Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Arguing in circles

A recurrent idea/sensation/feeling:

I look out the window of the plane I’m on and see the clouds, the still-light rim of horizon beyond the clouds, and then I see not only clouds and sky but the plane window framing them and the periphery.

And then the idea/feeling/sensation occurs: “I” am composed of the same stuff as everything around me – plane, air, light, body, mind – and “I” am not separated from what I see – “I” am the world seeing itself.

* * *

There is a phrase I learned in law school: “a distinction without a difference.” In our common law system, judges are supposed to decide like cases alike. So when considering a decision, a judge often looks to see how similar cases have been handled in the past. Your opponent proffers prior decisions in prior cases to the judge, arguing that they require a decision in her favor and against you. You scrutinize the cases for a meaningful distinction, an argument, a plausible way for the court to conclude that a decision in your favor is really consistent with the prior decisions on the same subject – they turned out the way they did because of some key aspect of them that is not present in your case. Sometimes you see and articulate the perfect argument that makes it clear that a particular case doesn’t compel a decision against you. That is called “distinguishing” your case from the prior case.

But sometimes you build your arguments as well as possible, finding all the ways in which your case is different from the cases argued by your opponent, and in the end, they just don’t distinguish your case from the prior cases. “Yes,” the judge tells you, “you have found a way in which your case is distinct from the prior case.”

“But your argument is really just a distinction without a difference”

* * *

The idea/feeling/sensation I get when I look out the plane’s window and see the clouds and dimming horizon-rim of light is that argument separating the seen and the seer is a distinction, but it’s a distinction without a difference.

Not “we” are one.

Rather: I am That.

Or as the Chandogya Upanishad tell it: Tat twam asi.

That thou art.