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Moving Beyond Skepticism


Mike
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Hi everyone. I wrote an essay this morning that details, briefly and very generally, philosophical reasons why I left skepticism behind and was able to become open to the spiritual side of reality. I know a lot of people struggle with this sort of issue in the modern scientific world, so I thought I'd post it here. Much of the last paragraph I pulled from one of my posts here because it seemed to fit the context well.

 

Thanks, and peace,

Mike

 

We in the West have become accustomed to look for truth on the outside. It’s become a natural assumption for us to think of truth principally as something “out there,” and it seldom occurs to us that if there is any truth (or reality; “reality” and “truth” are synonyms), it must dwell inside as well as outside. But since truth is on the inside too, it is readily accessible to us in an intimate way that “outside truth,” in principle, is not.

 

Since the rise of modern science, the dominating intellectual tradition in the West has been externalism, or objectification. So pervasive a force has this been that it has influenced even the most qualitative of domains: psychology, as may be seen in the behavioralism in the 19th century, which attempted to confine, by method if not even by theory, the meaning of a person’s mental states to their external behavior. Though behavioralism declined, in present day not a few people will attempt to explain love, meaning, and morality exclusively in terms of biological evolution, equating (or confusing) evolutionary function with existential content.

 

Obviously this kind of bias has also made its way into our epistemology too. Logical positivism, for instance, holds that only statements which refer to quantified, empirical results are meaningful. But generally we can see the results of this bias latent in our own assumptions about reality. Intellectually we have relegated subjectivity, qualia, and sensation to a status of either secondary reality or even non-reality. The objective world becomes synonymous with what is “really” going on, whereas the subjective world is at best a shadow. Thus we have inherited a lopsided view of reality: an outside with no inside. Objectivity, when taken to an extreme (and it has), seeks to exclude the subject and make an object out of everything, including reality as a whole. But since there is no such “view from nowhere” or “God’s eye view” available to us, this naturally leads only to endless skepticism with no place to begin a spiritual practice.

 

What helped me move beyond Western skepticism was realizing that there is more to reality than objectivity. Don’t get me wrong, objectivity is an invaluable tool. But its value lies precisely in that it is a tool, and not an ultimate end in itself. The experiential side of reality just as real. And for each of us as subjects (as opposed to objects), it is even more real, since it is direct, immediate, and intimate. Reading a billion volumes on eyesight could never replace the intimate experience of seeing. If forced to make a choice, I’d rather be completely ignorant of how it objectively works, if it would mean I could know firsthand that it works and what it is like, which is a pure and direct “revelation.” After reading a billion volumes, I’d still never know what it is to see. There is, therefore, more to reality and truth than words and objectivity can convey. In other words, the intimacy of experience brings us in contact with an aspect of truth that is fundamentally ineffable.

 

This creates a distinction between knowledge as abstraction (i.e. knowledge 'about' something; circumscribing and defining an external object) and knowledge as intimacy (unity, experience: “direct” knowledge without which the other type of knowledge is left impotent, having ultimately no referent).

 

Now logic itself can only get one so far. Reason is indeed a light that we cannot do without, but (to borrow a phrase I read somewhere) as a light it cannot illumine itself. No logical system, no philosophical system of thought, can be truly complete or inclusive of all truth. Reason, especially systematic thought, are exclusive. Knowledge is exclusive by nature. We understand some things to the exclusion of others. More pointedly: we understand some things precisely because we exclude the others. Like a camera we bring one object into focus only to blur out the rest of the picture. Or as Zen Master Dogen said, when one side is lighted, the other becomes dark. Ultimately we can say that we understand some things precisely because we do not understand everything. And if we claim to understand everything, then we've understood nothing at all.

 

Realizing, then, this fundamental inability of words and logic to capture reality, we are left with an essential mystery as to the nature of existence (the positivists might claim, of course, that “existence” is a meaningless term). Not a mystery in the sense of a logical riddle to be figured out, but an intrinsic, abiding mystery that can only be experienced and lived: a mystery in principle. Once one realizes there are aspects of reality that are, as such, fundamentally beyond the reach of the scientific method, then one may become open to the possibility, if not the necessity, of religious truth.

 

This is the beginning of my approach to religion. You might call it existentialism, and to a degree that is right; however, I turn to religion for my existential concerns because that is where humankind has been dealing with these issues for thousands of years. That is where I have found wisdom and not mere knowledge.

 

We all have faith in something. Secularists included. We draw meaning from everywhere to establish our sense of identity. This identity cannot be proved through logic or the scientific method alone. Now, science is something I take very seriously, so seriously that I‘ve devoted much energy into thinking about its purpose and its limitations. Science itself is not the problem; the problem is that our philosophy and worldview can, and do, get in the way of our ability to be spiritual people. In the modern, objective Western world, nothing is sacred. We've turned the world into an object and distanced ourselves from the inner experience of life. Then we despair that the sacred can't be found anywhere since we've looked under every rock and peered billions of light-years into space. Time is just time, space is just space, people are just people, and if it suits us, they are all objects to be used, manipulated, wrung out for profit, and ultimately ignored. Most of us are resisting having to arrive at such a conclusion, but not many of us know why and how not to. There is a reason we Westerners live in the constant fear of falling into nihilism, but the problem is not with science or even with objectivity; is it in how we have come to relate to what we call reality.

Edited by Mike
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Mike,

 

I agree that “science itself is not the problem.” There is no necessary conflict between scientific objectivity and relating to God; they are different lenses for the same reality. But to some extent I think technology may have led to people objectifying, manipulating or mistreating other human beings. We can’t really know others electronically, just as we can’t know God through the intellect alone.

 

There are many reasons for people not feeling more in touch with God. Restlessness, not having or not taking the time to meditate. Also, the commercial culture that surrounds us tends to make us think that suffering should be denied, that we can solve or escape or distract ourselves from suffering completely, as if perfection were within our reach. The Sabbath sense of “enough” is absent from the advertising world -- there’s always something more we need to get or do or be. Absorbing that anxiety and compulsiveness can be a stumbling block to spirituality.

 

When you’re fresh out of college, so much of life has been devoted to studying everything as an external object – learning about, rather than experiencing. Yet you seem to have found the time to contemplate and maintain a mystical connection to the divine. Maybe you could explain further what you meant.

Edited by rivanna
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Mike, I like what you wrote. When I was young I went inside and found God and then turned to science and philosophy. What you wrote about science is true. I went outside, studied and found God. It doesn't seem we can escape The Almighty. Science does make everything studied objective, but the new physics and even Quantum Physics is proving that the observer has an influence on what is being observed and vice a versa, which would make both subjective. I like science and reason in that it helps me explain to myself what I am experiencing spiritually. I know it can't be explained, but it gives my intellect some answers so I can sit still and not be disturbed. Now, I can't see the difference between science and religion because they are both explaining God, a kind of metaphysics. When I am centered, it is nice to be in love and see God everywhere reacting to me inside and out. I feel people need these tools; religion, science, philosophy and psychology to answer their questions so they can experience the silence. No one gains the ultimate answer, only the temperament and inclination for silence because when we are silent God seems to speak. I use to think I was a body and mind having sporadic spiritual experiences, but now I feel I am a soul having a human experience. It is so nice to see the beloved where ever one goes; inside, outside, far or near. He is in pain, song, dance, debt and yes, other religions. God has blessed us all, may we awaken to it in silence.

