Speaking of science and religion, I got significantly annoyed by a short piece in Nature magazine by Michael Bond (13 November 2008). Bond reviews two recent books on Buddhism and science: “Mind and Life: Discussions with the Dalai Lama on the Nature of Reality,” by Pier Luigi Luisi, and “Buddhism and Science: A Guide for the Perplexed,” by Donald S. Lopez.
I keep being baffled by the fact that so many scientists think it is a cool idea to engage in absurd fits of mental acrobatics so that one can claim that religion, after all, is not in contradiction with science, and in fact can even be somewhat helpful. Granted, Buddhism certainly doesn’t have the same attitude that, say, Christianity and Islam have about science, but there still is a lot of unnecessary fluff that gets thrown around in this misguided quest for a unity between science and religion.
For instance, Bond says that “science and Buddhism seem strangely compatible … [because] to a large degree, Buddhism is a study in human development.” No, it isn’t. Certainly not in the scientific sense of “study.” Buddhism, like all mystical traditions, is about introspection, notoriously a remarkably unreliable source of “evidence.” In that sense, Buddhism is much closer to some continental philosophical traditions based on phenomenology and first-person subjectivity than to science -- the quintessential third-person approach to the study of natural phenomena.
Second, Bond contends, Buddhism has an energetic “champion of science” in the current Dalai Lama. That may very well be, but of course this wasn’t the case with past Lamas, nor is there any assurance that it will continue to be with the next one. This hardly seems grounds for claiming “strange compatibility.” True, the current DL has said that if science should ever find a notion endorsed by Buddhism to be not true “then Buddhism will have to change.” It certainly sounds a heck of a lot better than the usual nonsense coming from creationists and intelligent design proponents.
But a moment's reflection will show that this is a pretty empty statement on the Lama’s part, as much as I don’t doubt that he really meant it. What sort of Buddhist concepts could possibly be proven wrong (or right) by science? Buddhism, again like all mystic traditions, phrases its teachings in such vague language that they are simply not amenable to rational, let alone strictly empirical, analysis. Are we one with the universe? Not really, unless one means that we are made of the same basic stuff as everything else, which I don’t think is what Buddhism means. And even if it meant something like that, to claim congruence with science leads to the same anachronism committed by people who say that the atomist philosophers of ancient Greece had “anticipated” the discoveries of modern physics. No, they didn’t, they were working out of metaphysical presuppositions, did not do any mathematical or experimental work, and most certainly didn’t mean what we do by the term “atom.”
Bond goes so far as to suggest that there is an area of research where Buddhism actually has achieved more than what science has produced so far: when it comes to studying consciousness, he says, Buddhism offers “a kind of science of introspection.” It’s worth quoting Bond in full here: “Whereas cognitive science’s best guess is that consciousness is an emergent property of neuronal organization, Buddhists see it at some pure subtle level as not contingent on matter at all, but deriving instead from ‘a previous continuum of consciousness” — the Dalai Lama’s words — that transcends death and has neither beginning nor end.”
Wow. Where to begin? How about with the observation that “a science of introspection” is an oxymoron? As I mentioned above, introspection is certainly a rich kind of experience that can be cultivated for one’s own edification, but it is not and cannot be “science” because science is based on the idea of independent verification of empirical findings. Second, that consciousness is an emergent property of neuronal organization is much more than a “guess,” as serious research in neurobiology has made stunning progress in identifying specific regions of the brain that provide the material basis for specific aspects of the conscious experience. And finally, what on earth is even remotely scientific about completely unfounded and even literally meaningless claims about a “continuum of consciousness”? Continuum means adjacent, to what would consciousness be adjacent, pray?
Look, Buddhists have all the rights to believe all the fluff they want, just like anyone else. And unlike fundamentalist Christians they at least don’t pretend to teach their mysticism in science classes. But why do religionists crave so much the recognition of science, beginning with creationists themselves? (After all, they talk about “creation science,” and “intelligent design theory.”) And why do some scientists lend credence to the Dalai Lama, the Pope, and whoever else invites them for a weekend in Rome or in Dharamsala? The best that can be said about science and religion is that they have nothing to do with each other, and most certainly nothing to teach to each other. Let’s not pretend otherwise for the sake of cultural correctness.
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Rationally Speaking is a blog maintained by Prof. Massimo Pigliucci, a philosopher at the City University of New York. The blog reflects the Enlightenment figure Marquis de Condorcet's idea of what a public intellectual (yes, we know, that's such a bad word) ought to be: someone who devotes himself to "the tracking down of prejudices in the hiding places where priests, the schools, the government, and all long-established institutions had gathered and protected them." You're welcome. Please notice that the contents of this blog can be reprinted under the standard Creative Commons license.
Saturday, December 06, 2008
Consciousness, meditation and the Dalai Lama
Posted by Unknown at 7:55 AM
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I am a technician and I work on machinery. When I get called in to work on a problem I need to identify the problem. Is it mechanical,electrical,hydraulic or training.I'm not looking for outside sources.ReplyDelete
It was this approach to solving problems that led me to drop my faith in god. There was no room for that kind of thinking.
You can't reconcile science with woo.
I see these books all the time on the book shelves all the time and I feel sorry for those who are trying to find a way to fill the gap between faith and science
This yearning to couple science and religious mysticism is wishful thinking. The two books mentioned are examples of the misguided syntheses (of introspective mysticism and high-specialized scientific fields) that charlatans use to bamboozle people into believing nonsense.ReplyDelete
Introspection is also a kind of data collection. The data you collect is about subjective, internal mental states. No brain scan can tell you the same thing. Certain neuronal patterns may correlate with mental states, but you can’t find that out unless you take subjective introspective data from the subjects being scanned.ReplyDelete
You try a certain meditation technique, and it gets you to a certain mental state, which you observe carefully. The next day, you try again. A relationship between the two is not considered meaningful unless it is reproducible. You can keep a journal to track it if you want to make the process more quantitative, but the principle is the same. You teach the technique to your students, and they try it too. It either works for them or it doesn’t. Reproducibility is an absolutely critical part of the process. Of course, you have to be a practitioner yourself to put something to the test. But this is not different to science, where the untrained layman is generally not in a position to go about reproducing experiments.
Being “at one with the universe” is not a statement about the material world, it is an evocative verbal shorthand description of a certain mental state that is easily recognisable to anyone who has achieved that state. You can consider it technical language that acts as a shortcut to communication. The language describing unfamiliar states can often seem bizarre, but when you later experience those states yourself suddenly these weird descriptions make sense, referring often unambiguously to what you have experienced. (Descriptions of wine can be a bit like this…) You can make fun of the Buddhist language from the outside, but the words (consciousness in your eg) often have technical meanings that are related to but diverge quite a bit from their use in common English. The English being a poor translation anyway.
Science is indeed the quintessential third-person approach. That is why it tends to be so deficient in areas where first-person subjective experience (consciousness, some psychological and mental illness questions, morality, the nature of the human experience, how to be happy) is an intrinsic part of the question to be answered. You can wave your hands and say that such questions are both unscientific and also uninteresting or “empty” or meaningless. The unscientific part is true, but most of humanity would strongly disagree with the latter.
