« Spirituality without neuroscience is bullshit | Main | Mindful equals moral. And I'm a 4/10 Hipster. »

February 18, 2013

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

If we go with the car-driver metaphor, all one needs to know about the brain is how to steer, acellorate,and brake, i.e., how to avoid recklessness and inattention. This equates to knowing how to process information and think in such a way as to avoid credulity, logical fallacy, faulty reasoning, cognitive bias, prejudice, and all the other ways you can run your "car" into a ditch, a church, or a graveyard.

All the better if you enjoy reading about auto mechanics, but it may not be essential.

Forgive me if I am wrong but from what I can understand from reading what little I have is that neuroscience is slanted heavily about the biological aspects of the brain over the psychological. Though the psychological is listed as part of the study, it appears to me that they are looking for answers to the psyche functions of human beings through the physical aspects of the brain.

Though I believe there are many unique physically borne aspects to our individual brains at play, it is also known that our psychological state of mind can alter our brain. The question arises of which comes first, the physical or the psychological? For instance, psychological depression can lead to altering the brains mechanics to create serotonin. Also, alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation has been scientifically documented. It would seem to me that balancing in psychosomatic medicine to neuroscience would be a good comprehensive blend.

Your example about what is underneath the hood of a car is fantastic but the inner workings of a car's mechanical functions are limited to the physical as it does not have a psychological component to it. We are more than 100 billion or so neurons in the brain. Something else is occurring. And looking deep into this other occurring phenomenon within us is worthy of our attention.

Again, I have read little about neuroscience so please forgive me if I am misunderstanding its complete meaning. I am not trying to be difficult but rather hoping to add to your thinking. Your contributing thoughts to this Brian would be appreciated.

Psychology:

(1)The scientific study of the human mind and its functions, esp. those affecting behavior in a given context.

(2)The mental characteristics or attitude of a person or group.

Shawn, I'm not sure what you mean exactly by a distinction between "psychological" and "biological." Obviously there isn't a real difference here --unless someone subscribes to the sort of mind/body dualism embraced by Descartes.

Neuroscience considers the mind to be what the brain does. This is akin to saying that dancing is what the body does when it moves in a certain way. Considering dancing to be divided into "psychological" and "biological" aspects misses what dancing is. It's a whole body/whole person thing, which is a big part of what makes it so satisfying.

I get the impression that you believe there is a non-physical or supernatural aspect to human consciousness. Well, if there is, this is very difficult, if not impossible to discern. Many facts point to damage to parts of the brain causing corresponding changes in human consciousness, awareness, functioning, and such.

Change the brain, you change the mind -- which again, is what the brain is doing. Every time I drink a cup of coffee I prove this. Physical substance affects brain chemicals and... I feel better!

How do you know that you are looking into something other than the 100 billion neurons of the brain when you introspect? What makes you think or feel that you are something other than what is doing the thinking or feeling? Where does this notion of dualism between brain and mind arise?

Zen masters are fond of saying (or screaming), "Show me your mind that wants to be enlightened! Show me!!!" Can't be done. If you hold up a tea cup with your physical hands, using your physical brain, you've got a chance of not being hit with a Zen stick. But persist in dualism, and a SMACK is likely.

Lesson for me is that dualism creates a lot of unnecessary problems. Once we believe in two things inside our head, we divide ourselves into pieces though all the evidence is that only one thing is doing its thing. Alan Watts is great at explaining this. I love his "The Wisdom of Insecurity," which is a paean to naturalistic non-dualism.

A car without a driver does not start and goes nowhere.

So the brain is excellent at filtering and focusing information at the will of the person. Does the brain also decide what to pay attention to, what to focus on, and what to filter?

That would be like the car driving itself to the store, would it not?

Do you think, and from your reading do neuroscientists think, that intention itself is nothing more than a neural artifact, along with every other kind of thought?

Scott, intention is a matter of debate among neuroscientists. I'm certainly no expert on this, but have wondered along the same lines as you seem to have.

Meaning, if I intend to raise my hand, and a brain scan shows activity in a certain area as I do indeed raise my hand, does the scan capture the "intention" or just the movement? Could intention be something magically immaterial? That seems to be one question.

Some researchers look upon intention as an epiphenomenon of sorts, something that pops into awareness AFTER brain processes have set an action in motion, not BEFORE. Others do see a possibility that intention is a separate preceding conscious act. See:

http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/jocn_a_00368

Here's another link:

http://books.google.com/books?id=o9ZRc6-FDg8C&pg=PA332&lpg=PA332&dq=neural+correlate+intention&source=bl&ots=HcCv1Btfxy&sig=wmnJrZeSbk_nFnstlrcLjIuclJQ&hl=en&sa=X&ei=p9gjUbS7N8mSiAK9sYHQDw&ved=0CHUQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=neural%20correlate%20intention&f=false

Personally (and what do I know of what my brain is really doing?), it seems to me that my conscious intention usually, if not always, is a step behind what I'm impelled to do. I get a vague feeling, then think to myself "Oh, I need to take my vitamins; forgot them a while ago."

