Spencer Tepper, a frequent commenter on this blog, bought a copy of the book, which I appreciate. I also appreciate a comment he left where he critiqued some of what I said in the first part of God's Whisper, Creation's Thunder.
It's a bit strange that I feel the need to defend a book that I don't totally believe in, but Tepper focused on a topic that I do consider to be absolutely true: that materiality is different from spirituality -- at least as spirituality is viewed through the lens of Radha Soami Satsang Beas (RSSB) or Sant Mat, which was the perspective from which I wrote the book back in the 1990s.
So it's sort of weird that Tepper is criticizing part of a book that was welcomed by the current RSSB guru, who arranged for several thousand copies of my book to be bought by RSSB, which greased the wheels for its initial publication by Threshold Books.
I say this because Tepper is an RSSB devotee, albeit seemingly not a standard one, since his views differ from the RSSB teachings in certain important respects. Anyway, here's Tepper's comment, and my responses in blue.
Hi Brian I'm working my way through your book and it did strike me in a completely different way today. It is elegant in its prose. But it's logic, at least in the first few pages, seems hopelessly flawed. You wrote "Materiality can be observed and measured with the physical senses of sight. hearing, touch, small, and taste. This distinction is important because it separates material science from spiritual science."
Yes, I consider this to be true. If something is material, meaning part of the physical universe, it isn't "spiritual" in the sense I'm using that term. The mystic philosophy of Sant Mat (which, again, is what I based the spiritual aspect of my book on) teaches that there are five regions of reality beyond the physical. The goal of Sant Mat meditation is to raise one's soul consciousness to those regions, aided and guided by spiritual light and sound.
This may be a case of reductum ad absurdum. The "material sciences" measure many things well beyond the range of the physical senses. From the distant cosmos to subatomic waves of pure energy, to brain waves and the firing of dendritic interlaces, science extends our vision and understanding. And in distinction to your claims, it often does so measuring indirectly.
When Tepper reads more of my book, he'll see that I note that science uses instruments to aid the human senses. Telescopes aid the eye, for example. And other instruments allow humans to detect electromagnetic frequencies beyond the range of the senses. But the measurements Tepper refers to all have to be cognized by one or more of the physical senses. How else would scientists know about the results of their experiments and observations? I talk a lot about quantum theory in my book, and this area of science deals almost entirely with indirect measurements, since there isn't agreement about the nature of the quantum realm.
We learn about gravity from objects that fall or move in space, not a direct measurement of gravity waves. When you wrote this you faulted, I believe falsely, the physical sciences for being unable to measure spiritual events because they have no apparent measurement in physical reality. Today you fault spirituality for exactly the same reason. Despite your development, your reasoning remains based in the same argumentation.
I don't understand what's being said in the comment above. Gravity waves are a physical phenomenon. Human senses interpret the observations made by highly sensitive machines that are able to detect gravity waves emanating from deep space. Given my definition of spiritual events, which is that used by Sant Mat, it isn't possible for a physical entity to detect a non-physical entity, such as the shabd or sound current posited by the RSSB teachings.
These days I regularly point out on this blog that there is no demonstrable evidence of a spiritual reality. This is consistent with what I said in my book, because physical reality is distinct from any spiritual reality that might exist. Thus any spiritual reality can only be known by an experiencer of it, since as I say in my book, that reality would be non-symbolic -- incapable of being described in words, symbols, images, numbers, or such.
Earlier you constrained science to what could be measured at the time. Today you constrain spirituality because of those same constraints. But in both cases the argument is premature. Your argument extends well beyond your evidence. Even thoughts are correlated to biochemical events. What happens to us is connected to this world.
I totally agree, given my current materialist perspective. However, mysticism as taught by the RSSB gurus has a different perspective: that soul consciousness is separable from the human brain, and it is possible to be aware of spiritual realms of reality that have no connection with this physical universe.
Spirituality and all the classic experiences noted repeatedly in mystic literature and mythic symbols throughout recorded history must at some point find measurable correlates. You quote Max Planck "Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature and, therefore, part of the mystery we are trying to solve."
