Neutral Buoyancy and the Boundaries of Reality

the experience of consciousness

In a short essay titled “The Suspension of Belief”, I suggested that a buoyancy can occur between opposite forces, much like an object hovering between two magnetic fields. Such things are not hard to imagine, because science has placed superb examples before our very eyes. A well known example is that of a hot air balloon which, upon reaching neutral buoyancy hovers perfectly, neither ascending nor descending. There, it hovers, suspended between two worlds; in this case, the worlds of up and down.

In matters of consciousness, we can consider that the same holds true. In other words, with consciousness we envision a place of neutral buoyancy between that which can be seen and that which is unseen. Stray just a bit too far on this side, and all that we experience is the visible. Descend a bit too far in the other direction and all that can be seen actually cannot be seen. It remains unseen.

To overcome this blindness, we need to develop sufficient finesse — or neutral buoyancy — wherein we find ourselves perfectly balanced between the seen and the unseen. Tilt slightly in one direction and we are forcefully pulled back, awake inside our current reality. Tilt slightly in the opposite direction and we typically fall asleep or lose our bearings in a far different reality.

With neutral buoyancy, however, we can establish a perspective that allows us to travel along the thin thread between the seen and the unseen. Hovering in such a place, we use our senses to experience that of which has long been said, “You cannot see such things.” Or, “Such things lie beyond words.”

In a sense, this form of discovery is a type of spatial boundary. While it is not impenetrable, it does require a deft touch. Just as a beginner driver tends to overreact with brakes, gas and steering, an experienced driver operates with sensitivity and minimal control. For the proficient, it takes very little movement to obtain maximum results. Just ask a precision sharpshooter or a ballerina how much difference the smallest of movements make. Bruce Lee had his famous, staggeringly potent 1-inch punch.

In matters of consciousness, the smallest, most nuanced and sensitive movement we can imagine counts. In fact, most of us are probably incapable of imagining it. Because it’s not movement in the way that most of us relate to movement.

For example, many of us have difficulty with a concept called ‘stilling our minds’. How many of us can practically and proficiently explain that? How it works? What it is? It’s a surprisingly challenging thing to do.

Similarly, we may also have difficulty comprehending the difference between understanding and realization. Put simply, understanding is an intellectual exercise, while realization is based in the experiential. A toddler can understand fire is hot, but once touched she realizes it is hot. Realization always trumps understanding.

Very loosely put, understanding is an objective viewpoint and realization is a subjective experience. The former perspective is one in which we think or talk about it, whatever the ‘it’ may be. So, it is one thing to talk about football as a fan, but quite another to experience the bone-crushing nature of actually playing the game. In a sense, they are two totally different worlds. But let’s be clear: both perspectives are true.

So using football as our metaphor, one person can talk and hypothesize about the nature of football (consciousness), and actually be a very good subject matter expert. But the other person actually lives within the (subjective) experience of it. Which one has the better insight? While both can be called experts, I think it’s easier for the subjective player to relate to to the game, when compared to the objectivist. Unless, of course, you’re a coach.

Far too often, both scientist and layman alike behave as though the objectivist view is the superior view. This viewpoint has been proven to be the result of the widely propagated Newtonian mechanistic theory. If I can’t see it, it’s likely not real.

Subjectivity, from the Newtonian perspective, can be seen as a pollutant, full of that nasty thing called bias. People who function from the objectivist camp make this odd claim that they themselves are immune to bias criticisms, when they are no less biased than others, particularly so when making such sweeping generalizations.

This is all silly, of course. Because their objective, intellectual viewpoint is no more legitimate than the experienced football player’s subjective perspective. In fact, it’s actually quite difficult not to claim the reverse is true: that the more experienced person typically has a far more well-rounded perspective than someone who simply ‘talks a good game.’

I’d rather play a good game than talk one.