?

Log in

Previous Entry | Next Entry

materialist spirituality, part 1

I've always had mixed feelings about the word "spirituality".

On the one hand, I identify a lot with the feeling I pick up off of people who refer to themselves as spiritual. In one sense, I'd consider myself a deeply spiritual person. And it's not something I've idly picked up, it's something that's always been an important part of me. Both growing up and as an adult, I've spent a lot more time contemplating things of abstract truth and beauty than I do focusing on the practical concerns of everyday life (what some people refer to as the "material world" but which I would distinguish in terms of concreteness versus abstractness). I've often been described as someone who has his "head in the clouds". But unlike many people who have their heads in the clouds, I also think it's important to "keep your feet on the ground", no matter how fluffy the clouds look. I enjoy the feeling of enlightenment, but I think if you're not anchored in reality, any enlightenment you've obtained does not represent real knowledge. I'm reminded of a movie trailer I saw yesterday (can't remember the name of the movie) where someone sits down with a bunch of spiritual gurus and the head guru says something like "through meditation, you will realize there are NO LIMITS TO WHAT WE CAN.... imagine." It's funny because of the contrast between accomplishing something and simply imagining something. They're two very different things. And I very much agree with this sentiment.

Religion pisses me off more than anything in this world I've encountered. Again and again, I find myself angry beyond comparison when I confront religious people. And in particular, I'm thinking of organized religion. I don't mind that people think about the sort of ideas that religion talks about; I think they are worthwhile ideas to explore (or at least they were a thousand years ago, or even perhaps as recently as a hundred years ago, before it became apparent they were wrong). But there are several things that I do mind about religion, which I think is the source of my anger. The first thing is that it's based on the methodology of faith. This is a flawed methodology which has been shown, time after time, in society after society, and context after context, to lead to failure. In contrast, there is a successful methodology which has been discovered, known as the scientific method. And this is almost universally rejected by the religious community. Even those who claim not to reject it, still don't seem to understand it or be able to apply it to their lives correctly. They speak out of both sides of their mouth, with one hand saying they are in favor of science, and the other hand stabbing science in the back by trying to undermine it with their prejudices and their false a priori conceptions. While nearly all of the ideas expressed in religion are wrong, their wrongness is not what angers me. It's the dogmatic attitude of religion which angers me, and the fact that it's spread via a propaganda machine, with no regard for truth or validity. Rather than do a single experiment to see if what they're saying has any merit, they would rather continue to repeat tired old lies, especially to children, in the hopes that they will be brainwashed thoroughly enough that they will never see the light of science, and never question faith for long enough to check whether their beliefs are indeed correct.

Some people think this is only a problem with Western religion. But as movies like What the Bleep!? prove, Eastern religions can be just as guilty of blatent propaganda, intentional fraud, and dogmatic attitudes. This movie is filled with so many lies that even the crazy physicists who believe quantum mechanics is related to consciousness, still speak out against it, and regard it as complete trash. Bruce Rosenblum and Fred Kuttner, in our physics department, who recently published a very naive book that tries to convince people of such a connection (despite the fact that there is no evidence for such a connection, and most physicists would laugh at them for saying so), say that a primary reason for them publishing it is to combat "filth like What the Bleep" so that people can make informed decisions rather than "picking this stuff up in the gutter". I hope this illustrates the magnitude of ignorance that is out there in the religious community. They are so disconnected from the science world, they literally pay no attention to what scientists say any more. Instead, they make up whatever truths they like and try to force them on to the public, without regard for validity. This is what many pseudoscience books like the Tao of Physics, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, or books on ESP or telekinesis are aimed at doing. And it angers me almost as much as the things that Western religions do (such as crashing airplanes into buildings or trying to convince their children that evolution is "only a theory" rather than the foundation of biology).