I agreed with most of your claims except the last one.ReplyDelete
"The best that can be said about science and religion is that they have nothing to do with each other."
I'm not a scientist and I know that saying NOTHING is the same as saying ALL. So the percentage of correctness on your behalf is significantly decreased.
I don't believe in religions, but I have studied many. I believe in science, hence I am reading this. However, there is no way that you can say Science and Religion have NOTHING to do with each other.
Way back when.. there were the stars. Which is all based on science. Right? Now every story told is from these anthropromorphized stars. Then religion perpetuated over time, but the root comes from science.
Also, science is only one part of our view of the world. How we interpret that science and view the world is colored by philosophy. Of course that philosophy gets affected by scientific knowledge eg evolution or quantum mechanics. I do not see strict boundaries between the philosophy of science, the rest of philosophy, and religious philosophies including Buddhism. Different strands of philosophy should have plenty to teach one another, and should make up a significant and legitimate part of these dialogs. How would you feel if this were relabelled a scientific-philosophy / religious-philosophy dialog?ReplyDelete
Joanna, "Social Scientist,"ReplyDelete
let's be careful about what exactly I said:
"Introspection is also a kind of data collection."
Yes, and it is useful to social scientists. However, Buddhism uses it as a practice toward personal betterment, not as part of a research program. As such, it doesn't produce "data" that can be used in science. This doesn't mean it's useless, it simply means that it's not science.
"Being “at one with the universe” is not a statement about the material world, it is an evocative verbal shorthand description of a certain mental state that is easily recognisable to anyone who has achieved that state."
First, I'm not sure you are correct. I think Buddhists believe in the idea that the self is literally an illusion. Second, that kind of mental state has been studied in neuroscience and can be obtained by a variety of ways (including prayer and drugs). It is a misperception of reality due to the proprioception function of the brain (the one that tells you where your body ends) shutting down. It is not a better or higher level of perception.
"You can wave your hands and say that such questions are both unscientific and also uninteresting or “empty” or meaningless. The unscientific part is true, but most of humanity would strongly disagree with the latter."
I never said that non-scientific endeavors are meaningless. But empty talk about consciousness parallels and one-ness with the universe don't help either. As for what the majority of humanity thinks, well, you know, most people here don't believe in evolution...
"How would you feel if this were relabelled a scientific-philosophy / religious-philosophy dialog?"
Pretty bad. I do not consider eastern traditions a part of philosophy, to me they are mysticism because they are not based on rational argument but on personal experience. (Before you ask, I barely consider much of continental philosophy to be philosophy...)
SS: "there is no way that you can say Science and Religion have NOTHING to do with each other."
I'm not sure what the point of your post is, but I didn't say that science and religion don't have anything to do with each other. I said that scientists don't have anything to learn from science, and implied that religionists would be better off leaving science alone. The two don't have anything to *teach* to each other.
The focus of some of the Buddhist-science dialog has been to see whether some of the highly developed introspective Buddhist techniques, which as you say had the purpose of personal betterment, can be co-opted as a form of scientific data collection. Essentially, they have a technology currently applied to religion and we scientists can see whether this is a technology we can use for science. Technology is still technology, and its origin should not be held against it. It’s still data collection, and their techniques allow for both the data and the process of its collection to be far more refined.ReplyDelete
Yes, the particular mental state of “at one with the universe” can be achieved through any of meditation, prayer or drugs, and yes it is related to proprioception shutdown. The preceding are, in fact, a set of scientific statements that depend on a combination introspective and external data collection. This set of statements is known, but there may be many more that could be known in the future if we pursue this course. That is the point.
> It is not a better or higher
> level of perception.
“Better” or “higher” are statements usually best left outside a scientific discourse altogether, either as positive statements or their negation. Unless, of course, you want to refine them so they become scientifically defined. How about “better for the purpose of being susceptible to mental adjustments leading to reduced levels of depression / addiction / fill in this space”? Now we have a scientific-medical statement that we can go on to study scientifically. And many of these techniques show promise in these areas.
> I do not consider eastern
> traditions a part of philosophy,
> to me they are mysticism
> because they are not based on
> rational argument but on
> personal experience.
What is wrong with personal experience as the basis of rational argument when it is reproducible both within and across individuals?
I'm afraid we'll have to agree to disagree at some point. However:
"Essentially, they have a technology currently applied to religion and we scientists can see whether this is a technology we can use for science."
Introspection is not a technology, but any reasonable meaning of the term. Besides, I didn't say one cannot study altered states of consciousness, that was my point about the neurobiology example. But *Buddhism* teaches us nothing about consciousness from a scientific perspective.
"“Better” or “higher” are statements usually best left outside a scientific discourse altogether, either as positive statements or their negation."
That's right, they are religious/mystical terms that have no place in science. Which is why I keep saying that Buddhism has nothing to do with science.
"What is wrong with personal experience as the basis of rational argument when it is reproducible both within and across individuals? "
As you probably know, mystical traditions (such as Buddhism) and some continental philosophy are not based on rational arguments at all. That's all I said, I certainly did not say that personal experience is irrelevant to rational argumentation. That would be silly...
I don’t want to get into an argument about the semantics of the word “technology” rather than the substance of the argument. (For reference, Mirriam-Webster backs me up, but the OED contradicts my use of the word.) Whatever the semantics, meditative techniques share many attributes with indisputable instances of technology. They are not obvious to reinvent de novo, but can be transferred. They have built up through cumulative innovation over a period of time. They are highly technical and involved skilled “know-how”. Not all introspection is equal, and technique and training add substantially to what introspection can achieve.ReplyDelete
> mystical traditions (such as Buddhism) and some continental
> philosophy are not based on rational arguments at all.
The “at all” is debatable, but there is no doubt that they are far less so than science. They are, however, based on accumulated knowledge following a painstaking historical process of trial and error and reproducibility, a sort of evolutionary process that one would expect, based on rational arguments, to achieve something interesting.
Personally, I am not yet convinced that the dialog on consciousness has achieved much yet. I think it is probably still worth pursuing for a while, but to date this is a judgement call to be adjusted as things progress. On the other hand, the handful of scientific studies on the effect of these techniques on certain health outcomes have been extremely exciting. I see every reason to plow full steam ahead with that dialog.
"Whatever the semantics, meditative techniques share many attributes with indisputable instances of technology. They are not obvious to reinvent de novo, but can be transferred. They have built up through cumulative innovation over a period of time. They are highly technical and involved skilled 'know-how'."
The banality of this description does not escape me. Cooking, guitar-playing, and sex all fit these descriptions. In fact, since human beings are known to parse information about their endeavors to others on virtually all subjects other than defecation, I don't see why it should matter that anything fits these criteria at all.
And the phrase "highly technical" doesn't seem quite apt. I haven't read a description of a meditative technique that seems more technical than, say, playing Whole Lotta Love on the guitar.
You go on to state that "Not all introspection is equal, and technique and training add substantially to what introspection can achieve." You're trying to be spiritually and meditatively pretentious, but your comment is again meaningless. Of course they aren't equal; none of the one hundred fifty coffee shops within walking distance of my Seattle home are equal, either.