Mixing up science with spirituality inappropriately, but heck, I'll do it anyway...

I recall that a friend who used to give talks to our meditation group was fonding of saying "We justify our karma." Meaning, we make up stories about why we do something after we did it, or while we're doing it.

This is pretty close to how neuroscience seems to view intention. Observing what the unconscious brain has impelled us to do, we tell ourselves a convincing story about why we're doing it. I find myself doing this when I "decide" to buy a new iPhone or whatever. The choice comes from a different layer of me than the reasons I give for making the decision.

Not that I am trying to discredit the premise of your speculations but I do not understand why you would mention Allan Watts in your attempts to discredit the non-physical or supernatural aspects to human consciousness and give credit to your assumptions that everything is physical.

The following are Allan Watts' words; Modern philosophy, science, and even religion seem to have lost hope and, all to often, interest itself in the possibility of metaphysical knowledge. By knowledge of this kind we mean neither religious belief, philosophical speculation, nor scientific theory. We mean actual experience or immediate realization of that ultimate Reality which is the ground and cause of the universe, and thus the principal and meaning of human life.

And further along he said in a very negative tone; Indeed, this is already the established practice in countries where the strictly physical of man's nature is the official state dogma.

Ho do you reconcile these words of Watts with your words?

Shawn, if you read "The Wisdom of Insecurity" you'll learn about Watts' marvelous blend of naturalism and embrace of mystery. Here's a sample from the Religion Reviewed chapter:
---------------------
We said that science and religion are both talking about the same world, and throughout this book we have never been concerned with anything but everyday life, with things that can be seen, felt, and experienced.

We shall therefore be told, by religious critics, that we are reducing religion to "naturalism," that we are identifying God with nature, and making a mockery and travesty of religion by taking away "its essential supernatural content."

But when you ask theologians what they mean by the "supernatural," they burst immediately into scientific language. They talk about a God having "concrete reality distinct from this universe," and speak of him in terms of past history and future predictions.

They insist that the supernatural world is not of the same "order" as the universe studied by science, but exists on another plane of being invisible to our natural senses. It begins to sound like something psychic, something of the same order as the phenomena of telepathy, clairvoyance, and clairaudience.

Yet this is naturalism pure and simple; it is even pseudo-science. For science and naturalism are not concerned only with things visible to the senses. No one has seen electrons or quanta, nor been able to construct a sensual image of curved space.

If psychic phenomena exist, there is no reason to suppose that they cannot be studied scientifically, and that they are not simply another aspect of "nature."

...For when the mind is divided, and "I" wants to get away from present experience, the whole notion of a supernatural world is its happy hide-out. The "I" is resisting an unhappy change, and so clings to the "unchanging" Absolute, forgetting that this Absolute is also the "unfixed."

...Conscious thinking has gone ahead and created its own world, and, when this is found to conflict with the real world, we have the sense of a profound discord between "I," the conscious thinker, and nature.

...Where do I begin and end in space? I have relations to the sun and air which are just as vital parts of my existence as my heart. The movement in which I am a pattern or convolution began incalculable ages before the (conventionally isolated) event called birth, and will continue long after the event called death.

Only words and conventions can isolate us from the entirely undefinable something which is everything.
----------------------

Beautiful. Watts reminds us that dualism, though it SEEMS to promise us everlasting existence in a supernatural realm, actually cuts at the heart of real living -- because we become divided beings, imagining another world while we fail to fully experience the only world which really exists for us: the present moment, here and now.

Shawn, if you read "The Wisdom of Insecurity" you'll learn about Watts' marvelous blend of naturalism and embrace of mystery. Here's a sample from the Religion Reviewed chapter:
---------------------
We said that science and religion are both talking about the same world, and throughout this book we have never been concerned with anything but everyday life, with things that can be seen, felt, and experienced.

We shall therefore be told, by religious critics, that we are reducing religion to "naturalism," that we are identifying God with nature, and making a mockery and travesty of religion by taking away "its essential supernatural content."

But when you ask theologians what they mean by the "supernatural," they burst immediately into scientific language. They talk about a God having "concrete reality distinct from this universe," and speak of him in terms of past history and future predictions.

They insist that the supernatural world is not of the same "order" as the universe studied by science, but exists on another plane of being invisible to our natural senses. It begins to sound like something psychic, something of the same order as the phenomena of telepathy, clairvoyance, and clairaudience.