What upsets me the most about religion, is that it's blasphemous to science. It shows a disrespect for those of us who have dedicated our lives to figuring out the answers to the deepest questions about reality. It shows a disregard for all the progress that's been made in answering these questions, and instead of adopting the humble attitude of a scientist (that there is a lot we don't know, and instead of claiming we do know the answers, we should sit down and do the work, do the experiments, and figure it out) they adopt the most arrogant attitude possible. I've always associated religion with arrogance, and science with humility. And it strikes me as odd that some people accuse scientists of being arrogant. I suspect that this is due to them projecting their own nasty faults onto those who they do not agree with. I'm also amazed when people accuse scientists of being "closed minded" as the truth is, most of us are about as open-minded as you can get. We have to be, otherwise we would never have accepted some of the bizarre things that have been discovered in modern physics. Scientists are particularly careful never to make a statement until they've done their homework and are sure it's correct. They wait until the last possible minute to assert something, keeping a keen awareness of the unlikely event that even the most well-supported statements might turn out to be wrong. (Note that this is the opposite of what religious people do, in trying to assert things from the very beginning and place value on having faith in the very first thing they can think of.) Scientists are specifically selected for their objectivity which means that they are experts at not letting their preconceived biases affect their conclusions and interpretations of what is likely to be true (something that most people could use a lot more practice with). Again and again, I find highly biased sources (usually, crackpots or pseudoscientists with their own naive ideas about how the world works, or politically motivated news sources) who accuse scientists of being "biased" against certain ideas. Another instance of them projecting their own faults onto others.

I could go on for 100's of pages about what I don't like about religon. But I've digressed somewhat, since the purpose of this post is really to explain what aspects of spirituality I do and don't like, and how it might be reconciled with materialism. While there may be some aspects of religion that are salvagable, if they are I would much prefer the term "spirituality" as it seems to imply dogmatism a bit less, and emphasize personal exploration a bit more. Therefore, I generally use the word "religion" if I'm saying something negative, and "spirituality" if I see the potential for something positive. Although they can both be used in both ways.

In my first paragraph, I said I've always had mixed feelings about the word "spirituality". I mentioned some of the ways in which I identify with the feeling of being spiritual. But I didn't mention what it is I don't like about the word. What I don't like is that it starts with "spirit". If by spirit, one is thinking of "teen spirit" or the "human spirit" or spunk, or anything along those lines, then fine. On the other hand, the word spirit also makes me think of spirits as in ghosts and goblins, which are not something I believe in, whether it's the "holy ghost" or "casper the friendly ghost" or "slimer" from ghostbusters (although I do think slimer is cute!) But the most important thing that I think is dangerous about the word spirit, is that it leads people to think of dualism. Dualism is the idea that there is not just one world (the material world) but two, a material world and a separate spirit world. I strongly believe that any picture of the world based on dualism (at least substance dualism) is wrong. So if I'm going to accept spirituality as valid at all, it has to be compatible with materialism (a subset of monism, the idea that everything in the world is made out of the same type of metaphysical substance, not two different substances). Unfortunatley, I've found that the vast majority of people who practice spirituality, are non-materialists (either dualists or idealists, which is wrong for entirely different reasons, but less offensive). While there might not be a huge market for materialist spirituality, I think that coming up with some way to make the insights from spiritual practice that are worthwhile compatible with materialism would be a very worthwhile project. The reason it's not a huge market is that most people do not have enough understanding or information about the world to conclude for sure that materialism is correct. But for those of us who do, we start to feel kind of left out. We'd like to get the same benefits out of things like meditation, tantra, spell casting, prayers, energy circles, spiritual massage, yoga, martial arts, and we'd like to share with others in our reverence and respect for the great beauty that is this universe, and the divine beauty of mathematics, but we cannot do so honestly unless we can get the language into a form that isn't nonsense. This is the basic motivation behind the project I'm proposing. And from talking with others at Burning Man, I get the impression I'm not the only one in this situation. Many of us could benefit from having a way to talk about spiritual things without presuming dualism.