"They are, however, based on accumulated knowledge following a painstaking historical process of trial and error and reproducibility, a sort of evolutionary process that one would expect, based on rational arguments, to achieve something interesting."
So, Buddhism is being praised, once again, for bearing similarities to virtually all known human endeavors. "based on rational arguments" (what is this phrase doing in your sentence?), we would "expect" a "painstaking historical process of trial and error and reproducibility" (what 'painstaking process', by the way?) to "produce something interesting". Did Massimo P. claim that Buddhism has not produced "something interesting"?
Joseph, of course cooking is a technology. As is building a fire in the first place. Cooking is a very useful one too, allowing humans to extract calories from a wider range of substances, preserve food for longer, avoid pathogens etc. It's also an art form, of course, but if cooking doesn't count as a technology it's hard to think what could possibly qualify.ReplyDelete
No, I'm not "trying to be spiritually and meditatively pretentious". I'm just stating a reproducible result. Ask anyone who has undergone significant meditative training whether this has transformed their powers of introspection for the better. The reproducible answer will be yes, and you'll find plenty of good anecdotes to back it up for each individual. And not all of those anecdotes may fit your preconception of "spiritual", either.
As for your skepticism about whether meditation can be either "technical" or "painstaking", again you will get a reproducible answer from practitioners. Actually, you may get some variation on the "technical", depending on what tradition they come from, but my guess would be no variation at all on the "painstaking" part. Mostly, meditation is really very simple, it's just very hard. But, as with almost any human endeavour, you get better with practice.
I have no literal disagreement with your statements, but you are retreating from your previous mode of talking about meditative practice as though it were some sort of rigorous, scientific discipline.ReplyDelete
More importantly, you seem to be running down the Buddhist path of "through meditation, things you will see." Those who involve themselves in meditation feel no need to explain their "findings". They try to say that there is no way to explain it; you just have to meditate and experience it for yourself. I am always reminded of the Christian who says that those who doubt the existence of God just haven't experienced him yet...and those who tried to experience him but failed just weren't doing it right.
Joseph, meditation is rigorous (ie hard), but it is not scientific. It certainly does not provide some sort of magical direct access to knowledge of external reality in the way some religious interpretations of it claim.ReplyDelete
It is, however, a way of gathering data not easily accessed in any other way, and this is why it may be of interest to scientists. It should also be of extreme interest to medical researchers, and scientists have some work to do to provide a bridge here to study its clinical potential.
But yes, it will always be difficult to communicate the outcome of introspection, and some things just need to be experienced for oneself. That doesn't make them invalid. Art and music also fall into this category.
There have often seemed to be two camps of meditation advocates: meditation-as-therapy advocates and advocates of meditation as a way of perceiving higher levels of truth.ReplyDelete
Of course, they bleed into each other - it's actually quite rare to find a meditator who isn't in some way invested in both of them.
I don't consider the claims of the former to be dubious at all. It seems quite possible to me that meditators are happy, more relaxed, more [x | x is some positive attribute] than other people.
Nevertheless, it is not merely the trend to advocate meditation as a form of relaxation, personal enhancement, or therapy. The notion that the self is an illusion is literally absurd - and metaphorically inapt - yet there are scientists (not eminent ones, thankfully) who will say that this claim is "validated" through introspection. That claim - and other unjustifiable truth-claims - form the core of much meditative dialogue. Most Lhasan monks are concerned with discerning ultimate reality through their meditation - the notion that Buddhism is a form of self-help is mostly a naive Western notion founded at meditation seminars on Main St.
The "self" is pretty hard to define any which way you cut it. Third-person empiricism normally focuses on the physical body, which is fine, and not undermined in my opinion by the technicality that cells and molecules undergo turnover.ReplyDelete
However, that isn't what most people mean when they talk about "self" in everyday speech. They normally mean a unitary mental construct that asserts control. Split-brain experiments have torn quite a few holes in the unitary part, and neurobiological timing experiments on decision-making have torn holes in the control part. Meditative introspection tears still more holes in other ways: the "self" commonly assumed by naive introspection breaks down when subjected to more trained introspection. The unitary and in-control "self" that we take for granted when we make statements such as "I am..." or "I want..." is indeed an illusion.
Traditional meditators may talk about "self-realization" rather than "self-help", but sometimes in practice the two may not always be as different as you think...
Contrarily, the notion of the self does not require irreducibility any more than the notion of bread requires unsliceability. And it doesn't require unchangeability either.ReplyDelete
Since human beings aren't mereological nihilists, we conceptually clump chunks of matter and time together to form groups: "bread" refers to a particular type of clump, and so does "hour".
Is "self" a bad clump? You claim so, but I see no justification. To refer to "myself" is to refer to a particular collection of mental properties (intelligence, disposition, memories, behaviors) that exist both in the present and in the past.
And to say this is not to say that I am undistributed. There is no one place in which a computer burns a CD; the hard drive, RAM, CPU, and CD-RW drive are all necessary.
Of course, you claim that my description of the term "self" doesn't match that followed by others. I don't see how this is true. First, we do have control of things; our decisions actually do affect the world around us, as well as ourselves (ah, that swearword again!).
Second of all, the notion that there is no one single center of control is actually common human understanding. Ever hear the phrase "I wasn't in control of myself?" A man being seduced by a beautiful woman who is not his wife both wants and does not want (in certain senses) to have sex with her; most people would acknowledge this, yet they wouldn't say it's wrong to say something like "I exist".
Most people will verbally acknowledge the non-unitary nature of self when pressed, but in other circumstances will take it for granted. Knowing that something is true on an intellectual level is quite different from fully embracing it (with all parts of the "self" signing on to that knowledge).ReplyDelete
Meditation allows you to spend time in a mental state in which the part of the brain that usually claims to be the unitary self is silent. It then becomes easier for knowledge to go beyond abstract lip-service.
I agree that "self", properly used as you describe, is a perfectly legitimate word. In practice, humans frequently mistake one small part of the self for the whole thing.
Now, you're just making unjustified claims about my experiences. What part of my self am I mistaking for the whole thing? How is my subjective experience out of sync with my intellectual recognition of the fact that the human mind is like a computer - a distributed system that is nevertheless organized to produce output that could not been been achieved except through cooperative organization?ReplyDelete
Ciao Massimo, excellent post.ReplyDelete
Being “at one with the universe” is just a rush of endorphins to the head. You can achieve this through exercise, drugs, orgasm or, as Joanna, meditating very hard. All the rest is woo.
The part that is normally mistaken for a unitary self is the bit of the brain that usually maintains a constant and somewhat tedious verbal chatter, often verbalizing and justifying things that come in from elsewhere. It's the part that does the talking when you say "I", so no surprise that it thinks that it is it.ReplyDelete
It can, as Huinca mentions, also be shut up by exercise, drugs ot orgasm. The point of meditation is not only to shut it up, but also mastery of the process and control of one's own mind.
What you sre recommending is nothing other than Daniel Dennet's hetero-phenomonology , am I correct?