Yet this is naturalism pure and simple; it is even pseudo-science. For science and naturalism are not concerned only with things visible to the senses. No one has seen electrons or quanta, nor been able to construct a sensual image of curved space.

If psychic phenomena exist, there is no reason to suppose that they cannot be studied scientifically, and that they are not simply another aspect of "nature."

...For when the mind is divided, and "I" wants to get away from present experience, the whole notion of a supernatural world is its happy hide-out. The "I" is resisting an unhappy change, and so clings to the "unchanging" Absolute, forgetting that this Absolute is also the "unfixed."

...Conscious thinking has gone ahead and created its own world, and, when this is found to conflict with the real world, we have the sense of a profound discord between "I," the conscious thinker, and nature.

...Where do I begin and end in space? I have relations to the sun and air which are just as vital parts of my existence as my heart. The movement in which I am a pattern or convolution began incalculable ages before the (conventionally isolated) event called birth, and will continue long after the event called death.

Only words and conventions can isolate us from the entirely undefinable something which is everything.
----------------------

Beautiful. Watts reminds us that dualism, though it SEEMS to promise us everlasting existence in a supernatural realm, actually cuts at the heart of real living -- because we become divided beings, imagining another world while we fail to fully experience the only world which really exists for us: the present moment, here and now.

"Don't understand the brain? You can't understand spirituality."

---Any type of "understanding" is going to be relativie. Anything filtered through brain/mind/ego is going to be limited and relative. That said, nothing wrong with the relative, the brain/mind/ego and relative truth.

---The relative value of an understanding can find some sort of independence of another type of undertanding.

So, who the heck has an Absolute understanding of the brain and/or Spirituality?

"Modern philosophy, science, and even religion seem to have lost hope and, all to often, interest itself in the possibility of metaphysical knowledge. By knowledge of this kind we mean neither religious belief, philosophical speculation, nor scientific theory. We mean actual experience or immediate realization of that ultimate Reality which is the ground and cause of the universe, and thus the principal and meaning of human life."

What this means, Shawn, is that should you come to realize, see, or understand something, the truth of which you cannot prove to anyone but yourself, your attempts to speak of it will either fall flat or find their mark. That is, others who have yet to realize, see, or understand for themselves what you have come to realize, will either tell you to shut up or ask you to say more.

cc,

Good point.....

haha, I ordered the revenous brain (though I guess I could have read it right there on Amazon. I want to know how to slow down the insatiability.

From the abstract of the paper you linked to in your reply to me:

It is typically assumed that the conscious experience of wanting to move is not the driving force for motor planning, but the secondary consequence of the unconscious neural processes preparing the movement. ... However, an alternative hypothesis exists. ... According to this view, the conscious experience of wanting to move is not the consequence but the cause of movement initiation.

I understand that these scientists are tackling difficult problems, and their discussion tracks along different lines than normal conversation. We know this from the first statement: who "typically" assumes such a thing? Absolutely no one unfamiliar with the specific neuroscientific experiments and their interpretation that led to that view would believe that.

On the contrary, it appears to me that this "alternative hypothesis" being proposed is the only thing that makes sense of my own experience. Movement is initiated by the conscious experience of wanting to move. Of intention. Of course it is.

The first supposedly "typical" assumption -- that I am discovering that I want to type these words because my subconscious mind was already preparing to type them -- is simply idiotic, no matter what any brain scan may imply to the theoretical mind.

I am writing now because I intend to, not intending to write because I was already going to do it. The typical assumption of neurologists is just plain stupid, the kind of stupid you need a PhD and years of post-doctoral research to master.

If there is a spirit, Brian, brain scans will not reveal its presence. Brain scans show brains. Spirit as I conceptualize it would simply not be subject to detection by material means, other than through our intentional actions. And I think that is the crux.

Neurology cannot prove or disprove something that is not material; but after several more very intentional keystrokes, mouseclicks, buttonclicks, I will post this message because I intend to, and for no other reason.

Can't scan that? I'm not surprised. Neurology will never help you understand spirituality, at least not in its essence. That is what spirit is for.

In this arena -- what do I have, but opinion? So I must soften the impact of my tendency for absolute statements. Who really knows? But this is how it seems to me.

I would recommend three accessible books for anyone who finds the idea of neuroscience daunting.

David Eagleman: Incognito.

Bruce Hood: The Self Illusion.

Christof Koch: Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist

The book by Koch is probably the best. He is at the cutting edge of neuroscience and consciousness research in the context of philosophy of mind.

His research shows that the brain ATTENDS to far more than what we are conscious of. Here I define consciousness as this brightly shining, self aware, KNOWING that we can all recognise right now. Koch reveals through a series of experiments that the brain often attends to objects that it doesn't see - i.e. that we have no conscious knowledge of. The spotlight of conscious awareness is revealed to be a bit player in the evolutionary scheme of things.

