Radical skepticism and you

post by monktastic · 2019-02-06T20:41:53.044Z · score: -6 (6 votes) · LW · GW · None comments

Radical skepticism is the position that doubts everything. For example, there's no way to know whether the past really happened, or if everything sprang into being just now. Stranger yet, we cannot even say that a real past is "more likely." Any attempts to justify it are ultimately circular.

And yet this position seems useless, at best. It is evidently more practical to behave as though the past really happened, so there seems to be very little value in doubting it. But this overlooks an incredibly worthwhile use of the radically skeptical perspective. It is a use that I didn't fully appreciate before becoming a serious meditator.

Regular life generally feels mundane. There is an underlying feeling-tone of "been there, done that." I've sat in a chair many times before; looked at a computer screen god knows how many times; heard birds chirp for as long as I can remember. What's the big deal? Even if I understand intellectually that there's no reason to believe that any of that is true, some deep aspect of my mind is dead certain of it anyway.

When this unfounded certainty is interrupted, something extraordinary happens. It's like I'm alive for the first time (which, as far as I can ever know, I actually am). It wouldn't be a stretch to call the experience "magical" or "miraculous." It is accompanied by a pristine joy that doesn't depend on the particulars of what I am experiencing. And it cannot be even approximated while my metaphysical assumptions are still intact.

None of this precludes behaving as though the past were real. I still know how to work a computer, because that knowledge arises now, whether or not it really came from the past. Thus the fear that I won't be able to function without taking time literally is baseless.

There's a taboo against using words like "miracle"; it seems presumptuous to believe that just because we don't understand something now, that we never will. But if you can understand that there is no reason to take time (or similarly, space or matter) literally -- and that there never will be -- then it is possible to recognize that your experience of the (apparent) world is, in a meaningful and valuable sense, miraculous. And that is a sense worth (re)discovering.

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