I intended to go into a lot more personal detail about the types of things I've been thinking regarding spirituality lately, but this post is getting long enough that I'll have to save that for another time. There is much more I have to say on this subject. Most of what I want to talk about is regarding useful fictions, truth, happiness, and replacing naive concepts of "belief" with a more sophisticated picture of the mind, where there are multiple layers of psychological belief required to function, possibly sometimes even contradictory layers within the same mind. This fits in with my particular preference for eliminative materialism, which is another post I've been working on writing, hopefully for real_philosophy if I ever get it done.

Comments

( 73 comments — Leave a comment )
glassheart
Sep. 11th, 2007 01:16 am (UTC)
I'd be really interested in hearing what you have to say. I've spent an awful lot of time myself thinking about the sort of abstract issues you refer to in your first paragraph, but it would never occur to me to call myself 'spiritual'. Actually, I've never been all that clear on what people mean when the distinguish 'spirituality' from 'religion', other than perhaps less top-down authoritarianism and a greater emphasis on direct personal experience as opposed to received belief.

I keep running into people who use 'spiritual' concepts to approach the same sorts of ideas, and I sometimes I think I can try to have a meaningful discussion about it, that surely these concepts must be strictly metaphorical and I can figure out how to translate them into terms that won't raise as many red flags for me, and then I bump up against the ugly truth: lots and lots of people really believe in dualism of some sort. There's always this moment of philosophical vertigo that leads to me thinking, "How can I possibly trust or communicate with someone whose basic thought processes are so utterly alien?"

Anyway, I've just been pondering the question a lot lately. Why do so many people seem so willing to adopt such obviously broken epistemologies, and why does it always provoke such a profound and intense negative emotional reaction in me?
ankh_f_n_khonsu
Sep. 11th, 2007 02:38 am (UTC)
Generally speaking, religions have established dogma and priestcraft.

Generally speaking, spiritual traditions have the goal of coming to integrate the ego. But, even this has a great deal of untruth, as many spiritual traditions seek to sublimate the ego. Others to wield the ego. As they say in Dzoogchen Tibetan Buddhism, "Many paths, many destinations." One of the ruling commonalities involves taking the path of wisdom - which has come to be eschewed by the dominant path of knowledge. Hell, even Plato wrote about the same unfortunate tendency way back when.

Namaste.
spoonless
Sep. 11th, 2007 09:30 am (UTC)

and then I bump up against the ugly truth: lots and lots of people really believe in dualism of some sort. There's always this moment of philosophical vertigo that leads to me thinking, "How can I possibly trust or communicate with someone whose basic thought processes are so utterly alien?"

That has been my experience as well. But I've reached a point in my life now, where I'm willing to just throw all that aside and try to understand, anyway. Even if I keep hearing such thoughts in the back of my mind. Just to see what happens.
ankh_f_n_khonsu
Sep. 11th, 2007 02:29 am (UTC)
There were a good many points in this that seemed reasonable to me. Other points seemed entirely less reasonable.

But before I can get to any of that, I have to note that I find it very difficult to translate your models when you use such fundamentalist rhetoric. Science generally prefers operational phenomenology, so I feel a bit perplexed as to why you'd break that trend.

I think it would be a wonderful thought-experiment for you to translate this post into E-Prime. Of course, I'm sure you might counter that you don't see the relevance in E-Prime, but whether you realize it or not, it'd make having a conversation infinitely more enjoyable if you weren't going on about what things are. Besides, I'm much more interested in what you perceive than what you think things are.

I think, perhaps, your inexperience with spiritual systems has misguided you in their application. You suggest that many spiritual systems involve dualism, but in fact, the duality only forms the exoteric application of the unity of totality - monism. In the Taoist tradition you have the same practice. On the outside you have the duality of the yin and yang, but this only reflects the exoteric understanding of the process, which in fact constantly evolves into itself. The yin and yang do not stay static, they rotate. The yang falls within the yin and the yin within the yang. Dualism on the outside with a yummy center of monist teleology.