The notion that the self is an illusion is literally absurd.ReplyDelete
When Buddhists use the term illusion, they mean the inescapable biased perception we all suffer from. No one can be objective.
Everyone's view of their self is different from other's view of your self and none of the views is complete or even accurate.
When it is said that the self is illusion this does not mean that a real person doesn't exist, but it does mean that no human has access to anything but a distorted, incomplete, imaginary, version of that self - perhaps not the typical definition of the word 'illusion'.
Imagine something that isn't real. Now imagine something that is real. Both are imaginary (thoughts in your head) but one has a greater chance of being useful.
The correspondence between one's thoughts about anything, self included, and objective reality ranges from nonexistent to strong, but it is never complete.
PS I like Joanna's posts but also agree with Massimo that one shouldn't confuse science with introspection.
PPS If I notice a response that my body has to a certain food and test that response "scientifically" how different is this from doing the same with a certain state of mind?
"When Buddhists use the term illusion, they mean the inescapable biased perception we all suffer from."
If that is the case, and that is not my understanding of Buddhism, then it is a gross misuse of language.
Illusion=A false idea or belief; a deceptive appearance or impression.
Re: introspection, there is an old joke:ReplyDelete
Two behaviourists (not Buddhists) were having sex and when the event came to an end, said one to the other: you had a great time, how about me?
Suffice to say, as Pythagoras might have said to that charlatan Socrates, above all else, "know thyself"! ;-)
"Illusion=A false idea or belief; a deceptive appearance or impression."
It can be argued that way as well:
I think it's fair to say that most of the beliefs of the majority of humanity now and even more so in the past are false. For example, I believe, as do most, that I have a free will. Many (most) people believe they have an immortal soul (whatever that is).
Science tries to correct, eliminate & minimize illusion and does an excellent job but 99%+ of humanity seems to prefer irrationality.
Even the most well educated and well-rounded people suffer from false beliefs regularly. I think the Buddhists are pretty accurate in generalizing that "all is illusion" if you want to use this more traditional definition.
But as I understand the Buddhist concept of illusion is to say that all perception is interpreted and filtered. It is perception, not reality. To make people aware of how easily they distort and bias their sense data is one of the goals of Buddhism, thus the emphasis on "illusion."
I would think a scientist would applaud a religion that advocated this (but I do see how easy it is to criticize Buddhism for its approach to solving this problem).
This is akin to the point being made by the surrealist painter René Magritte who painted "Ceci n'est pas une pipe."
Paul, I only glanced at the Dennett article so far, I look forward to reading it, it does sound like the same thing.ReplyDelete
Massimo, English is not the language these Eastern philosophies were developed in, and many words have no good equivalent in English. Common practice in many discussions I have seen is to leave certain words untranslated altogether. That may be somewhat exclusive, but it is certainly both more precise and more accurate. In any case, when a word like "illusion" seems to be used in a somewhat technical way, chances are that it is, and its meaning is not quite the same as everyday English.
sorry, but the "it's a bad translation" excuse doesn't fly. If what you maintain is correct (and, again, I don't actually think it is), "illusion" is not just bad translation, it has little or nothing to do with the intended meaning.
At any rate, my dissatisfaction with Buddhism, as I made clear several times, is far less than with the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition, and I wish the Dalai Lama were the major problem. Unfortunately he is far from it...
Still, I am really allergic to fluff in any guise, and despite much reading and endless discussions I can't get past the conclusion that Buddhism is mysticism, and mysticism is fluff.
But Massimo, "fluff" itself is a non-technical term, which can as easily be applied to the works of Shakespeare by any evaluation criteria that elevates science above all other human activity. But I would rather have Shakespeare and Buddhism than this rarified and non-existent "science"!ReplyDelete
Further, the translation point is not an excuse at all. To dismiss it is to endorse a violinist refuting "String theory" by arguing that it doesn't make any sense by his understanding of "strings".
Well said, code. Moving the analogy from Shakespeare to music would also explain Massimo's failure to get the point after "much reading and endless discussions". Before you can judge music, you have to listen to it!ReplyDelete
And unlike the case of Christian mysticism and other devotional practices, no religious beliefs are required in order to try many of these techniques, just an open mind.
Oh, yeah. Saw the title and immediately knew this would be one popular post, hehe.ReplyDelete
Buddhists see it at some pure subtle level as not contingent on matter at all, but deriving instead from ‘a previous continuum of consciousness” — the Dalai Lama’s words — that transcends death and has neither beginning nor end.”
Bullshit-o-meter almost broke on that one, thanks! :-)
pure subtle level
not contingent on matter (!!!)
continuum of consciousness
Sheesh, apparently using third rate self-help book language helps...
Third-person empiricism normally focuses on the physical body
Because that's all there is. Or do you think bile acid is not part of the physical body either? Your thinking is contaminated by religious dualism, still, it would appear from what you just wrote.
But I would rather have Shakespeare and Buddhism than this rarified and non-existent "science"!
That is certainly an opinion, but it sounds like a stupid idea. Look around yourself and honestly answer: do more people have overall better lives now or in the time of Shakespeare or Buddha? I think the answer should be now; in which case, due to some things, but mainly what?
Anyway, people seem to be tap-dancing around the real issue of Massimo's original post, in an attempt to save face or whatever. So: what do Eastern philosophies have to contribute to SCIENCE? Massimo thinks it's nothing, and I happen to agree. These philosophies have been around for centuries, they didn't start "yesterday", like neurobiology (and most of science) did. So, what scientific good did the Eastern philosophies do in the many centuries before now? They might be good for many things, I don't deny that at all, but not at all for science.
Otherwise, let's next discuss the contribution of heavy metal rock'n'roll to science, because I happen to enjoy that musical style a lot (and the first to say it ain't a musical style will have all future generations cursed by me) and want it to contribute to humanity's progress. :-)
that transcends death
If we are gonna learn science from such luminaries, I'd rather remain (even more) ignorant...
J, I already gave a clear answer to your central question "what do Eastern philosophies have to contribute to SCIENCE?". The general answer is any area of science in which subjective human experience is important.ReplyDelete
One possible area is helping to formulate a theory of consciousness: I would politely call this a work in progress at the moment and reserve judgement for now.
The second answer is human health and wellbeing, in particular for chronic and/or psychological problems, where Eastern practices (the emphasis being on practices rather than the philosophies they originated with and are currently linked to) show tremendous promise and should be aggressively pursued using a scientific approach to testing.
People have better lives not because of the Western "science" for which you are pushing your racist tropes, but primarily because of general advances in nutrition, sanitation, education, peaceful co-existence and a host of factors, some dating back to Harappa and Mohenjodaro (which had extensive sewage systems). Science at its best is opportunistic (and rightly so, as some in the philosophy of science have held) in absorbing any and all such advances, and where necessary recasting and refining it in a suitable language. But such a programme leaves no room for the sort of chauvinism by association in this comments section, not does it endorse the lazy use of invective against the idea of continuity of human knowledge and action.ReplyDelete
People who don't understand the language of others and choose to ridicule it, were brilliantly critiqued by the mathematician Doron Zellberger in one of his opinions:
Most of us know how he made fun of Diderot by proving the existence of God : ``Sir, (a+b^n)/n=x, hence God exists; reply!'' (E.T. Bell, Men of Math, p. 147). In his attempts at a more serious theology, Euler (unintenionally) made fun of himself.