 

The mind, questions and theories can be a distraction so silence is important to put them in their place. Great article, you serve us all well with your writing. Thanks

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Mike

 

I liked what you wrote and am convicted by it to some extent. I see myself in your words. Practice is essential to access a way of not seeing the world as only object. Learning to be quiet and meditative listening for a voice or to experience a numinous experience - or my case a sense of compassion for self - an experience beyond our self talk. This practice is healing, brings a sense of wholeness and can relax the defenses allowing me to be more sociable. The question is not the practice but the words. I have argued that Boehme has the best theodicy for me, although I see an on going dialectic rather than the short dialectic that Boehme describes. I also believe strongly that words and our shared conversations create the social and spiritual world we know. Some here see that the spiritual world is not acessible by words and I acknowledge that. But words are what we use to describe our experiences even if say I am at a loss for words. I am wandering here. I have also argued for evolution both of creation and of God.

 

I have had a number of ecstatic moments as a result of my bipolar disorder. Most had religious content and I shared them with others as religous experiences. But I have read that many mania episodes among those with bipolar disorder have religious content. From where does the religious content come. From the religious context in which I live? A message from God? I lived as if they were religious experiences. I made the meaning after the event in my religious context.

 

Again I agree that the practice of meditation, silence can bring a sense of wholeness, of love, which in-forms our behavior with others, I am wondering what name, what source.

 

In the article by Paul Bloom many would object to his description of their beliefs. I also think there are paper tigers here. But in the context of evolution it is a challenging thought.

 

Is God an accident?

.......................

One: human beings come into the world with a predisposition to believe in supernatural phenomena. And two: this predisposition is an incidental by-product of cognitive functioning gone awry. Which leads to the question ...Is God an accident?

...........

Understanding of the physical world and understanding of the social world can be seen as akin to two distinct computers in a baby's brain, running separate programs and performing separate tasks. The understandings develop at different rates: the social one emerges somewhat later than the physical one. They evolved at different points in our prehistory; our physical understanding is shared by many species, whereas our social understanding is a relatively recent adaptation, and in some regards might be uniquely human.

 

That these two systems are distinct is especially apparent in autism, a developmental disorder whose dominant feature is a lack of social understanding. Children with autism typically show impairments in communication (about a third do not speak at all), in imagination (they tend not to engage in imaginative play), and most of all in socialization. They do not seem to enjoy the company of others; they don't hug; they are hard to reach out to. In the most extreme cases children with autism see people as nothing more than objects—objects that move in unpredictable ways and make unexpected noises and are therefore frightening. Their understanding of other minds is impaired, though their understanding of material objects is fully intact.

...............

But these systems (understanding the physical world and understanding the social world) go awry in two important ways that are the foundations of religion. First, we perceive the world of objects as essentially separate from the world of minds, making it possible for us to envision soulless bodies and bodiless souls. This helps explain why we believe in gods and an afterlife. Second, as we will see, our system of social understanding overshoots, inferring goals and desires where none exist.

........................

We have what the anthropologist Pascal Boyer has called a hypertrophy of social cognition. We see purpose, intention, design, even when it is not there.

.....................

But the universal themes of religion are not learned. They emerge as accidental by-products of our mental systems. They are part of human nature.

..................

 

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2005/12/is-god-an-accident/4425/4/

 

I guess the question that must be raised is, "Are the universal themes of religion there by accident or because God put them there" ?

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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And more skepticism. . .

 

When the brain is deprived of the self stimulation and sensory input [by suppressing the forty hertz component with a magnetic coil] that is required for it to define itself as being distinct from the rest of the world, the brain 'defaults' to a sense of infinity. The sense of self expands to fill whatever the brain can sense, and what it senses is the world, so the experience of the self simply expands to fill the perception of the world itself. One experiences becoming "one with the universe."

 

Experiencing God: The Neurology of the Spiritual Experience

Scott Bidstrup's bibliography is limited and his reading is strongly biased. Controversy plagues Dr. Michael Persinger's work. Dr. Andrew Newberg, cited in the bibliography, is friendlier towards religion and spiritual experiences.

 

h+: You’ve written five books now about the science behind spiritual experience — how has your view of religion evolved along the way?

 

ANDREW NEWBERG: I actually don’t know if it’s changed that much. I started out trying to answer some big questions about the nature of reality. I've certainly developed a deeper respect for the immense variety of spiritual experiences and for the nature of belief — but at the core I’m still trying to answer those questions.

 

The Neurology of Spiritual Experience: A Conversation with Andrew Newberg

 

While it is evident that the forty hertz component can be supressed by deep meditation in Tibetan monks and Franciscan nuns, the question is still, "Which is cause and which is effect ?" Does our practice cause the experience? And does our context provide the meaning ? Or does this science reveal what and perhaps how but not explain why?

 

I think these "journalistic" motivated experiments are highly suspect but this is interesting:

 

Dr Persinger has explained away the failure of this Transcranial Magnetic Stimulator. Before donning the helmet, Prof Dawkins had scored low on a psychological scale measuring proneness to temporal lobe sensitivity.

Recent studies on identical and fraternal twin pairs raised apart suggest that 50 per cent of our religious interests are influenced by genes. It seems Prof Dawkins is genetically predisposed not to believe.

 

Holy visions elude scientists

By Raj Persuad

Published: 8:49PM GMT 20 Mar 2003

You will find a connection between my comments here and my entry in What am I doing today? topic. But sometimes moments like these are part of the journey.

 

 

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

Edited by glintofpewter
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Hi Dutch,

 

Thanks for your responses, they contain some very important questions.

 

I liked what you wrote and am convicted by it to some extent. I see myself in your words. Practice is essential to access a way of not seeing the world as only object. Learning to be quiet and meditative listening for a voice or to experience a numinous experience - or my case a sense of compassion for self - an experience beyond our self talk. This practice is healing, brings a sense of wholeness and can relax the defenses allowing me to be more sociable. The question is not the practice but the words. I have argued that Boehme has the best theodicy for me, although I see an on going dialectic rather than the short dialectic that Boehme describes. I also believe strongly that words and our shared conversations create the social and spiritual world we know. Some here see that the spiritual world is not acessible by words and I acknowledge that. But words are what we use to describe our experiences even if say I am at a loss for words. I am wandering here.

 

I agree that words are an important aspect of religious practice -- without them we'd have no context by which to understand our experiences. There is a reciprocal relationship between words and experience in our daily living, but the experience itself is still, as such, beyond words. At this point in my life I have have arrived at an understanding that reality is intimacy. There is simply no need to invoke any other reality.

 

There is no need to invoke anything from the outside to validate an experience, as such, as being authentic or inauthentic. The only ultimate difference between experiences is what they teach us about how we can relate to reality, to self, to other, and whether or not they are useful to guide us along a path toward wholesome, healthy living. No experience, as such, is intrinsically or ontologically more real than any other. However, some experiences are intrinsically more meaningful, in that they open us to reality (and self, and other) in ways previously unthought of. They bring us into a new context of living, and context and meaning are intimately linked.

