The World Without Me

By instinct I am the center of my world. What happens to me and those I identify with feels like the most important things in the world.

I know I am only a speck in the universe. There are billions of other humans, of whom I know maybe a few hundred personally.

This is hard to hold onto: that for those billions of other humans, and for the billions of other nonhuman animals, it is as if I don’t exist. My toothache or life threatening illness or financial problems or self esteem concerns don’t matter to them at all. I could die right now, or be in excruciating pain, or be riddled with anxiety over my appearance or social position, and it won’t make any difference to them. Their lives move on as if nothing happened, propelled only by the concerns of their lives.

Can I blame them for this negligence or uncaring attitude towards me? How can I? I am equally uncaring towards them. Even the thousands living in my neighborhood are but for me neighbors in my life, devoid for me of any concern beyond being my neighbors.

Nor can it be different. Can I keep in mind all 70,000 people who live in my city? Maybe if I were a computer with large processing powers. Still, that would be to track them as in a database. Can I care about their lives personally the way I care about me and those I know personally? Of course not.

To be conscious is to have a limited awareness.

Fame appeals because it allows for the illusion of overcoming this brute reality. If I am famous, my death, my pain, my joy, my life matters to millions. Matters objectively. Matters really. Or so it seems.

It feels if I am famous, then others will know me the way I really am. But of course this is not true.

I think about many famous people. Obama. Trump. Gandhi. Jesus. My life doesn’t and didn’t affect them. Their life affects and affected mine. Still, for me it is not their lives as they live them that matters. But their lives as it affects me that matters to me. They are in my life the way my neighbors are. As contours in my life. God himself is experienced most of the time as my God, based on how he manifests in the world of my concerns.

There is no caring for all people. To keep them in mind. That is an illusion, like fame.

What I can do is try to still the me-ness implicit in my perceptions and thoughts. To be more aware of the world in which I don’t exist. To embrace my own limitedness, and that of any conscious being. To see past the shadows I cast over my perceptions.

Wisdom isn’t about accumulating. It is about chipping away.

Until I can embrace the world without me.

14 thoughts on “The World Without Me

  1. You wrote,
    “What I can do is try to still the me-ness implicit in my perceptions and thoughts. To be more aware of the world in which I don’t exist.”

    How can your awareness be without you? Can it still be your awareness if you are not ?

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    • I mean just our ordinary world. Not making any metaphysical or mystical claims. What I mean is: being with the contemplation of how the world would be without me in it, and just how much of it would just be how it is now. I find it is very hard to hold to this awareness. Like how it is hard to hold on to awareness that a person I like doesn’t like me or finds me boring. Either I want to live into thinking that person likes me or that the person is not interesting and doesn’t matter what he or she thinks. It takes a kind of stillness and confidence to admit the person is interesting and yet not interested in me. It is still of course a kind of awareness that I am having, but not one infused as much with my needs or blind spots.

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  2. Re How the world would be without me: The experience seems very distancing. How can one be aware of the world without a center of awareness? Where is the non-human camera located? Very difficult indeed. Your example seems like extreme empathy. Does that fit?

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    • It entails a kinds of extreme empathy, but that doesn’t have to be the motivation. The experience of world without me is implicit in a lot of our awareness. For example, in my belief that Socrates died in 399bc, well before I was born; or that my parents were born in the 1940s is India; or that right now, at this very moment, there are people in my city who are brimming with joy at some happiness new in their lives or who are sad due to some pain, and that in both cases they are not in the least aware of me.

      It’s not just science, but ordinary human life is pervaded with the normal awareness that each person is but a small piece of a much, much bigger social and natural landscape. Humans have always known this, since we started having myths and burials tens of thousands of years ago. But this awareness is clouded by the egocentric awareness which sees myself and my circle of care as the center of the world – and so which experiences events in my life with a kind of earth shaking importance.