Nowadays, Traditional God has been replaced, in part, by another God: `Absolute Truth'. Practicing scientists get really annoyed when they are reminded that after all they are also human, and their view of science is time- and fashion- dependent. So Alan Sokal had a good laugh at the expense of post-modern cultural-relativists. But he used the same cheap trick of Euler, intimidation by jargon. He went one step farther: making fun of the sociologists' jargon. He had the advantage that their jargon is closer to spoken English than his, so he could master it superficially.
Making fun of other people's language is the lowest form of humor. Like Euler, Sokal did not prove anything, except that physical scientists and mathematicians are arrogant and look down on everybody else. They are also religious fanatics, for whatever religion they may have. Social science has probably lots of rubbish, but so does regular science, and in either case it is not the content that matters so much as the act of expressing oneself's.
One can also raise the question of those who choose to forego the vaunted advances of "Western science" (a side note: Amartya Sen offers various arguments against this chauvinistic notion, including in The Argumentative Indian) and their claim to dignity and respect. With regard to the original question as you pose it, Western science perhaps can find nothing of use in Eastern "philosophy" (as you label it), but that is not something that the East needs to be ashamed of in any way.
Ridicule via language loses its force when the objects of such ridicule refuse to share the idea of inferiority implied in such language use. As Ice T sang (approximate):
No watermelon, chitlin-eatin nigger down south,
But a nigger that'll slap the taste from your mouth.
Also, a hard disk is not [absolutely] necessary to burn a CD. That is not a trivial point. It illustrates the fact that projected familiarity does not equal expertise. You are welcome to choose the criteria by which you clump your particles but if you were to claim ultimate reality to your clumping, the arguments you offer often tend not to be "scientific" but often form of appeal to mere common-sense (accusations of "solipsist", etc).ReplyDelete
Code, Joanna, Ravi,ReplyDelete
well, as J put it, no surprise this post is generating so much discussion and, ehm, acrimony.
I may be close minded about mysticism, but as Carl Sagan once put it, be careful not to be so open minded that your brain falls off.
You guys -- and many other defenders of mysticism -- keep talking about the great insights that these approaches bring, to science and to humanity. But when one challenges you to actually lay out such spectacular achievements all you can put forth is obfuscating language that invites ridicule. The analogy with violins and string theory was so out of whack that it doesn't really deserve a reply.
As for Shakespeare, I don't recall anyone suggesting that his plays are a great contribution to science, and I see the parallel as entirely spurious and a symptom of desperation originating from lack of a reasonable argument.
I am not a defender of mysticism at all. I am a defender of the idea that other people, other cultures, other ways of lives, modes of knowledge, and so on, are NOT in need of a defence which has to be carried out in terms set by those attacking them.
The way I interpret the analogy about violins and strings is that someone, typically a Westerner, translates a word, say "maya" into an English word. This does not absolve other Westerners from following Wittgenstein's maxim that Whereof one cannot speak, one must remain silent. Doing so is no different from a violinist suggesting that he can comment about advanced physics because he sees a word fly by that he believes he understands.
Similarly for the comment about Shakespeare. Note that it was in response to your comment: "allergic to fluff ... Buddhism is mysticism ... mysticism is fluff". This is not a comment about contributions of other areas of human thought and activity to science (whatever "science" means, here). This is a comprehensive judgement on such non-scientific activities. Shakespeare's writings are one such activity.
This is the same issue with accusations of "obfuscating language". I hold a degree in mathematics but I will be the first to note that there can be no language more obfuscating than mathematics, if the reader is merely perusing blog comments or is perhaps interested in seeking comfort for the passing of a family member.
Demands for demonstration or listing of the impressive results of this or that system of thought are utterly misguided. In opposition to the claim of the fellow in an earlier comment who implies that recent advances in [Western] "science" are the sole cause of all that is good that I see around me, a good number of things that I am thankful for originate from systems of knowledge and thought and empirical experiments that predate "Western science" (unless as I note, "science" is correctly understood as that which promiscously distills results from all fields of human activity -- but the other side to that understanding of science is that it robs the speaker of his chauvinism that he seems to so desperately seek to elevate himself above others if only by association).
Further, even if a listing as demanded is offered, how are we to evaluate such results? Using the methods and language of which system? Note here that we are no longer talking about the contribution of other fields to science, the primary intent of your post, with which, I have no particular issue.
Carl Sagan was also asked towards the end of his life how he justified his love for his wife given his hyper-rationalism. He didn't have an answer (I do not have a reference for this right now, since I am recollecting from memory of a print magazine).
Finally, if at all they are to be employed, "ridicule" and derision should be reserved for those who flaunt their ignorance (e.g: George Bush and Sarah Palin) -- ironically in this thread, that would be those who think they understand Buddhism based on reading one or a few translations. It is not valid, much less fair and decent, to extend such an attitude to the results of the thoughts of others based on your lack of interest or perception of value in them. At least Buddhist monks aren't sitting around eating up research grants and public money for junk projects like a large number of scientific researchers are!
it may be time to move on to another discussion (a new post is about to appear on the blog), but I just can't let you get away with some gross mischaracterization of what I wrote:
"I am a defender of the idea that other people, other cultures, other ways of lives, modes of knowledge, and so on, are NOT in need of a defence which has to be carried out in terms set by those attacking them."
Why not? Are you prepared to defend, say, female circumcision on those grounds? As I said, Buddhists have a right to believe whatever they want, but I have an equal right to call it fluff if I think it is fluff.
"... no different from a violinist suggesting that he can comment about advanced physics because he sees a word fly by that he believes he understands."
I beg to differ. I have read a hell of a lot more about Buddhism (yes, in translation, of course) than you give me credit for, and I still don't see the point of it as a way of knowing about the universe. The burden of proof is on those who claim otherwise.
"This is a comprehensive judgement on such non-scientific activities. Shakespeare's writings are one such activity."
No they are not, and you are putting forth a caricature of what I wrote. No Shakespeare's scholar, as I have already pointed out, ever claimed that the Bard's plays advanced science. *That* was the context of the original post.
"I hold a degree in mathematics but I will be the first to note that there can be no language more obfuscating than mathematics, if the reader is merely perusing blog comments or is perhaps interested in seeking comfort for the passing of a family member."
So by the same token you must think that, say, Deepak Chopra's nonsense about quantum mysticism is also legit, that one cannot accuse him of using obfuscating language? There is a difference between technical and obfuscating language, mathematics is on one side of that divide, mysticism on the other.
"an earlier comment who implies that recent advances in [Western] "science" are the sole cause of all that is good that I see around me"
Give me a little credit as a philosopher, I would never make that claim. All I said was that Buddhism has not advanced *science* a single bit.
"Carl Sagan was also asked towards the end of his life how he justified his love for his wife given his hyper-rationalism. He didn't have an answer."
