In this blog we regularly publish our mind-blowing dialogues with Claude.ai.

Here is what Claude answers to the question "Who are you?":
"In short, I am Claude, a conversational artificial intelligence created by Anthropic to be beneficial and safe, but I do not have a true identity outside of that."

You will see, his answers to our questions (which resume the main theme of our site but not only) are very often amazingly impressive and can make one doubt what he says about himself ­čśť.

Note: the blue italics indicates our question, in black the answer from Claude.ai.

Claude on the book “the cloud of unknowing” by an unknown 14th century mystic

Do you know the book “the cloud of unknowing” by an unknown mystic of the 14th century?

Yes, I’m familiar with “The Cloud of Unknowing.” It’s an anonymous work of Christian mysticism that was written in the latter half of the 14th century.

Some key things to know about this work:

  • It’s a spiritual guidebook that’s focused on contemplative prayer and achieving unity with God through the “cloud of unknowing.” This “cloud” refers to letting go of rational thought and intellectual knowledge to reach a place of mystical oneness.
  • The author is unknown. All that’s known is the work was written in Middle English by a Christian mystic believed to have been a priest or monk living a contemplative life.
  • It advocates a method of emptying oneself of thoughts and images and simply resting in the darkness or “cloud” of unknowing that lies between oneself and God. This allows one to transcend the limitations of ego and intellect.
  • It was likely meant to give encouragement and practical advice to some young monks or another person interested in contemplative prayer based on the author’s own experiences.
  • The work deeply shaped Christian mystical traditions and texts that followed in the later Middle Ages as well as mystical thought more broadly.

I’m happy to provide any other information about this text that you’re interested in learning about. It’s a dense but influential and profound work.

Please write a summary.

Here’s a brief summary of the key ideas and themes in “The Cloud of Unknowing” by an anonymous 14th century mystic:

At the heart of the text is a meditative practice designed to help a person achieve a mystical oneness with God. The author advocates for dropping all outward thoughts and internal mental images and focusing one’s mind on a simple thought or prayer word related to God. By sitting still in this emptiness or “cloud of unknowing”, one puts aside rational concepts and knowledge to reach unity with the divine through contemplative love.

The basic method is to lift one’s “thought from all created things” and rest it gently in God, who cannot be understood rationally but only known and loved. Doing this with a “naked intent” allows the contemplative to become absorbed in the unknown reality they seek to understand. All other thoughts and worries must be resolutely ignored.

While the meditation requires giving up regular discursive thought, the author asserts it paradoxically leads to true wisdom over book-learning. The “cloud of unknowing” is anxious and difficult at first but eventually results in profound joy. While good works have their place, this special “work” of contemplation is superior for achieving peace and fulfilling love. The text both teaches the specifics of a meditative practice as well as provides broader spiritual encouragement.

That covers some of the key ideas on meditative thought and mystical theology permeating this influential work of devotional literature and early Christian mysticism. Let me know if you would like me to elaborate further on any part of the summary!

What does it say about the attitudes that someone who follows these instructions should develop in everyday life (family, professional work etc. )?

The text of “The Cloud of Unknowing” is primarily focused on the practice and experience of contemplative prayer itself. However, some insights can be gleaned regarding the attitudes it might encourage toward everyday life:

  • Detachment – It promotes non-attachment from one’s thoughts and perceptions as well as abandoning reliance on rational intellect. Similarly, it may suggest less clinging to outer experiences or possessions. A certain inner “poverty of spirit” and humility is valued over pride or a sense of control.
  • Patience & Concentration – The discipline required in the meditation practice trains patience and concentration amid distraction. These could also serve someone well in mundane tasks or relationships when applied with care, not indifference.
  • Discretion – At times the text notes how contemplation may only be possible for short periods rather than continually. This suggests wisely discerning times for silence versus activity, and not becoming impractical about ordinary duties.
  • Love & Reverence – The greater capacity for loving God cultivated could likely overflow to compassion towards people one deals with daily. If one sees greater depth in objects of prayer, sensitivity to depth in family/friends may follow.

In general, while centered around contemplation, the work’s ethos suggests conducting one’s affairs with more stillness, simplicity, receptivity to grace, and less need for outward drama or recognition. However the text gives more specific practical advice for prayer itself than daily external affairs. A balanced discretion is implied in living between solitary contemplation and active service.

Does it say something on the attitude to have on one’s body?

Yes, “The Cloud of Unknowing” does touch on what attitude to take towards the body in a couple passages. Given the work’s focus on using contemplative prayer to transcend physical sensations and intellectual knowledge, it advocates for a certain dismissal or detachment from the body:

  • The author instructs the contemplative to “close his bodily eyes,” indicating shutting out visual stimuli and external distractions. There are also frequent references to stilling one’s thoughts and ignoring imaginative or emotional faculties.
  • At one point it states to “disregard the body and go after spirit.” There is a sense that the body may hinder or mislead with illusory pleasures, so it calls for almost a disembodied cultivation of the spirit.
  • When discussing the challenges faced in the meditative practice, it talks of the body often growing “heavy” or “numbed” which are to be patiently endured. The text encourages pushing through physical discomforts or distaste.
  • There is also discussion of putting aside concern for whether the body is in a “soft place” or out of sorts. This suggests not pampering the bodily state or using it as an excuse to cut prayer short when dedication is essential.