Elsewhere in the book he demonstrates (and this can be found in the other books mentioned) that the mechanism to act PRECEDES apparent conscious decision.

I'm pretty sure that a little sincere exposure to neuroscience/conscious research/philosophy of mind will convince that a brain is at least a REQUIREMENT for consciousness (as defined above) even if it's resisted that the brain is SUFFICIENT for consciousness.

"I am writing now because I intend to, not intending to write because I was already going to do it."

This is what you believe, but the evidence shows that all intention originates in the unconscious. What you call "spirit" and its magical ability to escape detection is just wishful thinking...which also originates in the unconscious.

" the evidence shows that all intention originates in the unconscious"

The evidence shows nothing of the sort. From Brian's second link on this topic, The Cambridge Handbook of Consciousness:

It seems we have not yet uncovered the neural correlate of intention formation, which should always be a prerequisite for voluntary actions, regardless of whether such a correlate follows or precedes the neural events that lead to an action.

This is an admission of ignorance of where intention originates -- I would point out here that the "unconscious" you speak of is a psychological term with no more basis in neurology than "spirit" and may well be the same thing.

Handbook of Consciousness, indeed. They cannot even define consciousness without psychology, and certainly not in terms of brain function.

"I would point out here that the "unconscious" you speak of is a psychological term with no more basis in neurology than "spirit" and may well be the same thing."

Mmmm...so Freud was a spiritualist...

Jon, you write "I'm pretty sure that a little sincere exposure to neuroscience/conscious research/philosophy of mind will convince that a brain is at least a REQUIREMENT for consciousness (as defined above) even if it's resisted that the brain is SUFFICIENT for consciousness."

I agree, to the extent that you are talking about individual consciousness in relation to the individual brain; which in turn cannot and does not exist without the body.

Very much neural activity is expressed in the feedback loops of the mind/body regulatory mechanism, which could be thought of as body consciousness. However, that consciousness of the body is by design not truly in our awareness unless concentrated upon.

I still think of it as a kind of consciousness, however, which I characterize as an emergent property of these biomechanical connections between nerve cells and all other cells of the body.

Your own definition of consciousness (this brightly shining, self aware, KNOWING that we can all recognize right now) is not a definition so much as a reference, one which you are correct in asserting that we all seem to share.

Despite the lack of a definition, we all have some common experience to relate this idea to. We see where you are pointing, and recognize the landmarks you are pointing out.

As I have stated elsewhere in these two threads, I conceive of spirit or consciousness as an immaterial entity. Sounds spooky, but I think that nomenclature fits far more precisely with consciousness being an "emergent property" of the physical brain/body interaction, than with it being some kind of independently-existing entity that will survive this life to move through the ethers untethered.

We so strongly wish for that permanent egoic existence, as though our fragile bodies long for immortality through consciousness; a futile hope, connected with the will to propagate no doubt.

Though ephemeral and dependent upon the conditions of the whole body/mind to exist, I do believe (or like to think reverently and joyfully) that individual consciousness may partake in some way in that same singular eternal Consciousness that has been called God, or as I prefer, Brahman in the Vedic traditions.

In that terminology, Brahman is the only eternally existing entity, not being subject to manifestation and decay; everything else merely partakes, to the limits of our conditioned sentience, in that spark, that KNOWING you spoke of, which is the temporal and temporary Atman we identify with our Selves as conscious entities. But that Atman as a "Self" is not eternal, unless to the extent that it is merely a mirror of Brahman. Mystery.

It does not seem likely to me that a biomechanical device, such as materialists imagine ourselves to be -- even one sophisticated enough to be "self-aware"! -- either could or would conceive of Brahman, Tao, lovingkindess....

But if I am nothing more than this necessary and possibly sufficient material heap of body, mind, and emergent self-consciousness dependent upon and sustained by both -- if that is all I am, if Brahman does not exist outside of our delusions... how wonderful! Inconceivable, really.

This would surprise me much more than God existing: if a purely material biomechanical device for eating, screwing, and shitting repeatedly experiences communion, and love, and worship...wow! Just wow.

Freud was unlikely a spiritualist -- Jung, certainly was close enough to one. They do not have a rigorous enough scientific foundation to put them in the league of modern neurophysiologists. I don't think I'd want Freud as my scientific lodestar in any case. Nor any modern drug pusher psychologists or psychiatrists for that matter. All that education and no sense whatsoever, as a professional whole in my opinion.

cc you enjoy pithy sarcastic responses; but whatever similarities may exist between concepts of soul, spirit, mind, and consciousness (including the subconscious, and if Jung was correct, the collective unconscious, source of myth) -- these are terms for very similar concepts although taken from very different perspectives on the world. I think it's worth more than sarcasm in response.