In the Hindu theology, great debate exists, but the Brahmin were traditionally taught the esoteric, monistic tendencies of the scriptures. The commoners were taught the exoteric version, replete with a pantheon of millions of aspects - all faces of the one divine.

In the Buddhist philosophy, you have the same concept. All form comes from nothing.

In Jewish mysticism, Kabbalah, the Ain Soph, represented infinite divine unity.

The first of the three major Egyptian pantheons featured Ptah, who fashioned Universe from a single egg.

Duality gives the commoners something to latch onto. The meat of the practices come in the esoteric implications.


As for your continued savagery over the state of psi research, we might get to that later.


Also, out of curiosity, did you back-read either of these?


I'm still working on accumulating the information necessary to make a knowledgeable recommendation, but it might help if you described your attitudes towards teleology and whether it fits within your cosmogony.

Namaste.
spoonless
Sep. 11th, 2007 08:22 am (UTC)

I have to note that I find it very difficult to translate your models when you use such fundamentalist rhetoric.

I admit that some of this post got a bit sermonistic. Part 2 should be more positive and less attacking... I mostly just wanted to get that rant out of me so that I could clear my conscience of it and move on to more interesting points. (My original intention was just to make a brief comment on why I didn't like religion, but whenever I do so I tend to end up going off on a bit of a tirade.) Nevertheless, I hope it was useful to see somewhat where I'm coming from and how I think about things.

Regarding science sticking to "operational phenomenology" I make no claims that every statement in my journal is going to be scientific. This is not an academic paper, it's my personal journal. So I say things the way I think them in my head. If I restricted myself to things I could justify with science, I wouldn't be able to breach this topic in the first place :)

Regarding E-Prime, it looks like an interesting idea, but I don't really see the point. Identity is one of the most important and useful concepts there is, especially in formal languages like mathematics or computer science, but also in informal languages like english. To eliminate it seems like trying to write with your hand (or at least a couple fingers) cut off.

I'm much more interested in what you perceive than what you think things are.

I think it's very difficult (if not impossible) to put raw perceptions into words. What we can put into words is abstract concepts. We can compare different models of the world, and evaluate their various merits. I don't see why it's bad to talk about how things "are" (seems like quite an interesting question to me), nor do I see why we should restrict ourselves to direct perceptions, and make no inferences. Also--if you're really interested in my perceptions, well... I am perceiving something that seems like a lot of words flying across my screen and a bit of stiffness in my fingers from typing. Does that aid anything conversation-wise? I would assume you're more interested in the elaborate concepts I have in my mind than in my percepts. I also suspect there is very little disagreement people would have about perceptions, whereas there is a lot of disagreement about our conceptions which is why I think it makes for better conversation.

In the Hindu theology, great debate exists, but the Brahmin were traditionally taught the esoteric, monistic tendencies of the scriptures. The commoners were taught the exoteric version, replete with a pantheon of millions of aspects - all faces of the one divine.

That's very interesting. I'm currently dating a Brahmin; I'll have to ask her what she was taught growing up.

You suggest that many spiritual systems involve dualism, but in fact, the duality only forms the exoteric application of the unity of totality - monism.

I realize that some spiritual systems involve monism, but I suspect that most of them think in terms of idealism rather than materialism. I think idealism has its own set of huge problems associated with it, even though they may not be as obviously wrong as dualism.
easwaran
Sep. 11th, 2007 07:02 pm (UTC)
I'm currently dating a Brahmin; I'll have to ask her what she was taught growing up.

I'm a Brahmin myself, though I never had a thread ceremony - or anything religious at all for that matter while growing up.
spoonless
Sep. 11th, 2007 08:53 am (UTC)

Also, out of curiosity, did you back-read either of these?

I did see both of them at some point. Considered making a comment or so, but I was going through a lot of other stuff and didn't really have the time to consider what I wanted to say. I of course disagree with most of what you said. And I was especially disturbed by the link you posted regarding "pathological skepticism". Actually, "saddened" is probably a better word. I truly pity anyone (including you) who believes the nonsense that guy is spewing. He has a complete lack of understand for what science is or how it operates. When I mentioned people projecting their own biases onto scientists, who are specifically selected and trained to be as bias-free as possible, I was somewhat thinking of him.