 

So the question surfaces, in this realm of intimate experience and intimate meaning, is there really a need for preoccupation with objectification? Only within the trappings of this preoccupation must we force an objective interpretation of what we think is 'really' going on. I don't mean taking this to an extreme where objectivity is simply ignored. That would just substitute one lopsided view of reality for another. However, let us not forget that beyond the object-way of relating to reality, there is also an intimate way, from which meaningfulness arises.

 

When the brain is deprived of the self stimulation and sensory input [by suppressing the forty hertz component with a magnetic coil] that is required for it to define itself as being distinct from the rest of the world, the brain 'defaults' to a sense of infinity. The sense of self expands to fill whatever the brain can sense, and what it senses is the world, so the experience of the self simply expands to fill the perception of the world itself. One experiences becoming "one with the universe."

 

I would first point out with regard to this quote that meditative practice is not (or at least should not be) a form of sensory deprivation. However, even in this scientific description of what is "really" happening in the brain while in such a state, we are still rife with metaphysical assumptions fundamentally impenetrable to the scientific method. This description assumes basic metaphysical intuitions like oneness, multiplicity, sense of selfhood and otherness; space, time, the universe, all of which we have no possible way of objectively circumscribing.

 

All that really can be done objectively is to monitor the states of different parts of the brain which are empirically, and loosely, associated with this or that particular function. In fact, the only reason we can even speak of what might be objectively going on by looking at these graphs is because we ourselves already know what qualitative conscious experience is. Without that, the brain would just be a quantified structure impervious to any investigation. The only means we have of knowing what something 'is like' is by experiencing it firsthand. That is why artificial intelligence is such a stretch, because we have no theory or first principles to work from in order to figure out how to build consciousness in a quantified, structural sense. It is fundamentally beyond investigation.

 

Some questions which come to mind: which contains more existential truth about the dissolution of self and other, and of non-duality and all its implications: reading a graph with depictions of states of activity in the brain, or the actual firsthand experience of such a state? Which way of relating to reality is superior, normal perception or extraordinary perception? Who can objectively say?

 

Also, as a final note, in my own understanding, daily spiritual practice is not really dependent on the attainment of such extraordinary states, which may be seen as a distraction within some traditions.

 

Peace,

Mike

 

PS Thanks everyone for your responses, I intend to respond to them.

Edited by Mike
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Hi everybody,

 

I've been thinking about a lot about the questions raised about the essay, especially Dutch's concerns about skepticism, but also Karen's request that I explain more what I meant. Not that I suppose myself an authority on such matters as skepticism, neuroscience, language and perception, but after pulling together thoughts and ideas for the last few days, I thought I'd post my approach here. You might consider this 'Moving Beyond Skepticism, Part 2'.

 

Thanks, and peace,

Mike

 

Skepticism

 

I think, perhaps, the thought returns to us all sometimes: Wouldn’t it be nice if skepticism could just go away? I don’t mean critical thinking, but that nagging, uneasy feeling of not being integrated into life because it can’t be trusted. And it can’t be trusted until we know what it is “all about.” But why must we question things to the point where we feel we don’t even know how to breathe?

 

What if, instead, we were to move to a place where skepticism need not be struggled against, to where it simply becomes inapplicable? It is apparent that skepticism cannot be overcome by using more skepticism. Should we think to put out a fire by pouring more flame onto it? A wholly different approach, or rather, way of being, must be established.

 

The problem that will be addressed involves the problem of perception. I wish to show that the best way to overcome the problem is to see that, or to move to a place where, there is no problem at all. The problem goes something like this: “Our perceptions are mere interpretations of reality; we can never get at reality as it truly is.”

 

Let us think about this statement. It is quite a reasonable concern; but in another sense, it is quite presumptuous, is it not? Beyond the immediate inconsistency that it seems to know something about that which is claimed to be unknowable (which, I suppose, could be corrected by saying we can never know whether we know reality-as-it-truly-is), it takes as a given the existence of a “reality-as-it-truly-is,” somewhere out there, apart and distinct from, or over-against, the experience of perception. This is not to posit merely that perception is reality. I ask us to look more deeply than this. The problem posits that we cannot know reality. In a sense this is correct: we cannot have complete objective knowledge of reality. Now, this truly would be an insurmountable problem were we to presuppose a few things: that there is nothing more to reality than objectivity; that there is no other kind of knowing than “knowledge about;” and that if we cannot have objective knowledge, then there is nothing to know. But -- and this is important -- even all this assumes there to be a complete objective reality to be described and categorized in the first place: that there is a “reality-as-is” somehow apart from perception, experience, consciousness (and indeed our own existence), as if reality were an object that we are outside of, and we are stuck having to do our best to tap into it somehow, indirectly. In other words, there is no need to invoke a reality that is something separate, distinct from, behind, or independent of intimate experience, that somehow makes the experience what it is, as if the experience itself were not the very reality.

 

What reality do we suppose we are perceiving by the act of perception? Fundamentally, there is no such thing as interpreting reality because there is nothing to interpret! Perception is like Indra’s Jewel Net: a process of self-reflection, yet with no essence that is being reflected. Reality is already there, dynamically, in perception. A problem only arises when we want to treat all this like an object, something that we can hold onto. When the impossibility of this becomes apparent, instead of treating this as positive feedback about what it means to exist, we tend to treat it with skeptical despair. With the former there is ultimately no need for skepticism, because we already know what reality is. It is just that close; too close, in fact, for words.

 

Phrased this way, we can begin to see why this is a false problem. If there is any reality, we are it already. It does not exist somewhere else, perhaps lurking in the background waiting to lash out against the meaning we discover in life. On the contrary: when beheld most intimately, reality is right there, actively participating in our quest for meaning. (A note: This should not be surprising: to be an object is also to be a subject. It could therefore be posited that subjectivity, defined here as “intimate context,” pertains to the state of every object in the universe, so that the world is in a state of inter-subjectivity, rather than abstract objectivity.)

 

And hence we arrive at the crux: skepticism, by nature, requires detachment. But you cannot be detached from reality; reality is not such that the concept of “detached” can even apply, as if it were an object that we can clip onto. Life is by nature context, meaning, and above all, trust. To live -- to be -- is to trust.

 

There is a sort of ontological necessity of trust. We trust right down to very the depths of our being everyday, if not consciously, then definitely unconsciously. It is not fundamentally a choice. Our very breathing is an act of trust, is it not? We entrust ourselves to reality in every moment, for one more breath, one more heartbeat. Plainly there is nothing to not trust. The skeptic’s “reality-as-it-truly-is” is merely a concept which, by definition, has no consequence on anything we do or are. And with no possible consequence, what’s so real about it? What was the problem, again?

 

Ineffableness

 

Nobody knows what quality is. By nature it’s the kind of thing that may only be experienced. Its reality is the experience of it. Also, nobody knows what experience and consciousness are, for basically the same reasons. Quality, experience, consciousness -- I use all these terms in ultimately the same sense here, because their realities are so inextricably tied.

 

So, we don’t know. Yet, we do know, and we know it intimately. In fact, it is precisely because we know it so well that we can’t say what it is! We’d have to distance ourselves from it to know it objectively. But in doing so, we’d stop knowing it. Its very truth, therefore, is in its directness and immediacy.

