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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Martin Erdmann is a German writer, poet, retired lecturer of Heidelberg University. He completed studies of English, French, and of legal science, both at the University of Heidelberg. He wrote several books in German focusing on the illusion of the I or Ego. As a cofounder of the German Spiritual Emergence Network (S. E. N) he provided counseling to people undergoing spiritual crises. For several years now he has conducted seminars on Advaita-Vedanta. (email: [email protected] Homepage:



Part I: Consciousness seen as Emptiness

Martin Erdmann


All inquiry into the whereabouts of consciousness is doomed to failure from its very beginning.

Consciousness is no-thing. It is pure emptiness, which can be seen with the eye of contemplation only. It cannot be seen with the eye of mind. This is the faculty of reasoning, which is employed by science to either affirm or negate a (causality of) consciousness, which is some-thing. This is, so the article tries to show, an erroneous notion of consciousness, which is not some-thing. Consciousness is no-thing. It is an emptiness, which cannot be seen with the eye of mind. The faculty of reasoning can, however, be employed to demonstrate that consciousness is no-thing. This is what the ensuing exposition wants to accomplish. Science by making an erroneous use of the faculty of reasoning, so I would like to show, tries to seek out some-thing where no-thing can be found. The result is a science, which turns around in a vicious circle like a dog trying to bite its tail. The reader is invited to employ his own eye of mind to decide whether any mistake has been made in the ensuing exposition. For the eye of contemplation to light up there are numerous methods of meditation to select from, as the reader will know. These practices, so I would like to add, are not the subject of this exposition. The article confines itself to employing a faculty, which the meditator, who frequents this Page, shares with the lucid scientist. This is the faculty of sound judgment.

Table of Contents

  1. Emptiness disclosed by using the faculty of reasoning
  2. Looking through Rubin's vase to envisage consciousness as emptiness
  3. Science tries to find consciousness where no-thing can be found
  4. The world seen as consciousness of the world
  5. The world seen as emptiness

1. Emptiness disclosed by using the faculty of reasoning

Consciousness, as I will try to show, is emptiness, is no-thing. It is not some-thing to be found in the world of relativity. It is the absolute to be seen with the eye of contemplation, which is a term employed by Ken Wilber in his own view of the subject matter.

In the normal waking state consciousness is not seen, as It is overshadowed by an incessant stream of thoughts flooding through our minds. A thought, whatever its content may be, is some-thing. So consciousness is permanently covered up by some-thing. Thus consciousness, which is no-thing, cannot be seen.

We normally do not doubt that man is endowed with the faculty of consciousness. Without consciousness we would not be cognizant of the objects of the world we live in. There would be no-thing to be reflected in our thoughts. Only some-thing we are conscious of can be perceived with our senses, can be seen with our mind. So we are persuaded that consciousness is some-thing that exists. What this some-thing is, we do not know. Still we are convinced of the presence of consciousness. Otherwise we would not be aware of the world we live in. This is the general understanding tacitly shared in our civilization.

What now follows is a scientific appraisal of consciousness as dealt with by Don Salmon in Shaving Visser, Goswami, Lane and Carter With Ockham's Razor. Salmon writes:

“In a previous Integral World essay (Shaving Science With Ockham's Razor) I suggested, along the lines of what James has written, that there are no scientific findings which preclude considering consciousness as a causal factor in the universe. Nor are there findings in any area of science—including quantum physics, parapsychology or near-death experience research—which require the consideration of consciousness as a causal factor. Both of these statements are in regard to current scientific methodology.”

We hear that consciousness can neither be established nor negated as a causal factor in the universe. This means that consciousness, no matter whether seen in a positive or a negative sense, is qualified as some-thing. So for science consciousness is always some-thing. This is what the scientific viewpoint has in common with a view of consciousness upheld by people in general.

Consciousness, however, is emptiness, is no-thing. Emptiness by its very nature cannot be perceived with the eye of flesh, cannot be seen with the eye of mind, to use a classification employed by Ken Wilber again. There is no way for consciousness to open up to the eye of mind as employed by our scientist. Consciousness is emptiness, which can only be seen with the eye of contemplation. It is no-thing. It is not some-thing, which can be viewed with the faculty of understanding, the lens through which our scientist looks to explore the world. No matter whether he sees consciousness in a positive or a negative sense our scientist incessantly aspires to seek out some-thing where no-thing can be seen. So he keeps on turning around in a vicious circle.

In the normal waking state the eye of contemplation is closed, is asleep. What is viewed in this state is always some-thing, is always an object as interpreted by a thought. Let us look at the world of objects first, to then turn to consciousness as such, which, as I will try to demonstrate, is no-thing, is empty of all objects and thoughts.