Tepper is wrong on this point. Most mystical literature teaches that God, and associated"heavens," are incapable of being described symbolically. They must be experienced, not talked about. The Planck quote cited above supports this notion. Spiritual mystery can be comprehended only by becoming it, or at least grasping it in a non-conceptual fashion. So it is entirely wrong to claim that mysticism seeks "measurable correlates" of mystical experience.
This echoes the same argument for analogous reasoning made by Thomas Aquinas, when he wrote that God cannot be understood by deduction, since God is not a reducable element that can be manipulated, but is in fact greater than this creation. And this echoes Kant's argument that reason cannot accurately extend too far beyond its premeses of common experience to explain metasphysic experience.
Agreed, in the sense that I noted above: mysticism teaches that reasoning can't reach into spiritual realms of existence, a point I stress repeatedly in my book.
But as the tools of science are honed in studying mystic experience we certainly can and will gain greater insights into it. All the modern research into meditation and its physiological effects are evidence, hard evidence of this. I think the same flaw in reasoning from your book pervades your current thinking. You once dismissed scientific inquiry as too limited to capture the full range of reality. Your argument then seemed to be 'If science can't test it today, science must be too constrained to witness true mystic experience' . You now dismiss mystic experience for the same reason.
I disagree, given the RSSB/Sant Mat form of mysticism I based my book on. Again, the RSSB teachings aim at merging the drop of the soul with the ocean of shabd, the sound current that is believed to be the source from which lower levels of creation spring. This is very different from meditation approaches that aim at making the mind (which is the physical brain in action) more relaxed, concentrated, and such. Tepper's definition of "mystic experience" isn't the one I use in my book, which is the same as that taught by the RSSB gurus.
You seem to now be saying 'If mystic experience can't be tested it must be false, non-existent.' Brian, I hope you can see both of these are unscientific and fallacious claims, based as they area on a single false premise: Your arguments are too final for either science or statements of divinity, based as they are on flawed human limitations, either in meditation or science. But in both cases development invalidates that argument.
Tepper clearly hasn't finished reading my book. What he says above is the exact opposite of what I say in the book. God's Whisper, Creation's Thunder is founded on the premise that there are objective, yet non-symbolic, realms of reality that lie beyond the bounds of material science. So I say over and over in the book that it isn't possible for material science to find signs of a spiritual reality.
You site [sic ] Joe Rosen's definition of science based in the study of what is reproducible and predictable (reliable). All meditation practice and specifically the internal experiences that accrue must at some point meet these same criteria in order for the practitioner to conclude they are witnessing truth. Your approach to criticizing science as a means of creating a space to defend meditation is based on a flaw that had to crumble at some point.
Yes, I correctly describe what material science is all about. Spiritual science is not material science. As I say in my book, if there are spiritual realms of reality that are non-physical, a physical science can't be aware of them. This is why I say that non-symbolic contemplative meditation is the only way of (possibly) contacting a spiritual reality. The fact that there is no agreement among the world's religions and mystical teachings about what a spiritual reality is like now leads me to believe that no such reality exists.
I wonder why you would choose to write this book without first having a thorough grounding of spiritual experience that met the conditions for reliability and repetitive reproducibility at your volition, so that you could test it, and get beyond imagination and subjective experience.
Well, I spent 35 years meditating every day for several hours, as instructed by Charan Singh, the guru who initiated me in 1971. I consider that a "thorough grounding" in the Sant Mat mystical teachings. I conducted the experiment of contemplative meditation with fortitude, diligence, and attention to detail. Tepper is free to engage in judgmentalism, and he appears to consider himself superior in spiritual wisdom. Maybe he is. But there is no way to know, because I continue to believe that genuine spirituality isn't capable of being communicated in words or any other symbols.
I'll end by noting to Tepper that this book was reviewed and read by numerous "higher-ups" in the Radha Soami Satsang Beas organization, and was approved by the guru Gurinder Singh himself. So even though Tepper believes that my book doesn't accurately reflect the mystical teachings of Sant Mat, the guru and other leaders of Radha Soami Satsang Beas considered that it did.