 

All this is said to point out something basic and obvious: all experience, though varied and conditioned, is mystical and ineffable. We can only describe experiences/qualities in terms of other experiences/qualities. Description is only possible by analogy. Which is to say, we use the indescribable to describe the indescribable.

 

The amazing thing is that this works for us. What does that say about the nature of life? Well, among other things, it says that we fundamentally dwell in an ineffable reality. Yet we know it so intimately that we can speak of it. It gives rise to words and descriptions, and we can share them with others on the basis that they too are grounded in the ineffableness of experience. If they were not, then there would be no way to communicate an experience to them. Communication relies on shared or common experiences (“what it is like”); without this, communication fundamentally breaks down: try explaining sight to one who was born blind.

 

Describability lies also in the inherent contextuality of experience. Experience must be contextual, otherwise we’d be experiencing everything at once. We might even define experience as the realization of a context. Words and interpretations seem to flow naturally from our experiences, and a reciprocal relationship between them becomes established. Hence we discover the powerful spiritual notions of self and other, of identity and relationship.

 

At this point, please allow for an excursion to the subject of consciousness and brain, mind and matter. For the reasons touched upon above, conscious life cannot in principle be explained -- or captured -- by objective methodology. There is simply no way to pinpoint the “stuff” of qualitative reality, or to grasp it, or to find a mechanism that generates it, as if consciousness were something that could just be built like one constructs a house or a computer. You can’t get more out of a system than what is fundamentally already there! To say that qualitative reality is just an emergent property of the brain -- or an emergent property of any interaction -- is to push the problem away in the hopes of maintaining a strictly materialist worldview. There is no theory of consciousness.

 

Now, I have nothing against the concept of matter: it is fine so far as it goes. But only so far as it goes. It is just that: a concept. Yet I don’t mind admitting for the view, even though there is no strictly conclusive empirical evidence for it, that individual consciousness exists solely in the matrix of interactions of the brain. I would even admit to something much further: consciousness really is nothing but matter. Just let the implications of that sink in. If we posit that consciousness is matter (and I don’t see anyway around it ultimately, unless one invokes some outdated Cartesian duality: it cannot be argued that matter and mind have nothing to do with each other), then we also have to admit that matter is consciousness. At the very least the matter in our brains! Yet, what does that imply about the nature of matter? Indeed, the nature of reality? It speaks to a world that is itself experiential, in whose very makeup quality is an integral aspect. Consciousness is, therefore, an intimate realization that there is more to reality than both objectivity and the concept of matter can ever convey.

Edited by Mike
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Mike,

 

thanks, liked the way you articulated many of these points: “there is more to reality than both objectivity and the concept of matter can ever convey… we dwell in a mysterious, ineffable reality… there is an ontological necessity of trust. It is not a choice…”

 

I sense that you’ve concluded (or suggested) that certainty is an illusion. Perhaps also that we don’t have to move beyond skepticism, but embrace it –as Paul Tillich wrote, Doubt isn't the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.

 

“The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.” --Anne Lamott

 

For me, the painful struggles (or enjoyable ruminations, depending on your temperament) of the philosophical mind are in a different “compartment” from the journey of faith: they don’t get in each others’ way.

 

Knowledge is something we possess, but faith is something by which we are possessed.

 

The original trust that we experience as a child, is trusting a person --not based on our rationality or systematic knowledge. “Faith is not the intellectual acceptance of a body of doctrine; faith is always faith in a person.” --William Barclay

 

To me it seems that as Christians, and as liberal humanists, the search for absolutes ends in Christ.

Edited by rivanna
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Mike

 

Challenging discussion. My comments are about the mystical, spiritual, metaphysical not psychological aspects of our lives although there is some overlap. For instance: the research that shows that believers generally are physically and emotionally healthier.

 

The only means we have of knowing what something 'is like' is by experiencing it firsthand.

 

I guess my skepticism starts when we go beyond descriptions of subjective sensory experience such as

 

I felt peace. I was calm. I felt another (presence). I felt like I didn't have to struggle. I felt love(d). Shivers went down my spine. It gave me goose bumps. I felt as tall as the trees. My anxiety was reduced. I was less fearful.

 

Once we go beyond this describing, and saying why it happened and what it means we have gone beyond the experience and are speaking from context. We are placing ourselves in an objective explainable world. So I am skeptical of the following:

 

However, some experiences are intrinsically more meaningful, in that they open us to reality (and self, and other) in ways previously unthought of. They bring us into a new context of living, and context and meaning are intimately linked.

 

and am in agreement with (unless I misunderstand it):

 

What reality do we suppose we are perceiving by the act of perception? Fundamentally, there is no such thing as interpreting reality because there is nothing to interpret!

 

We can only describe our subjective feeling. We have the potential to open up in ways previously unthought of but the potentiality of any experience is manifested only in context from which it derives it meaning. I don't see that any experience can have more meaning, any meaning intrinsically. Whitehead, and many others see experience of beauty as evidence of (the in-breaking) of God. Polkinghorne thought that mathematics was so simple and elegant that only God could be the source. The words that went beyond description are creating the meaning. The words are from, and create, context and meaning separate from any "reality". People who go beyond description gather with others who use the same words to describe meaning and reinforce each other's understanding.

 

There is a sort of ontological necessity of trust. We trust right down to very the depths of our being everyday, if not consciously, then definitely unconsciously. It is not fundamentally a choice. Our very breathing is an act of trust, is it not? . . . Plainly there is nothing to not trust.

 

Feeling trust is not unavoidable. Breathing is not a decision in general (Although I just heard a dolphin trainer say that he believed that dolphins commit suicide by choosing not to breath.) To interrupt natural processes is a choice; to be "hands off" is not evidence of choice or trust. Certainly feeling trust of the world is healthly and is necessary in that sense. It is a position or state to attain or maintain. It does not exist without question.

A problem only arises when we want to treat all this like an object, something that we can hold onto. When the impossibility of this becomes apparent, instead of treating this as positive feedback about what it means to exist, we tend to treat it with skeptical despair. With the former there is ultimately no need for skepticism, because we already know what reality is.

 

Doesn't the use of "it means" and "know what reality is" and "skeptical despair" bring us to davidk's position? There is only disagreement about what it means. Or is the disagreement about How and why it means?

 

rivanna

The original trust that we experience as a child, is trusting a person --not based on our rationality or systematic knowledge. “Faith is not the intellectual acceptance of a body of doctrine; faith is always faith in a person.” --William Barclay

Not all children are trusting nor is their context trustworthy. Generally this is considered an illness and a break down of what "should be". But I would liken this trust to the satisfaction of Walter Goldschmidt's "Affinity Hunger" which derives from the mother-child relationship. This "affinity hunger" when satisfied can lead to what is called trust. It can also be corrupted by mother or society when they prove not trustworthy. It is a neutral biological mechanism used by society to create coherence to "doctrine", or perceived reality.

 

soma

Science does make everything studied objective, but the new physics and even Quantum Physics is proving that the observer has an influence on what is being observed and vice a versa, which would make both subjective.

 

Is it incorrect to say that every thing we say about reality changes reality?

 

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

Edited by glintofpewter
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Dutch, I wasn’t necessarily referring to the child’s relationship to the mother, it could be any adult, or other children. The point was that trust, and distrust, are based on personal involvement and experience rather than objective analysis, which I thought Mike’s essay was demonstrating.

