplay expressed through temporal 'from-to' structures.
In terms of the field communique, the realness of the real is simply the proclaimed authenticity of this mutually co-referring identification: a vital aspect of the ongoing intimacy of all that manifests. But this claim of authenticity does not operate only with regard to the whole: It is distributed out to encompass each communicated entity as well. We could even say that the purpose of the co-referring interactions that give the whole is to establish the certainty of each individual identity. This, then, is the ongoing meaning that the communique expresses: The whole sustains the identity of each particular part, while each part in turn confirms the manifested whole.
This mutual presenting serves the purpose of the present present. Each specific juncture is authenticated - identified as the 'real object' of an authentic perception. Imposed as the self-juxtaposition of the presupposed, this unique juncture self-manifests, owning the qualities that qualify it to be.
The image of the field communique suggests how appearance can appear as substance. It confirms what we earlier assumed: The substantial nature of what appears is simply an output of appearance. Though substance appears as substance, it does not depart from the original interplay of the communique, in which each appearance is echo-like in nature. The 'source' of substance is the interaction of what does not have substance. Each qualified imposed uniqueness is presented within the field. For each appearance, there is nothing above or beneath it, no point of origination more solid than its own communication.
Seen in these terms, the usual distinction between a substantial object and an insubstantial subject loses much of its significance. The subjective 'response' to the communique is a part of the communique. As the subject pronounces the interweaving of appearance and discriminates specific manifestations, this making of mind connections is the realness of what is pronounced.
We can put the same point differently, anticipating a connection whose significance will become more clear later. Since the field communique gives each entity as communicated, knowledge of what appears is given together with what appears. Knowledge 'of' appearance is inseparable 'from' appearance.
Dynamics of Time and Space