A Socratic Dialogue on Mysticism

Regina: Mary! It’s been a while! So nice to see you!
Mary: The same! How are you?
R: I am well! I see that you’re typing something. What are you working on?
M: I’m writing a book on mysticism.
R: Oh, you’re writing a book! How exciting! What is mysticism? Can you summarize the idea for me?
M: God exists. We are God. Our purpose is to become one with God. God created the universe, and designed it to help us fulfill our purpose most efficiently. We do not die with our bodies. The universe is an experience, and it is infinite and endless.
R: How do you know these things?
M: I can see these things to be true.
R: How come I can’t see them to be true?
M: Because you are asleep.
R: I’m assuming that that’s a metaphor. And to continue the metaphor, you think you are awake?
M: Correct on both counts.
R: What makes you think these things?
M: If one were in a room full of sleeping people, and one woke up, it would be obvious that one had been asleep, that now one was awake, and that everyone else was still asleep. But the sleeping people would have no idea that they were asleep, that it was possible to wake up, or that there existed people who were awake.
R: What do you mean when you say that you are awake?
M: I cannot explain to a sleeping person what it means to be awake. The only way to understand it is to wake up. I have already said, of course, that being awake involves seeing that the things I mentioned earlier are true. But those very statements are nonsensical except to somebody who is awake. Somebody who is asleep will either correctly recognize those statements as nonsensical, or think that they understand those statements when in fact they do not.
R: So you think that you are awake, and I am asleep. That sounds like some sort of grandiose delusion.
M: As far as “grandiose” goes, I don’t think that I’m better than you. Why would I look down on somebody for being asleep? I also sleep, and it is a state of being that is natural and not shameful. As far as “delusion” goes, it may well appear that way from the outside. But I know that I am not deluded; and so do my friends who are awake.
R: What evidence do I have which indicates to me that you are right?
M: You have no evidence which indicates to you that I am right.
R: But you think that you have the required evidence?
M: Yes.
R: Why can’t you share it with me?
M: Because you are asleep.
R: How can I wake up?
M: I know of no foolproof method for waking up. But meditation sometimes works.
R: Supposing that meditation doesn’t work for me, do I have any reason to take you seriously?
M: No.
R: OK; well, this has been interesting, but I have other business to attend to. Goodbye!
M: Bye!

This was intended to be a template for a conversation between a mystic and a rationalist non-mystic. This is only one of many ways the conversation could go. If Mary is not confused about mysticism, then this is the general way that things will go.

There are various mistakes that Mary could make, which would make the conversation go awry. The biggest pitfall for Mary is that of attempting to argue for her position in any way. This will only muddle the issue, and Mary will probably lose the argument if Regina is intelligent.

Mary’s mistake comes from failing to realize that there is no line of argument which will convince a rational sleeping person that mysticism is true. She loses the argument not because her beliefs are false, but because she is confused about epistemology. If she were not confused about epistemology then she would not have tried to argue.

Something like this conversation has been in my head for a long time. But it took me a long time to accept that Mary’s statements are the right statements to make. I held out hope for an argument, for a couple reasons.

I feel that there is nothing more important than people waking up, and if people were to accept mysticism, then it would be easier for them to wake up. So it seems like it would be good to have some way to compel people to accept mysticism.

Also, it feels wrong to me to make the naked statement to somebody, “you are asleep.” It feels like putting them down. It feels mean, basically. I don’t want to be mean.

“Asleep” is not inherently a pejorative. But it kind of feels like a pejorative. This is connected with the fact that I am proud of being awake, and do in fact feel superior to people who are asleep, because I am awake.

This is not the right way to feel. A person is not inferior for being asleep. It is a shortcoming of mine that I feel this way.

I think that if I myself felt there to be no negative connotations to the word “asleep,” I would be comfortable telling people that they were asleep, if the topic came up. This isn’t a sure thing, because other people still might read negative connotations into it, and I might still want to avoid that. But the first step is surely changing my own feelings about sleeping people.

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