An object like a chair, for example, is there for everyone to be perceived visually, to be seen mentally as an object serving a specific function in his life. I know that the chair standing in my kitchen is there for me to sit on, to have the vegetarian pizza placed on the kitchen table in front of me. This would be a regular use of a chair. A less regular practice would be to stand on a chair, to reach up to a book may be placed on the upper shelf of a library cupboard.

There are other irregular uses to be made of a chair. You can, for example, firmly grab the leg of an antique chair to punch the back of the chair into the stomach of an unwanted visitor who sneaked into your apartment to steal the precious object. He wanted to see the chair in his own apartment, now he sees it in his own stomach. This is the karma he deserves, in case you believe in karma. I see David Lane does not, so his article The Infinite Regress, Why Karma Theory is Nonsense.

Here is another extra-ordinary use you can make of a chair. For this you will have to pick the chair of your choice, which is your favorite chair. This is the one, which you are most simply, most naturally drawn to. Let us say it is the chair standing in your living room, the black chair with a comfortable seat-cushion. this will be the chair we will select for our contemplative exercise. You are kindly invited to partake in it.

It is a practice, in which you are sitting on the ground, in a yogic posture or some other position you like. While sitting there, firm and relaxed, you just look at the chair. So your eyes gently come to rest on the soft seat-cushion. You then let your eyes move upwards to feast on the smooth back of the chair. Now you allow your awareness to pervade the color and style, while you dive into the chair's texture.

Modern physics explains that matter is energy. The chair, your flesh and bones are mostly space, with widely separated particles vibrating as probabilities. So you experience now your body and your chair as space vibrating. This is a state into which you become gradually absorbed until you feel your body energy dancing with the energy of the chair.

While you are still inwardly dancing you may engage in another practice, in which you lie on your back under the chair, exhaling and inhaling evenly, peacefully. Then you move your bent legs gently under the leather cushion to let your feet and calves glide up smoothly, softly touching the back of the chair.

What you now feel is love moving through your limbs, through the chair's back, while limbs and chair become so deeply intertwined that you no longer know what is legs and what is chair. There is only love that flows, soft and easy, fresh as the morning, one love shared not by two, because the chair has become you, while you have become the chair, in the Here and Nowhere.

This is the practice, which can take you to instant chair-like enlightenment. Because you truly like this chair, don't you? The chair on the picture I mean with the woman's legs and the chair's back joined together, merged as the One Energy. But maybe, dear reader, it is rather the woman under the chair, on which you adoringly peep, so I festively speak, with my tongue in my cheek.

Our chair was not precisely constructed for the punching purpose nor the yogic exercise as portrayed above. Now no matter whether employed for an ordinary or an extra-ordinary use, our chair is there to fulfill a specific function in our lives. This is enough to satisfy our curiosity. So for the practical purposes of our life, no question concerning the nature of a chair will arise.

This is not so for consciousness. Man in general is fully persuaded that there is consciousness. For him beyond a shadow of a doubt consciousness exists. In his normal waking state, however, he has never seen consciousness. So science steps in to deeply probe into the nature of consciousness. All these scientific endeavors have been undertaken to lay open the nature of a consciousness, which is some-thing. If it were not some-thing there would not be anything for science to deal with, either in an affirmative or in a dissenting sense. Consciousness, however, is not some-thing, it is no-thing. So there is no-thing to be found by the scientist in his ongoing explorations.

In its examination of consciousness science is built on a twofold assumption. First it is based on the preconceived notion that consciousness, no matter whether a causal factor or not, must be seen as some-thing. Otherwise we could not even speak of consciousness, neither in a positive nor in a negative sense. Secondly it is grounded on the premise that it must always be consciousness of some-thing. This is a twin fallacy underlying all scientific inquiries into the nature of consciousness.

Consciousness is not some-thing. It is pure emptiness. If consciousness were not emptiness there could not be consciousness of some-thing, so my own line of argument, which I will develop below.

It is an exploration, in which we will be using the eye of mind, which is our faculty of discrimination. Consciousness, which is no-thing, cannot be seen with the eye of mind. One can, however, employ the eye of mind to demonstrate that consciousness as such is no-thing, is pure emptiness. The next step will be to see emptiness, which is no-thing. For this we will have to engage in the appropriate methods of meditation, which are not the subject of this article, the parody of the chair-like enlightenment excluded.

