Theory of parts and wholes

Two ideas. The idea that we are each a part of god, and the idea that we are each a god.

The subtle distinction between these two ideas conveys a deep misunderstanding about the nature of reality.

The early days of science grew out of minds still very much coloured by the hues of religion. The name for the atom came from the Hindu word Atman, meaning indivisible whole, or god. And the misunderstanding of that concept allowed for the mechanical explanation of nature to take hold. The idea that all matter is created from some indivisible fundamental building block gives rise to other concepts. Such as cause and effect and the mechanical forces of nature. These ideas seemed to reflect the world so much so that we were able to use them to calculate the trajectory of the Apollo space flight to the moon, almost. Some adjustments were required to make the theory fit the reality.

Still today, it’s easy to get caught up in those concept of the world. Take the idea of edges and boundaries. When we see a chair, we imagine we’re seeing a separate single indivisible object. Yet the reality is quite different. How many parts make up the chair on which you’re sitting, and if it’s made of wood, how many trees? And if we take a single tree… Where does the tree end and the CO2, water, nutrients, bugs, etc, that go into creating that tree begin. The idea of the tree is not the tree. An actual tree is a whole ecosystem unto itself, and in turn is part of a whole vast ecosystem. The arbitrary lines we draw between objects in order to distinguish them for purposes of language are in fact mental projections. There is no such thing as an individual object. Objects are always part of something else, and always made up of other smaller things. Even the atom… What we often refer to as reality is nothing more than illusion, a projection of an idea of an object over the top of a collection of processes in the real world.

Reducing objects or experiences down into words for the purpose of communication often results in missing out a tremendous amount of information. In the same way a photograph can only capture a two dimensional snapshot of a landscape, our language can only capture a fragment of the actuality of the experience. And yet we’ve come to imagine that our words describe objective reality. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our words are projections, overlays of subjective concepts, which we mask on top of something we never really know or touch. This actual world always remains unknowable to us, and yet it inspires us to constantly try to explain it and perhaps even for some, commune with it.

This can also be seen when interpreting concepts from one language to another. Much is lost, and in some circumstances the whole essence of a concept can be misunderstood. Many spiritual or psychedelic experiences cannot really be reduced to language. Mystical experiences or simply amazingly awesome everyday experiences can be impossible to fully explain. A skilled writer can attempt to convey some of the essence, but the more as we look deeper into reality, the less our words are able to describe the experience. But we can certainly have fun trying.

For example take these two words. Black water. What does the imagination do with them, does the mind create an image that is more than the sum of the two words alone? For some, maybe not, but for anyone with an imagination, I like to think that you had some creative response, perhaps even some emotion came up? If nothing came up for you, then that’s also quite interesting. For some people, certain phrases or word combinations can trigger quite deep meanings or feelings. Other people don’t seem to be so responsive. Take two other words. Mind fuck. This time I bet there is more of a reaction, possibly even a little anger or upset. And yet for others, there might be no reaction whatsoever. Playing with words in this way can be fascinating, it also can make you a lot of money. This is how the advertising industry earns billions every year, by manipulating your mind with words. It’s also how click-bate in the news and media works. But it has far more profound uses.

Take for example the feeling of anxiety. Imagine a situation where you might feel anxious. Now replace the word anxious with the word excited. Think about this situation whilst replacing the word anxious with the word excited. If you’re quite suggestible then perhaps you’re even able to change how to feel about that situation. Over time and repeated use of this technique it is possible to re-hypnotise yourself. Or de-hypnotise yourself. 

Let’s return to our initial opening sentence. Two ideas. The idea that we are each a part of god, and the idea that we are each a god. At first the difference may appear subtle, but in fact the difference is quite profound. The first statement implies that we are part of something greater than ourselves, that there is some organism we belong to, and the functioning of the whole somehow involves our presence and interaction. Whereas the second statement implies that we are separate entities, alone and distinct in the world, nothing really relies on us, and it is ultimately impossible to relate to anyone or anything else. It’s rather a nihilistic perspective. Which one did you relate to the most? 

This second statement carries with it the underlying notion that the western mind has been caught up in for a long time, this feeling of separateness. And it is related to the whole underlying feeling that pervades our scientific concepts. That things are made of separate parts. Atoms, objects, things. When in fact if you really observe the world, you can see yourself that there are no separate things. As we said before, all things are made from smaller things, and in turn are part of larger things. There are no separate objects. The implications of this are profound and quite fascinating. It means our whole approach to medicine is faulty, our whole approach to government is broken, and the way our society is constructed is at odds with the natural oder of things.

When you have a problem with your eye and the doctor only looks at the eye, not taking into account that the body works as a whole system. When in school there is a problem child, and we only focus on that child, ignoring every other aspect of the system, there’s no such thing as a problem child, the child is part of the whole school system, if there is a problem we need to address the whole system. There is no such thing as a criminal, a ‘criminal’ is part of the whole society, and if there is a problem then it’s the whole system that needs to be looked at. This slight change in the way we view the world, seeing ourselves as a part of something greater, changes the whole way we interact with the world.

For some of you, all of that has been very obvious for a long time. Yet for others, they might need some more information. But right now, I’m tired of writing, so that will have to be covered in another post… But if you can think of some examples, feel free to comment… 

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