Really. A great word. It can be used, or said, so many ways.
Put a question mark on the end; add a note of sarcasm; and you've got an ironic Really? Or... Finish with an exclamation mark; make your tone confident; and you've got a declarative Really!
I find it easy to swing both ways.
To me, the scientific method is our best way of defending a Really! However, this only applies what can really be known by us humans. And what we can know is determined/limited by how we know -- using the human brain and sense organs.
So when it comes to defending how the 21st century version of Homo sapiens (that inhabits one of 100 billion or so star systems in a single galaxy among 100 billion or so other galaxies) looks upon the cosmos, I'm inclined to a Really?
Meaning, it seems to be extremely likely, if not virtually certain, that beings with other forms of consciousness exist elsewhere in the universe. Also, that these beings would perceive reality in a considerably different way from how humans do.
In part, I base that conclusion on countless dog walks where I observe our dog (now, dogs) experiencing the world with sense organs and cognition that vary a lot from mine. If I extrapolate to a being from an advanced alien civilization whose consciousness is as different from mine as mine is from our dog's, I can imagine how limited (or at least different) our understanding of the cosmos could appear to this being.
This is one of the points that frequent Church of the Churchless visitor Jon made in some interesting comments on a recent post, "Taoism isn't mystical. It is natural."
Jon engaged in a comment conversation with George, who raised some valid questions about the nature of consciousness and how science is the best approach to understanding objective reality. Below I've shared some of Jon's comments. They make sense as is, but you might want to read additional comments on the post from George and others (including me) that stimulated these thoughts from Jon.
As noted above, along with Jon I believe in science's ability to know objective reality. With the caveat, though, that what is known is human knowledge. Beyond the bounds of what we Homo sapiens are capable of knowing... there lies what ancient cartographers termed Terra Incognita, unmapped regions of reality.
Here are Jon's comments:
I too do not find the notion of consciousness preceding matter in any way coherent. But I also find that the materialist version of events as it stands, sorely lacking. I'm not alone in this view, the mind-body problem has been raging for over 2000 years and doesn't look as if it is about to be solved any time soon.
That a solution has evaded the best minds for centuries points to the probability that it's not solvable by the cognitive capabilities of humans (at least at this stage of evolution.) Just as the comprehension of Shakespeare is cognitively closed to a rat, there may be problems that are out of the reach of the biology of humans.
What is plainly evident is that something is going on - there is a momentum that is disclosed at all points and at all scales of the cosmos. Again, this momentum is quite mysterious to human cognition - not because there is anything supernatural about it - it's all wholly natural, it's just that its deepest nature is beyond human comprehension.
It seems that there is a form of power, order and intelligence* at work. We could just call this nature - or to distinguish its scale from what we ordinarily think of nature, we could call it cosmic nature. This cosmic nature that produces black holes, effortlessly repairs cells and DNA, coverts photons into sugars, creates the orbital energy of the electron and so on... this momentum or nature is what I understand as Tao.
*Our problem is that when we think of intelligence we posit a supernatural designer - this is part of our ignorance due to our cognitive limitations.
I completely agree that the evolution of a brain and nervous system is absolutely necessary for consciousness *as we know it* to arise.
Whether there is a basic form of proto-consciousness or proto-presence in subatomic activity (and therefore all matter/energy) is debatable - although credible minds such as David Chalmers and Galen Strawson do not completely rule this out.
Of course Tao - or Nature or the Cosmos for that matter - is vague or ill-defined. That was the point of my comment. I believe that we don't - and possibly CAN'T - have a total grasp on these things. When we (sensibly) reject religion we naturally look to science for our answers. And science successfully provides us with a map of the known. It's as if we are looking through a keyhole and science more or less explains (or describes) what's on view. But it's more than reasonable to deduce that the view through the keyhole is not the full extent of reality itself.
The keyhole view represents the frequencies of reality available to the evolved biology of the human organism. There is no evolutionary necessity to have a view that goes beyond these frequencies. Science does a fine job at accounting for what is available. But it might become clear that it would be a wholly anthropocentric conceit to assume that this represents the full (and to some degree, accurate) picture.
If the spiritual traditions have any value, it's that they intuit this vaster potential. It's just that their science is dismal - primitive, magical and thoroughly anthropomorphic.
As it stands, the universe can be viewed naturally or supernaturally. Science favors the former and religion is quite partial to the latter.
There is a third possibility. Due to evolutionary limitations, the natural world (the natural cosmos) is only partially (fractionally) comprehended and understood.
And this might always be the case since evolution may have no 'reason' to advance our comprehension to frequencies that have no fitness value. Or it may simply be the case that Homo sapiens or the planet will be wiped out before our biology is equipped to understand certain things.
This undisclosed naturalism is not the supernatural - although it may be lazily taken to be so.
You use the word metaphysical often. Metaphysical can mean speculative/theoretical or it could mean supernatural. I'm arguing that there is nothing supernatural about the undisclosed cosmos - its hidden nature is due to OUR limitations. Of course by its very nature, there has to be a theoretical element to an undisclosed cosmos.
And hey, the edges of the disclosed cosmos are INCREASINGLY dependent on theory and speculation. No one has evidence of dark matter for instance - dark matter 'exists' only by virtue of mathematics.
Science might show us that angels don't exist, that mediums are fakes, that gurus and sages are embellishing simple, natural truths. But it can't fully account for the undisclosed cosmos for the reasons argued above.