If Ants Could Do Yoga: A Follow-Up Discussion
This hub is a follow-up to another essay I wrote called "On the Question of the Existence of God: A Mediation." I set out that previous discussion in response to a question posed by another hubber: Grace Marguerite Williams. She asked us to make a case either for the existence or non-existence of "God." I argued that human beings were in no position to say either way. That is to say, to my way of thinking, human beings can no more perceive "God," even if "He," "She," or "It" exists ---- any more than an ant can perceive the existence of a human being, separate and apart from the general environment the ant community functions in.
Ants are tiny, tiny, near-microscopic creatures with sub-atomically small eyes. I would imagine the perceptive scope of the ants could not possibly hope to encompass enough "reality" to include the perception of human giants, extracted as purposeful biological beings apart from "nature."
This being the case, I reasoned, even though we human beings clearly exist---as far as the ant community is concerned, we might as well not exist. The limited perceptive scope of the ants cannot take in our existence. Even if some ants "believe" that there is "something out there," they have no means of verification.
Even if some ants could do yoga and some of these experienced the mystical state of transcendence, or nirvana, or some such and they got an image in their minds of "that which is out there"----it is unlikely to be an accurate depiction of the human form.
At best the state of "nirvana" could only deliver upon those Enlightened ants an image of what they imagine to be "out there," an image of what they imagine "US" to be like. They can only get an image of an image because it is not possible for an ant to directly observe a human being. Again, because of the ant's terrifically limited perspective scope, the ant cannot even perceive a human being.
The image of an image of "US" delivered to the Enlightened ant is likely to be filtered through the particular culture of said ant, specific religious practice of said ant, and perhaps also other personal characteristics of said ant.
But of course, there are other big mammals on this Earth aside from us humans. To put it quite crudely: How could we know that the "Enlightened" ant is not perceiving the image of an image of a cat, or dog, or a chicken, or a cow, or a horse, and so and so forth?
Are you following me?
Since there are other big mammals "between" the ants and ourselves, the humans, how could we even have any idea "where" Enlightenment might take the senses of the nirvana ant?
Why the title for this essay, "If Ants Could Do Yoga"?
I argued that human beings stand in the same relative position to "God" that the ants do to us human beings. That is to say, even if "God" exists, "He," "She," or "It" might as well not exist; and if "God" does not exist, we cannot tell the difference.
Now, the idea of an ant doing yoga may seem preposterous, but many human beings do yoga; and they use it as a means---to oversimplify crudely---of trying to grasp or apprehend "God." The successful achievement of "Enlightenment" or "nirvana" is taken for "success"; one has, in some way, "contacted" "God."
But of course, at best, it can only be an image of an image of "God" refracted through culture and specific religious adherence, and possibly also, other personal characteristics. Again, this is because direct observation of "God" cannot be managed by human beings.
Furthermore, as is the case with the ant community----how can we know there are not other beings between us and "God," whoever he, she, it, or "they" may be? That is to say, how can we know that an Enlightened yoga practitioner has not made mental contact with a "Martian" as opposed to "God."
Does that make sense?
We interrupt this regularly scheduled broadcast to bring you this special bulletin! Actually, it is a marvelous quote I found in my notes. Its something from a famous yogi and author, one Gopi Krishna---from one of his books published in the early-1970s.
Apropos of what we're talking about, Krishna has this to say:
"The beatific vision cannot be a vision of God or union with Brahman, the Absolute, for the simple reason that the mental equipment of man and the consciousness that filters through it are too fragile and too dim, not even comparable to the faint glimmer of a tiny glowworm in an ocean of darkness, to have the capacity to apprehend, or commune with, the Almighty Creator of this staggering universe. Considering the fact that consciousness exhibits itself on earth in an innumerable variety of forms, from the infinitesimal sentience of a cell to the flood of awareness in man, are we certain that no higher state of consciousness is possible on our globe or does not exist in any other part of the universe? If we are not sure of it, how can we then presume that man has attained the highest summit of knowledge and touched the border from where the exclusive conscious domain of God begins(1)?"
I'd like to cite one other passage:
"The one important lesson, especially relevant to this age, which Yoga imparts is that the stupendous universe we live in is but a compartment in a mammoth edifice of which the other compartments are not perceptible to our senses. The other numerous compartments might be as vast or even vaster than the one discernible to us to the farthest limits of space, and they might be interpenetrating or overlapping each other without the inhabitants of one being aware of the proximity of the other. Just as some pictures show the face of one person from one side and that of another from the other, and of a third when viewed from the front, in the same way the universe, perceptible to our senses might be multifaced, that is, might have innumerable facets, presenting as it were a different form to each separate level of consciousness, appearing as an objective reality to a normal human mind and as a vanished dream to one in turiya. It is also possible that there might be innumerable other forms of life on different planes of consciousness, operating with different types of sensitive equipment" (2).
You know, the philosopher Renee Descartes (March 31, 1596 - February 11, 1650) had his "I think therefore I am" routine, as you may recall. The core assumption of his philosophy was the idea that it is impossible for a person to think of something that does not already exist (3).
That is what it boils down to; for some reason Descartes did not trust the five senses.
How can someone think of something that does not exist?
Well, today, in 2016 the answer is straightforward. The answer is that people think of things that do not yet exist all the time. The process is called invention. You think of a need. You think to yourself something like: Wouldn't be awesome if there was a device that could...?
And so on. But this is not an answer that couldn't have come easily to someone living in Descartes's time period of the first half of the seventeenth century.
Because capitalism does not take off until the 1780s, the start of what historian Joyce Appleby calls "The Relentless Revolution" (4). The age of constant, "relentless" invention only happens, basically, starting in the 1780s.
Descartes dies at least one-hundred-thirty years before the onset of constant, dynamic, mechanical innovation.
What on Earth am I talking about?
It's like this:
- There is a historian called Sven Beckert, who wrote a book called Empire of Cotton: A Global History, which was published in 2008 --- and I highly recommend it, for whatever my endorsement is worth.
- Dr. Beckert gave a book talk on C-Span, summarizing its theses and arguments, which was recorded by C-Span on February 5, 2015.
- In one point in that talk he revealed a remarkable fact: that as far as economic historians can tell, before the 1780s economic growth was one percent every six-hundred-fifty years.
- With the take off of capitalism in the 1780s, economic growth becomes a constant, regular feature of economic life, at least for Western Europeans.
- It was during this period where one innovation built on the one before it; and sparked a dozen others to boot. We're talking about innovations in transport, manufacturing, communications, finance, etc. This was an age for the mechanical, engineering types, not theoretical folks. Every time you turned around, just about, a new invention had sprung up.
- This was not the world Descartes lived in. He lived in a era, which, in comparative terms, things seemed to stay the same for a long, long, long, long time!
- It is my belief, then, that this is why, for Descartes (and his contemporaries), cogito ergo sum seemed to be unassailable common sense. It would not have been easy for a person of Descartes's time to imagine that people might invent things "out of thin air."
Does that make sense?
You know something? I did not talk about what I had intended to talk about in this essay. That ever happen to you?
Oh well, even so, there was more I had intended to say; but at well over 1500 words already --- nah! We'll pick this up some other time.
Thank you for reading!
1. Krishna, G. (1972). The Secret of Yoga (Religious Perspectives) (R.V. Anshen, Ed.). New York, N.Y. Kundalini Research Foundation. 39
2. ibid, 195-196
3. (2016, July 25). Rene Descartes. Retrieved July 27, 2016. (Wikipedia).
4. Appleby, Joyce. The Relentless Revolution: A History of Capitalism. W.W. Norton & Company, 2010.