Intra Inter Media
We breach as a whale breaches. We simply say “it’s breaching”, leaving the object implicit. Of course it is the boundary of the water. Of course it is the boundary of the concrete. Only in our case there are not two sections partitioned by a surface. Or, we could imagine the surface at the very bottom. To move at all is to breach.
We breach as of a contract. We breathe by violating. Inhale ephemeral, exhale not-ephemeral. The surface ruptures and is restored after we go back under. But, maybe not so faithfully. It is not as easy as water, not as fluid, and we come back to the same rupture to breach again.
We breach as of a defense. We want to get to the other side. What’s there? We are only infracting. We must go back under. The violator is caught and punished. The whale does not float nor fly. …Still, we must breathe. We must be free. There is something we need on the other side. We breach.
Subtle and Secular
Tripartite body: corpus, animus, spiritus; nirmanakaya, sambkogakaya, dharmakaya. So, we have an axis of “ephemerality”, dense to subtle. Two surfaces and an intermediate. Maybe there are “surfaces” only because extremes are easier to grasp. A distant thing gestured at vaguely seems concrete. Clouds seem to have a “surface” from far away. But we breach––what’s there?
What is “subtle” or “energy” body? What is the “astral” plane? If these are the same, in that ancient magical and spiritual traditions talk about them similarly yet specifically, it may be more direct to answer: “Is ‘energy’ the same thing as concept or imagination?” Or, “Is contemporary secular meta-abstraction the same kind of thing as ancient magic and spiritualism?”
But first, “How weird are the limits of possible experience?” There is no relevant reality beyond what could ever be perceived (including indirectly), but what I have experienced already is not an ideal measure of what I could possibly experience ever.
As for experiences I’ve already had that many people would not believe: I have communicated with spirits which verified their separateness from my own imagination with minor miracles like telling me trivial details about the near future. I have had very specific prayers answered outside of what seems normal. I have met a sage whose presence was categorically unlike anyone else I’ve ever known; looking into his eyes for the first time transfixed and disoriented me kind of like a psychedelic onset but much faster. I have seen him demonstrate effective prophecy and “magical” herbal medicine from his family lineage. I have seen spiritual possession and performed an exorcism, or at least someone I knew reported hallucinatory experiences resembling what I understand about possession, and my exorcism worked to stop their rampage.
As for what I’ve heard and believe: My mom tells me my grandmother was supernaturally skilled at qigong but my grandfather made her stop because it began to seem scary, even demonic. She also tells a story of a dead relative’s face appearing clearly in a photo, and the photographer being asked to burn the photo. The root lama of the Vajrayana lineage my teacher belongs to remembers details of his past life and has clairvoyant dreams, and has been in the presence of many great sages with a presence similar to the sage I knew, and who also demonstrated miracles like clairvoyance and prophecy. My Vajrayana teacher also says that the rainbow body phenomenon happens literally.
So here is my lower bound for “How weird are the limits of possible experience?”, and to try at an upper bound, we return to the other questions. Reworded: “How mundane is the ‘energetic’, ‘subtle’, or ‘astral’? How much of it have I already experienced?”
A quasi-Socratic dialogue between an imperfect teacher and an impatient student:
Impatient: Is energy the same as concept or imagination?
Imperfect: No, because your ability to conceptualize or imagine is local and limited. It is not necessarily causal, nor necessarily has any influence outside of itself unless you act on it. Sometimes you are wrong or totally deluded, etc.
Impatient: Then, is energy of the “stuff” as concept or imagination? Or of the same category?
Imperfect: No, because the “stuff” of your concept or imagination is just for example, neural tissue, probably. As for category, of course it just depends on where you draw the categories.
Impatient: Then, is the relationship between “energy” and all of the physical realm the same as the relationship between my concept and imagination and my physical body?
Imperfect: No, because in many ways your physical body is not readily comparable to the physical stuff beyond it. Maybe as above, so below, but only to a certain extent.
Impatient: Then, is it worthwhile to practice astrology and magic and other supernatural methods to manipulate the physical realm via manipulation of the astral realm?