But then again, my opinion and a dime will get me a whole piece of hard candy if I shop around a bit.

"cc you enjoy pithy sarcastic responses; but whatever similarities may exist between concepts of soul, spirit, mind, and consciousness (including the subconscious, and if Jung was correct, the collective unconscious, source of myth) -- these are terms for very similar concepts although taken from very different perspectives on the world. I think it's worth more than sarcasm in response."

Huh? What do you know about these "very similar concepts" that will enlighten us? The unconscious is evident, but "spirit" is a fanciful notion.

If you find the notion of "spirit" vague and fuzzy, you're more inquiring than aspiring

Well I'm certainly not going to take a stand here, or anywhere, on any supposed or real differences between consciousness and spirit, mind and brain, and so on.

I am certainly inquiring. I have said very little here about my aspirations, and in fact I think putting aspirations aside is more closely related to my lifestyle than cultivating them is.

Why are we talking about me, now, though? I apologize for attempting to characterize you in the way that I did, cc. It was unkind of me to do so.

We have no need to agree with one another, and less reason to fight over things few people understand, least of all those who claim to understand them.

"We have no need to agree with one another, and less reason to fight over things few people understand, least of all those who claim to understand them."

My understanding is that "spirit" is a meaningless term if it can't be defined or detected. If it's real for you, yet you can do no more than testify to its existence, you're being religious, not scientific.

I don't limit my thinking to the material, so if that makes me religious, what can I say?

If you can't detect your spirit, then you probably don't have one; but that will come as no surprise to anyone on this blog will it. Whatever "spirit" may be, 'it is not me, it is not mine, it is not my self,' an excellent Buddhist realization. My reflections on this won't get any clearer, than that.

But I love this topic, if you care to indulge me...and enjoy poetry and philosophy.

I am able to enter a religious frame of mind quite readily, it being a part of my experience. But a truly religious person would eventually discover me to be an imposter, because I am not a believer. I am also able to enter a scientific frame of mind, that being a part of my education. I do not confuse these two paradigms, or try to make one of them meet the requirements of the other. If I ever were to do that, it would be a mistake.

I love the way that Whitman expressed it in Song of Myself:

I accept Reality and dare not question it, Materialism first and last imbuing.

Hurrah for positive science! long live exact demonstration!
Fetch stonecrop mixt with cedar and branches of lilac,
This is the lexicographer, this the chemist, this made a grammar of the old cartouches,
These mariners put the ship through dangerous unknown seas.
This is the geologist, this works with the scalpel, and this is a mathematician.

Gentlemen, to you the first honors always!
Your facts are useful, and yet they are not my dwelling,
I but enter by them to an area of my dwelling.


Plato's Sophist also addresses the ancient argument very informatively. I think Plato is brilliant for bringing up quantum mechanics so many centuries before it's "discovery" by materialists!

Stranger: And indeed there seems to be a battle like that of the gods and the giants going on among them, because of their disagreement about existence.

Theaetetus: How so?

Stranger: Some of them drag down everything from heaven and the invisible to earth, actually grasping rocks and trees with their hands; for they lay their hands on all such things and maintain stoutly that that alone exists which can be touched and handled; for they define existence and body, or matter, as identical, and if anyone says that anything else, which has no body, exists, they despise him utterly, and will not listen to any other theory than their own.

Theaetetus: Terrible men they are of whom you speak. I myself have met with many of them.

Stranger: Therefore those who contend against them defend themselves very cautiously with weapons derived from the invisible world above, maintaining forcibly that real existence consists of certain ideas which are only conceived by the mind and have no body. But the bodies of their opponents, and that which is called by them truth, they break up into small fragments in their arguments, calling them, not existence, but a kind of generation combined with motion. There is always, Theaetetus, a tremendous battle being fought about these questions between the two parties.

And ever shall be.

Thanks, Scott, for your passionate testimony, but why bring it to a site where religiosity is debunked with scientific fact? Why not express your soaring spirit to like-minded folks on a spiritual, new-agey site? Could it be that such folks are just too boring to bother with? Could it be that it's more fun to bring your fuzzy notions to a place where they'll get more attention?

CC,

I am cunfused by the undermining thrust of your comments directed at Scott. I have found Scott's recent comments to you as being non-confrontational in spirit but you insist on staying in an arena of showdown and contempt. You speak about religiosity but what is the fruit of religiosity? Isn't the fruit of your expression the same as what religiosity offers? Such a sectarian spirit and herd-packing mentality, all done in the name of non-duality? Are you implying that The Church of the Churchless is a denomination of only like-minded believers? Are you suggesting that Scott is a reprobate and should find his own herd? Who is being religious here?