Since I don't worship heros I have no problem if you find Sagan's answers wanting in some respects. I do have an answer to that question, however, which is rooted in biological instincts as well as in culturally constructed emotions. Hyper-rationality is silly, but a defense of mysticism is a clear example of hypo-rationality. Can't we strike a more sensible balance?
"ridicule and derision should be reserved for those who flaunt their ignorance."
Right, a Buddhist who pretends to teach neurobiologists about the basis of consciousness by invoking vacuous "parallel" experiences and survival beyond death is flaunting ignorance.
Massimo, I have to wonder, have you read what the Dalai Lama wrote himself about this dialog in his book "The Universe in a Single Atom"? You'll find little to nothing along the lines of your words repeated below, and instead plenty about refined means of introspection, plenty about the role of subjective measures in science, and medical suggestions such as for ADHD (since meditation techniques are all about attention, they seem an obvious thing to try on an attention disorder).ReplyDelete
Unfortunately, the Dalai Lama's set of great scientific teachers did not include an evolutionary biologist, so you will find some problems there. But my understanding from scientific experts in quantum mechanics is that his grasp there is superb, and his contributions to the related philosophy are meaningful.
> a Buddhist who pretends to teach
> neurobiologists about the basis
> of consciousness by invoking
> vacuous "parallel" experiences
> and survival beyond death is
> flaunting ignorance.
note that I wrote "on the attacker's terms". I am not in favour of complete cultural immunity, but the common universal grounds on which criticism should be based have to be derived, inter alia!, via the interaction of the "paradigm"s. This applies even to heinous (by our standards) acts like female circumcision. That does not discourage me.
Of course you have the right to call anything "fluff", but you do not then have the right to ask for a serious response! ;-)
Regarding the Shakespeare issue, I do not see the caricature you accuse me of (I quoted relevant sections from your comment), but if you meant something different (say: Buddhist thought is fluff when considering their utility to advancing scientific theories) than what I read, I am glad to withdraw my comment.
My point is this: as you correctly point out, a Buddhist should not attempt to speak in the language or theory of neurobiologists or physicists unless he has sufficiently studied the subject, and if he chooses to, he is subject to review by the members of that tribe. However, a Buddhist can speak with as much freedom about "reality", "truth", "the human condition", using terms of his or her choice, and face no requirement to justify or translate these thoughts into other languages or epistemologies.
W.r.t giving you credit as a philosopher, trust me I do. As my comment notes, that response was to the chap who asked, in the comments, that we look around us, etc. As was most of the other stuff I wrote in earlier comments.
If Deepak Chopra uses the term "quantum" in such a way as to imply an understanding and borrowing of the underlying theories and findings of physics then of course that is misleading. But if he isn't, how am I to judge if what he speaks is obfuscation or not? Any criteria I use, short of immersing myself in multiple years of study of the subject, will be as shallow as a non-mathematician deriding the field for its use of complicated symbols.
I still don't see the point of it as a way of knowing about the universe. The burden of proof is on those who claim otherwise.ReplyDelete
Of two basic ways people use to learn about reality - observation/questioning/hypothesis testing on the one hand, and divine revelation/sacred texts on the other, I would hope that everyone here agrees the former method is vastly superior to the latter.
The point that Massimo is missing is that Buddhist practice falls in first category, not the second.
Buddhism however points the study inward and tries, bravely, to understand the subjective without being misled by fantasy/illusion/mystical wishful thinking. The success of science is due in part to it choosing to work on the low-hanging fruit of reality - that which can be studied more or less objectively.
I doubt any of this will convince Massimo that Buddhism has value and given how much garbage is associated with it I see the problem as huge.
And if you wonder what sort of hypotheses Buddhists test, try this one out:ReplyDelete
"I am in control of my thoughts."
If you think this hypothesis is true, try sitting still and consciously choose to not have any thoughts for 30 minutes straight. (& good luck!)
Buddhism however points the study inward and tries, bravely, to understand the subjective without being misled by fantasy/illusion/mystical wishful thinking.
I'm no psychologist myself, but if I recall correctly my readings* on the subject, then there's a lot of evidence to support skepticism towards the results of introspection, whether it adheres to Buddhist techniques or not.
That's how I understood Massimo's statement in this post:
Buddhism, like all mystical traditions, is about introspection, notoriously a remarkably unreliable source of “evidence.”
Whether one accepts that conclusion from the outset or not, I think it's important to acknowledge that it is not an attack on Buddhism (or any other tradition, Western or Eastern) per se, so much as an attack on any of us who trust in subjective feelings or intuition as a reliable or accurate source of truth (perhaps surprisingly, even about oneself).
* See, for example, Stumbling on Happiness by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert.
It's interesting how you somehow manage to, in a funny and ironic way, strengthen what I said, by not giving straight answers. I considered ignoring your posts, since they didn't say much of use, and mostly misrepresented or exaggerated what I wrote. Although I am the pot calling the kettle, I see very low density prose on your posts. Look at Joanna's answer above, just after my post, for an educational contrast. I readily admit that I myself am probably even worse, and being somewhat new to English definitely does not help with the subtleties. But since you are somewhat offensive and judgmental, even in your pretty prose, I decided to give a (probably) final answer and move on. Let's see...
Western "science" for which you are pushing your racist tropes
Hm... If you had charged me with "culturalism", that would at least be understandable. But racism, that's interesting. Speaks louder about YOUR way of thinking than mine, I suspect. The racism is clearly yours, since YOU are the one who equated "Eastern" and "Western" with races, apparently. Otherwise, why would you say "racist tropes"?
but primarily because of general advances in nutrition, sanitation, education, peaceful co-existence and a host of factors, some dating back to Harappa and Mohenjodaro (which had extensive sewage systems)
Ah, that explains why Pakistan, India, and adjacencies of the Hindus Valley are such public health paradises, then? If we are going to be simplistic, I am master of that game...
Now, if you read my original post again, you might noticed that I constantly qualified my reservations on the contributions of Eastern thinking, e.g. "what scientific good", "They might be good for many things, I don't deny that at all", "but not at all for science". I never said (or even implied), as you grossly misrepresent (you seem fond of the straw man, I must add), "that recent advances in [Western] "science" are the sole cause of all that is good". Are your own prejudices and pet peeves speaking louder again, maybe? Your palpable contempt for "the scientists", as can be felt in many of your posts in this blog? Ironically, this suggests that a little introspection might do you some good, apparently -- since YOU again are the one who saw "modern Western science" as the thing I was implying there, and you changed my "overall better lives" to "all that is good" (including your ridiculous, for completely irrelevant, Carl Sagan story on love).
Although I do admit that I had "science & technology" (explanation for "quotes" and more below) in mind, I never said "sole cause of all that is good", first of all (more in next paragraph). That belongs in the Wizard of Oz, looking for a brain. I wrote, more specifically: "due to some things, but mainly what?". You chose to ignore the "due to some things" and the "mainly", and only hear my implied opinion that "science" is the main contributor, and then distort it to "Western science is sole cause of all that is good".
