Most people take it for granted that religious, mystical, or spiritual discussions usually center around Who Said What.
What did Jesus mean in such-and-such Bible passage?
When Ramana talks about "I-I," how is this to be interpreted?
Can we trust Deepak Chopra's view of the cosmos?
This emphasis on personal sources of wisdom is more than a little strange, when you think about it. After all, what difference does it make if Joe rather than Jane claims that something is true?
If it's true, it's true. If it isn't, it isn't.
Spirituality often is considered to be a science of sorts, since spiritual truths can be viewed as being more universal than idiosyncratic personal experiences.
Well, if this is so, then why are most religious believers, mystic practitioners, and spiritual devotees obsessed with revelations by saints, masters, gurus, and such? What's the big deal with what Person X says, especially when it is at odds with what Person Y says?
If spirituality is a science, then the focus should be on what's real, not on what's said.
This morning I was reading my way through physicist David Deutsch's fascinating new book, "The Beginning of Infinity: Explanations that Transform the World." I came across some passages that cast new light on my series of infatuations with certain mystics.
Courses in philosophy place great weight on reading original texts, and commentaries on them, in order to understand the theories that were in the minds of various great philosophers.
This focus on history is odd, and is in marked contrast to all other academic disciplines (except perhaps history itself). For example, in all the physics courses that I took at university, both as an undergraduate and as a graduate student, I cannot recall a single instance where any orginal papers or books by the great physicists of old were studied or were even on the reading list.
Only when a course touched upon very recent discoveries did we ever read the work of their discoverers. So we learned Einstein's theory of relativity without ever hearing from Einstein; we knew Maxwell, Boltzmann, Schrodinger, Heisenberg, and so on only as names. We read their theories in textbooks whose authors were physicists (not historians of physics) who themselves may well never have read the works of those pioneers.
Why? The immediate reason is that the original sources of scientific theories are almost never good sources. How could they be? All subsequent expositions are intended to be improvements on them, and some succeed, and improvements are cumulative.
...When they learn a theory, scientists are interested in what the theory's originator, or anyone else along the chain of communication, believed. When physicists read a textbook on the theory of relativity, their immediate objective is to learn the theory, and not the opinions of Einstein or of the textbook's author.
If that seems strange, imagine, for the sake of argument, that a historian were to discover that Einstein wrote his papers only as a joke, or at gunpoint, and was actually a lifelong believer in Kepler's laws.
This would be a bizarre and important discovery about the history of physics, and all the textbooks about that would have to be rewritten. But our knowledge of physics itself would be unaffected, and physics textbooks would not need any change at all.
Now, if a religious, mystical, or spiritual "theory" (a.k.a. theology) says that if a person does such-and-such, he or she will develop some unusual attributes -- like perfect love or perfect knowledge -- then it makes sense to judge the truth of the theory by an assessment of the theory-purveyor's personal characteristics.
But if the theory/theology is about some universal attribute of the cosmos, such as the existence of heaven or some other higher realm of reality, then the truth or falsehood of this claim doesn't depend upon the person making it.
So a scientific spirituality shouldn't care who says something. What matters is what's being said. If it's true, there should be evidence of this beyond the mere saying.