It might help if you described your attitudes towards teleology and whether it fits within your cosmogony.

I don't believe in teleology or cosmogony. I think they are both based on a misunderstanding or a misuse of language. Teleology is based on the misconception that there is a such thing as "purpose" outside of human constructs. Purpose is a thoroughly anthropocentric concept and cannot be applied to the universe as a whole. As for cosmogony, first I don't see it as an interesting question. Time is for the most part an illusion; everything that ever was or will be is. Nothing "comes into existence" because it's all already here. Scientifically, we know when time began in our little portion of the cosmos (13.7 billion years ago), and this is often referred to as "the beginning of the universe". However, I think most people assume beginning implies some kind of special significance, as if it is the first cause of everything else. Whereas in my opinion, all moments are equally significant, and have an equal role in "causing" all other moments. So there is nothing particularly interesting about this moment. Even if it was the true "beginning" which I sort of doubt (I believe our observable universe is only a tiny tiny portion of a much larger multiverse).
spoonless
Sep. 11th, 2007 09:06 am (UTC)

So there is nothing particularly interesting about this moment.

To be clear, there are some things particularly interesting about the beginning of time. One is that it happened to be a state of extremely low entropy. Which still hasn't been understood. Another reason it's interesting is because it was very hot which allowed certain particles to exist that can't be easily recreated today. But what I meant was that there's nothing interesting metaphysically about it. That is, it should not prompt one to think it answers questions about teleology or cosmogony (which I think aren't really questions to begin with).
easwaran
Sep. 11th, 2007 06:57 pm (UTC)
Teleology is based on the misconception that there is a such thing as "purpose" outside of human constructs. Purpose is a thoroughly anthropocentric concept and cannot be applied to the universe as a whole.

I used to think this, but since then I've learned a bit more about other notions of purpose that really do agree with our ordinary sense but don't presuppose anything anthropocentric. And they still don't support any notion of teleology for anything as large as the universe.

The basic idea is the notion of "biological function" - I can't remember who it comes from originally, but it's all over Fred Dretske and Ruth Millikan and most philosophers of biology. The idea is that for any part of an organism that has reproduced under selectional pressures, one can identify a "function" for that part, which is the specific causal effects it had that caused it to be selected for in the lineage.

When you think about it, this is the same sense of function that we have for designed artifacts, which is the property they have that caused the designer to create them.

Of course, in either case, although there's reason to think that something will be generally good at fulfilling its function, and better at that than at most other tasks, there's no guarantee of that fact, and there's no moral force behind the function. Also, the function of a body part can change over evolutionary time, as different selective pressures are brought to bear.

But it's still a useful notion - I suspect (following what little I know of Dretske and Millikan) that it might be the best way to understand the notion of meaning that relates words to the world, and also makes our brain states "about" something.

But of course, this only applies to the evolved and designed parts of the universe, which presumably doesn't include very much of the universe (unless that one guy is right with the reproduction and evolution of universes by black holes).
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 11th, 2007 09:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - easwaran - Sep. 11th, 2007 10:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 11th, 2007 11:05 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 11th, 2007 11:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 12th, 2007 12:22 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 12th, 2007 02:39 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 12th, 2007 02:36 am (UTC) - Expand
easwaran
Sep. 11th, 2007 07:04 pm (UTC)
Science generally prefers operational phenomenology, so I feel a bit perplexed as to why you'd break that trend.