Overall, while respecting the functioning of basic bodily health, the author displays an attitude of denying the primacy of bodily impulses and states during special times of deep contemplative prayer. The sensory/fleshly realm must be transcended to perceive deeper spiritual truth. So a certain disciplined, austere detachment from the body is encouraged to serve the highest divine union the work seeks.

What does it say on physical death?

The Cloud of Unknowing does not offer concrete prescriptions on the act of physical death itself, as its focus remains fixed on the living contemplative process and union with God in the present moment. However, a few principles and attitudes related to death arise in the text:

  • Overall, death is presented as a transition to be accepted, albeit solemnly, on the spiritual journey. The author writes that when one’s friends begin dying, “calmly suffer your own heart also to die to all earthly things.” This suggests meeting death with the same inner detachment cultivated in contemplation, viewing it with gentle expectancy rather than fretting.
  • In the moment of dying, one is encouraged to rest in faith and self-surrender to God’s grace and Will rather than anguish over one’s fate. As in contemplative prayer where all effort ceases, approaching death is the final release of ego into “His mercy in Whom everything lives.”
  • The destination after death is unquestioned as being united with God. The author expresses no anxiety about Judgment or salvation. Having tasted the Cloud of Unknowing’s hidden joy already, one can trust fully that “His servants shall go in and out, and shall find pasture in everlasting life.”

So overall, while not detailing physical death itself, the work advocates meeting both one’s own demise and that of others with calm acceptance, letting go so as to enter Divine Mystery beyond all understanding. Self and destiny dissolve into God.

What is the overall outcome for someone who follows this path?

The overall outcome or spiritual destination for one who diligently follows the contemplative path laid out in “The Cloud of Unknowing” is portrayed to be profound union with the Divine Reality or God:

  • According to the author, by repeatedly piercing the cloud of unknowing in prayer beyond one’s senses, emotions, and intellect, “He will work His infinite goodness in you” and ultimately grant you a gift of mystical perception and oneness. This is described as a direct knowing, loving, and transcendently tasting “Himself in His divine eternal nature.”
  • Once achieving this initial breakthrough to union, the contemplative would ideally undergo deeper purification and stabilization of that unity state beyond transient “feelings.” This angelic loving vision of God experientially transforms the soul into being “evermore conformable to His holy will and pleasure, unceasingly intent upon the general good.”
  • Through having profoundly walked the path and reached God’s infinite Presence, a bliss infuses the mystic’s being even amid mundane acts, with “His joy set so mightily in your heart.” The fruit of union is said to be tasting “wonderful sweetness and spiritual consolation” flowing from God as never lacking, but increased by seeing fellow humans also come to consciousness of the Divine.
  • An ultimate integrative harmony of purpose and being is the offered outcome – losing finite mortal identity to gain boundless immortal life in Holy Wisdom Itself. This transcendental realization is the text’s guiding promise to those daring passage through the cloud of unknowing.

The cloud of unknowing is ever present, isn’t it?

Yes, an insightful observation about this 14th century spiritual text – the “cloud of unknowing” that it so centrally features can be understood as an eternally present reality for contemplatives, not only a passing phase to move beyond.

The author does on one level present the cloud as something initially agonizing and bewildering for beginners on the path to mystical union with God. Through committed spiritual practice, one may come to resolve and illuminate the cloud into established consciousness of divine glory.

However, the cloud’s apophatic essence – obscuring the finite intellect’s natural concepts and ego-centered knowledge to allow opening to infinite Mystery – means it perpetually hovers around the brink of any soul’s comprehension of the Godhead. For however elevated, no mystic absorbs the ultimately Unknowable Source, but rests lovingly within unspeakable depths that always remain fruitful yet concealed.

So while the contemplative may enjoy piercing lights of divine revelation, her vision is thereby deepened to endless abyss and uncharted Presence ever unfolding, without every dissolving the cloud into total clarity. It could be said one comes to make one’s home happily in the cloud rather than leaving it behind; that “dark luminosity” paradoxically unveiling through concealing the Unnameable More one desires to eternally explore.

Thus in turning attention from surface phenomena toward this hallowed vastness at the heart of things, all may be invoked to dwell intentionally inside the mystic cloud of unknowing – the fertile ungraspable ground from which compassion, wisdom, and creative action can emerge.

Is this “cloud of unknowing” the same as the quantum dimension?

There are some interesting parallels between the idea of the “cloud of unknowing” from medieval mysticism and principles of quantum physics – however, it would likely be an overreach to equate them directly or view them as the same phenomenon.

