Under the right chemical and conversational conditions, I can actually take myself apart along the fault lines given by Buddhist analysis. These fault lines are the five skandhas, an exhaustive analysis of Dasein:
- rūpa: sense content (passing pixels)
- vedanā: feeling (sympathetic nervous response)
- samjñā: conceptual recognition (language application)
- samskāra: fabricating volitions (automatic reaction)
- vijñāna: consciousness
When these are taken apart, what remains is the space in which they were assembled. Where now is the subject-vs-object relation? Is the space that remains the epistemic and craving subject?
We believe that a car is a whole. The merelogical nihilist says, “There is no car, but rather a set of parts in proximity.” What exists are Legos, not the form of their assembly. Shapes do not exist with the same presence as the shaped materials. If I shape a cube out of clay, the cube is not in the world in the same way as the clay-stuff. So there is no car in the world. What you actually have before you are parts—driver door, passenger door, windshield, driver’s seat, passenger’s seat, dashboard, floorboard, steering wheel, left front tire, … and so on. Those are there. A grouping simply does not have the same high grade of existence as the (actual) things that we say are the “parts of the group.”
The following example will bring the fakeness of grouping to higher relief. Dump 1000 multicolored marbles onto a white marble floor. Now notice all the black ones. For the sake of cognitive economy, you will group them into a constellation. The constellation is foregrounded in your imagination and then unified in your understanding. “They are an octopus” or “They are a F” where F imposes the unity of a concept on a sense domain that lacks this unity.
What is the unity of the concept? Here are some examples of the state of consciousness I’m referring to:
That set of all black marbles there on the floor.
That triangle of Legos.
If a car were actually there, then you could remove the parts and the car essence would remain. (This problem is similar to the Ship of Theseus. If the ship persists as you remove its bricks and replace them with fresh ones, then the ship is an essence made of space. But when you remove all bricks, you see that no such essence “that must have been there between all the bricks” exists.)
But the car is in experience. What is that?
That is conventional reality.
A collection of parts can be thought in many unities. But we don’t feel choice in our acts of perceptual interpretation. We feel that such acts are automatic and obvious. “This is a Coke bottle” rather than “This is a sex toy” has its basis solely in the persuasive power of agreement.
What we fear will happen after we die is that the center, which I call “I,” will cease and disperse and make the unifying and cone-like point-of-view impossible.