What this essay is concerned with is the first step, which is to demonstrate that consciousness is no-thing. Now the reader of this article is invited to use his own faculty of understanding, of discrimination in order to see whether any mistake has been made in my train of thought, which goes like this.

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2. Looking through Rubin's vase to envisage consciousness as emptiness

I would like to argue that you can only be conscious of one thing at a time. You cannot see with your mind's eye two different things simultaneously. To substantiate the claim I made I would like to draw your attention to the reversible figure known as Rubin's vase, as portrayed on this page. You can see the picture either as two faces facing each other or as a vase. No matter how hard you will try there is no way for you to see the picture concurrently as a vase and as two faces. The vase is not a face and vice versa. The one excludes the other. Thus you see either one or the other. You cannot see vase and face both at the same time.

Let us assume first you see the vase. Then you see the two faces. For the two faces to appear in consciousness the picture of the vase must disappear. Consciousness must have been emptied of the vase, then only can the two faces light up. The faces cannot be brought to light in a consciousness filled with some-thing. If there were already consciousness of some-thing—of a vase or of anything else—the faces could not emerge for you to be seen. The very act of being conscious of some-thing prevents an-other thing from showing up in consciousness.

Consciousness must first be emptied of the thing it is occupied with for any-thing else to appear. If it were already filled with some-thing, no-thing else could arise in consciousness. So consciousness must be pure emptiness for any object, be it a vase, face or plate, to be seen. So I conclude that consciousness as such is emptiness. Now, is this a position you can embrace, dear reader, or are there any objections to above line of argument you would like to make?

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3. Science tries to find consciousness where no-thing can be found

The emptiness of consciousness, so continues my own line of reasoning, is not seen, because it is covered up by the incessant stream of thoughts flooding through our minds. As consciousness is not seen as such, a multitude of explorations probing into the nature of consciousness have been conducted in consciousness studies, with integralworld adding its own contributions to the ongoing debate.

A question, whatever its content may be, is a thought. So science inquiring into the nature of consciousness is occupied with a thought. The incessant stream of thoughts, however, covers up consciousness. This means that the thoughts employed by science bury the consciousness, which science wishes to lay open, to reveal.

In Shaving Science with Ockham's Razor: What, if anything, does science tell us about reality? Don Salmon refers to physicist Werner Heisenberg, who stated: "What we observe is not nature itself, but nature exposed to our method of questioning." In the context of above exploration this means: "What the scientist observes is not consciousness itself, but consciousness exposed to the scientist's method of questioning."

This is a method of questioning, which is built on the assumption that consciousness is some-thing, is an object that can be detected, can be seen as the result of a methodical exploration. It is also grounded on the premise that there is always consciousness of some-thing. Consciousness as such, however, is not some-thing, neither is it consciousness of something. It is pure emptiness. So there is no-thing to be seen with the eye of mind.

Thus science in its ongoing explorations goes around in a circle like a dog trying to bite its tail. At times it may get angrily exited, because its search has not arrived at the desired destination. So we hear a loud bark. Then it passionately continues in its circle with every step approaching the elusive part being a step away from the cherished goal.

Who is this barking?

Let us look at our dog now. We can see him graciously whirl around to get hold of the adored tail attached to his bum. We can watch our pupp chase in perfect circles until he has the beloved appendage in his mouth. Now we can see him lovingly bite his tail. We can observe our puppet lick and chew on it, which, so my own impression, is a warm, sensuous emotion to be enjoyed by our stinker. Look, he can also walk down the hall with the tail in his mouth and even climb on a table. His nose-to-tail behavior can be a hilarious performance, when he falls to the ground his tail still in his mouth. So we may conclude that the dog's spinning endeavors are always crowned with success.

Our scientist, so it seems, is not so lucky in his pursuit. Unlike our stinker he never gets in touch with the cherished part. While eagerly chasing around in his circles he always misses the consciousness, which he is trying to grasp. This is the crux of the problem. Science has a preconceived idea of a consciousness which is some-thing. So for consciousness to be disclosed, revealed, it endeavors to arrive at some-thing. Now consciousness, unlike our dog's tail, is not some-thing. So there is no-thing to be reached, no-thing to hold on to. Consciousness, which is emptied of all thought, cannot be captured by way of thought. Being devoid of all thought it evades a scientific inquiry, which feeds on thought as its very life-blood. So science is engaged in a self-defeating enterprise, in which every step approaching the cherished goal is a step away from it.

Consciousness is pure emptiness. So there is no-thing—outside or inside the human brain—to be brought to light. In a typical cerebral cortex there are 15—33 billion neurons, each connected by synapses to several thousand other neurons. Different states of consciousness—of dreaming, sleeping, of being hardly or fully awake—are accompanied by different neuronal activities.