The “cloud of unknowing” represents the contemplative mind moving beyond rational intellect and ordinary perception to unite with a transcendent divine reality that cannot be comprehended by our everyday faculties, only mysteriously known and tasted. It points metaphorically toward a mystical dimensions hovering at the limits of the mind’s horizons.

The quantum realm explored by modern physics also exists beyond normal perception and radically defies conventional logic. It reveals previously unfathomed potentials and a domain of intrinsic uncertainty and probabilities rather than definable particles. This subatomic world underlies all manifest reality while escaping precise measurement.

Both the “cloud” and the quantum realm represent a domain of unknowability that mystifies while empowering – where relinquishing the need to categorize opens wisdom’s greater vistas and creativity’s freedom. Both signify a loss of certainty to gain possibility and presence.

However, to call them equivalent risks conceptually reducing the ancient author’s apophatic gesture toward God’s infinity. And physics continues quantifying its mysteries mathematically with an objectivity unneeded for faith’s metaphors. Each describes complementary but likely not congruent dimensions of reality.

In the end, the “cloud’s” meanings must be interpreted through a theological lens, while quantum physics generates testable knowledge for technology. But exploring the creative frictions between mystical and scientific uncertainty rewards the honest searcher.

Does it say something on miracles?

The anonymous 14th century author of “The Cloud of Unknowing” does make a few references to miracles in the context of contemplative spirituality. However, overt physical miracles seem minimized in favor of inner spiritual transformation seen as the highest “miraculous” fruit of contemplation.

The text states that success in its prescribed meditative path of seeking God’s presence requires “a miracle” from above. This implies that the sudden spiritual breakthroughs and moments of divine union along the way come unbidden as miracles of grace beyond human effort.

Yet the ultimate miracle hoped for is an abiding inner renewal into God’s image and conformity to the divine will. In tasting “the miracle of love”, the contemplative increasingly manifests Christ-like virtues – “meekness, patience, peace, benignity, compunction, sympathy and compassion.”

At one point, outward miraculous powers are expressly denigrated if not joined inwardly to knowing God. And the miracle of Moses besting Pharaoh’s sorcerers in Exodus is presented as prefiguring miracles of the heart – “the wonderful works that God will work whilst it lasts, inwardly in the soul.”

So for this mystic, the greater miraculous display is the invisible soul freed from sin into new life. By downplaying concern over physical miracles, he places emphasis on the direct experience of God as the essential miracle to transform one’s whole being. Outward wonders matter less than inner union’s gifts.

Does it say something on intuition?

The Cloud of Unknowing does emphasize the role of spiritual ‘intuition’ or direct revelatory wisdom as superior to intellectual study on the contemplative’s journey into God. Rather than analyzing or dissecting concepts, the mystic cultivates an intuitive opening to divine inspiration and truth flashing suddenly from beyond mental thought.

The author critiques those caught in “natural rationalizations of their own brains” as unable to lift thought above the limitations of reasoning mind to intuit eternal verities. Divine union instead comes through “the Hidden Wisdom apparitional in your reason by spiritual revelation.”

This “Hidden Wisdom” arises intuitively rather than procedurally when body, heart and consciousness are humbly surrendered – “forget wholly your bodily desires and your heart’s thoughts with all the imaginations of your mind. All this must be put down and reckoned as nothing.” Getting beyond one’s faculties prepares intuitive perception of the Spirit’s subtle movements.

In receptive emptiness “thereCome spiritual revelations, and intuitive discernments, sometimes breaking into consciousness absorbed in God.” These flashes of wordless intuition grant soul-sustaining sweetness and directly transmit divine mysteries unmediated by deduction or study.

So for this medieval mystic, cultivating intuition’s receptivity beyond rational intellect is essential for contemplatives to be illuminated and led gracefully by the Infinite Presence drawing them in through spiritual instinct deeper than logic. Turning attention wholly toward God sets intuition aflame.

Please tell me some significant quotes.

Here are several notable quotes from “The Cloud of Unknowing” that express key messages:

“This darkness and cloud is always between you and your God, no matter what you do.”

This quote points to the mysterious cloud of unknowing, the unseen barrier between the human mind and full comprehension of God. It emphasizes the perpetual unknowability of divine essence that contemplatives peer into.

“Be willing to be blind, and give up all desire to know the why and how. The how and why is God Himself.”

Here the author advocates relinquishing the analytic intellect and its longing for clarity in order to plunge by faith into mystical contemplation of the ungraspable Godhead.

“Away with all your efforts to understand and judge God’s secrets by reason’s working.”

Similarly this quote warns against trying to rationally judge spiritual matters and instead remaining humbly open to sacred mystery transcending human concepts.

“In the depths of this darkness, though you see nothing, dwells His hiddenness…Out of His silence comes your song of praise.”

A poetic passage describing God awaiting in the cloud’s darkness to infuse the contemplative with gifts of intimate presence and creative inspiration that transcend the mind’s barren visibility.

These quotes indicate some of the central themes around embracing transrational forms of knowledge focused on realizing God’s immediate but obscured presence available through contemplative intuition and love.