And the real question to ask yourself is; why do you care so much about what Scott thinks? What is your unconscious motivation of this insistent negativity directed at what Scott thinks? Why do you care so much?

You've posed quite a few questions, Shawn, and I wonder whether you couldn't have narrowed down your inquiry to one or two.

My concern is not personalities but the notion of "spirit" and whether it's purported existence is not to be questioned, but accepted according to the rationale that the universe is just too vast and mysterious to talk about with any precision.

As for non-duality, I find the notion as spurious as spirit.

As for "the fruit of my expression", I apologize if it's too tart for your taste.

No, I don't think Scott is "a reprobate". I just wonder why he brings his religiosity to this blog, considering Brian's well known disdain for it.

I don't care what Scott or you think until you publish your thoughts where they seem (to me) misplaced. I'm sorry if I'm not very nice, but I find religion pernicious.


CC,

I empathize with your feelings regarding religion. I personally have been through the ill affects of coming out of severe religious disillusionment. It took over thirty years of my life to recover from dying to my religious God-belief.

Though I think possibly there may be a stream of reality that exist, the downfall tendency of religion is to stand tall and firm on the notion that one's belief system is absolute-absoluteness. The fruit of this type of arrogant thinking is rude intolerance towards other opposing thoughts. I guess what I am saying is that many conversations of philosophical debate have an underlining smell of belief embedded in the dialogues.

I have always loved Bertrand Russell's words, "Every man, wherever he goes, is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day". One should keep in mind that flies typically are drawn to something that stinks. So we all reek with our beliefs CC. We are all sitting together in one big cesspool, each contributing to the flies that swarm above us. Is the fly that swarms above you more in tuned to the truth than my fly above me?

Self construed comforting convictions come in many forms, if not billions. We should all keep in mind that what we think to be true, whether in a belief or in a non-belief, is just one thought amongst billions. As we grope together for reality, we should try and be kind-hearted and considerate to one another. I fail so often with this task myself but when I do fall short something taps me on my shoulder and reminds me of how small I am amongst the face of eternity.

per·ni·cious /pərˈniSHəs/ Adjective Having a harmful effect, esp. in a gradual or subtle way. Synonyms malign - noxious - baneful - harmful - pestilent - fatal

Plato's Republic:

I am amused, I said, at your fear of the world, which makes you guard against the appearance of insisting upon useless studies; and I quite admit the difficulty of believing that in every man there is an eye of the soul which, when by other pursuits lost and dimmed, is by these purified and re-illumined; and is more precious far than ten thousand bodily eyes, for by it alone is truth seen. Now there are two classes of persons: one class of those who will agree with you and will take your words as a revelation; another class to whom they will be utterly unmeaning, and who will naturally deem them to be idle tales, for they see no sort of profit which is to be obtained from them. And therefore you had better decide at once with which of the two you are proposing to argue. You will very likely say with neither, and that your chief aim in carrying on the argument is your own improvement; at the same time you do not grudge to others any benefit which they may receive.

cc, religiosity is a character trait; it is impossible for science or anything else to "debunk religiosity." I think what Brian is trying to do here is to debunk religion, Sant Mat in particular. But I am not a member of that or any other religion, so there is nothing in that direction to debunk in my mind. I am participating in what is, I feel, an excellent and open forum for exploring these ideas. I do not reject science, I simply recognize its limitations.

I keep quoting Plato in order to show that these are ancient questions; and that the question of the spirit, duality, and so forth is entertained not just by religion, but also by philosophy.

You could try to cultivate more gratitude and respect for the ancient elders of our culture, for there would be no science as we know it without the influence of Plato, who taught Aristotle.

I have nothing to prove to you, and I know that I will never convince you of anything -- unless you are afraid that over time my "pernicious" observations may eventually undermine your own set ideas.

I come here to write and respond because I require an open forum within my own mind; I try hard not to reject thoughtful people, no matter what they believe in.

The people who come here, and Brian himself, share a religious background and inclination to some extent or other; and yet here they are, holding their conceptions up to scrutiny. I for one deeply respect the breadth of mind that is required to range over the ground between religion and science.

You seem to prefer that this blog be left alone to "debunk religiosity" without any interference from anyone who thinks there may be something beyond what science can tell us; but if that process is threatened by "pernicious" philosophers such as Plato, then it is a plain unfunny joke.

"You seem to prefer that this blog be left alone to "debunk religiosity" without any interference from anyone who thinks there may be something beyond what science can tell us"

How can you know what's "beyond what science can tell us" when knowledge is either verifiable via the the scientific method or a matter of whimsy and personal delectation? If your knowledge is greater than what science can demonstrate, can you demonstrate its superiority? If not, all you can do is protest and insist that science is an insolent upstart that ought to behave itself.