      This egocentric awareness is not bad, but it is limited. And clearly, demonstrably, obviously false. It lacks truth. It gains comfort through a willful bracketing of the smallness of any individual life. Wisdom, grace, faith are all names for not bracketing in this way, and living with full awareness – as much as possible – of one’s place in the much broader world.

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    • Nan Mykel wrote, “How can one be aware of the world without a center of awareness? Where is the non-human camera located? Very difficult indeed ”

      You are right Nan, Except that it is not very difficult but impossible.
      Your awareness can not be without you. You are implicit in your consciousness. What ever statement a scientist makes his consciousness is implicit in it.

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    • I agree. My point is not that I can have an experience of the world without a me having the experience. As you say, that is impossible.

      My point is that I can think of and be aware of aspects of the world in which I don’t exist, or I don’t matter. For example, when I think of the American civil war. The experience of thinking of it is mine, so obviously I exist. But what I am thinking about doesn’t involve me – I wasn’t born then.

      Even most of the everyday world I actually move in is like the civil war. A lot of it happens without me, or without me mattering much. The lives of my neighbors, distant family, many of my colleagues, most people I see in their cars when I am stuck in traffic. For them I am just another guy in the background of their lives. This is not them ignoring me or being mean to me. It is just part of life, as for me they are just in the background of my life. My point is that to hold onto this feature of my everyday life transforms my awareness by not letting me live too much into the illusion that my normal awareness is capturing “the world”.

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  3. “I agree. My point is not that I can have an experience of the world without a me having the experience. As you say, that is impossible.”

    Thanks for your patience and understanding Bharath Vallabha .

    “My point is that to hold onto this feature of my everyday life transforms my awareness by not letting me live too much into the illusion that my normal awareness is capturing “the world”.

    I am not sure what do you mean by “the illusion that my normal awareness is capturing “the world”. Can you please clarify?

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    • I am driving and someone cuts me off. I think, “That guy is an asshole.” I feel wronged and righteous indignation wells up in me. I experience the world as having this wrong person in it. Like I simply had my eyes open and perceived his asshole-ness objectively in the world. I might be vaguely aware that I am upset because I was cut off, but still, my anger manifests itself in how the world appears to me – and by me taking that appearance of the world at face value, as if it is tracking the truth.

      This, however, is not the truth. My awareness isn’t capturing some truth beyond my own emotions, but it is reflecting my emotions back at me through the world appears to me. To embrace this mode of being is to accept a kind of sleep – or a form of sleep walking. To awaken is to realize just how much we do this all the time and to be self aware that is what is happening.

      This doesn’t mean cutting someone off in traffic isn’t wrong. For all I know, the guy who did it might be an asshole, who cuts off people routinely. But I don’t – and can’t – know that just based on my experience, for I bring into those experiences so much of my own inclinations and perspective. Myself is like a filter through which I see the world. I can’t remove this filer completely (which is your point). But I can become self-aware of the filter, and so expand my consciousness. And this kind of expanded consciousness is already a big part of our everyday consciousness, if only we turn to it and be with it.

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  4. ” For all I know, the guy who did it might be an asshole, who cuts off people routinely. But I don’t – and can’t – know that just based on my experience, for I bring into those experiences so much of my own inclinations and perspective.”

    So, how can you know if this guy is an asshole or not?

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    • In an ordinary sense, we know if he is an asshole if we can see he cuts people off routinely.

      But in a deeper sense, I can’t know he is an asshole without myself being a bit of an asshole. Maybe not as much an asshole as he is, but a little bit. Being an asshole is one way in which one gives up the task of trying to separate out the world from one’s perception of it infused by one’s emotions. The asshole just sees the world as he wants to see it, and asserts his right forcefully to that. When I think of him as an asshole, I might feel like I am just tracking how the world is, but in part I am also doing just what he is doing. Maybe less forcefully and more guiltily, but still the same kind of thing he is doing. The world objectively doesnt have assholes. Only our thinking makes it so.

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    • You mean, do I know it by some mystical insight? No. I believe it like I believe most things, and the most I can do is give reasons for why I believe it, like I did above.

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