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December 16, 2010

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Consider: every holy book, every holy person, every holy vision -- these all are part of someone's bodily awareness. This isn't a conjecture. It's a neurological fact. Show me one human being who has ever had an experience without a physical body.

You can't. Because it has never happened. Being human means being embodied.

But, that's a rigid and tunnel-visioned assertion too - the flip side of religious fundamentalism. Because there's a neurological marker for every thought doesn't cinch it that the brain was causative. Or that nothing experiential could happen without a body. If our essence and thoughts are grounded in a supra-physical realm, the brain may be a secondary actor, not the director.

The endurance of a mystical tradition, the uncanny evidence of ESP, even a deep, intuitive sense that our essence isn't just physical, that thoughts aren't just artifacts of a brain... all argue against rigidity.

The endurance of a mystical tradition, the uncanny evidence of ESP, even a deep, intuitive sense that our essence isn't just physical, that thoughts aren't just artifacts of a brain... all argue against rigidity.

Everything Dungeness described here sounds like the result of an active imagination playing with concepts gathered by the brain during life like so many lego blocks. Except the part about "uncanny evidence of ESP." I don't know of any credible evidence let alone any uncanny evidence. Plus, just because we don't yet have an answer doesn't make every hypothesis equally plausible. A materialist, naturalist stance where mind arises from complexity is more likely, and would be more in line with neuroscience.

As neuroscience matures we will understand better how and why the brain does what it does. But it is interesting how people want a dualistic explanation in the absence of any evidence of dualism.

Except the part about "uncanny evidence of ESP." I don't know of any credible evidence let alone any uncanny evidence.

I don't think the large body of ESP research and the evidence uncovered can be so easily marginalized... The pioneering studies never repudiated cases of unexplained ESP. And some have been extremely compelling. They can't all be ascribed to statistical anomaly.

On the other hand, generations of mystical writing and description can certainly be dismissed out of hand since there's no "plausible scientific proof". Ditto for mankind's enduring sense of something beyond the physical. But, only the most supercilious and rigid will deny the possibility of a non-phenomenological explanation.

This is the point I hoped to make.

Plus, just because we don't yet have an answer doesn't make every hypothesis equally plausible.

Who determines plausibility? Particularly,
for the enduring existential questions: who are we? what did we come from? what happens after death? You can't assert that science, however promising, outweighs all other theories. I can't imagine anyone but a rabid materialist doing so. I have no doubt most scientists wouldn't either.

A materialist, naturalist stance where mind arises from complexity is more likely, and would be more in line with neuroscience.

But, that "likelihood" of a more plausible materialist explanation could certainly be due to individual bias too. The charge of "an active imagination" playing with concepts...like so many lego blocks" works both ways.

As neuroscience matures we will understand better how and why the brain does what it does.

Absolutely. I agree.

But it is interesting how people want a dualistic explanation in the absence of any evidence of dualism.

What "people" and what's meant by "dualism" here? Some mystical theories postulate that transcendent reality encapsulates both physical and non-physical. Are you suggesting that any hint of religion or a transcendent realm is dualistic while the scientific model isn't...?
If so, that seems like a twisty re-definition of dualism.

If there is compelling evidence of ESP, then James Randi owes someone a million bucks. Last I heard, no one's claimed it. That is the level of skeptical filtering that is missing in the belief system Dungeness espouses, though it makes for interesting reading over breakfast.

I don't dismiss the "generations of mystical writing and description" out there. Well, actually, I do dismiss a lot of it because it is ultimately repetitive and useless. Some however do contain bits of wisdom. Not a lot of it though.

If you find chakras and ESP and Jesus and the like useful for getting you through your day, then that's awesome. Shout it out loud so we know where you are and can keep an eye on you.

If there is compelling evidence of ESP, then James Randi owes someone a million bucks. Last I heard, no one's claimed it. That is the level of skeptical filtering that is missing in the belief system Dungeness espouses, though it makes for interesting reading over breakfast.

I may be wrong but my impression is Randi's really targetting chicanery and uncritical acceptance rather than making a blanket dismissal. And, the pioneering studies of Rhine and others certainly didn't repudiate ESP nor was there a hidden agenda to do so. To dismiss ESP as "just interesting reading over breakfast" for the skeptically impaired is an overreach in my opinion. They may be unrepeatable and anecdotal but there're still far too many compelling cases to characterize them all as fraud.

If you find chakras and ESP and Jesus and the like useful for getting you through your day, then that's awesome. Shout it out loud so we know where you are and can keep an eye on you.

But that's missing the point again... I don't think ridicule resonates with many either no matter how fundamentalist or delusional some views seem. This shouldn't be about lumping "chakras and ESP and Jesus" as transparently kooky bedfellows. Nor attacking charlatans professing to hold seances with the departed or other obvious frauds.

It's about an openness to possibilities, to remaining at least agnostic about that which unproven. Otherwise, your concepts may run away with you, like so many "lego blocks".

Dungeness, in a comment above you spoke of science being dualistic. Huh? Science posits that physical matter/energy is all there is. Or at least, all that we can know about. This is a monistic or unitary way of looking at reality.

Religion, spirituality, and mysticism, on the other hand, almost always assume that spirit/soul is separate and distinct from matter/mind -- and that consciousness can exist apart from the brain. This is dualism.

So if you're looking for oneness, science is the way to go. If you want twoness, embrace religion.

Complex visionary imagery along with other supersonsory phenomena are not the same as the neuron nerve networks firing in the brain. It is essentially a mystery which cannot be explained away scientifically, or by "clever" semantics by "experts."

Dungeness, in a comment above you spoke of science being dualistic. Huh? Science posits that physical matter/energy is all there is. Or at least, all that we can know about. This is a monistic or unitary way of looking at reality.

Religion, spirituality, and mysticism, on the other hand, almost always assume that spirit/soul is separate and distinct from matter/mind -- and that consciousness can exist apart from the brain. This is dualism.

So if you're looking for oneness, science is the way to go. If you want twoness, embrace religion.


But that's one slant among many since dualism can be seen from various knotholes. I would agree that most religious frameworks posit a soul-vs-matter dichotomy; but some mystical paths don't. That's why I suggested in my comment there were various flavors of the witches brew:

what's meant by "dualism" here? Some mystical theories postulate that transcendent reality encapsulates both physical and non-physical...

And, looking down mystical branch of the twisty little tree of dualism, here's Wikipedia on "In Eastern Mysticism":

Alternatively, dualism can mean the tendency of humans to perceive and understand the world as being divided into two overarching categories. In this sense, it is dualistic when one perceives a tree as a thing separate from everything surrounding it, or when one perceives a "self" that is distinct from the rest of the world. In traditions such as classical Hinduism, Zen Buddhism or Islamic Sufism, a key to enlightenment is "transcending" this sort of dualistic thinking, without merely substituting dualism with monism or pluralism.

Dungeness, good points. There is indeed another way of looking at dualism -- not in terms of the basic "stuff" of the cosmos, but who is doing the looking (or how the looking occurs). Thanks for pointing that out.

In this regard, I agree that science is inherently dualistic, since it studies an external reality that differs from the subjectivity doing the studying. Maybe there is another way of perceiving, not totally unified, but more so than our usual state of consciousness.

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