 

Looked up Walter Goldschmidt, his book title sounds interesting.

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Rivanna

 

Dutch, I wasn’t necessarily referring to the child’s relationship to the mother, it could be any adult, or other children. The point was that trust, and distrust, are based on personal involvement and experience rather than objective analysis, which I thought Mike’s essay was demonstrating.

Thanks for the clarification. I am not sure then, that using Affinity Hunger is this context applies. Trust is something I personally have problems with.

 

Dutch

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Hi Dutch,

 

I realize that there are probably some significant differences between the ways we approach God. Personally I wouldn't say that God is an object set over-against the world; therefore I don't worry too much about whether any particular experience is objectively tapping into God, or is more spiritual. Some might think it logically meaningless to describe God as a non-entity, but God, for me, is found more in the way we are relating to reality, in experiencing life in its directness. Or in other words, by realizing each moment. To look for God outside of this context brings to mind a passage in John, when Philip asks Jesus, 'Lord, show us the Father,' and Jesus responds, 'long have I been with you, and you still do not know me?'

 

If in the course of life we find that some experiences do, in fact, bring us more in touch with the Sacred over others, that is because they mean more to us; they constitute a clear awareness and perspective that is not distracted by the more mundane aspects of life that we are continually feeling bogged down by. Therefore we call them deeper and more profound in the context of our lives, because they stand out. And I would say we are perfectly justified in doing so. It is for this same reason that I don't usually remember what I had for dinner the previous day, but I can remember, in detail, my high school graduation, or my first kiss, or even skinning my knee when I was 7 or 8. To me this is only natural and logical. Though poorly worded, this is the point I intended to make by saying that some experiences are intrinsically more meaningful...that is, they are for us.

 

I too am skeptical of attempts to go beyond the context of subjectivity. That is why, for me, God is not to be found 'out there' and words are not meant to capture a reality 'out there'. The idea of 'the way reality really is' is probably, in my view, ultimately a conceptual illusion anyway. It may be surprising coming from me, but I've come to put aside that there is, objectively, an ultimate reality. I think there is something to what Alan Watts said, about reality being like a Rorschach blot. This is what we have, but the good news is, we are also free to make use of what we have. I tend to think that within the context of subjectivity, meaning is not just made up. It can be genuinely discovered by creatively exploring what we already have right before us. Of course, this lends itself to many approaches. But I also tend to think that, like Godel's theorem says for math, that any attempt we make to exhaustively explore our reality cannot be both complete and consistent. Therefore, our words will forever be incomplete. There is, in a sense, "more reality" than we know what to do with.

 

Words, in my understanding, come from and must ultimately return us to the "suchness" of experience. I think we can find just what we need in the intimacy of experience. Now, I do find that any subjectivity has an inherent context, which is why the words we choose can never be completely arbitrary. Even people suffering from psychosis seem to find their experiences coherent enough to put into non-arbitrary words.

 

You used, for example, "I felt peace" and "I felt like I didn't have to struggle" as descriptions of subjective experience. I would say that they are also explorations of a given context that one might find oneself in, and so could not be substituted with just any other string of words. So too, I think, when we incorporate these experiences into the context of our greater lives, that context is not arbitrary either. Their meaning is creative, but at the same time, it is like a creative discovery.

 

Feeling trust is not unavoidable. Breathing is not a decision in general (Although I just heard a dolphin trainer say that he believed that dolphins commit suicide by choosing not to breath.) To interrupt natural processes is a choice; to be "hands off" is not evidence of choice or trust. Certainly feeling trust of the world is healthly and is necessary in that sense. It is a position or state to attain or maintain. It does not exist without question.

 

Admittedly I was taking some poetic license by equivocating with the word trust. But by Robert Aitken's definition of metaphor as "the presentation of one thing in terms of another, expressing their unity," I would assert that there is still more to it than one might see at first glance. I could cite that usually any mental state we have will have a physical correlation, so that when we find ourselves in a state of mental clinging or aversion, we also find the muscles in our body tensing up as if they were either holding on or pushing something away, and our breathing is stifled.

 

Doesn't the use of "it means" and "know what reality is" and "skeptical despair" bring us to davidk's position? There is only disagreement about what it means. Or is the disagreement about How and why it means?

 

It only leads to skepticism if we posit a reality independent and distinct from the reality of subjectivity. I would say that fundamentally we already know the only reality there is to speak of. Even to speak of it bounces us into dualism, actually. But of course, we speak of it, we must. Because we can.

 

Peace,

Mike

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Mike,

 

I appreciate your new post and will reply later.

 

If I were buying a new book today this would be it.

 

Why Beliefs Matter E. Brian Davies

 

from the book review

The faith that underpins science

Niels Bohr, one of the founders of quantum mechanics, did not believe that science grants us access to an objective reality and insisted that the task of physics was not to find out "how nature is" but only "what we can say about nature". Einstein, on the other hand, maintained an unshakeable belief in a reality that exists out there. Otherwise, he said, "I simply cannot see what it is that physics is meant to describe".

. . .

 

[Author E. Brian] Davies is a self-proclaimed pluralist. That is, he believes that humans have a limited mental capacity and will always need a multiplicity of ways of looking at the world in order to understand it. There may be two or more equally valid and complementary descriptions of the same phenomenon, he says - not unlike the concept of wave-particle duality in quantum mechanics. That does not mean that all world views are equally good - some simply don't hold up under the scrutiny of experiment.

 

 

Take Care

 

dutch

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Hi,

 

I just wanted to post something here quickly. I got the idea to use the Jewel Net of Indra analogy (again) and apply it to 'meaning', just to see what might happen. After thinking about it a bit and playing around with some words, these are the results of my 'experiment'. Take it as seriously, or not, as you wish; if you don't mind poetry and equivocation it might be somewhat meaningful. If you do, then you may ignore it. :D

 

 

 

 

 

Meaning is all around us, and unless nothing in life has anything to do with anything else, it is really there. It is literally impossible to avoid finding meaning in the phenomena of life. But we can no more ask where meaning comes from than we can see our own eye. Meaning isn't something we impose on reality from the outside, and is not something arbitrary. Rather, meaning happens when we are engaging dynamically and creatively with life.

Meaning is connection. It is like the Jewel Net of Indra: a process of self-reflection. Yet there is no essence, no object-reality, being reflected. Meaning is reality discovering itself, reflecting itself. There is no need to question where it comes from to validate it: we would have to be outside of reality, outside of intimacy and connection, to get out of it. We would have to be detached...but detached from what?

 

Meaning is also defined as significance. To have significance, there must be a signifier and a signified. Yet in Indra's net, the signifier is also the signified. Meaning is simply mutual reflection, the reflections of a pure, traceless, and groundless self, being bounced around from one node to the next, without any independent essence being reflected. Indeed, the reflections between the nodes are the reality. No independent reality, no question of where the meaning comes from. Rather, when 'beheld most intimately', all is meaning, and everything is 'a presentation of one thing in terms of another, expressing their unity.' It is Eckhart's 'eye that sees itself'. This creative interplay is the self.

 

This would make 'reality itself' both meaningless and meaning-ful. Like a good poem, there are many shades of meaning; many connections, many approaches and contexts.

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I liked Dutchs comparison to the wave/particle view of light seems like a good description of philosophical analysis and experiencing the divine in our lives, coexisting without conflict. They intertwine on this board.