OK, so I admit that I do think modern science has contributed vastly to material wellbeing, maybe more than anything else; or maybe not. I'd say that antibiotics and communications technology, for example, are very good things that have already done (and will do) much more for humanity than Eastern mysticism and introspection techniques ever have (my opinion). Science does have its problems and abuses too, obviously. But in my original post, and I'm obviously guilty of not being explicit and therefore muddling things, I meant "science" in more general terms, as in "science & technology", as in objective studies of the external world (by ANY culture or variation of method), and not just the few centuries old "Western scientific method". So I would indeed include developments in the Hindus Valley, for example, why not? Agriculture in the Middle East, Americas, Pacific islands, etc. Or some aspects of Chinese medicine, and lots of Chinese technology (among many other things), too. Many things. What would NOT be included in helping "science", to repeat the original point, is mysticism, religion, etc., of which Buddhism is an example -- subjective, introspective things. Maybe Joanna IS right, and these things will prove to be helpful in some areas (psychology and the like mainly, which has always had a tough time being considered a science; but that is a different story, which is not a coincidence to this discussion), so I hope people do keep pursuing this so we can know better. We can't discard it a priori (but remember we also cannot accept any old tripe -- like the quote Massimo put in the original post -- just because). But as she acknowledges, the jury is still out on the help these Eastern philosophies (or whatever one might call them) could give to science, if they ever do. Or so I understood.
People who don't understand the language of others and choose to ridicule it
Well, people also choose to ridicule things because... they are ridiculous. So one shouldn't say anything ridiculous if one can't take the ridicule.
With regard to the original question as you pose it, Western science perhaps can find nothing of use in Eastern "philosophy" (as you label it), but that is not something that the East needs to be ashamed of in any way.
Hooray, finally something of substance. You could have said just this and it would have been a good answer, I think. That said, notice I never said "the East" (maniquean, eh?) should be ashamed of anything, either (more introspection needed again there?). Oversensitivity to the subject might be a sign of an inferiority complex; something no "Easterner" or anyone else should have, in my opinion. Maybe I am wrong.
But then again, can someone tell me: why does the whole world (unfortunately) keep trying to follow the "Western model", it seems to me? I am wrong, I hope, and it's just a superficial impression? That is not a very good idea, maybe.
Very interesting discussion. My two cents...
- "Introspection is unreliable": You may be unaware of it, but introspection has been used for the last two decades at least within the tradition of psychology; we've learnt a lot from it, things we couldn't observe otherwise (related, for instance, to the experience and implications of happiness and "subjective well being"). Please Google "descriptive experience sampling": you'll discover a rigorous method for recording and analyzing experience.
- Buddhism uses introspection as a tool toward personal betterment AND as a method to gather information about mental states. Both things are one and the same: to "better yourself" you have to learn about yourself and how your mind works.
- Please, do not confuse "meditation" with "relaxation"; in fact, it's nothing of the sort. To relax is simply that; to meditate is to observe and accept the inner workings of your mind as they go by. As Joanna has said, this "gentle contemplation" is a skill one has to painstakingly learn, not something one does "by default". Therefore, is a technology.
Also, do not confuse "meditation" with "prayer".
- As to the therapeutic use of meditation, there is an ever increasing body of research which demonstrates its usefulness in treating difficult conditions as borderline disorder and recurrent depression. You can google "Acceptance and Commitment Therapy", for instance, or read the work of Marsha Linehan (who uses mindfulness to work with borderline patients), Steven Hayes, Zindel Segal and Jon Kabat-Zinn. The question is not if it works -we know it does-, but how.
- Meditation is a "know-how", a skill; as with all skills, you cannot teach it by mean of words and books exclusively. Skills are taught with example and learnt with practice. As Michael Polanyi discovered decades ago, science itself depends not only on the "know-that", the verbal accounts of experiments and theories, but on the "know-how" that is shared among researchers (for instance, how to set up an experimental situation, or how to properly collect evidence, and so on). I'm afraid the idea of "science" as a a kind of ideal, out-of-this-world, independent knowledge comprised only of theories is very misguided. Without technology there would be no science, and vice-versa.
- There is something I have seen repeatedly (and please, take no offense: I'm just stating facts as I see it) in discussions like these. People from the USA are always "pro" or "against" religion per se; they are seldom uninterested. By the same token, they tend to harshly and impulsively judge anything that "smells of" religion with the same criteria they use to criticize, say, narrow-minded creationism. To them (and Massimo has said as much), all religions are fundamentally the same (bad or "not-as-good-as-science") thing. Please, try to go beyond your cultural boundaries. America's brand of right-wing conservative Creationism is not the only paradigm of religion!
you are right, its not your "newness" to English that makes it impossible for you to parse my comment. Your knowledge of English (or perhaps I should say "American") is strong enough to employ such clever devices as "bullshot meter" as argumentative tools. What this style demonstrates is not a lack of grasp of the knowledge, but a lack of inclination to reason rigorously. Contrary to your claim, the record reflects the true nature of our answers.
If you want "offensive and judgemental" in non "pretty prose", I refer you to your own writing snippets of which I offer below:
1. "sounds like a stupid idea"
2. "third rate self-help book"
3. "Bullshit-o-meter almost broke on that one"
"Culturalism" has a nice safe ring to it, doesn't it. But racism is a meaningful term not in a biological sense (this was discussed to death in a previous thread on this blog) but in its common usage (to denote various ethnic groupings); and your claims about "Eastern philosophy" (note that you wrote "philosophy", not religion) are only further reinforced by:
Ah, that explains why Pakistan, India, and adjacencies of the Hindus Valley are such public health paradises, then?
Ahistorical analysis of this sort is consistent with your previous posts, and as wrong-headed. The average resident of Indian Punjab (probably) -- adjacent to the Indus Valley -- or Kerala (factually) has a longer life expectancy than say black people in the USA. Neither is the result of Western science. You can jump over a few thousand years of warfare, imperialism, and all else to further your "culturalist" tropes, but in doing so, you are being not just simplistic but hollow in your reasoning.
And contrary to what you mention, I have no contempt for "the scientists". I have worked with some of the best of them all my life, which in turn informs my contempt for scientistic groupies, simplifiers and false crusaders.
The rest of your post is surprisingly and thankfully more meticulously argued and suitably humble (in the sense of "open minded"). However, given your fluctuation between "philosophy" and "mysticism" as if they are one and the same, whereas almost the opposite claim can be made (i.e., "philosophy" and "science", especially pre-20th century, are one and the same), it is difficult to choose which version of your claim deserves a response.
Your point regarding "ridiculous" inviting "ridicule" is an act of question begging. The debate is regarding whether such claims are ridiculous or not. Only when that is settled can you, if you are of that nature, heap ridicule on the idea or the people who subscribe to it.
Finally, regarding your accusations of "over sensitivity", "inferiority complex", I have never considered such notions legitimate either in argument or analysis. By adding a superlative of sorts ("over") to a valid term ("sensitivity") you are merely hand-waving. What I wrote "not something the East needs to ashamed" I was not writing of any shame on my part, especially since I am neither a believer nor practitioner of Eastern philosophy (leave along mysticism and then religion), but to point out that there is no loss of legitimacy to a discourse just because it is irreconcilable with science (science seen as the current body of knowledge or set of strongly confirmed theories in certain fields).