Does science really have such a preferred metaphysics? I think there's certainly a tendency towards positivism (which is really a type of idealism) in the official pronouncements about metaphysics that scientists make (and in their official claims about epistemology too, since they tend to cite falsifiability as the central criterion). But I think they're much more subtle in actual practice, and probably lean much more towards physicalism of some sort.
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 12th, 2007 12:04 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - easwaran - Sep. 12th, 2007 07:07 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - easwaran - Sep. 12th, 2007 07:08 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 12th, 2007 11:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - easwaran - Sep. 13th, 2007 05:22 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 13th, 2007 06:43 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 13th, 2007 07:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - easwaran - Sep. 13th, 2007 07:29 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 13th, 2007 07:38 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 13th, 2007 08:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 13th, 2007 08:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 13th, 2007 08:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - easwaran - Sep. 13th, 2007 08:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
easwaran
Sep. 11th, 2007 07:06 pm (UTC)
I'm much more interested in what you perceive than what you think things are.

What distinction are you talking about here, between what one perceives and what one thinks things are? Or is it just that you're interested in something more like the raw perception itself, without any processing or inference? I'm not convinced that such a thing really makes sense, but if it does it would certainly leave you a lot less you could talk about.
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 12th, 2007 12:09 am (UTC) - Expand
smirkingjustice
Sep. 11th, 2007 02:45 am (UTC)
Continuing my annoying habit of responding to your post with books I've enjoyed on the topic....

Anything by Jung

and

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Both have interesting perspectives on the "dualistic" world you describe. Mainly positing that the collective subconscious archetypes of a culture constitute a "spirit world" in which the myths and fairy tales in the back of everyone's minds manifest in reality.

Oh, also

Sandman by Neil Gaiman

It's a truly moving series of graphic novels about the human experience and the significance of dreams and myths.

I think myths propagate for a reason. Many myths are cross-cultural. You will find the same specific story in cultures that could not have communicated with each other. That indicates that there is something innate in the human psyche, stories and myths and dreams, that is another world in itself, that can be explored and studied.
spoonless
Sep. 11th, 2007 07:44 am (UTC)

That indicates that there is something innate in the human psyche, stories and myths and dreams, that is another world in itself, that can be explored and studied.

I am beginning to be fascinated by the idea that there may be certain complexities of the psyche that are somewhat universal (or at least, widespread). I really dislike the idea of calling it another "world" though, unless it's understood that it's really a subset of the rest of the "main" world. I'd suggest instead just calling it another "sphere" or something... similar to how people talk about the blogosphere being the place where people blog.
easwaran
Sep. 11th, 2007 07:00 pm (UTC)
Hmm, I always thought Jung was talking about a "collective unconscious", which really is a type of non-physical communication or something like that (especially in conjunction with his notion of "synchronicity"). However, if you're using cross-cultural myths as evidence for this, then maybe it's something much more mundane you and Jung mean, and just the fact that human brains have certain established patterns built in (perhaps including Chomsky's language instinct, and certainly including much more, like the notion of perceiving the world as divided into objects) which can then independently lead people to write similar stories.
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 11th, 2007 07:17 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - easwaran - Sep. 11th, 2007 07:19 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 11th, 2007 10:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 11th, 2007 11:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 11th, 2007 11:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 12th, 2007 12:30 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 12th, 2007 12:41 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 12th, 2007 12:53 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - onhava - Sep. 12th, 2007 01:44 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 12th, 2007 02:07 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 12th, 2007 02:29 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 12th, 2007 02:32 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - onhava - Sep. 12th, 2007 02:35 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 12th, 2007 02:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - onhava - Sep. 12th, 2007 02:57 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 12th, 2007 12:50 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 12th, 2007 02:21 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 12th, 2007 02:34 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 12th, 2007 03:02 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 12th, 2007 06:05 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 12th, 2007 03:05 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 12th, 2007 06:07 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 12th, 2007 03:24 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 12th, 2007 06:10 am (UTC) - Expand
(Anonymous)
Sep. 11th, 2007 03:37 am (UTC)

Believe it or not --and I'm sure you'll believe it-- people have been dealing with rejecting dualism for at least 200 years.