Imperfect: No, because I am not a powerful magician. If you have gotten to a point where you can get nothing further out of magical texts, nor know any teacher who can teach you any more beyond what you can figure out for yourself, then it’s pretty futile to try and keep squeezing. Besides, there are other easier, more effective ways of getting what you want in the physical realm.
Impatient: Then, is secular theory like statistics or physics categorically the same as magical theory like astrology or alchemy?
Imperfect: No, in all the obvious ways. Just read any statistics treatise vs. any alchemy treatise, and when you understand both the differences are very apparent.
Impatient: Then, is ancient “magical” theory worthless now that we have stuff like statistics and physics and computer science?
Imperfect: No, because contemporary theory is also very limited, especially in its scope. Also, it is quite severely swayed by fashions, which inevitably tend to be shorter than the cycles of fashion in “ancient magical” theory, because as a whole it is more oriented toward the present than toward the general.
Impatient: Then, is there any definite discernible distinction between the “subtle” or “magical” vs the more mundane or secular stuff that extends beyond the physical? Stuff like concept or theory or imagination, after all?
Ablation and Abstraction
For the Latin tripartite body the etymology is quite obvious. For the Sanskrit, roughly, nirmanakaya is change-body, sambkogakaya is bliss-body, and dharmakaya is nature-body. Change as in metamorphosis; change as forms change, as material things are impermanent, as physical reality is always in a state of flux. Bliss as in pleasure, enjoyment; a certain sensation and state of mind, most evidently ecstatic when it is first discovered, maybe when constant conceptual thought has been cast away for the first time. “Dharma” is already a more common word; maybe it’s enough. Nature as in “the nature of things”; perhaps 道 (dao); law as in “law of nature”.
Why are there three bodies rather than two? Again, “what is the ‘subtle’ or ‘energetic’?” But now we approach an answer through ablation. What would it be like without each body?
But we are quickly stuck. The bodies are not separate from one another. There is an intertwining that makes separation impossible. Except intertwining implies a geometry. Is the ephemeral geometric? Sometimes obviously. Trivially, geometry itself is ephemeral and geometric. Then, as long as we have distance we have geometry, and as long as we have measure between pairs, we have distance. I have written before about certain geometric perspectives on a tripartite body. But this intertwining is not especially part of that; so perhaps we should merely say “inseparable.”
But then, why have three bodies? In fact, why have three bodies rather than one? If we cannot have the direct ablation, let us ablate our relationship to the idea, which is different from the idea itself. Let’s say we have only an idea of the corpus. Without the concept of animus or spiritus, we do not grasp pattern or dynamics. Everything is merely as it is perceived, in that moment. There is no memory, and no induction.
With the same technique we can ablate our understanding of animus or of spiritus to understand why there are three bodies instead of two. Again I want to emphasize that the relationship to the idea is not identical to the signified of the idea as a signifier. The signified thing cannot really be productively ablated even in the thought experiment, for at least two reasons:
1. It requires too much understanding of everything else––how would the dynamics of a physical system change if we ablated gravity? Well, we would have to understand all the forces other than gravity to say. On the other hand, it is much easier to answer “what would we think about the system if we did not understand gravity?”, because we have a better grasp of everything else we already know.
2. The nature of the signified is already often uncertain. Abstractions can be vague. Even if given an answer to “what if this is removed?”, we might not be able to agree if it is correct. This is why there was a big shift in fashion to philosophy of language, and why mystics often emphasized how the domain of mystic manipulation is merely the symbolic. If our power is from towers of abstraction, we do not touch the “real” directly.
So, what is it like to have concept of corpus and spiritus, but not animus; or corpus and animus, but not spiritus? Animus is often associated with mind. The tripartite division is also given as body, spirit, and soul. Perhaps the easiest split is animus as dynamics and spiritus as teleology. Without spiritus, there are physical things in motion, but no identities. There is memory and prediction of specific dynamics, but no “character”. Without animus, there are coherent characters, but no understanding of dynamics. I think this is why perception and control of the “subtle body”, referring to the animus, is often emphasized as a goal of meditative practice. To master the subtle body is to directly master behavior.