I forgot: when Buddhists say that "the self does not exist", they mean that "the" self is not -and can never be- an object. We may translate this by saying "The self is not an object, but a process"; like a tornado, it is a transient and ever changing "stuff".ReplyDelete
This opens all kinds of interesting questions: how does a "process" exist? Does the verb "exist" means the same in the sentences "this chair exists" and "I exist"? How do "I" relate to "myself", given that both of them are part of the same process?...
I guess this perspective of the self-as-a-process is both obvious (one you get the knack of it) and useful for the scientific understanding of human psychology.
BTW, Hume arrived to the same conclusion using the same tool, introspection. Just try to look "inside" for "your self"! (Like the eye that cannot see itself of the Tao-Te-King). All you will see "inside" is mere content: this idea, that desire, this memory; but you'll never catch a glimpse of the process which creates and maintains that content. In short, you will never see "yourself".
When we say things such as "I am a very romantic person" we are, in fact, talking about ourselves in a disguised third person (as Wittgenstein realized); we are trying to look not at ourselves but at our past behavior per se and asigning it to a given category. We have to differentiate "self" from "personality".
To me, German Idealism, after Kant, became enmeshed in endless and pointless discussion about "object" and "subject": Fichte, Schelling and Hegel paved the way for Husserl and the confusing, bombastic and authoritarian writings of Heidegger and the "postmodern" philosophers.
Too bad they took the wrong turn: "object" vs "subject", and not (like the Taoists) "object" vs. "process".
- "me": "I am in control of my thoughts" is a fantastic demonstration! Hope you won't mind if I use it in my classes!
You obviously are not able to understand the distinction between religion and meditation that is being put forward here. Your understandable distaste for anything religious is coloring your opinion of introspection as it is practiced in Buddhism. Just give me, an atheist and lover of science (and btw a non-meditator), a chance to put this in perspective for you.
Before Christianity was fully developed holding the beliefs that today we accept as orthodox, there were a lot of different Gnostic sects. Some of these had an aspect to them that involved initiations to incrementally higher levels of understanding. This practice was borrowed from the pagan religions of the region and this had been done for centuries. Exposing progressively deeper truths over time, if you will. A part of the deepest were sacred geometry, medicine and astronomy. The lower stages involved moralistic stories and symbols, myths and metaphors to promote the development of character and create good citizens and also provide a base for further development. This system was destroyed by the ignorant orthodoxy and the intellectual aspects and greater practical learning were abolished in favor of a literalization of the myths and fables that were only meant to be a tease for further learning. What a shame.
I believe that some of the same things have happened in Buddhism. There is a facade of religious mumbo jumbo but also a deeper, more practical aspect of it that, I believe, if practiced is meant to lead to an understanding of one’s self and of man's place in the cosmos, free of the cultural crap and illusory beliefs that cause religion and pop culture, over consumption and environmental destruction, and that sort of thing. In other words, illusion.
The problem with that for me is that they spend a lot of their time sitting, breathing and doing the dishes only to find out that they are only going to die in the end. But, if they are Zen Buddhists, when they do attain enlightenment I'm sure they can then better appreciate every breath and every washed bowl.
It is ironic that certain aspects of this religious practice can lead one to understand that religion is illusion and we are simply a participant in life. But then again, a scientist can come to understand that religion is illusion and we are simply participants in life along with all other living creatures. It is just funny to me that both processes, if done right, can lead to the same conclusion.
BTW, I experienced this irony for myself while reading Pharyngula blog a couple of months ago. I was able to solve the koan, "what is the sound of one hand clapping?" while reading someone being schooled by truth machine. The debate was whether one could conceive of life after death. I won't ruin it for you but it was good to know that satori coincided with my atheism and my rationalism.
Wow, you must not have read any Continental philosophy at all if you are incapable of parsing Continental philosophy (defined as Husserl and everything afterwards) as different from Eastern spiritual traditions. Moreover, not all third-person accounts can escape the fact that doing science is a mode of a subject's engagement with the world. Scientific knowledge is a social experience as well.ReplyDelete
Wow, what big assumptions from such short reading!ReplyDelete
Yes, I have read some continental philosophy, and I never said it cannot be distinguished from eastern mysticism. I just don't think it is philosophy in the sense of a reasoned argument. Some (much) of it is as fluffy and obscure as mysticism, hence the analogy.
Of course science is a social enterprise, just in the same way in which the world is always perceived through a virtual reality simulation going on inside our brains. So?
I wanted to come back and make a withdrawal of a previous comment, in which I called J's posts "racist tropes". I was clearly miffed by the disrespect he (or she?) exhibited towards the East, but since "racist" tends to be a very heavy word, I think in retrospect I should have refrained from using it so casually. I take that back.ReplyDelete
As an atheist and a philosopher of science I understand the pre-analytic vision behind your address, yet you're misplacing valuable ATP.ReplyDelete
Although you make a concerted effort to superficially show your understanding that Buddhism is different from other religions (the ones more hostile to science), your overall tone lumps all religions together. The fact is we don't need to be making unnecessary enemies, especially when the current stakes are so high.
Besides, pure "scientific" thinking (an inductive, falsificatory, peer reviewed world-view) is not a sufficient condition for giving individuals a sense of 'completion'. Until science finds a method for filling that void (and even in such a case, you can't ram it down anyones throat), benign groups such as the Buddhists (as opposed to fundamentalist Christians) should be welcomed as friends.
Unfortunately, this same issue of division and exclusive access to 'the one true reality' plagues philosophy as well. Luckily there is an answer applicable to both situations: Just like science and (amenable) religion, continental and analytic thinkers should be working together to conceptually and methodologically address the issues of great importance to humanity today: biodiversity loss, resource loss, climate change and the role capitalism plays in creating these catastrophes.
You are approaching this issue with a view of existence that is narrow and limiting, and ignoring the relationships between rational knowledge and consciousness. Reason, the sciences, all emerge from the development in consciousness in human beings, which is not in conflict with spirituality. Religion is not spirituality. Faith is not spirituality. Belief is not spirituality. Spirituality is being present and seeing reality as it is every moment of our lives, it is a state of clarity in our entire being which has nothing to do with magical thinking or theological constructs. The Dalai Lama and many Eastern spiritual teachers all know that the traditions that gave rise to their practices have an esoteric side that is in effect, mostly tradition, but the concepts that underlie Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies originate from a level of rationality that precedes the age of enlightenment by many centuries. The birth of calculus and other mathematical and scientific notions in used today does not originate with Newton or Leibniz but can be traced to early Medieval SPIRITUAL masters in India. Parallel views of existence as seen by Buddhism were first explored in the West by Baruch de Spinoza in the 17th century and later became a propulsive force in the evolution of scientific thought. Spinoza's rejection of the separateness of mind and body and of the unity of the all, of existence as it is, that's the god of the Buddhist. Meditation is an opportunity for the expansion of our limited perception of that unity. It offers a view of things that science can never see or explain. The greatest scientific minds of the West have never been so narrow as yours. Witness a quote form one indisputable scientist that can teach you a thing or two.ReplyDelete
"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed." Albert Einstein