Image by the beautiful, spiritually awake artist Alex Grey.
This post concerns the idea that all is one, that all distinctions are illusory, yet also real. I humbly consider this to be the deepest spiritual and philosophical truth I’m aware of. I believe that mystical experience can reveal this truth to humans, in the sense of providing sense, evidence, and justification for it. I believe this idea, which appears logically absurd, reconciles beautifully and completely with logic, and can in fact be justified using logic alone.
I am presenting the idea from two angles: a mystical angle and a logical angle. The key phenomena being studied are mystical experiences and logical paradoxes.
This post can be motivated from a logical perspective and a mystical perspective.
- A logical motivation is to provide an intuitively satisfying explanation of logical paradoxes, to complement and extend the technically and practically adequate solution to logical paradoxes of my previous post, Paradoxes and the rules of logic.
- A mystical motivation is to reconcile and marry with logic the proposition that all is one. This proposition is a formulation of nondualism, which is a common species of philosophical idea coming from mysticism.
I’ll explain how I view mystical experience as providing justification for the idea that all is one. I’ll also provide a logical, philosophical argument for the same conclusion, in the section titled “An argument for the Law of One.” That argument is not at all dependent on mysticism; it relies only on logical considerations.
The assumptions and conclusions of this post won’t appeal to everybody. If something about this doesn’t sit right with you, then I advise just leaving it where you found it.
The Law of One
In this post I’m concerned with one particular idea which I think can be repeatably supported by mystical experience.
It is the idea of the unity of all things.
It is called the Law of One.
It is called nondualism.
It is called the Tao.
It can be stated as, “all is one.”
It can be rationalized as follows.
Real world systems are highly complex and entangled. Things affect each other in so many ways that to predict the behavior of any part of the universe, you must ultimately be able to predict the behavior of the whole universe. A complete and wholly accurate point of view would have to consider the whole universe as one single and inseparable thing which is not a simple sum of its parts.
The universe is fractally self-similar. If you look throughout nature, you can find similar structures at different levels. A tree’s branches resemble a neuron’s branching dendrites. Some computer-generated pictures of the universe bear a certain resemblance to artistic images of networks of neurons (such as below), and to computer-generated maps of the Internet.
Each cell in a human body contains instructions (DNA) for producing another human body. Each human in a society contains an incomplete copy of that society’s body of learning and experience, in the form of language ability, education, socialization, shared memories (history), acquired skills, and so forth.
There are a few examples of how the universe is fractally self-similar. Behind these few and paltry examples, is there a deeper orderliness to the universe that human science has yet to understand? In any case, the idea of the fractal self-similarity of the universe provides a way of illustrating the idea of the unity of all things.
The logical extreme of the idea of the unity of all things states that any two distinct things are in reality identically the same thing. Each part of the universe is one and the same as every other part of the universe. If so, any appearance of separation and distinctness is some form of illusion, and in reality there is only unity.
I believe the truth of the Law of One, the idea of the unity of all things, has been revealed to me in mystical experience. I believe the idea in all forms just described, including the logical extreme of the idea of the Law of One, that any two distinct things are identically the same thing. I believe mystical experience has revealed the truth of these forms to me.
If any two distinct things are identically the same thing, then in my opinion it follows that every statement is true. Consider the following argument. Let A and B be statements, and let A be a true statement. For example, let A be the statement “the sun has energy” and B be the statement “the sun has no energy.” By the assumption that any two distinct things are the same thing, A and B are the same thing. In other words, B is A. Since A is true, and B is A, B is true. That is, the sun has no energy. By the same reasoning pattern one can arrive at the conclusion that every statement is true. I believe this follows from the Law of One and that in the final analysis of reality, every statement is true.
How can I, somebody who has studied the cutting edge in logic and philosophy of logic, believe that every statement is true? How can this square with logic, common sense, or anything? If you believe the Law of One, then it’s a paradox that the Law of One entails every statement. I apply my general method of solving paradoxes to this problem. For more information on how my perspective on logic integrates with my perspective on the Law of One, you can skip to the section titled “An argument for the Law of One.”
