Thursday, October 19, 2006

Theory About Theories

To live a human life is to be engrossed in the ocean of theories. For example, right now you are engaged in this theory of reading someone's blog post. Later on, you may be dealing with another theory, the one that states that you are drinking a cup of coffee. And so on.

The trouble is, we take all these theories for granted. We take any theoretical proposition, such as that the earth is flat, or that the earth is round, or that the light consists of waves of energy, or that it consists of a stream of particles, or both, or neither, etc., and then believe it to be the absolute truth. Despite the fact that most of us have been forewarned, either by our religious and spiritual teacher, or by our scientists, that the nature of the evidence is at best very suspect, we still continue to disregard these advices.

So why do theories keep surfacing? The mind incessantly weaves patterns of activities, which are very deeply based on our intentions, seated at the core of our consciousness. It is a gross mistake to take those patterns as representing something real, something substantial. Better to recognize them as theories.

This is why Socrates exclaimed that unexamined life is not worth living. Basically, as we go down our chosen path in life, it is our responsibility not to leave any stone unturned.

What is a Theory?

Yes, but what exactly is a theory? According to Karl Popper, one of the leading thinkers in the 20th century philosophy, a theory is a falsifiable hypothesis.

For example, Newton's theoretical attempts at explaining how the reality works are valid theories, because they are falsifiable -- there is a conceivable set of circumstances that could falsify his claims (this actually did happen with Einstein's introduction of the Theory of Relativity, which completely falsifies Newton's view of the universe).

On the other hand, Freud's hypothesis that lead to the formulation of Psychoanalysis does not qualify as being a proper theory, because it is not falsifiable. In other words, one cannot imagine a set of circumstances that could disprove Freud's claims that a person's psyche is completely determined by the events that occurred during that person's early childhood.

What is a Theory About Theories?

A 'theory about theories' is simply just another word for 'Buddhist practice'. Our practice is nothing else but one continuous awareness about theories.

Through cultivating this awareness that each and every pattern emanating from our minds could be viewed as a theory, and is thus falsifiable, we cultivate pure and complete liberation. Only a person who is constantly aware of the theories surrounding each and every activity around us, can taste the unsurpassed sweetness of total liberation.

This culture of 'theory about theories' is the ultimate knowledge about the impossibility of knowing anything. As such, it is utterly liberating. Nothing ever gets spared from its penetrating gaze.

For example, I have undergone, through my intense Buddhist practice, the experience of enlightenment. I can pinpoint the exact place in space and time where this all encompassing and obliterating experience occurred. I have indeed experienced that state which people refer to as satori, or nirvana, the everlasting and the most profound peace.

But all along I'm perfectly aware that this experience is just a theory. I don't view it as being something real, something substantial. It is just another in the series of experiences that need to be examined. It is just another of the theories that need to be subsumed in our practice of 'theories about theories'.

Why is this practice so powerful, so as to surpass even the highest achievements of the divine celestial beings? The reason is simple -- 'theory about theories' has the power to short-circuit any attempts at the runaway escalation of the meta levels. Simply put, even though it is possible to have a theory about theories, it would be impossible to have a theory about a theory about theories, and so on.

Any such attempt immediately collapses to the one and only 'theory about theories'.