Does Privacy Exist Anymore?

Please allow me to slip on a tinfoil hat for a moment. I’ve always questioned whether or not to carry a cell phone. To anyone keeping up with the world, we’re all aware that our devices, such as cellphones, are gathering data from us. Tech companies like Google and Facebook make their money by exploiting our privacy. And don’t forget what Edward Snowden shared with us just a few years back! That’s terrifying. This web goes deeper than most of us can imagine!

I quit carrying cell phones a long time ago, but it wasn’t for privacy reasons. When I ran my software business, I had too many people calling me. I’d go to spend time with friends and get call after call. It was driving me nuts. But in recent years I’ve changed.  Since I’m now a professor, I don’t have as many people calling me, so now it’s convenient to have one. I can text my friends, make calls, it’s pretty great actually. But let me tell you all what happened yesterday.

With a lot of our S&T physics faculty retiring, I’ve been asked to teach a different course. So the other day I met with my new boss who is head of the program. He’s a newer faculty member and I haven’t had a chance to meet him. We’re sitting in his office and he’s telling me about his days at Texas A&M, how things were taught there, he compared their program to ours at Missouri S&T, etc. So over and over he’s saying “Texas A&M”, “Texas A&M”, “Texas A&M”. Now I go home, log into Facebook, and my entire feed is filled with Texas A&M stuff. Facebook is trying to sell me Texas A&M merchandise, they’re showing me Texas A&M sports highlight clips, and pushing Texas A&M sales material. Out of nowhere. I’ve NEVER searched for Texas A&M on Facebook, Google, or anything like that. I don’t even keep up with college sports, in any way, shape, or form. Then I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket, stared at it a moment, and wondered, “Have you been listening in on every conversation I’ve ever had over the past several years?” Probably. Everything it ever hears is sent to some server at Google, with AI systems transcribing every word. I bet there’s a giant log somewhere with every private conversation I’ve ever had. But my phone is from AT&T and runs Android. Isn’t that Google? How did this conversation end up with Facebook? *sigh* I don’t know anymore.

I don’t have anything to hide, but I still value my privacy. But maybe that’s an illusion in today’s world? My television is a smart tv, connected to WiFi, so it could just as easily be doing the same thing. My Windows 10 PC surely does this stuff for Microsoft. I use Chrome so Google’s A.I. programs likely know me better than I know myself. Even my truck has a computer system which handles mp3s, ties into my phone, and has all this smart stuff built into it. At any given time, I don’t know who or what is watching me and it makes me uncomfortable.

What Waking Up Looks Like

This is a documentary about Papaji, a disciple of Ramana Maharshi.  I wanted to share a particular moment within this film where a woman realizes who she truly is.

She did not identify as her body, but she felt that she was a Mind.   She meets Papaji and he grills her for a short bit, asking her to find this Mind.  Then she realizes, oh, who is witnessing the passing sequence of thoughts?  It’s me!  But what am I?  She thought of herself as some collective bundle of these thoughts, as if she was some Mind, but she looks for this ‘I’, this Mind, within these thoughts and she can’t find it.  Then it’s like POOF, this false identification with thoughts vanishes.  This ‘I’ is an illusion and there is no Mind.  Without this ‘I’, there is no doer of actions, nor are there others.  Without taking some bundle of your experiences and associating it with ‘I’, there can be no ‘others’ which lie outside this arbitrary collective identification.  There is no freedom nor is there any bondage.  Who is free and who is bound?  There is no knower of anything or anything to know.  Who is there to know these things?  All of these dynamics are just ideas and an identification with them.

Look at how happy she is.  This is what it’s like to realize there’s nothing to think about, nothing to worry about, and nothing you have to do.  The interviewer asks, “What’s changed?”  Nothing externally that others can notice, but in your inner awareness EVERYTHING has changed.  There’s just inner stillness and contentment.   You’re back to a more fundamental state of conscious awareness, and out of some illusory state of consciousness.