Epistemic status of this post for me
As stated already, I believe the perspective I’m articulating here. It is what I have arrived at after seeking truth on the relevant topics to the best of my ability for around seven years. I don’t think everybody will share the intuitions that make me believe the perspective. Some people just won’t agree with me, maybe for reasons neither of us can explain.
If you don’t agree with what I’m saying and you can explain why, I’m interested in hearing it.
On the other hand, as far as I can tell after years of thinking about it, the perspective articulated in this post is irrefutable. That doesn’t mean I can prove it; it just means that as far as I can tell, nobody can refute it. I don’t expect people to be able to use words to sway me from the view, and I don’t expect my words will sway everybody towards the view. Yet I remain open to being surprised.
Suppose I’m right that the perspective of this post is irrefutable. In such a situation, the disagreeing parties are likely to feel they have little choice but to agree to disagree. Maybe one or the other is right, or maybe neither is right, but the parties don’t necessarily have any way to resolve the disagreement. I don’t assume this is the case between me and everybody who disagrees with me on this. But I think there are many people with whom I would be in such a philosophical stalemate if we were to discuss this with each other. I rationalize my co-existence with humans of such thoroughly conflicting perspectives by observing that I am fallible, others are fallible, and life is still a great mystery to all of us. We all have our opinions, but none of us know everything, and in my opinion absolute certainty about anything is beyond the ability of humans to attain.
Mysticism, mystical experiences, and mystical revelation
Mysticism has various interpretations and aspects. For the purposes of this post I am concerned with mystical experiences, practices intended to create them, and philosophical ideas that grow up around mystical experiences. Those are the aspects of mysticism that will play a role in this post’s discussion.
Mystical experiences are a variety of subjectively powerful experiences. I won’t try to give a definition of “mystical experience.” For examples of the types of experiences people call mystical, see The Mystical Experience Registry.
My first mystical experience occurred the first time I used LSD. I experienced a form of consciousness which felt so deeply, intensely real that by comparison all my prior experiences seemed unreal. I later learned to reproduce similar states of consciousness at will, through meditation and other mystical disciplines. This immediate and subjectively irrefutable sense of touching on a deeper reality is a hallmark of mystical experiences for me.
Mystical experiences are frequently interpreted in religious, spiritual, or philosophical terms. People who have mystical experiences often take the experiences to reveal to them something about themselves, their lives, and/or the world. For example, here is a quote from the Protestant mystic Jacob Boehme, via The Mystical Experience Registry:
The gate was opened to me that in one quarter of an hour I saw and knew more than if I had been many years together at a university…For I saw and knew the being of all beings…I saw in myself all the three worlds, namely the divine…the dark…and the external and visible world..And I saw and knew the whole working essence, in the evil and the good and the original and the existence of each of them…
Can mystical experiences be taken to reveal reality? I think the answer is that certainly they can, at least to the extent any experiences can be taken to reveal reality. Mystical experiences, to me, provide a raw view of reality, at a higher level of concentration than the level of “ordinary,” sober experiences. For me there is a continuity between mystical experiences and “ordinary,” sober experiences. Mystical experiences, for me, are distinguished by the greatest vividness, the greatest density, the greatest intensity and certainty of awareness, and therefore I assume my mystical experiences to constitute particularly rich subjective views into reality.
Everybody who recalls having mystical experiences has the responsibility, if they choose to accept it, to figure out what if anything the experiences tell them about the world.
I think mystical experiences can appropriately be used as evidence to support philosophical conclusions. However, anybody who lacks the type of mystical experience used to support a conclusion is likely to find this type of argument for the conclusion unpersuasive.
The evidence (if any) which mystical experiences provide for conclusions seldom has much influence on people who did not themselves have the relevant experience(s). If I have a mystical experience A which appears to me to support philosophical conclusion X, and you yourself haven’t had an experience like A, does my report of having such an experience as A provide any evidence, for you, for conclusion X? Maybe so, maybe not. I certainly think you are free to conclude that it doesn’t provide evidence for you.
Can mystical experiences form the evidentiary basis for conclusions which transfer from person to person in a repeatable fashion? I think so. I think it requires that people repeatably be able to obtain mystical experiences which support the conclusions in question. That is, it requires chains of people inspiring each other to reach the same conclusions on the basis of reproducible types of experiences. I believe that religious and spiritual memes are often spread by means of processes much like this. Perhaps the same is true of some philosophical memes.