Consciousness itself, however, can be detected neither inside nor outside the vast array of neurons assembled in the human brain. Consciousness, which is pure emptiness, can nowhere be found for the very sake of being empty of all location and space. Where no space can be located there is no time to be found. So we have a consciousness which is free from space and time.

The great void “exists independently of space and time�It can't be observed, tested, replicated, measured”, as the scientist attempts to do, who constantly peeps through the eye of mind, which is his revered faculty of reasoning. The deplorable result is a science “used to promote limited reductionist Western academic worldviews�which�reduce transrational awakening experiences to abnormal shifts in brain function and chemistry.”

All chemistry, whatever its nature may be, is some-thing. It is not emptiness. Shifts in brain function and chemistry merely accompany the awakened state of emptiness. They do not transform emptiness into some-thing. Consciousness remains the great void, which lies hidden for a science, which always holds on to some-thing. So “science has become the central obstacle to the successful individual and collective awakening of the human race”, argues Barclay Powers in The World's Most Dangerous Idea, with above quotes taken from his article.

What a wonderful obstacle, I would like to add, for the one who relishes in this scientific pursuit. It is a fascination though, which does not live up to blissful emptiness, in which all scientific aspirations have come to a halt. The passionate search for a scientific answer is a mere manifestation of a particular state of consciousness. Blissful emptiness is a different state, a non-state actually, in which the question does not manifest. So there is no reason for the cherished quest to arise.

“Frank Visser is correct”, states David Lane ["The Revenge of the Mysterians"], “when he cautions us not to look for an explanation of consciousness in the 'wrong location'.” This implies that there is a right location for consciousness to be discovered. For consciousness, however, there is no location to be tracked down. So the question as to a right or wrong location does not come up. All inquiry into the whereabouts of consciousness is doomed to failure from its very beginning. Once you have realized that consciousness is pure emptiness the question as to the right location of consciousness does not arise. It cannot come up, because there is no place, spot or site, where consciousness can be found.

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4. The world seen as consciousness of the world

Here is another point I would like to raise. I would like to argue that you can only speak, think of a world, because there is consciousness of the world you speak, think of. When I say the world disappears in deep dreamless sleep, there is consciousness of a world, which disappears. You cannot negate the world, nor any object of the world, without being conscious of the very thing you negate. No matter whether you speak of some-thing in a positive or in a negative sense, there is always consciousness of the thing you speak of. This means there is no way to step out of consciousness.

Frank Visser in 'Such stuff as dreams are made on': Reply to Salmon writes

Well, the notion of matter as independent from our mind is far from outrageous. The sun comes up every day, regardless if we, or at least somebody, looks at it. "The tides come in, the tides go out", as skeptic Michael Shermer phrases it. We have increasingly understood through science these regularities found in nature.

To think, to speak of the sun there must be consciousness of the sun, no matter whether the sun is shining or covered up by a cloud, no matter whether you or anybody else looks at the sun. What is valid for the sun holds true for Frank's tides. It applies to any other object for that matter. With no thought of the sun there is no sun to speak of. The thought of the sun, of any object or matter, cannot be divorced from the (eye of) mind. With no consciousness of the thought there is no thought. So sun and matter are consciousness of sun and matter.

All knowledge is consciousness of knowledge. I hold a stone in my hand, then I open the hand. So the stone, due to the law of gravity, falls to the ground. The law of gravity is consciousness of the law gravity. There is no objective knowledge as separate from consciousness. This would be a self-contradictory knowledge. So it wipes itself out of existence. This does not make the law of gravity a subjective knowledge. It is consciousness of the law of gravity beyond subject and object.

This shows that you can never step out of consciousness, as science tries to do by making consciousness a separate object of exploration. So it wishes to satisfy its thirst for knowledge. Now science does not feed on knowledge, it thrives on its yearning for knowledge. With all yearning and thirst satisfied science would die out. Now the scientist wishes to survive. He desires to live on as the scientist he considers himself to be. Seen from this perspective the scientist is well advised to keep on looking for a consciousness that cannot be found.

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5. The world seen as emptiness

Consciousness is emptiness. The world is consciousness of the world. So the world is emptiness of the world. This is what I will try to demonstrate in a Part II entitled: The world seen as emptiness. We will be using again our faculty of reasoning. Partially leaning on the renowned Mulamadhyamakarika composed by the great Nagarjuna I will try to demonstrate that the world exists only conventionally speaking. Seen ontologically the word does not exist. It is no-thing. Pure emptiness is the world.

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