From the final paper for the best Psychology class I had:
“Physical reality is nothing but an illusion, a hologram of the information that flows to us…” -Miho Iwakura
“Don’t worry, I’m still me.”
“Sometimes I wonder.”
-Lain & Yasuo Iwakura, Serial Experiments Lain
He stood there for a long time, alone and gazing down into the rising sound of rushing water. Fine droplets drizzled and drenched him, pelting weakly against his hood and slowly seeping in. Cars passed by, oblivious to his existence, illuminating him briefly before continuing along the lifestream of the city. He was lost by all meanings of the word. He had lost himself in the city, wandering dark alleys after bright boulevards till he came upon this bridge. In the middle of the bridge a light had gone out, providing the spot of darkness he thought was poetically apt. He had lost his this- and other-worldly possessions; most imporantly, he had lost himself. Where he was within that which he called himself he was not sure. He wasn’t even sure there was a self at all. Solitude he sought, and there he found it, there in an aphotic forgotten recess of the labyrinth of human complication. Rivulets of time trickled past him as he journeyed into what laid beyond, before, then back to the present.
He tried to focus on the darkness below, but there came only a mockery of absence. Every other way he looked, there was the city all about him. It must feel like something to be the city, he thought. After all, the city has similar elements to his own body. A decision making center sits centered on the city hall, shining in the dark as though it defied all darkness’s attempts to veil it. Execution of decisions sprawled throughout the city’s many veins and arteries of streets. The corporeal components of the organism known as a city are there, but where do you find the City? Try as he would, he could not think where the City was. He sought the answer by looking inside himself, but remembered he couldn’t find where he was either. Traversing all the neural pathways of his brain, he could almost sense his passage, but before he knew it, he had exited the brain and sped down his spine and out into his leg, shifting his stance.
Thinking of his passage through his brain, he could not help but remember the Buddhist story of Nagasena and King Milinda’s chariot. Nagasena, the Buddhist sage, questioned the King about what the chariot is. The chariot is not just the parts of the chariot, nor is it the arrangement of the parts. Even though the chariot was perfectly physical, what was lacking from it was the association of the physical components to the concept of the chariot itself. The self, Nagasena said, was like the chariot. Nagasena, he thought, lacked explanations. He climbed on the railing, sitting and quietly thinking to himself: the self is like the chariot? But how even then? The chariot is the same chariot second after second. But I, I am not the same self one moment to the next. My thoughts are different therefore my state must be different. I must exist as more than just relationships to my parts, since those relationships change, yet the self that I refer to remains the same.
Descartes was sure of his own existence since that was the only thing he could not doubt. Yet the senses are the only way through which I can confirm my relationship with the world and even with myself; he climbed down from the railing, now leaning over the darkness below; so if my senses could be fooled, so then could my sense of relation to myself. Then the “I” that I know, could it be other than that which I refer to when I say “I”?
If the self arises out of the relationship between the mind and the other things that the self consists of, then the self must contain more than just the corporeal body; The self must include the links between the concepts I have and the things they refer to. Then my memories of my parents, my home, the entire world, he thought, must be a part of me, for I hold them in my mind. If they are indeed a part of me, as they must for my self to make sense, then they are not real! What was real was outside his mind, and he felt easily detached, standing on a bridge in his mind. “It cannot be real,” he repeated to himself. He gripped the railing harder, till his knuckles turned white. But he was at a loss as to how he could ever reconcile the two thoughts. On the one hand, he needed to exist; on the other, the thought that his failing studies, the endless self-blame, and all that was wrong was naught but a flit of his imagination was supremely comforting. How odd it is, he wondered, that even in his existential quest, there came to be a choice between the world and I. Either there is an I created from the experiences and relationships with the world within me, or there is no I in the world without.
He thought about it some more and found that it made no sense. How can there be a real self if it is formed from relationships to the unreal world within him? The ghastly realization that the comfort he found also meant that he himself did not really exist surprised him. He tried to clench the railing even harder to reassure himself, but found it had gone. There was nothing he could grasp onto as the world without fell away from him. He was sickened by the feeling and tried to clench onto something, anything. But he had nothing real to stand on. Inevitably, he was dragged in by the necessities of cause and effect toward the blankness down below, an absence of the city, of the world, of himself. Invariably, he was headed toward a failure of existence. So be it, he thought. The world ends as an exercise in nihilism. Something nagged at him the entire distance as he fell into nothingness: if he was not real, what was doing the thinking then? The thought, like the noise of rushing water, grew and encompassed all of his being until all that he could see was the glaring question, if he was not real, how could there be consciousness? The noise grew ever louder until the deafening roar of his existence woke him to hear the sound of the Buddha laughing. And for an instant, he saw, or rather, felt his very existence as a self. All the billions of dimensions of himness surrounded him. He was not simply the relationship of him to everything else in the world; he was him, his relationships, and the world. Without context, he was meaningless. Yet without him, context was unreal. King Milinda’s chariot had to be more than the parts and relationships of the chariot; it must have a world in which to behave as a chariot. He was the world with him in it, and there couldn’t have been anything that wasn’t himself. In absolute solidarity he found infinite intimacy. In that instant, he glimpsed the Buddha, smiled, and reached Nirvana.