There is no doubt in my mind that sometimes people reach false conclusions on the basis of mystical experience. I assume it’s possible to find examples where different people have reached different, contradictory conclusions on the basis of mystical experience. This is true, for example, if somebody has had a mystical experience which they took to reveal that the Catholic Church teaches the only true religion of God, and somebody else has had a mystical experience which they took to reveal that Sunni Islam teaches the only true religion of God.
The proposition, that mystical experiences can lead people to false conclusions, does not in my view undermine the idea that mystical experiences can be regarded (along with other experiences) as views into the truth. People are able to misinterpret their experiences and overreach their evidence in all kinds of ways to arrive at false conclusions. I don’t think mystical experiences are any different in this regard, and I think this can explain why people arrive at false conclusions on the basis of mystical experiences.
What is harder to explain is how to tell when a mystical experience can reasonably be assumed to provide evidence for a conclusion. Mystical experiences are subjective. They can’t be adequately described in words. Their meaning can’t be analyzed with the machinery of logic. As such, if mystical experiences convey truth, one might assume that that truth can’t be adequately expressed in words or adequately analyzed with the machinery of logic. I think the Law of One is a truth of this nature; as I’ve interpreted the principle, it defies logic and renders words useless by entailing that every statement is true.
When all is said, whether or not a mystical experience supports a conclusion is going to be a matter of subjective judgment and personal opinion.
Verifying the Law of One
I believe the reader might arrive at the conclusion that the Law of One is true by producing and observing appropriate mystical experiences. I have met several people who have reached the same or similar conclusions as mine, inspired by mystical experiences of their own.
The quickest and easiest way you might try to get experiential evidence of the Law of One would be to induce a mystical state of consciousness and reflect on questions like, “who am I?” and “what is all this I am aware of?” and “what is that which is witnessing all this?” Contemplate the possible truth of the equations God = I, You = I, Subject = Object. Picture the universe as a single, indivisible object.
If you don’t know how to induce a mystical state of consciousness, the quickest and easiest way may be to take a hallucinogenic drug, such as (for example) LSD, magic mushrooms, nitrous oxide, DXM, or DMT, with an appropriate set and setting, I would do this exercise when you are alone and in a peaceful frame of mind.
This procedure is not perfect. Our sober selves are not necessarily ready to believe the conclusions of our drug-affected selves, and perhaps that skepticism is warranted. Therefore I offer no warranty of suitability for purpose for the quick and dirty method just described for verifying the Law of One.
I would suggest the following steps to a general individual wishing to embark on a laborious and life-encompassing effort of spiritual growth which I hypothesize will probably lead them to experiences confirming the truth of the Law of One, if it is true and the individual wants the truth of the matter. Following these steps entails a commitment to a life of spiritual growth which trends to color all moments. If you faithfully follow these steps and you do not receive confirmation of the Law of One, nonetheless I would suggest the thought that by faithfully following these steps you can hardly avoid receiving great spiritual, emotional, and intellectual rewards in this life (to say nothing of the afterlife). Therefore I suggest it would not be wasted effort even if you do not find my hypothesis to be true in your case.
- Take what steps may be needed to be in good physical fitness, as much as practicable.
- Shun dishonesty and immorality. As much as practicable, leave any situations you may be in which compel you to be morally corrupt, dishonest, or immoral.
- Lead a well-examined life marked by continual and deep self-scrutiny and moral reflection.
- Accept and love yourself, and accept and love those in your life, those in your thoughts, and all of existence.
- Continually work towards peace, progress, and higher levels of awareness in all aspects of your life.
- With faith and determination, practice meditation, concentration, and the deliberate raising of consciousness. Let this practice integrate ever more deeply and pervasively into your life.
- Do whatever things inspire the spirit in you.
- Let yourself go through life in a natural and unstudied manner.
- Reflect seriously and with single-pointed concentration on questions like:
- Who am I?
- What is all this that I am aware of?
- What is that which is witnessing all this?