It’s sort of like going outside and seeing a flower garden in the backyard.  It wasn’t in your awareness until you walked out there, and when you go back inside it will no longer be there.  Within a few weeks it’ll all begin to decay, and within a month or two it’ll be dead and gone, rotted back into the soil.  Wouldn’t it be strange for someone to say, “Those flowers are me!”  They come and they go, but you are still around.  Who is it who is still around?  You, the observer, the witness of events unfolding.  So how are thoughts any different from the flower garden?  They come and they go.  At one moment they’re in your awareness, at another they fade back into the void.  The content of thoughts changes, just as flower gardens change in the backyard.  They’re not you.  And any collection of thoughts is not you either, in the same way that the flower garden is not you.  There’s no difference at all.  You realize this and thoughts are just another part of experience.  Flower gardens are fun to look at for a time, but when you get tired of seeing the flower garden you go back inside and they are no longer in your awareness.  You can do the same thing with thought, and walk into an inner space where they’re not there.

When this woman made this realization, she just bursts out laughing.  The same thing happened to me.  Freud said that one form of laughter is when we feel superior to something.  Comics will make us laugh by acting like silly clowns.  Why was this woman laughing?  I think she was reflecting on her former self and was seeing it as something completely ridiculous; she couldn’t stop laughing.  “Why did I not realize this before?  It’s so simple.”  If you watch the entire film, Papaji himself says, “This is easier than anything else.”  There’s nothing easier.  Nothing simpler.

Non-Dual Knowledge

When we typically think of knowledge, there is a knower, a process of knowing (such as empirical observation, etc), and the objects which are known.  However, adopting non-dualism requires one to reexamine all of this.

In a non-dual reality, there is only the Self, so there are no other things which can know Self; hence it is Self alone that knows Itself.  Also, there is no way for Self to act because there are no other things to act upon; hence Self is actionless.  So, Self knows Itself not by an act of knowing, but by simply being Itself.  It follows that the very nature of Self is Itself knowledge.   This lead Ramana Maharshi to say,

“… That which knows cannot be true knowledge …”
– Ramana Maharshi

If one takes Self-enquiry to its full conclusion, the real ‘I’ is a type of knowledge which knows neither other things nor itself.  It just is.

I was primarily led to these thoughts while examining the foundations of quantum mechanics, the ultimate nature of myself, and consciousness.  This is so different from the empirical scientific tradition I’ve believed in for pretty much my entire life that I’m hesitant to even comment on any of it; it’s all so new to me.

I’ve been searching for ways to silence the mind and this certainly does that.  The scientific tradition I’ve always known and been a part of is an endless process of breaking raw perceptions into pieces, finding patterns, and then storing those patterns in the forms of symbols, algorithms, and memory fragments in a mind (our brains, computers, etc).

This process of inquiry into nature and reality led us to out-grow the processing power of our brains and now we’re struggling to build bigger and faster super-computers to process all these fragments and symbols.  I used to wonder if that would ever end and if one could ever finally know everything.  It seemed to be a losing battle.  The more complex and accurate the simulations, we require  giant super-computers the size of buildings and massive amounts of power.  The simulations are also always based on a model which always leaves things out.  So the more we learn and add into our models, the more computation power required to process all the data, and so we end up transforming more and more of the matter around us into larger and more powerful computers.  Hence the more we try to know about reality by this method, the less there is to know.  This type of knowledge  consumes what it tries to know.

This process even ends up consuming us.  We’re now coming to a point where our brains have become too slow to be useful anymore, so now we all must integrate with the computers, probably eventually ending up as nothing but a processes within these computers.  If we try to know all of reality, we are left with a single giant computer and there is nothing outside of the computer to know.  These A.I. super-computers will not being doing calculations about reality but will be thinking about itself within itself.   It’s all very strange.

That got me thinking that there is a fundamental flaw to this entire approach to knowing reality, but I didn’t know what was wrong. Then I begin learning this non-dual way of thinking, or should I say non-thinking, and it rejects the validity of this entire process .  All of the mathematics, statistics, logic, and the rest of it go out the window.  To know something is to be something, and to experience it without filters and abstractions.