 

Mike, your posts reminded me of Kierkegaard --he wrote, as his character Johannes Climacus, that "Truth is Subjectivity", but not in its extreme form. Objective truths are concerned with the facts of a person's being, while subjective truths are concerned with a person's way of being -- a living, inward relation to existence, always in the process of becoming.

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In the modern, objective Western world, nothing is sacred. We've turned the world into an object and distanced ourselves from the inner experience of life. Then we despair that the sacred can't be found anywhere since we've looked under every rock and peered billions of light-years into space. Time is just time, space is just space, people are just people, and if it suits us, they are all objects to be used, manipulated, wrung out for profit, and ultimately ignored. Most of us are resisting having to arrive at such a conclusion, but not many of us know why and how not to. There is a reason we Westerners live in the constant fear of falling into nihilism, but the problem is not with science or even with objectivity; is it in how we have come to relate to what we call reality.
I disagree that in the modern Western world there is nothing sacred. In fact, I personally think that in American society where the majority of Americans are Christians and atheists are still the most hated minority group in society, the sacred can be taken too far where it turns into a form of almost near-idol worship. If a high school student refuses to stand for the pledge of allegiance because they don't think it's appropriate to say under God in the pledge, the student gets into trouble simply for not reciting a symbolic pledge and it gets all over the media as a huge controversy. If gay people demand equal rights, religious extremists react in hateful and almost violent ways to defend their notion of what sacred traditional marriage is. More recently in the news, if Muslims try to build an interfaith community center near the ground zero location of 9/11, many Christians react in racist ways and try to take away the rights of Muslims to build places of worship that are being built to encourage interfaith dialog and understanding, and ultimately these Christians turn the ground zero location of 9/11 into an idol of religious worship. I don't think there is anything wrong with believing in something sacred and I think it is part of human nature for us to have certain beliefs and traditions we cherish as sacred. But I think in America the sacred is taken to an almost obsessive level where it becomes less an act of worship and more of a fetish of obsessive anthropomorphizing.

 

I don't think skepticism and spirituality need to always be in conflict with one another and I don't think skepticism is necessarily something we need to move beyond from. In our fundamentalist obsessed society, where more people believe in a literal devil than in evolution and religious extremists try to force their rewritten history of America onto students through the Texas school boards, I think we actually need a healthy dose of skepticism in this country now more than ever. As someone who used to blindly believe everything my fundamentalist church taught me, I think it is important to question authority, both religious and secular, and come to our own conclusions through our own examinations of life and reality. At the same time, I don't think there is anything wrong with having faith in one's ideals. I think the real danger comes not from skepticism or faith but when we start to confuse the two. That is, when skepticism mutates into a blind faith of anti-theism and faith mutates into a rigid scientific fundamentalism that it was never supposed to be in the first place. But when both take on their respective roles in society, I think they are an important necessity in both the secular and religious realm. I also don't think objectivity and subjectivity need to be at odds at each other either. I think that it is a false dichotomy to set things up so that reality is either 100% objective or 100% subjective. If we say there is absolutely no such thing as objectivity, we are ironically and contradictorily stating an objective fact. At the same time, there are some things in life which are clearly subjective whether it's morality or personal opinions and preferences. The question to me then becomes not whether or not subjectivity or objectivity exists but the question to me is, is God objective or subjective? And the answer to that question depends on what your definition of God is and there about as many definitions of God in the world as there are people.

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Hi Karen,

 

I am only a little familiar with Kierkegaard, but from what I've read, including your explanations, he was definitely on to something. But I get the impression also that he was a deeply divided individual; and perhaps this is because of his deeply divided view of reality. This is a point I am just now becoming able to articulate as we have been having this discussion. The problem I am seeing with Kierkegaard's subjectivism is that it still divides reality, it still divides the self. To focus on the subjective is to acknowledge the objective as well. But what if we were to arrive at a view that set aside objectivity for good? I don't mean as a methodology, but the idea that there is, ultimately, an objective reality to begin with? This is a much more radical view, even though it shouldn't be. The idea that there is an ultimate object-reality to speak of has always been an inherently flawed idea. However, we have assumed it so wholeheartedly that to deny seems radical. But I believe it is the correct view: we need to stop relating to reality (and the divine, I would also say) as a thing, or as a collection of things (by which we then objectify the "collection" as a noun).

 

The interesting thing is that once we get rid of the object-reality, we can no longer speak of a truly subjective reality. That would be like a coin with only one side. The subject-object dichotomy breaks down, and we left engaging a non-dual reality.

 

We seem trapped in our own philosophical categories which identify the mind as a mirror to an 'outside' or 'noumenal' reality, which it can only know indirectly. Yet I cannot take this absolute demarcation very seriously. Kant's 'thing in itself' doesn't do much for me.

 

It is along this vein that I have found much value in looking into Buddhism. I think many of us in the West would be genuinely surprised that these philosophical issues we are now dealing with, with regard to postmodernism, uncertainty, and objectivity, are not unique to the West, but that, in fact, similar problems had been acknowledged and creatively dealt with long before the West even got wind of them. Not identical problems, mind you, but close enough to learn from. The Buddhist doctrine of emptiness is the most significant and sophisticated religious treatment of the problem of ultimate "groundlessness" that I have ever encountered. A simple Zen story comes to mind, of the Sixth Patriarch, Hui-neng. When the fifth patriarch held a poetry contest to determine who would be next in line, the head monk wrote a poem which is yet laden with a dualistic view (the poems are taken from wikipedia):

 

The body is a Bodhi tree,

the mind a standing mirror bright.

At all times polish it diligently,

and let no dust alight.

 

Hui-neng then composed his own poem to refute this understanding of practice and enlightenment:

 

Bodhi originally has no tree.

The bright mirror also has no stand.

Fundamentally there is not a single thing.

Where could dust arise?

 

I interpret this to mean that "Mind" belongs neither to category of subject nor object, self nor other.

 

Peace,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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I liked Dutch’s comparison to the wave/particle view of light – seems like a good description of philosophical analysis and experiencing the divine in our lives, coexisting without conflict.

 

I agree with the above quote. Photons don't exist in isolation that is why one experiment shows a wave model and another experiment shows a particle model. It reacts differently with the person performing the experiment. It starts to show us webs of different relationships. The new science is starting to explain the same correlations as old mysticism. The physical universe is not what it appears to be. What we experience in the physical realm is actually our mental construction of it. Similar to the wave/particle experiments the physical that we experience depends of the observing system and the observed. It is a correlation between the subjective and the objective. Both the wave model and the particle model are real because light exhibits both properties.

 

Science and religion are only patterns, correlations, explanations of the Truth they are not the Truth. The followers of these disciplines are only intellectualizing the Truth in the particular method they chose. Michael is on to something when he says the distinction between inside us and outside is not real. We are a correlation of the two. Therefore; wave/particle and inside/outside are not the properties of light, but properties of our interactions with light. This shows that properties belong to relationships, interactions and not separately existing objects. This duality seems to be a characteristic of everything. This seems to be the yin and yang in the unity of the whole. When we have inner conflict, we can deal with that conflict internally, but if we don’t deal with it internally, it seems to be acted out externally. It is a tendency that happens and is not fate.

