The perception of epiphanies is considered to be central to the spiritual experience in religious circles.In modern times, people like J Krishnamurti, Ramana Maharshi are believed to perceive epiphanies.
This article tries to explain epiphanies in physical terms. It categorizes the existence into known, unknown and unknowable parts. While the everyday experiences fall into the category of “The Known”, epiphanies and super-natural powers can be viewed as “The Unknown”. The author argues there is a part of the existence that will never be known by humans. This part is called “The Unknowable”.
Epiphanies are also called revelations. Often, they are associated with a self-less state of mind. A common aspect reported about epiphanies is “direct sensory contact with external objects without the mediation of self”. This sensory contact is reported to be more “real” than the everyday reality. The self, mentioned here, is the ‘self-conscious center’ which is made of human thought. The ‘self’ oversees all the actions and thoughts of a person.
Composition of thought
The self is like a spindle woven with the thread of thought. The thought, in turn, is made of mental representations of external objects(eg: hill, tree), like words, images, and other sensory inputs like sounds, touch, smell and temperature. So, these sensory inputs are representative symbols of the actual real world objects. But, they are not the objects themselves. The symbols are extracted from an already completed interaction with the world. These symbols are of the past. Hence the thought is made of symbols from the past. Though made of thought, the self can view its own thoughts on the screen of consciousness.
The consciousness is like the light of a torch focused on a wall. Sitting inside the boat of the world, the consciousness always travels along with the stream called “the time of the world”, and hence it exists only in ‘present’. It contains images emanating from the real-time (present) events along with the thoughts of the past and conjectures about the future. If the mind does not store past images, all the thought vanishes. When the data base of thought does not exist, it can’t conjure future. Then the mind exists in present only. In that case, the consciousness is occupied by things of present alone. The boundaries between past, present and future are created by thought. Thought is stored in memory. The contents stored in the memory act as past. The projections made from the past act as future. When memory vanishes, the thought disappears. When memory vanishes so does the past. Thought disappears along with the past. When past disappears, its projection, i.e. the future also vanishes.
Without thought only ‘present’ exists from an individual’s point of view. The subjective time vanishes.
The consciousness travels along with external physical sequence of events. So, the consciousness travels with physical time.
Making of thought
Immediately after birth, an infant is not able to differentiate the objects in the external world from it’s self. Initially, when it starts getting sensory inputs, it perceives without recording much. After sometime it records the images sounds and so on. Once it learns the language, it tags the images, sounds and smells in its mind with the words and symbols of the language it has learnt. In the process of learning the language, it builds its small mental dictionary of words. Later, as a “grown up”, whenever it perceives an objects, it retrieves the corresponding word from its brain. So, the actual object shares the“screen of the consciousness” of the person with the verbal representation of it (the object) simultaneously. If a person’s vocabulary is week, and he does not know what a particular object is called as, then, he retrieves the image of the object from his mind. This image occupies the stage of his conscious mind along with the real object. There is no point of time where his consciousness is completely occupied with the real-time object without sharing it with a mental image.
Figure1: The Composition of Self
Suppose a person is following a flying bird with concentration. As long as he knows he is watching a bird, his consciousness is shared by the actual real-time bird with his mental representation of it. When the observer watches the bird without any interference from his mental images, he purely perceives the bird. When he is in a state of ‘pure-perception’, he even does not know it is a bird. Pure-perception is a state not colored by thought. So, there does not exist a perceiver in this state. If we take the analogy of a camcorder, the perceivers mind never directly operates in the simple ‘View only’ mode. The mind always mixes the previously recorded visuals with the real time images.
The Driving force behind ‘self’
Thought makes the self. The self of a man enhances the survival at individual level. Self is the amalgamation of human instincts, emotions, drives and wishes. The thought enabled by self, is used for planning ahead for a rainy day. It helps in better survival of human beings. It enables man to organize. It spurs the scientific inventions and all manmade things. But the flip side of thought is “the formation of a psychological world”. The psychological world separates man from the direct perception of reality. It perpetuates attitudes, feelings by storing their representative symbols in brain.
Epiphany and Effort
Effort in psychological domain can’t make man to get into a self-less state, as the effort originates from the self. Some people stumble into this state due to an unknown reason. Those people need not be pious. They may not be do-gooders. Science has not understood what triggers this state as yet. In this state, the world appears in a different light. That does not make it a Godly and mystical state.
Epiphanies and social relevance:
Are epiphanies useful in solving any social issue like poverty, environment, at least by making the individual contribute?
According to UG Krishnamurthi, epiphanies do not have ant political, religious or spiritual implications. Further a person may experience epiphanies despite his personality and character. So the societal problems need to be addressed by the political and religious leaders either at a system level or at an individual level.
Epiphany and Animals
Small animals in the lower echelons of evolution do not have thought. So, are they in an epiphany-like state? It is a possibility. Though, there is a difference. In humans, the Epiphany state co-exists with a thoughtful mind. The usual thoughtful mind springs into action on demand from external events. Once the self becomes active, it can retrieve the images stored during epiphany and play it. The playback from epiphany state is not an epiphany, for the self is there playing. In an epiphany state, though the images are stored, they are not played back. In an epiphany state there is no “knowing”, no “awareness”. It has only “pure-perception”.
Epiphany – Transmission
Can epiphany state be transmitted fully using words? No, epiphany needs absence of thoughts and thus absence of words. A wordless state can’t be transmitted using words.
Epiphany – Various Methods
Whether the selfless state can be reached through different methods like drugs, surgery of the brain, genetic engineering, or a new technique of meditation in future is a matter of conjecture.