As long as you judge spirituality by the requirements of science, it will fail to meet your test. I cannot demonstrate spiritual knowledge in a scientific sense; all such knowledge is a matter of direct experience.

Your position would be more defensible if analytic knowledge were up to the task of defining and detecting every phenomenon of which we are aware. But science is plainly not up to that task at this point in time.

Take for example the problem of dark energy and dark matter. These two -- "things?" -- are said by scientists to comprise some 95% of the stuff of the universe. One small problem: they cannot be precisely defined nor detected. Their presence can only be inferred by data by indirect reference to mathematical models of the universe -- which at this point are still scientifically incomplete. It is plainly a matter of belief for you that science will eventually meet all of those questions with irrefutable answers. But that is just as much a matter of faith as any religious view of spirit.

Consciousness precedes data; for we cannot gather data until we become aware of ourselves and the world around us. Your precious scientific method cannot account for consciousness, cannot properly define it or locate it. We do not know the locus of intention in the brain! And so the entire edifice of not only scientific knowledge and experiment, but every human endeavor, is founded upon a mystery. If you can explain this mystery of consciousness in precise and demonstrable terms, in scientific terms, then and only then will science be shown to be the explication of all human experience.

As we have discussed in these threads recently, not even arithmetic can be placed upon a logical foundation in which paradoxes are eliminated. For this reason, analytic knowledge will never be free from the possibility of unresolvable analytic impasses.

Spiritual understanding is a matter of direct experience; you have no ground upon which to examine the nature of my experience in consciousness. For this reason it is superior to science: science cannot explain or dismantle my experience. True science would not even make the attempt. It is not a scientific enquiry, until consciousness is defined and measured.

I find nothing of the "religious" in this teaching of Buddha, which also addresses the frame of mind of a person with a "reasoned acceptance of a view", in other words, a scientific theory:

There are five things, Bhāradvāja, that may turn out in two different ways here and now. What five? Faith, approval, oral tradition, reasoned cogitation, and reflective acceptance of a view. These five things may turn out in two different ways here and now. Now something may be fully accepted out of faith, yet it may be empty, hollow, and false; but something else may not be fully accepted out of faith, yet it may be factual, true, and unmistaken. Again, something may be fully approved of...well transmitted...well cogitated...well reflected upon, yet it may be empty, hollow, and false; but something else may not be well reflected upon, yet it may be factual, true, and unmistaken. [Under these conditions] it is not proper for a wise man who preserves truth to come to the definite conclusion: ‘Only this is true, anything else is wrong.’”

Scott, there are tangible scientific signs of dark energy and dark matter. Dark matter is considered to be responsible for the speed of rotations of galaxies and other phenomena.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_matter

Dark energy is considered to be responsible for the acceleration of the expanding universe at an increasing rate.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_energy

So these are not abstract mathematical inferences. They are reasonable explanations of observable phenomena.

Shawn, my suggestion is that you're looking upon belief, perception, awareness, and all that too subjectively. There really is a world out there that has certain characteristics we humans generally agree on.

Evolution is founded upon adaptation to the environment, to our surroundings. Natural selection wouldn't work if "anything goes," so to speak. Beliefs about the world aren't something negative. They're essential to human survival and thriving.

There are more true and less true beliefs. There are beliefs better suited to a happy life, and beliefs less suited. I got the impression from your comment that you visualize the possibility of existing without beliefs. Or at least, that this would be preferable to having beliefs.

But maybe I read your comment wrongly, or too quickly.

Brian, from your links:

Dark matter:

Dark matter cannot be seen directly with telescopes; evidently it neither emits nor absorbs light or other electromagnetic radiation at any significant level.[1] Instead, its existence and properties are inferred from its gravitational effects on visible matter, radiation, and the large-scale structure of the universe.

Dark energy:

The nature of this dark energy is a matter of speculation. The evidence for dark energy is only indirect coming from distance measurements and their relation to redshift.[19] It is thought to be very homogeneous, not very dense and is not known to interact through any of the fundamental forces other than gravity. Since it is quite rarefied—roughly 10−29 g/cm3—it is unlikely to be detectable in laboratory experiments.

Which adds to what I have already stated about these concepts: they are inferred, not detectable, not definable, except in their effects upon the physical world.

I say the same thing about spirit and about consciousness: they can be inferred, extrapolated, from physical experience, but cannot be pinned down.

Dark matter and energy are indeed both "abstract mathematical inferences" -- which is nothing to take lightly -- and "reasonable explanations" I suppose; but I think rather than explanations, they are big fuzzy (to use cc's word) placeholders for future knowledge.

Please do not misunderstand me: I am not equating consciousness with these physical phenomena, only pointing out the limitations of scientific certainty and the source from which hypotheses emerge: which is our conscious experience.