 

The world seems to be real so I think the first lesson of enlightenment is to realize that the world in not real. What is real does not change. This does not mean that the tree is not there because it is there, but it is not real. Why? Because it is constantly changing as we are constantly changing. Every cell in our body is replaced after 7 years. A door that is not living is also changing as molecules, electrons ect are constantly being exchanged in interactions. As spiritual aspirants when we analyze the world with discrimination and discernment we come to the conclusion that the world is phenomenon. The world seems to be occurrence, experience and understanding. Everyone is unfolding their inner spiritual realms, unlocking the outer realms of the universe, and freeing the mind from subjective authority and desires that influence circumstances. This means that everyone is right in a unique, spiritual experience. May we enjoy the dance, the dancers and the light. The dancers are different, the dances are different, but the whole is the same for everyone.

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Well much has been writ since I printed out this thread and began making notes -- :blink:

 

Some thoughts about "skepticism".

 

Rivanna's comment that "When you are fresh out of college so much of life has been deovted to studying every thing as an external object - learning about, rather than experiencing. Yet you [Mike] have found the time ... to maintain a mystical connection to the divine." suggests to me that the extent to which an objective view of the world and lives lived with purpose, design and intent are important is an indication of a stage of life or state of mind. And that the need to have a life with purpose or intent, looking forward or looking back, depends on where we are in life chronologically or psychologically. What we say we understand about our lives depends on our personal context and the community in which we move gives us language to speak about those experiences.

 

My skepticism is not about subjective expressions of importance or significance as a way of describing one's experience. (Well may be it is, personally.) My skepticism is focused on attributions of . . . Well I agree with anthropologist Paul Boyer when he says that "We see purpose, intention, design, even when it is not there." (Is God An Accident?, Atlantic magazine, 2005/12). Neil Bohr's belief that science does not grant us access to an objective reality and that the task of physics was not to find out "how nature is" but "only what we can say about nature" seems a better place to start than Einstein's unshakeable belief that if there is not a reality out there, "I simply cannot see what it is that physics is meant to describe". (from the book review of E Brian Davies' "Why Beliefs Matter", in the New Scientist.) They used the same equations but their beliefs about our ability to know reality was distinctly different. "Only what we can say about nature" applies, I think, both to the objective and subjective, Mike's "outside and inside".

 

"What can we say about God" is always problematic because we speak of the ineffable. If our consciousness depends on the matter of our brain, does our experience of the transcendent also depend on that matter. And what if it does? Where would that skepticism lead? It does seem to lead to a significant doubt about the nature of the reality our transcendent experience represents. There is a description of reality that is not tangled up with this science.

 

It is Mike's "Intimacy as reality". Be Here Now. This still seems the best description of how we experience that which we would call reality. It seems to apply whether one is in a science lab, selling burgers, or walking on the beach. It speaks about grace. In some contexts being intimately connected is more of a challenge but it is the path to knowing oneself (and/with/in the Other). In a way it is an answer to skepticism.

 

 

Take Care

 

Dutch

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  • 1 month later...

Hi Dutch,

 

I appreciate your thoughts in this thread. Sorry I have not replied sooner, but nonetheless, having had a month to think about the issues surrounding what was brought up here, I find that I can largely agree with the conclusions you drew out.

 

Neil Bohr's belief that science does not grant us access to an objective reality and that the task of physics was not to find out "how nature is" but "only what we can say about nature" seems a better place to start than Einstein's unshakeable belief that if there is not a reality out there, "I simply cannot see what it is that physics is meant to describe". (from the book review of E Brian Davies' "Why Beliefs Matter", in the New Scientist.) They used the same equations but their beliefs about our ability to know reality was distinctly different. "Only what we can say about nature" applies, I think, both to the objective and subjective, Mike's "outside and inside".

 

"What can we say about God" is always problematic because we speak of the ineffable. If our consciousness depends on the matter of our brain, does our experience of the transcendent also depend on that matter. And what if it does? Where would that skepticism lead? It does seem to lead to a significant doubt about the nature of the reality our transcendent experience represents. There is a description of reality that is not tangled up with this science.

 

It is Mike's "Intimacy as reality". Be Here Now. This still seems the best description of how we experience that which we would call reality. It seems to apply whether one is in a science lab, selling burgers, or walking on the beach. It speaks about grace. In some contexts being intimately connected is more of a challenge but it is the path to knowing oneself (and/with/in the Other). In a way it is an answer to skepticism.

 

..and not simply because you credited me with 'intimacy as reality' (which was just my echoing the teachings of Robert Aitken) :D That non-duality has taken root in the West is due in part, I think, to this conundrum of objective knowledge. By positing 'how nature is', we have presumed there to be a category which reality can ultimately fall into, by which it can be ultimately understood.

 

For Aitken, intimacy truly is reality in the only meaningful sense of the word. Actuality is the 'stuff' of the world, whether it be what we call 'mind' or 'matter'. The mind is not a mirror to an outside world (or an 'inside' world for that matter), but intimacy is the truth, right down to the bottomless bottom.

 

Kuang-Ming Wu, in his book 'The Butterfly as Companion', identifies the Taoist philosopher Chuangtzu's thought as 'poetic philosophy', adding that 'in his hands, notions and phrases hover and romp in actualities.' He says 'we have two ways of philosophizing--we can watch for systematic logical consistency; we can also discern the shifting implications of actuality and express them intelligently.' (p27)

 

I think Wu expresses here where my own thinking about religion has been going. I would agree that as far as ascertaining 'what nature really is' as touching a purely objective reality, such thought cannot go beyond itself to accomplish that (nor is there necessarily any thinking that can do so or any such reality to ascertain).

 

But as such thinking serves as a 'spontaneous philosophizing of the concrete' (to quote Wu yet again), I would say that it touches 'what nature really is' indeed (without being rooted in either the objective or subjective), though not in a purely logical or propositional sense.

 

Peace to you,

Mike

Edited by Mike
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I would say that it touches 'what nature really is' indeed (without being rooted in either the objective or subjective), though not in a purely logical or propositional sense.

 

Mike, I've enjoyed reading this thread although, admittedly, much of it is over my head (my problem, not your failure to communicate). But a lot of your musings are teasing things out in me and I wanted to respond from my own limited point-of-view.

 

I heard an analogy that God or Reality or the spiritual is like music being played. For instance, let's say that the Divine is like Beethoven's 9th Symphony. There are those who would like nothing better to sit in the music chamber and listen to the music. The music is transcendant, it touches them, moves them deep inside. They may find themselves weeping or smiling and not able to say exactly why. And they leave the chamber somehow changed by the music. It was not simply passive listening, it was an experience. They may knowing nothing of the author and they may not be able to read one note or to tell you the difference between C Major and C minor. But the music drew them in, got inside them, and they will never forget it. It is part of them now. This is the mythos experience of God. It is primarily an experience that defies description. It goes beyond words and descriptions.

 

But there are others who are sitting in an adjoining room, studying the music of the Symphony. They know it is based in mathematics. They know there is a wonderful pattern to it. And they study, not only the music, but Beethoven himself, learning as much as they can about the composer, his life, his challenges, what made him who he was, and what inspired such music. For these people, the music is still transcendant, but they are interested in what makes the music work as it does. And they can go through every measure of the Symphony and tell you what the melody and harmony and rhythm are doing in order to create the experience that is hearing the Symphony. They can describe the 9th Symphony in a way that enables other musicians to actually continue to play it. This is the logos understanding of God. It is a description, although certainly not exhaustive.