The Super-natural and “The Unknown”
Some people claim super natural abilities like telepathy. Scientific consensus eluded these claims. Assuming such abilities exist, they could be due to phenomena not understood by science yet. Some persons attract iron with their body. Science has not understood the phenomenon yet. This state is also akin to the super natural powers claimed. Science may be able to prove it in the future. With the advent of nuero imaging it will not be impossible to prove or disprove such claims conclusively. Similar logic applies to all supernatural abilities of humans.
There is an unknowable part of the existence that humans may never know about. While the unknown part of the existence can be known by the advances in science and technology, unknowable parts can never be known by humans.
Limitations of human organism
Man is a biological organism that exists in a three dimensional world (Including time it’s a four dimensional world. A world with five or more dimensions is beyond the reach and existence of man, though theories like string theory postulate that). Its perceptions are limited by its senses, and its thought is made of electrochemical reactions. Man must have limitations in understanding and proving the phenomena that fall outside physical existence.
The universe made of Time
Big bang theory is the most popular theory that explains the origin of the universe. It proposes, “The space and time are created after the point of singularity,” and “the consequent causal chain has formed the universe that we live in today”. So according to this theory the universe in made ‘of’ time and space. It’s not made ’in’ time and space. The universe is made of the fabric of space-time like a tea cup made of porcelain. The rules about the forces of the universe are immutable and every rule is causally traced back to the singularity of big bang theory. Cause precedes effect. Cause and effect both happen in time. But, before big bang there was no time, there was no space, though that state is a bit difficult to imagine. Thus, there was no cause for the big bang.
The Universe made in Time
Alternately, it can be assumed that space and time existed before big bang. At this point, additional (five or more) dimensions can be proposed. The creation of universe can be assumed to have been done in the time that pertains to the fifth dimension. Even if the origin of the universe happened in a fifth dimension, still the question of what is the ‘cause of the cause’ that created universe remains. This argument can be extended to any number of dimensions. Assuming many numbers of dimensions does not take away the question “what caused the creator of the universe?”
The statement, “Universe is acausal,” though it sounds a bit awkward, can only answer the question about the origin of the existence. A thing without start or end is not that usual, but not difficult to explain logically. On the circumference of a ring, we can’t fix a starting point and ending point. They are imaginary. Modern quantum physics accepts acausal phenomena like vacuum fluctuations which are acausal. Though physical objects look stable, at a subatomic level virtual particles like electron-positron pairs are acausally created and destroyed on a microseconds scale. The worldly objects are like a river whose shape looks stable but whose content (water) keeps on changing at any point in time. An incident which looks a causal in a three dimensional world may be causal in a higher dimensional world.
Whether the universe is made”of time” or “in time”, the search for the origin of existence ends in an acausal root.
Time-collapse and super-time
A movie role while being played has its sequence of incidents and thus simulates time. To demonstrate the collapse of time, each frame of a movie role can be cut and all the frames can be spread on the floor of a room laterally. Now, for an observer, all the usually sequential incidents appear at the same instance. From the perspective of the observer, the incidents have no time gap between them. They just exist. The observer has access to any incident irrespective of its sequence. Similarly if we assume a super-time, all the happenings of the universe freeze into a single instance in super-time. They simply exist. They do not have a start or end.
The relation between the Known, The Unknown and The Unknowable
We humans are three dimensional creatures. We do not have access to five dimensions or beyond. We may propose concepts about the metaphysical world that has many dimensions (like string theory). We might prove them theoretically. But, to prove them practically we need to prove the theories about many dimensions in a three dimensional world ultimately. This is an impossible task. Thus, there will always be a world that can’t be perceived or understood by man. That’s the unknowable world or the Metaphysical world. Physical world is run by unchangeable rules. If God made the rules, we do not know why he does not change those rules. If God is part of that unknowable, metaphysical world he also must be undefinable.
Figure 2 : Physical world
Figure3: The existence
The physical world comprises of two parts. The Known and The Unknown. The progress in science and technology unravels The Unknown and explains it in terms of the known.
The existence is comprised of the physical world and the unknowable metaphysical world. “The Unknowable” can never be touched by the humans. The epiphanies and supernatural powers manifest within the boundaries of the physical world. Epiphanies are about direct perception. Direct perception with its all visual and audible processes, still falls in the realm of physicality. The triggers to the epiphanies and super natural powers could be either unknown or unknowable. The unknown triggers could be unraveled by science in the future. But the unknowable things that exist in metaphysical realm can never be understood by man.
Is God there?
Before saying yes or no to this question, one needs to define God. If God is indefinable, all aspects of him should be undefined. One can not say, “We can not understand his doings”, and still believe, “God is kind”, “God is powerful”. Etc.
If God is kind, the natural disasters and the subsequent destruction begs an explanation. If God is powerful, then his inability to change rules of nature stands unexplained.
Some people claim God is good, but the problem is with Man. These same people believe Man is made by God. If man is made by God, he owns the responsibility of Man’s deeds also.
One of the disclaimers of the believers is, “as Man has free will, God need not own the misdeeds of Man”. It’s debatable if man has a free-will, as his will is shaped by sundry circumstances and forces of nature.
Assuming man has free will, that free will is given by God. Again, God can not evade the responsibility.
If God is just a mechanism which does it’s action with out like or dislike, then he is similar to a physical rule.
The definition of good and bad are relative and circumstantial. They change depending on place and time. They are man made. They predate to the notion of God. Man has to have an idea of good. After that only he can assume God as an embodiment of goodness.