Immediate and Intermediate
There are deeper consequences. Why is the subtle body so difficult to master if it is more direct? Shouldn’t spiritus/dharmakaya be more abstruse in a secular world? Well, maybe the answer is quite obvious. Perhaps secularism isn’t so secular after all. It is still too easy to grasp to identities and reifications. Conscious thought, even when secular, is more often the manipulation of spiritus-bodies than animus-bodies. Part of the difficulty is that the animus-plane––the “astral” or “energy” plane cannot be directly talked about, for a rather simple reason: because to name is to reify as a spiritus.
But then the aim of “subtle body” meditations or practices is rather clear after all. It cannot be talked about, not because of some woo woo, but because that to be noticed and mastered is the dynamics, rather than the verbal idea of the dynamics. As long as it is in words or fixed concepts, it is wrong. And attainment is known by its fruit; new motions, new behaviors; perhaps, new correct predictions from new (nameable) angles; new animus.
And there are radical consequences in turning this understanding, developed in introspective meditation, out on the world again. As above so below type beat. What are the animus and spiritus of something non-human? At first glance this may actually be easier to answer––the animus is its behavior, and the spiritus its abstract identity. But remember how animus and spiritus each feel, and perhaps it becomes possible to empathize with non-humans. How much difference is there between your experience of uncontrollable desire (a mechanical behavior pattern), and an animal’s or machine’s, or any object in motion?
And then spiritus; does the perception and manipulation of it, and especially its great immediacy, make us unique? But the child who has not learned to abstract through assimilation and accommodation and such things is often an ideal symbol of mystic attainment. Becoming animal-like or child-like, becoming natural. Or in Deleuzian terms, becoming-schizo, refusing the Oedipal complex. Being aware of the flows and mechanical assemblages, of being part of them… Why do we hold it high?
Let me make a geometric image again. The intermediate is between each extreme, but it is beyond each extreme if you consider an approach from outside a surface, as if to breach it. In our case, perhaps a tube of three segments twisted into a horseshoe: both corpus and spiritus are immediate, but animus is intermediate, therefore beyond, and a little unnatural.
Subjective and Stochastic
Another confusion within the ephemeral came up in a recent conversation with some hedge fund people. Your concrete and total omniscience is opposed by subjectivity and stochasticity both, but these two are quite different.
The conversation was about evaluating financial models or signals, and deciding when a model can be trusted enough to be put into production, or an instrument based on it sold. I have seen similar confusions elsewhere though, most famously in the confusion between whether Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle is about knowledge or about physical systems.
Again there is a conflation between our relationship to a concept vs to what the concept is supposed to signify. Subjectivity is about the impossibility of universal certainty due to differences in frames of reference. You cannot get a definite universal answer to a subjective question because you will get different answers if you change your frame of reference. Different people will have different answers, if you will, but e.g. someone asked twice might count as different people, if they have changed very much. Meanwhile, stochasticity is about the impossibility of universal certainty due to the generating function being non-deterministic, regardless of frame of reference. The same question asked (or measurement taken) in exactly the same context has a different answer each time.
But again we only have our relationship to context to manipulate. We only actually have our own frame of reference after all. We do not actually know every aspect of the context, so maybe we cannot tell if we are receiving different answers because the context has changed or not. Nonetheless we should relate differently to the subjective vs the stochastic, insofar as we can conceive of them.
For example, subjective but non-stochastic information is concretely knowable conditioned on a frame of reference. For the hedge fund’s models especially, it is entirely different to consider an indicator’s quality uncertain because it is subjective vs stochastic, and each warrants specific approaches. If it is subjective, then it is a just matter of knowing what customers want, or of knowing whose opinions matter, in the case of internal “customers”. If it is stochastic, then perhaps that stochasticity itself can be quantized, and reduced if that is important.
But complications clearly emerge from only having direct access to one subjective frame. Things are not so easy and there are rarely just “just”s. The matter of resolving stochasticity is inevitably a social matter, because even “stochasticity” or “subjectivity” are themselves concepts which we are relating to, as (tripartite) bodies in the world. To pursue concrete knowledge is an act. To be convinced of truth is a sensation. Maybe we do not agree on the conclusion until we agree on the premise, but there is is no root cause, and everything circles back on everything else.
Math and Metaphor
Circling back, evoking dependent origination. Evoking the “magical manifestation matrix”, or the Avatamsaka sutra. Mirrors in mirrors, fractal structure, dazzling and kaleidoscopic.