Each of the steps 1-8 is a type of preparation which I believe will contribute to success in the spiritual exercise listed as step 9. Step 9 is an activity I hope will bring you to realization of the Law of One, if you are open to the possibility, and if the practice of the exercise is in the context of a path of seeking spiritual truth which encompasses and transforms one’s life and being.
The procedure I’m suggesting eventually requires total commitment of the self. Spiritual growth transforms one’s whole being. If it fails to do so, then I expect spiritual growth to be stopped. Spiritual growth transforms the mind and body, and in time it colors all moments.
The length of time the procedure takes to yield success at realizing the Law of One may vary. Such a realization might happen shortly after starting the procedure; or in a matter of months; or in a matter of years; or perhaps not at all.
Unfortunately I can’t guarantee this procedure will cause you to realize the Law of One. I merely predict that it should typically do so, if you’re genuinely interested in the truth of the matter, and you’re prepared and seeking to experience that truth.
Commitment to spiritual growth and practice led me to mystical consciousness which now colors all my experience. Today, by concentration I am able to reproduce at will the intuitions upon which I believe in the Law of One. For me these intuitions are a readily accessible mental proof of the Law of One. The intuitions are a synthesis of years of mystical and intellectual experience around the Law of One, in which I have questioned the idea intensely and from many angles.
Everybody who replicates these subjective insights will come to them by a different path, and I don’t doubt that different people’s subjective insights will always be subjectively different. My path to these insights has been by a spiritual growth process featuring an approximation of total commitment of the self. As awkward as it may be, I cannot prescribe a procedure for reproducing my conclusion which does not resemble the process I myself followed.
I do believe there are other ways of arriving at the conclusion which require less than whole-being commitment to spiritual growth. People may have mystical experiences spontaneously, and through the use of drugs, and as a consequence of difficult emotions, and from many other causes. A single mystical experience might cause somebody to believe in the Law of One. A more convincing kind of evidence is repeated mystical experiences evidencing the Law of One, and the ability to produce at will the intuitions that motivate the belief. Some people might have that type of evidence naturally.
For some readers, it might not be too hard to follow my steps because they are already following most of them. Such readers may already believe the Law of One. Or, they may be in a good position to try out my proposed exercises in step 9, and see if they obtain insight into the Law of One. They might do all this and conclude that the Law of One is false in one or more of the formulations I’ve mentioned.
I believe that the Law of One is a repeatable mystical insight, because the insight appears to have been repeated again and again in variants throughout history, and I have met several people of diverse histories who have had variants of the insight. I have never come across anybody who put the Law of One into words in just the way I have, interpreting it as logically entailing that every statement is true, but I don’t think that means the fundamental insight is new to me. The source which has given me the greatest philosophical inspiration around the Law of One is The Law of One, also known as the Ra material. This text, even if it is a work of fiction, is to me the greatest and most educational philosophical and psychological work I have experienced.
In all of this I see no way of reproducing the conclusion that the Law of One is true, which I can guarantee will work for anybody. I also see no way of falsifying or refuting the Law of One. I can understand the frustration this may cause Law of One skeptics to feel. I am unsure what comfort I can offer such a person. All I can say is that I’m honestly trying to convey reality as I see it, and I recognize in fairness that I may be in error, but if so I don’t and probably won’t recognize my error.
At the end of the day, those who want to believe the Law of One will believe it, and those who want to reject the Law of One will reject it. Whether the Law of One is true is not a question that has been settled by the scientific method. From my current perspective, it is a spiritual and philosophical question, to be decided by individuals, who will base their conclusions on subjective feelings at the end of the day.
I am curious to hear about anybody’s thoughts and experiences around the Law of One and/or mystical revelation.
An argument for the Law of One
The rest of this post provides another way of reaching the conclusion that the Law of One is true, by logical analysis and philosophical argumentation instead of by mysticism. The argument I’ll give does not force the reader to accept its conclusion. There are other alternative conclusions the reader can draw. I will present such alternative conclusions. I am not sure how many people will find this philosophical argument for the Law of One compelling in the absence of mystical experience of the Law of One.
I am interested to hear about your reaction to the following argument. I don’t know what to expect people to think about it.
The following argument for the Law of One can alternately be viewed as an explanation of why logical paradoxes happen.
