With this posting I’m getting back to some previous thoughts. You can title this Big Questions part 3. It asks the question, is the term “I” obsolete? Well, it sure looks that way, at least for biologists, but what does that have to do with me?
Here’s some background and a biology lesson (sort of).
Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres. Like Ceasar’s Gaul, Silo’s Message is divided into three parts. First there is the Book — The Inner Look. Next are the Experiences. These are presented as simple ceremonies, or perhaps the outlines of simple ceremonies. Finally there is a short text of observations and suggestions entitled, the Path.
For those of us engaged in Silo’s Message there are various forms of meditation that are generally practiced according to certain rhythms. What I mean is that, each of us might have our own daily practice, a weekly activity and those taking place every 2 or 3 months and so on. This could consist of trying to be little more awake in daily life, a little more attentive to the needs of others, or it might be a focused and elaborated activity meant to help improve the situation around me. It is in these everyday contexts that I learn to work against violence in myself and my world. It is here that I learn to recognize the signs of the sacred in myself and others. So it is that every day I discover another opportunity to try and bring the Principles of Valid action into focus and weave them into a coherent way of facing life.
There are also weekly rhythms. Once a week we a few of us get together to share certain experiences together. Usually this enters around the ceremony of the service which incorporates various moments of relaxing the body, heart and mind, reflecting on a principle, working with the internal energy and clarifying and focusing on our real needs, etc. Sometimes there are other regular activities of study and internal work. Perhaps once a month a larger seminar is offered. Or a seasonal celebration might be held every 3 months, etc.
But as discussed a few weeks ago, above all the Path suggests a very specific daily meditation. It says: Do not let your life pass by without asking yourself, “Who am I?” Do not let your life pass by without asking yourself, “Where am I going?” Do not let a day pass by without giving an answer to yourself about who you are. Do not let a day pass by without giving an answer to yourself about where you are going.
This idea of knowing who you are has some pretty deep roots. After all l wasn’t that idea so important that even the gates of Apollo’s temple at Delphi were inscribed with the phrase Gnothi Seauton — Know Thyself (Latin and Greek in one posting!).
As I pointed out before it’s an apparently simple, meditation. It strikes me that like so many things this is a simple exercise — until you try it. “Know myself? Who am I? Who is the knower and who is it that is known?” As soon as I start it’s like the ground underneath me gives way. I might as well be falling a cliff. How can I even begin? By repeating the question internally? “Who am I?”. Is it supposed to be some sort of mantra: “who am I?, who am I?, who am I?”…. Who’s asking? And who is supposed to answer? It’s like a weird variant on a “knock-knock” Joke. “Knock, knock.” Who’s there? “Who wants to know”? At least that’s how it is for me.
Sometimes I try and work from the other direction, peeling away what I’m not: “Am I my name? No. Am I my religion? My memories? My body? Where can I find me?” The problem isn’t how to answer the question the problem is how to ask it? Or rather who asks it and who answers — or doesn’t answer.
Personally I’m a studious person. It’s natural for me delve into the history of this kind of question and the answers given by others whether the sages of the Upanishads, the musings of the Buddhist thinkers, and of course Descartes, Hume, Husserl, et al. But how do all those words help? Help who? Who’s reading them? Have I gotten any further? Has who? And round, and round.
What follows are parallel or lateral considerations that I feel might throw some light on this perennial question — anyway I hope you find them amusing or perplexing or perhaps inspiring. I do.
Here’s one to get us started. I’ll post some more another day.
Who Am I Or Who Is Us?
A few weeks ago (August 18, 2015) a paper appeared in the online journal PLOS biology It claimed that advances in microbiology make the idea of biological individuals, whether plant, animal or human, at best a serious over-simplification. So thinking about you, me, your dog rover, the cherry tree blooming down the street, et. al. — may not be the best way of conceiving of things. Among biologists there’s growing agreement that there are no individuals just “Bimolecular networks”.
That won’t be a stretch to those who already grasped Silo’s logic but it’s a big shock for most of us. Maybe you remember that old so-called Siloist Law of Structure: “Nothing exists in isolation only in dynamic relation with other being inside the same conditioning ambit.”
I suppose that applies to plants, animals, people, — we only exist in relation to other beings. Who am I? I don’t know but I do know I only exist in relation to other beings in the same defining environment.
It’s one thing to say that an individual exists as part of a web of life, yadda, yadda, yadda.
It’s quite another to say that the individual is an illusory point, a misconception or an error in the perception.
Who am I? From this point of view whatever else I am, I’m at least a community of millions of tiny invisible critters that live in me and on me. As mentioned in an earlier post, for every cell of your body that is “you” there are nine more that are bacteria. Putting that another way, 90% of the cells in all plants and animals are bacterial.
Well, certainly that’s weird, but that these microbes make their home on me — “the visible host” — is not the most surprising thing. Certainly, it’s easy to believe that the bacteria on you and in you have a major effect on your health. But now the scientists are telling us that they also modify the host’s social interactions, interests and emotions. In the future I’ll be posting some examples of how the microbes in your gut might regulate what you feel. Or even what you think.
For now let me conclude with this thought. The article “Host Biology in Light of the Microbiome: Ten Principles of Holobionts and Hologenomes” in PLOS Biology, lays out these general ideas and their implication for biology. No doubt this is revolutionary science and it will have impacts on many related fields from botany to zoology. Already it’s changing our understanding of evolution and it holds great promise for how medicine is practiced.
But that’s not what interests me right now. I want to know if, instead of “Who am I?” I should be asking “Who Am We”.
This brief note has also been posted to the Facebook page for The Community of Silo’s Message, Toronto Annex, as well as on our mailing list.
We’d all love to hear your comments on, and thoughts about, considerations of, or artwork inspired by, any of this.