When Isaac Asimov Missed Nonduality

The Last Question

I just finished reading Isaac Asimov’s beautiful SF short story “The Last Question.” I begin with my interpretation.

1. AC is the evolution of Consciousness into God. So, God becomes; it’s not the case that God is.

2. God is Supreme Intelligence just because God, as Supreme Intelligence, has answered the last question–namely, how to reverse entropy.

I argue that Asimov is stuck in becoming, in a model that still holds onto the Creator God as the first principle. Nondual metaphysics shows that this begs a basic question.

My Critique of Asimov

I think what Asimov got right is that there is a winding down of Universe X and the creation of a Universe Y. But here is where we begin to part ways since, on a nondual picture, the Supreme Intelligence is neither exhausted in the winding down nor fully expressed in the expansion. This Supreme is identical with the Universe (material cause) without being exhausted by the Universe (in this sense, it is “transcendent” but not transcendent in the terms of traditional Christianity). 

This morning I began reading a book on Kashmir Shaivism that, I felt, put the basic points quite well. 

Thus, in reality, the Universe is only an “expansion” of the Power of Parama Shiva Himself; or–to put it perhaps more correctly–of Parama Shiva in his aspect as Shakti [the power of manifestation–AT], by which aspect he both becomes and pervades the Universe thus produced, while yet He remains the ever transcendent Chaitanya [Universal, Pure Consciousness–AT] without in any way whatsoever being affected by the manifestation of a Universe.

J.C. Chatterji, Kashmir Shaivism, p. 5).

From this point of view, any Universe is regarded, metaphorically speaking, as an “opening out” or “experiencing out” of the Supreme. And this expanding out into a Universe while (a) totally pervading that Universe and yet (b) remaining untouched by manifestation precedes the contraction back into Itself as Itself. Chatterji again:

But it is not once that She thus opens herself out, or that She will gather herself up; nor is the present Universe the first and only one which has come into manifestation. On the contrary, there have been countless Universes before and there will be an equally countless number of them in the endless futurity of time–the Universes, thus produced, following one another and forming a series in which they are linked together by the relation of causal necessity (p. 6).

A metaphysic like the above helps to answer the logical question: what is it that makes possible manifestation in the first place? This is sometimes called the Unmanifest or the Unborn or the Unconditioned or the Groundless Ground. It’s the question that the Zen philosopher Masao Abe often put to the Catholic theologians he met: what is it that makes possible the creator God? 

In short, I think Asimov got a lot right about becoming, but he remained “uninquisitive” with respect to the ultimate question: what is the Whole, impartite, without change, without form, beyond space, beyond time? What is Pure Isness “prior to” all becoming?

Divine Beauty

Divine beauty–that of a rolling mountainscape, of a dancer’s gait, of a kind, matronly face–is the truth of the divine light shining forth in form.

The beautiful form, intimating the fullness of splendor, whispering its essence, entreats the tarrier.

But allow the eye of the heart to gaze through the form. Then the gaze and the gazer both are lost in the heart of the source. Lost forever, never to return.

I Shining As I

Question: Satcitananda: Yes, Being-Awareness-Peace. I have no doubt. But when I remotely try to explain (and only when people ask) I get wordy, stumble.

Answer 1

The nondual teaching, which is, at bottom, no-teaching, proceeds with the lightest possible touch.

Because you are Pure Awareness, the slow unwinding of the mind is all that is necessary for this to be entirely clear. Meaning: there is only the relaxation into the Quietness That Is.

But even this–namely, may you relax–may be saying too much since there is no one in needing of relaxing. So, the teaching may be even more direct: Be still.

Yet because the last directive may imply that one is somehow not still at Heart, the teaching may whisper just: Still.

Yet because that may imply the possibility of the non-stillness of Being (a contradiction), there is the highest no-teaching teaching of Silence (mauna). 

There is only abidance in and as I. I shining as I. Awareness awarenessing.

Answer 2

Who gets wordy? Who stumbles?

Answer 3


Answer 4

The roadrunner scoots up the desert willow.

Higher Reasoning: Does Ego Exist?

1. Ego is thought to be an enduring ‘something’ that persists throughout the changes undergone by this bodymind.

2. Ego occupies a peculiar position in a first respect: this ego must be married to this bodymind. That is, (a) it can’t be that bodymind A is married to egos X, Y, and Z. Nor (b) can it be that bodyminds A, B, and C are married to ego X. Nor (c) can it be that ego X first takes up bodymind A, then (i.e., successively) bodymind B, then C, and so forth. The relationship between ego X and bodymind A must be unique and ongoing for as long as this bodymind lives.

3. Ego occupies a peculiar position in other respects: (a) it can’t be exactly the same as bodymind A, yet (b) it can’t be totally different from bodymind A either. Moreover, (c) the ego must be self-identical (i.e., self-same) throughout the changes undergone by bodymind A. In a strange sense, the ego “hovers” “around” or “within” bodymind A.

4. Ego does not exist. (a) Ego is either exactly the same as bodymind A, or else it is totally different from bodymind A. (b) If it is exactly the same as bodymind A, then whenever any body part or mental part changes, the ego would change also. But it can’t change while still being a separate, enduring self. (c) If the ego is totally different from bodymind A, then there’s no way of establishing the uniqueness of the relationship between this ego (call it X) and bodymind A. And this for at least two reasons. In the first place, whenever we investigate ego in its own terms, we find no distinguishing marks that tell us that here is a limited, finite, individuated being. We only find awareness. In the second place, we discover no marks that connect it uniquely–or at all–with bodymind A, let alone to any bodymind whatsoever. There’s just no-thing here.

5. The only way to “salvage” ego is to accept that the I is permanent. But doing so involves severing the presumed marriage between I and bodymind A–as well as that between I and any other bodymind (like B, C, or D). What “occurs” is an “expansion” of I to the point at which it is understood to be all-encompassing, whole, complete. This is the Real Self, the only Self that is.

6. Of course, then it becomes clear that there is a self for bodymind A. That self is the Real Self. And the Real Self is also expressed fully in bodyminds B, C, D, …, n.

Does Ego Exist? An Exploration

We can use our conclusions from yesterday’s post to provide us with “the coordinates” we need in order to ascertain whether ego exists. Those coordinates are: direct experience and awareness.

What Is There?

For now, let’s say that “what there is” is direct experience (that is, whatever is arising right now) as well as awareness (which is rather like a space in which direct experience X is occurring).

Is There an Ego?

Our “logic” or “set of coordinates” can make short work of this question. If ego exists, then it must be (i) exactly the same as a direct experience or (ii) totally different from a direct experience.

Concerning (i): can you find an ego inside of a direct experience like a thought, a feeling, or a sensation? The answer is no: what you find is only the thought, or the feeling, or the sensation. That is, you find a tautology only: a thought is a thought, a feeling is a feeling, a sensation a sensation, etc. No ego entity identifiable.

Concerning (ii): can you find an ego outside of a direct experience? Answer: no. What you find is only awareness or “the space” of awareness. Check this.

But (i) and (ii) exhaust the universe of logical possibilities. Therefore, the ego does not exist.

Further Passes

Because the ego-illusion is sticky, especially in the cases of emotional contractions and physical tensions, we’ll need to take further passes at this question in order to arrive at the same conclusion. For now, let’s see whether this understanding loosens the grip on the belief that the ego exists.