Raja Yoga — The Way of Meditation (part of the 4 Yogas of Hinduism series!)

English: Kurt Friedrich Gödel (1906 – 1978)

Kurt Friedrich Gödel (1906 – 1978)

(4 Yogas Main) The Yoga of Meditation is for the experimental type.

The steps in this process are:

0. As a preliminary step learn physical stillness and mental focus.
1. Learn to direct the attention inward, shutting out the external world.
2. Focus on the object of meditation until there is no self, until forms dissolve.  There is then only the object of focus.

Buddhism can be classified as a kind of Raja Yoga, in much the same way Christianity can be considered a kind of Bhakti Yoga.

The disadvantage of this kind of yoga, of course, is that it is hard.  However, if you are the kind of person who likes abstract thought, you should know that it can be a vehicle to approach the Divine.

Kurt Godel is known for his incompleteness theorem, which proved that any non-contradictory form of proof could not demonstrate all possible truths expressible within its own system.

Godel is not known as a man of God, but that appear to be what he was.  He seems to have used a kind of “math yoga” to approach the Divine.

Rudy Rucker, before he became a science-fiction writer, was a mathematician who met with Godel several times.  This is of special value to us because Rucker was already leaning toward mysticism, and talked with Godel on the topic of using mental focus to contact the Absolute.

Rucker, in his Infinity and the Mind, reports asking Godel what he meant when he said he does “objective mathematics.”

Everyone believes that the Empire State Building is real, because it is possible for almost anyone to go and see it for himself.  By the same token, anyone who takes the trouble to learn some mathematics can “see” the set of natural numbers for himself.  So, Godel reasoned, it must be that the set of natural numbers has an independent existence as a certain abstract possibility of thought.

I asked him how best to perceive pure abstract possibility.  He said three things.  i) First one must close off the other senses, for instance, by lying down in a quiet place.  … ii) It is a mistake to let everyday reality condition possibility, and only to imagine the combinings and permutations of physical objects — the mind is capable of directly perceiving infinite sets. iii) The ultimate goal of such thought, and of all philosophy, is the perception of the Absolute.  Godel rounded off these comments with a remark on Plato: “When Plautus could fully perceive the Good, his philosophy ended.”

…The central teaching of mysticism is this:  Reality is One.  The practice of mysticism consists in finding ways to experience this higher unity directly.

The One has variously been called the Good, God, the Cosmos, the Mind … or (perhaps most neutrally) the Absolute.  No door in the labyrinthine castle of science opens directly onto the Absolute.  But if one understands the maze well enough, it is possible to jump out of the system and experience the Absolute for oneself. …

I asked  Godel if he believed there is a single Mind behind all the various appearances and activities of the world.

He replied that, yes, the Mind is the thing that is structured, but that the Mind exists independently of its individual properties.

I then asked if he believed that the Mind is everywhere, as opposed to being localized in the brains of people.

Godel replied, “Of course.  This is the basic mystic teaching.”

We talked a little set theory, and then I asked him my last question:  “What causes the illusion of the passage of time?”

Godel spoke not directly to this question, but to the question of what my question meant — that is, why anyone wuld even believe that there is a perceived passage of time at all.

He went on to relate the getting rid of belief in the passage of time to the struggle to experience the One Mind of mysticism.  Finally he said this:  “The illusion of the passage of time arises from the confusing of the given with the real.  Passage of time arises because we think of occupying different realities.  In fact, we occupy only different givens.  There is only one reality.”

I wanted to visit Godel again, but he told me that he was too ill.  In the middle of January 1978, I dreamed I was at his bedside.

There was a chessboard on the covers in front of him.  Godel reached his hand out and knocked the board over, tipping the men onto the floor.  The chessboard expanded to an infinite mathematical plane.  And then that, too, vanished.  There was a brief play of symbols, and then emptiness — an emptiness flooded with even white light.

The next day I learned that  Kurt Godel was dead.

It seems clear (if it wasn’t already intuitively clear) that the mathematics of the infinite, and mathematics that studies the structure of reason itself, can be used as a yogic vehicle for spiritual attainment.

To get a further sense of Godel’s way of thinking, consider that Rucker asked Godel about the possibility of time travel.

In order to destroy the time-bound notion of the universe as a series of evanescent frames on some cosmic movie screen, Godel actually constructed a mathematical description of a possible universe in which one can travel back through time.  His motivation was that if one can conceive of time-travelling to last year, then one is pretty well forced to admit the existence of something besides the immediate present.

I was disturbed by the traditional paradoxes inherent in time-travel.  What if I were to travel back in time and kill my past self?  If my past self died, then there would be no I to travel back in time, so I wouldn’t kill my past self after all.  So then the time-trip would take place and I would kill my past self.  And so on.  I was also disturbed by the fact that if the future is already there, then there is some sense in which our free will is an illusion.

Godel seemed to believe that not only is the future already there, but worse, that it is, in principle, possible to predict completely the actions of some given person.

I objected that if there were a completely accurate theory predicting my actions, then I could prove the theory false — by learning the theory and then doing the opposite of what it predicted.  According to my notes, Godel’s response went as follows:  “It should be possible to form a complete theory of human behavior, i.e., to predict from the hereditary and environmental givens what a person will do.  However, if a mischievous person learns of this theory, he can act in a way so as to negate it.  Hence I conclude that such a theory exists, but that no mischievous person will learn of it.  In the same way, time-travel is possible, but no person will  ever manage to kill his past self.”  Godel laughed his laugh then, and concluded, “The a priori is greatly neglected.  Logic is very powerful.”

Apropos of the free will question, on another occasion he said:

“There is no contradiction between free will and knowing in advance precisely what one will do.  If one knows oneself completely then this is the situation.  One does not deliberately do the opposite of what one wants.”

Breaking news here — Rucker has just put his original notes of his meeting with Godel online.  The scanned pdf is on his blog, and mirrored here on TiltedCandle.

Unlike his friend Albert Einstein, Godel believed in a personal God.  He also believed strongly in an afterlife.  He said that these things could be perceived directly.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: Introducing the 4 Yogas of Hinduism Series « TiltedCandle

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