Everything is changing all the time; every “thing” is in flux; reality is in a constant state of becoming.
This is another easy-to-understand aspect of reality, one that has been disputed over the history of philosophy but widely accepted today in good part because of scientific findings over the past two centuries.
It forms the second of four legs of an elephant in the concept of reality that I am developing here. This metaphor is particularly apt for The Antibuddha because animal nature and understanding animal nature is central to my critique of Buddhism and idealism. And then it resonates all the more when considering the associations of the elephant in Indian culture with wisdom and of reality itself.
The Buddha was a forerunner in understanding that physical reality was one of constant change, or becoming,
what he referred to as impermanence. He in the East, and Heraclitus in the West who proposed roughly the same thing were contemporaneous. But while becoming is only one of the four legs of the elephant in my schema (along with materialism, determinism and wholism) it was essentially the only aspect of physical reality for the Buddha, as will see.
Now, while most people would readily agree that change is constant, even with the barest of scientific coursework, if they were to learn true ramifications of becoming, they might very well reconsider. The most salient is that in a world of incessant change, where everything is becoming, anything that does not change simply does not exist and any claims to the contrary. A strict understanding of that would mean that gods and other idealistic worldviews that state that perfection can be obtained could not possibly be true because perfection is a condition where change has stopped, and therefore contradictory.
Plato, who very much did understand this since it went against everything that he had proposed, went out of his way to condemn the concept. Since then, the leaders of the temples of idealism have stood guard to do the same helping the faithful to maintain their belief in, for example, in the infallibility of God, “mind” or enlightenment.
But they rarely need to expend much energy or thought to dissuade their followers from this since believers will either never encounter the objection or accept just about any defense against it.
Fortunately, there will always be those possessing native intelligence among the faithful, who are neither satisfied with nonsense, nor with nonsense explaining nonsense, and they will slip away… But they pose little threat as long as their numbers do not swell.
I am simplifying here, of course, consistent with my intention to cut to the quick whenever possible. There are numerous different versions of idealism each with its own closely argued rationale, so please study them in depth if you want to go mad.
But perhaps I can save you this experience by taking a brief look at a major idealistic position that at least begins as a secular phenomenon. That is the classic distinction, in Western philosophy, between mind and body.
As a general argument, it seems intuitive to think of the mind as separate and independent from the body
because this is how we believe we are experiencing this. Now, this has long been disproven philosophically and scientifically, but the feeling persists. We feel that we – the conscious mind and/or the self – are deciding what to do with this body we lug around, and that the same part of ourselves takes action and bears responsibility. This belief works as a readymade shorthand in daily life, but it becomes troublesome if we take it any further.
Religions and spiritual practices do take it further along with a slight, very easy to make, modification. The secular version of “mind” becomes associated with and conflated with “spirit” which is immaterial.
This happens almost sleight-of-hand so that no one notices that the secular concept of mind and how it operates is left behind as the spiritual version takes over.
Unfortunately, in reality, those two versions are constantly intertwined so that, in one way of putting it, the spiritual becomes innate to mental processes. The opposite occurs too although that is not as much of a concern.
But another point of attack about the unity of mind/body at one level and mental/material at another comes from critics of materialism who posit that the mind is too overwhelmingly complex to have somehow having arisen separately from material causes.
(The well-educated apologists for right-wing Christianity are well versed in this objection and apply this with great delight that they believe are discomfiting to secular humanists. They also have no problem using valid principles in one part of science to attack — weakly, of course, but enough to satisfy believers – another part, e.g. evolution).
Let’s listen in on a conversation for a moment between a materialist and his idealist counterpart.
When a materialist, let’s use me as an example, explains that the mind arose through evolution and so is based on physical processes, the idealist says, “please explain.”
When I respond that I cannot explain how thinking results from biochemical and neurochemical processes, the response is a loud exclamation: “you cannot explain it!”
When I say plenty of things are unexplainable, I’m accused of dodging the question.
But this is so silly to me that I feel that I am living in a different dimension than they are, but since I know that the simple truth will prevail, I now just accept that the idealists are living in the different dimension, the invisible one of their choosing.
In a simple model of reality, where physical processes are far from understood but their existence is undeniable, and where everything is changing, holding mind to be an enduring non-physical entity simply does not fit in. And as a practical matter, why add something to the proven simple basis of reality, when it only greatly complicates things and cannot be proven?
It’s okay to speculate, we want – we desperately need – more speculation than less, but it must serve the apprehension of reality, not detract from it.
I say this last sentence as a plea to my brothers and sisters who are so enraptured by magical metaphysics: come back, please, the world you left behind contains far more wonders than you could ever imagine.
Not knowing the physical basis of thinking is one such wonder. Nothing is lost if we state the obvious – that physical processes are at the origin and fundamental basis of reality. Then we can go on to rhapsodize about just one of the unexplained phenomena that so fill and enrich our world, if only we would let it.