But––fractal structure. Must it be dazzling and kaleidoscopic? So many people fancy it. It is profound. It becomes a theme and object of obsession. But fractal is also “just” a mathematical concept. A generalization of dimensionality. Well, dimensionality is something people obsess over too. Concepts really cannot be separated from our human relation with them after all. Frequencies, oscillations, energy levels1As in, solutions to the Thomson problem, entropy… Even Pythagoras was a mystic.
But, with a rigorously-defined mathematical concept, there is a coherent sense of applying it correctly or incorrectly2Maybe more accurately, canonically or non-canonically. There is the beauty of abstraction and generality, but different from poetic generalization or analogy where for the most part anything goes as long as it works in the latter (the poetic) context. The application of a mathematical concept beyond the context of its original derivation is not really like metaphor. In metaphor, the original doesn’t really matter; it’s the metaphorical application itself that counts. As long as the analogy is understood, it is good.
Meanwhile, mathematical abstractions define the criteria of generalization within their originals. Or at least we expect that in the future, someone can do so in a way that we do not expect for poetic metaphor. We can generalize the concept of distance beyond the square root of the sum of squared distance on each axis as in Euclidean space, to elliptic or hyperbolic distance for instance, or even “spaces” with a less obviously intuitive spatial metaphor, like Hamming or Chebyshev distance.
As long as we can have pairwise measure, we can have distance, and we can have a geometry. But still the abstraction of “measure” is defined in a way that goes beyond its specific application in each instance. We do not expect a poet using verbal metaphor to define the rules of her use, and for each use of metaphor to simultaneously prescribe a new category of appropriate use. A poet can imitate a metaphor she has seen elsewhere, but this imitation of the instance is not the application of an abstraction specified by the predecessor.
And it is very different to use a concept mathematically vs metaphorically, even a concept by the same name. Again, the difference is in whether the context of interpretation is specified by the original or by the application. Fractals, frequencies, energy levels, entropy, etc. when applied metaphorically should not be expected to behave like their mathematical formulations beyond the scope of the metaphorical context, just as we would not stretch any other metaphor too far, and expect the metaphorical object to behave totally like the original.
I have tried to always be clear about when I am using a mathematical concept mathematically, and to make the necessary elaborations and definitions to be canonically formalizable if necessary. In fact, similar rules apply to the use of other canonical contexts established by the original rather than the application, and I have tried to be clear about these as well.
Extra Inter Media
Finally, I would like to say a few things about my current inter-mediate situation. I incorporated a company earlier this year, and was consulting for a hedge fund the past few months. Now I have decided not to do consultancy-like things at least for a little while, and might raise a small round to build a specific product, which I might write about soon.
I stopped writing for a long time because I had nothing to say, and then recently I wrote a few things again because of tumultuous love. I very much like being in love, and I at least like the beauty of turmoil in its aftermath, if not its sensation. I also wrote several more private letters, which I have said before are really my favorite among all the things I write. I might publish them eventually.
Cultivating “same taste” in a total and radical sense seems like it might be a little extreme, but my opinion here isn’t very solid, and I have begun a mentorship under a certain Vajrayana teacher. My decision here was surely related to the tumultuous love, but not completely. There’s not much more to say about this; it’s a lot like what I expected, which maybe is bad, but it’s early.
Also, I think my interests have again shifted away from most of my friends and followers. This means I expect even less people than before to understand what I write as wholes (even less, as one whole), and anybody who understands in wholes to understand less particulars. Sometimes I have grandiose delusional fantasies about being rediscovered many generations after death and having many scholars devoted to a thorough exegesis. It’s fun.
Maybe when I am older I will do something like Bach compiling his favorite compositions into the Mass in B minor. But, I might also start making more exoteric media. I subtitled this blog “eclectic esoterica, exoterically”, but it has not very exoteric after all. I think I’ll try making YouTube videos (haha I’m inter-media get it haha), maybe starting with explanations of my old discoveries like the correspondence between the Taijitu and the Kabbalist Tree of Life, or that dialetheistic fuzzy logic with -1 as the falsy value. If you know a lot about making videos and have recommendations for good resources, please let me know.