In his lectures, Moriarty points out that the Hindu tradition does not just ask questions but asks about the nature of the mind that is asking the question. If all world religions are united at least in the sense that they agree that there is something that ‘ails’ us, then identifying what that might be is an essential task in order to find the remedy. Moriarty is explicit in his identification of the problem when he says that ‘The will to independent, separate existence is what ails us.” (Crossing the Kedron, 187).
We strive to be independent from nature by constantly insulating ourselves from it (sheltering from the elements, relying on technology and industry for our food, health, education etc.) or denying it (conforming to notions of civility which exclude the spontaneous, animalistic parts of our nature). We strive to be separate from that with which we don’t feel comfortable by putting up walls; literally and symbolically, internally and externally. There are many more examples on Moriarty’s work of this ‘will to separate, independent existence’ which he identifies as humanity’s major ailment. He also acknowledges the resistance which often arises to these questions: “Mystics aren’t popular… their diagnosis of what ails us is so offensive to our empirical self-esteem that we naturally, almost by reflex, shut them out.” (Anaconda Canoe, 56)
In philosophical and scientific terms, reductionism can be understood as a method of removing apparently unnecessary entities in order to more precisely explain a particular phenomenon or to pose a particular theory. For instance, emotional states often correlate with neurological states. It may therefore be stated that ’emotional state X’ reduces to ‘brain state Y’, i.e. an emotional state is nothing other than a certain brain state. Such claims are contestable, but highly prominent in the field of consciousness studies.
With regard to Moriarty’s work, ‘reductionism’ is often used in a broader and less technical sense to express concern about humanity’s tendency to lose richness of meaning by ignoring or ‘explaining away’ certain beliefs and experiences, particularly with regard to the natural world. This is demonstrable through two themes in Moriarty’s writings: that of economic seeing, and rejection of the folk wisdom.
Moriarty repeatedly voices concern about the human tendency to view natural phenomena as commodities or economic opportunities. In such a mindset the natural is reduced to the economic. Natural things, be they animals, trees, rivers or mountains are viewed as valuable not for their own sake, but rather for the monetary value imposed upon them by humans.
With regard to folk wisdom, Moriarty often invokes the idea of the ‘Otherworld’ by relaying folk stories from different world traditions. For example he recounts how the Irish, prior to building a house, would stack three stones on top of each other on the proposed site. If the stones were still standing the next morning, then permission had been granted by the fairy folk for the building to go ahead. If the stones had been knocked, then building could not go ahead without incurring the wrath of the Otherworld. Such stories are of course dismissed by the modern rational mind, but with this dismissal a valuable perspective is lost. Even if the Otherworld is a fiction, there is at least a gesture of grace, humility, and care toward one’s environment that rests within it. Moriarty’s assertion that it is dangerous to live in a ‘nothing but’ universe is illustrated by the fact that the rational mind which reduces folklore to fiction has no problem knocking a tree, a boulder, a fairy fort for selfish purposes. Therefore the reductionist mindset, far from being a liberation, can actually be a restriction on how we perceive and treat the natural world.
In Greek mythology, Medusa is a winged gorgon with a nest of snakes for hair. To meet her gaze is to be turned to stone. For Moriarty, a Medusa mindset is a type of perception that, metaphorically, turns the world to stone; robbing it of its richness, wonder, and fluidity. A recurrent theme in Moriarty’s writing is how changes in perception lead to changes in behaviour: ‘The eye altering alters all’. [REF] Modern ways of seeing the world are ‘petrifying’ because they result in the perceiver seeing the world as static, insentient, non-living; such a perception leads to, for instance, the development of canals which twist waterways to human intention and purpose, and roads which cut indiscriminately across land in order to get from one place to another as quickly as possible. Moriarty also highlights how the Medusa mindset filters into everyday speech and behaviour patterns. Often critical of the shallowness of everyday smalltalk, Moriarty writes “… so replete with verbal petrifications is daily talk, it must, you would think, be Medusa herself who invented it, perfected it, then taught it to us.” (Buddh Gaia, 565)
In basic terms, conditioning can be understood as the circumstances under which we are born, raised and educated. We are conditioned in our thinking and behaviour by family, by language, by cultural norms and so forth. For Moriarty, conditioning was something that could be overcome, even briefly, in a way that both highlights and alters our standard perception of the world. One of the roots of individual and collective suffering is the clinging to our conditioned perspectives and behaviours; faced with alternatives or challenges to this conditioning we may become angry or defensive or disillusioned. “We are junkies to the high that we are, and that’s why the thought of coming down is so unthinkable” (Anaconda Canoe, 58). Moriarty himself was shaken out of his religious conditioning by reading Darwin’s Origin of the Species, and he would undergo similar ‘deconditioning’ experiences through his life; leaving academia behind, meditating by waterfalls and experiencing the dissolution of self, renouncing regular income and physical comforts. His notion of conditioning extends beyond the merely cultural, to encompass the conviction that even being human is a conditioned state which can be temporarily overcome; “… at Connla’s Well it was first I realized that being human is a habit. It can be broken… You only need to break the habit once, the habit of being human I mean, and then you will be as you were between death and rebirth.” (Invoking Ireland, 39-40)
Reflection by Kevin J. Power