 

For thousands of years, the mythos of God reigned. But with the Enlightenment, the logos took the forefront of how we could and should understand God. God is analyzed to death and, IMO, seldom experienced. And those who lean towards the logos say that God is best known or described with propositional statements about the Divine - i.e. God is this or God is that. God wants this and God wants that. God will do this and God will do that. Books and books and books are focused on systematic theology and apologetics which try to define God in the same way that some might disect Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

 

And then there are others who are not interested in the analysis. It does nothing for them. They simply want to hear the Symphony, to experience it for themselves and to be at a loss of words afterward. They say that only the experience matters, that understanding the Symphony or the composer is a waste of time. They may even claim that the music is so transcendant that God himself gave it to Beethoven. :D

 

Society has often told us that we have to choose between the mythos and the logos, that we can't have both. I want BOTH. I want to hear the music, I want to experience it. And I want to know as much as I can about the author, feeling that it will give me an even greater experience of the music. I want both the mythos and the logos.

 

Nothing, to me, can take the place of enjoying a fine piece of music. But nothing helps me enjoy the music more than when I learn about how it came about, what the author strove for, and even listening to different performers "translate" the music into their own style. I enjoy and appreciate BOTH the mythos and the logos. I don't want to lose either.

 

But I am not sure how to hold onto both in this age where the mythos is treated like the logos and the logos is worshipped as the music itself.

 

Does any of this make sense?

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Hi Mike,

 

nice to see you back.

Robert Aitken sounds interesting.

 

I was just thinking, the things that make us skeptical can vary a lot from one person to the next. For me it’s not the philosophical problems, but doubts about whether Christianity –or words about it - can ever attain a sense of unity or common ground… the empathy and inclusiveness that Jesus wanted the world to have.

 

One challenge for me this past year is becoming more aware of differing views among my own relatives, co-workers, and some of my artist friends. Probably because my upbringing was somewhat provincial or homogeneous, and I was hardly ever involved in public debates, I’ve sometimes made the mistake of assuming that everyone I ran into was liberal and/or Democrat (and feminist) like myself. I never really learned how to deal with conflicting opinions on social issues among people I otherwise enjoy and admire, without giving or taking offense. So, recently I’ve wondered which is the stronger bond, or which comes first – religion or politics? Whether I’ll “grow up” any further in this area remains to be seen :)

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I enjoy and appreciate BOTH the mythos and the logos. I don't want to lose either.

 

But I am not sure how to hold onto both in this age where the mythos is treated like the logos and the logos is worshipped as the music itself.

 

Does any of this make sense?

I agree that we don't have to choose between both. As I posted several months ago, I think the choice between 100% subjectivity and 100% objectivity is a false dichotomy. I don't think either one is necessarily incompatible and I believe subjectivity and objectivity can co-exist with one another. There are some things in life which are clearly objective facts like 2 + 2=4 and whether the Earth revolves around the sun or vice versa. Those are undisputed facts which we know can be clearly demonstrated through facts and science. Maybe there's a slim chance we could all be dreaming and these aren't true, but the possibility of this happening is so slim I think we can safely declare these to be objective proven facts. There are other things in life which are subjective like whether slavery is moral or if homosexuality is a sin. These are subjective issues which evolve and change over time and no one answer from one culture will be the same in another culture. I think some definitions of god can fall into an objective category such as the god of fundamentalist Christianity whereas other god concepts are more complex and subjective like pantheism and deism. Science falls into the realm of objectivity as it focuses on analyzing facts and explaining how the universe works. Religion falls in the subjective realm as it focuses more on spirituality, morality, and meaning. The danger isn't from objectivity or subjectivity which I believe can co-exist but from when people try to fuse the roles of religion and science in order to create a mutated hybrid of the two which neither was intended to operate as. It'd be like trying to take a square and combine it with a circle or saying that since you can't combine a circle with a square then we don't need squares. Edited by Neon Genesis
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Bill, I am often in over my head.

 

We cannot have a naive or innocent experience of Beethoven's 9th or of God. The 9th because we already know some of the context and would be given other context by the person who invited us to the concert. God, because we have no context. We would experience emotions and have reactions but no words or references for them. We would have to be told that we just had a "God-experience."

 

Kuang-Ming Wu, in his book 'The Butterfly as Companion',

'in [the Taoist philosopher Chuangtzu's] hands, notions and phrases hover and romp in actualities.' He says 'we have two ways of philosophizing--we can watch for systematic logical consistency; we can also discern the shifting implications of actuality and express them intelligently.' (p27)

 

. . . I would agree that as far as ascertaining 'what nature really is' as touching a purely objective reality, such thought cannot go beyond itself to accomplish that (nor is there necessarily any thinking that can do so or any such reality to ascertain).

 

But as such thinking serves as a 'spontaneous philosophizing of the concrete' (to quote Wu yet again), I would say that it touches 'what nature really is' indeed (without being rooted in either the objective or subjective), though not in a purely logical or propositional sense.

 

Mike, I understood and agree with the middle paragraph but was not clear about the 1st and 3rd until I googled and found this.

 

. . . Chuang Tzu dreamed of being the butterfly, and so it belongs to him. Yet is has some advantages over him. It can flutter freely over him. It can flutter freely among the flowers; he cannot. It is innocent; he is not. It may be dreaming of being him; he, now that he is awake, cannot. His name was given by his parents and is not himself; the butterfly has no such problems, because it has no name. Its essence is fluttering-from one idea to another, one life to another, fluttering from a dream to its awakening to another dream. It does not deny the distinction between awakening and dreaming, reality and illusion, knowledge and ignorance, or even the reality of uncertainty. It just affirms its situation as it flutters from one thing to another. Its "name" is fluttering.
From the First Meditation in the Prologue to 'The Butterfly as Companion'

 

Mythos-logos. My first thought was that mythos was our experience and logos represented what we say about the experience. That's not the case but let's say that logos is all that we say about our experience. First we have descriptions of our emotions and reactions which I think we can describe without violating the ineffability of the experience. Second, we can also describe what we were doing when it happened and perhaps how we and others could experience it again. Give the musician sheet music and the listener a ticket, for instance. Meditate to experience peace/love/compassion. Third. What's the big picture? When we try to answer this question the analogy between the 9th and God breaks down. There are many facts about Beethoven and his music so less imagination is needed to tell stories about the man and his music. But if we said that he was born in Argentina and wrote tangos it would be a different Beethoven. In the face of the ineffable God if we speak, tell a story, give an account, then we, as meaning seeking and meaning making people that we are; we are making the stories up. This is not dismissive of the stories because the stories we make up make us; they transform us in powerful ways. The problem in hearing this is that there is no certainty and perhaps a sense that it doesn't matter. But it does. How do we hold the ideas that we are both making it all up and that it is powerfully trans-formative; that it is just a story we tell and yet it is a matter of life and death - or at least a matter of good physical, mental and political health? How do we live like the butterfly and yet find a place to rest?

 

Tell a story about today and go to bed.

 

Take care

 

Dutch

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