In a nutshell, the perspective of the argument/explanation states: paradoxes allow us to prove the Law of One, and the Law of One explains why we observe paradoxes.
Explaining this requires some background on logic. Here I will present this in simplistic broad strokes. More detail can be found starting from the companion post, Paradoxes and the rules of logic.
Background on logic
A “statement” is a piece of language which can be true or false.
An “argument” consists of a series of statements, called premises, intended to support or provide evidence for another statement, the conclusion of the argument.
A “valid” argument is an argument such that it is logically necessary that if its premises are true, then its conclusion is true.
A central question in logic is: what arguments are valid?
The orthodox answer to this question is called classical logic. Classical logic is a species of rules for logic, which allows a wide class of ordinary language and formal language arguments to be analyzed as valid or not.
There are other species of rules for logic, which differently answer the question of what arguments are valid. These are so-called “non-classical logics.” For most non-classical logics, the set of arguments they deem valid is a subset of the set of arguments classical logic deems valid.
Classical logic has a consequence known as the principle of explosion. This is the fact that according to classical logic, from a contradictory set of premises one may validly infer any conclusion.
A contradiction is a statement of the form “P and not P.” For example, “I am alive and I am not alive.” According to classical logic, if a set of premises entails a contradiction, then those premises entail any statement. From the premise “I am alive and not alive,” classical logic says I can infer “the sky is purple.”
The orthodox understanding of this phenomenon is that contradictions cannot ever be true, and so if a set of premises entails a contradiction, then some of those premises are false. Given false premises, logic allows you to infer false conclusions. Garbage in, garbage out.
Committing oneself to classical logic and the orthodox understanding of the principle of explosion leads to challenges in dealing with logical paradoxes.
Here is a logical paradox. Consider the statement “this statement is false.” Is it true or false? If it’s true, then it’s false. If it’s false, then it’s false that it’s false, so it’s true. Classical logic says the statement is either true or false, and therefore it’s both true and false, and therefore every statement is true. This argument can be called the liar paradox.
This is a stunningly short argument for the conclusion that every statement is true, phrased in simple English, predicated on the background assumption that classical logic, as straightforwardly applied to English, is correct.
This argument might be taken as demonstrating that something about the background assumptions is wrong. This is the usual way of looking at things in the academic literature I’ve seen. One can say that classical logic is not correct, or that classical logic can’t be straightforwardly applied to English (but perhaps it can be cleverly applied to English in a way that deals with paradoxes).
In Paradoxes and the rules of logic I gave a refinement of the background assumptions which tries to use as little cleverness as possible. In short, I said that we should view the rules of classical logic not as being totally exceptionless, but as having occasional exceptions, in particular in the vicinity of paradoxes. I said these paradox-avoiding exceptions could safely be produced in an ad hoc manner, whenever one encounters contradiction-producing paradoxes such as the liar paradox.
Logical paradoxes as proofs of the Law of One
Now I wish to put forward a different way of looking at the meaning of the liar paradox. This is to view the liar paradox as proving that everything is true.
If the Law of One is true, in the extreme formulation which says that any two distinct things are identical, then everything is true. This conditional statement can be reached by a variety of arguments. Here is one. Suppose the Law of One is true. Let A be any statement. Let B be some true statement, e.g., “water contains hydrogen.” By the Law of One, A and B are the same thing. Since B is true, A is true. In other words, every statement is true.
The Law of One (in its logically extreme formulation), and the proposition that every statement is true, are logically interchangeable propositions, in the sense that each entails the other.
Belief in the Law of One, and belief in the liar paradox as a valid argument to the conclusion that every statement is true, cohere with each other. They provide two different routes (one mystical-logical and one purely logical) towards the conclusion that everything is true.
However, if one accepts every statement as true in every context, then it defeats the purpose of language. Statements are part of language. Language exists to serve life. Life has experiences of separateness and partiality. If separateness is an illusion, still it is an inescapable illusion for us.
Any notion of achieving a purpose supposes that there is something which now is not and later could be. Therefore all purposeful action supposes a lack of belief in the necessary future actual existence of some state of affairs.