Nor am I saying that consciousness is immune from scientific inquiry; but that is not the only mode of inquiry available to us. As I say, direct experience is the laboratory of consciousness, by nature subjective; to insist that everything else but proven and provable physical hypothesis is true is a sad state of mind, from where I sit.

But how can I convince anyone of the mystery of their consciousness, it's potential relation to spirit? A futile pursuit.

And why would I have any such need to convince anyone of this? If they do not have this experience of mystery, joy, union, communion...I find I have nothing at all to say about this. I am writing now not to convince, but to explore the territory.

And to thank you for the opportunity, Brian!

"It is plainly a matter of belief for you that science will eventually meet all of those questions with irrefutable answers."

I never said or implied "that science will eventually" be able to do any more than it has ever been able to do. Don't make stuff up and attribute it to me.

"Spiritual understanding is a matter of direct experience; you have no ground upon which to examine the nature of my experience in consciousness. For this reason it is superior to science: science cannot explain or dismantle my experience."

True, but you have nothing to show for this experience but your testimony, and what interest does that serve other than your need to toot your horn?

"to insist that everything else but proven and provable physical hypothesis is true is a sad state of mind, from where I sit."

I meant to write, "to insist that nothing else but proven and provable physical hypothesis is true is a sad state of mind, from where I sit."

Changes it a bit!

I am not sure what you are responding to. If it is my comment to CC about the possibility that we are all experiencing comforting beliefs of illusions, I at times make the innocent mistake of over emphasizing something to stress a point. I don't believe in anything goes. I do agree that there is a real world out there that has certain characteristics we humans agree on.

I could have said that we all need to walk in the humility of our human frailties and treat each other respect. But there is a difference to common ground earthly understandings and dogmatic beliefs which also include non beliefs. My stressing analogy was more directed at the ladder.

Okay, cc. You have asked me three times to stop talking. Here it comes.

"to insist that everything else but proven and provable physical hypothesis is true is a sad state of mind, from where I sit."

To insist that what you can't prove is true is even sadder. If I can prove something to myself that I can't prove or demonstrate to anyone else, I'm not going to say anything about it. Only preachers and proselytizers testify to what they can't demonstrate.

So far, all you've said is that you have every right to blab about what you believe in, despite the absence of evidence to support any of it, and that's the argument religion makes. Why come to an anti-religious site to bang your religious drum?

I guess the way I look upon... whatever it is this comment thread is looking upon is...

What Alan Watts was getting at in the post I wrote last night.

http://hinessight.blogs.com/church_of_the_churchless/2013/02/alan-watts-in-a-nutshell-each-present-moment-is-eternity.html

For everyone, not just "spiritual" people, experience of the present moment is ineffable, indescribable, beyond words. We can talk about it, but the talking doesn't encompass the reality.

So there's nothing special about ineffable experience. Also, it's super-special, because this is what living is: experiencing.

The past and future, though, gets us into the realm of science. Whether or not we're talking "religion" or "science."

Once we start speaking about stuff that supposedly was true in the past, or will be true in the future, we're into the world of causal linkages that can be discussed, examined, tested, argued about.

Is there life after death? Did Jesus walk on water? Does God control the outcome of football games? All kinds of "scientific" questions.

From long experience on this blog, I've noted that people often confuse these two areas: present moment experience and past/future claims.

They have an experience, then generalize a claim from the experience. Yet don't like to be challenged when people ask about the validity of the claim.

Experience of the present moment can't really be challenged. (Sophisticated brain scanners are getting close to revealing what is being experienced in general, though.)

Claims of past and future happenings in the mutually experienced causal world can, and should, be challenged though. It's the difference between saying "I feel like..." and "I know that..."

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Working...
Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.

Working...

Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Welcome


  • Welcome to the Church of the Churchless. If this is your first visit, click on "About this site--start here" in the Categories section below.
  • HinesSight
    Visit my other weblog, HinesSight, for a broader view of what's happening in the world of your Church unpastor, his wife, and dog.
  • BrianHines.com
    Take a look at my web site, which contains information about a subject of great interest to me: me.
  • Twitter with me
    Join Twitter and follow my tweets about whatever.
  • I Hate Church of the Churchless
    Can't stand this blog? Believe the guy behind it is an idiot? Rant away on our anti-site.

Posts compendium

Teeny-tiny Collection Plate

  • Brian Hines: Return to the One

    Brian Hines: Return to the One
    If you'd like to support the Church's efforts in a small way, and also learn about a great Greek mystic philosopher (Plotinus) who wonderfully embodies our creedless creed, consider buying our unpastor's book, "Return to the One: Plotinus's Guide to God-Realization."

Blog powered by Typepad

Become a Fan

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...