For those reasons, one can’t always accept the perspective that everything is true. In some contexts, such as contexts where one is trying to achieve some purpose in the material world, it is appropriate not to assume that everything is true, but to assume that for the purposes at hand, only some things are true.
It is in such contexts — including most contexts — that I apply the perspective of Paradoxes and the rules of logic, according to which I reject the arbitrary statements that can be inferred from paradoxes, to retain a context where not everything is considered true.
It is in meditation that I apply the perspective that all is one and everything is true.
The energy of the thought of the unity of all things colors and enlivens my life from moment to moment.
That concludes my explanation of the perspective that logical paradoxes allow us to prove the Law of One, and the Law of One explains why we observe logical paradoxes.
There are many ways to look at the situation other than the one presented here. You can reject the Law of One. You can accept some way of looking at paradoxes that doesn’t involve assuming everything is true. You can ignore the issue of paradoxes.
I don’t claim to be proving this perspective. I’m offering this perspective for consideration. It appears to me to be the most elegant solution I’ve seen for solving and explaining paradoxes. It appears to me to be a successful theoretical integration of mystical intuitions which are very powerful in me, with a logical system of thought which appeared hard to reconcile with those intuitions. This perspective appears to me to be true to the best of my ability to discern truth, but that judgment is subjective.
The perspective of Paradoxes and the rules of logic, with its ad hoc method of rejecting contradictions, is free-standing from the perspective of this post. You can accept that post’s theory without accepting this post’s theory. I think that by taking that route you lose an intuitively grounded story about why we observe paradoxes.
Personally, I favor the perspective of this post because of my mystical intuitions. For me this whole investigation into paradoxes and logic has been motivated by the desire to better understand the Law of One and how it can be reconciled with logic. I have figured out to my own satisfaction how to reconcile the Law of One with logic. Are you satisfied?
I consider this project to have value from a mystical perspective, for bolstering the analytic philosophical defensibility of nondualism. I doubt if my reasoning will convert any skeptics who firmly don’t want to believe in mysticism, but I hope it will provide inspiration and clarity to people who perceive truth in nondualism.
Mystical arrogance and chauvinism
To my mind, there is one objection to the perspective I’ve laid out which is the biggest and stickiest. This perspective asserts the primacy of mystical consciousness — the distinctive consciousness which mystics are supposed to experience — as the best source of fundamental metaphysical truth available to humans. This can be viewed as chauvinist and arrogant.
Ayn Rand lays out the objection in the final chapter of Introduction to Objectivist Epistemology:
In the history of philosophy — with some very rare exceptions — epistemological theories have consisted of attempts to escape one or the other of the two fundamental questions which cannot be escaped. Men have been taught either that knowledge is impossible (skepticism) or that it is available without effort (mysticism). These two positions appear to be antagonists, but are, in fact, two variants on the same theme, two sides of the same fraudulent coin: the attempt to escape the responsibility of rational cognition and the absolutism of reality — the attempt to assert the primacy of consciousness over existence.
How do I respond to this objection?
It’s everybody’s choice how they regard mysticism, and how they regard the mystical philosophy I’ve shared in particular. People can choose to perceive the Law of One as true, or to perceive it as untrue. Those who don’t believe in mysticism are free to choose to view mystical philosophy as chauvinist and arrogant. Of course I may feel discouraged if people make this choice, but I don’t begrudge them their freedom.
Do I view mystical philosophy as at all chauvinist or arrogant? I think it easily can be. Perhaps it is always at least a little bit of each.
I have tried to minimize the arrogance and chauvinism of my mystical philosophy. I have spent the past seven years thinking about what I believe on the topic. I have tried to avoid arrogantly rushing to a conclusion. I am an ideologue without a doubt, but I have tried my best to be a stable, reasonable ideologue. I have sincerely and seriously tried to minimize the arrogance and chauvinism of my philosophy. I could have done more, by abandoning mysticism, but that’s not the choice I made. My success is yours to judge.
My belief in nondualism is fundamentally based on experience, on a type of feeling which feels like evidence. In another attempt to communicate this species of feeling, I want to point the reader to a song which to me conveys the sense of nondualism, in hopes the reader finds a similar perspective on the song.
Please enjoy the mystery of existence, and share your thoughts in the comments!