In particular, Hegel has his "Phenomenology of Spirit" ending with the elimination of dualism.
The problem with Hegel is that it is unreadable without a learned guide, there are various myths about him (e.g. Marxist myths and myths from those that never read him, including analytical philosophers -- say the myth that Hegel's "Absolute Idealism" implies a rejection of the reality of the material world) and if you want to study him in depth you may have to read the whole Kant-Fichte-Schelling tradition.

Fortunately, there has been a recent (i.e. less than 20 years old) flood of scholarship on Hegel and I can recommend Jon Stewart and his "The Unity of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit" as a beginner's guide to reading that work of Hegel. Jon Stewart also edited a collection of articles called "The Hegel Myths and Legends" debunking common myths.

Of course, you can try to reinvent the wheel yourself, and try to create your language for talking about personal development in what you call spiritual matters without introducing religious vocabulary -- but Hegel was there first, and once you get over the obscurity of his language with the help of Jon Stewart, you'll find Hegel to be quite genial.

Alex
(Sorry about the anonymous post, I'm just reading you because you're a friend of someone I read on LJ)
spoonless
Sep. 11th, 2007 07:51 am (UTC)
Ok, yes I would be curious to read some Hegel, or at least read about him. I don't see how idealism and materialism could be compatible, but perhaps there are more subtleties there than I'm aware of. I guess I'll add Jon Stewart to my amazon wishlist.
gustavolacerda
Sep. 11th, 2007 06:11 am (UTC)
Beautiful. I just sent it to my friend Henrik, who's a mathematician/psychologist/philosopher and trained healer.

Spiritual rituals, etc can be a good thing. Who cares if it's a placebo?

I differ from most people in that I'd like to subject such rituals to scientific study, in order to optimize their effects on people's health and happiness.
ankh_f_n_khonsu
Sep. 11th, 2007 03:21 pm (UTC)
Many practicing esotericists and occultists rigorously subject their rituals to scientific study.

Namaste.
easwaran
Sep. 11th, 2007 06:46 pm (UTC)
I'm still confused about what "spiritual" is supposed to mean. I used to identify with the word, but that was probably in the phase when I liked "The Tao of Physics" and things like that (though even then, there were a few things I read that were off-the-wall enough that I realized they didn't make any sense, like some guy who argued that electrons were conscious). After your explanation, I see that at least something about what bothers me so much about the word is in fact its implication of dualism - but I don't know what the word could possibly mean otherwise! I would prefer "mysticism" as a term to rehabilitate rather than "spirituality" - not in the sense that there are some mysteries that we aren't meant to know (whatever that would mean) but just in the sense of finding awe in the immense amount of reality that we just don't know about or understand - yet.

I intended to go into a lot more personal detail about the types of things I've been thinking regarding spirituality lately, but this post is getting long enough that I'll have to save that for another time. There is much more I have to say on this subject. Most of what I want to talk about is regarding useful fictions, truth, happiness, and replacing naive concepts of "belief" with a more sophisticated picture of the mind, where there are multiple layers of psychological belief required to function, possibly sometimes even contradictory layers within the same mind.

I'd like to hear more!

Also, I suspect that idealism is sometimes a more damaging view than dualism, because it leads to the kind of stuff New Agers sometimes say about how the world just is your perception, and if you could only learn how to perceive things in a more positive way, then everything would be fine and dandy.
spoonless
Sep. 11th, 2007 07:11 pm (UTC)

I would prefer "mysticism" as a term to rehabilitate rather than "spirituality"

You know, that's a really good point. For some reason, I got it in my head at a rather early age that "mysticism" was basically a synonym for "superstition" (and also, typically used in opposition to logic or rationality) but I've since realized it's actually quite different word. I realize I have very little clue what it really means so I should look into it more.

Also a good point about idealism being potentially more damaging than dualism--I think it's easier to come up with arguments against dualism, but idealism could be a more dangerous idea. I don't recall ever having considered dualism seriously, but I have considered forms of idealism at times. And technically, I'm a neutral monist but I use "materialist" when the focus is on the mind/body distinction instead of the math/physics distinction, as I think that regardless of the nature of ultimate reality, the mind reduces to matter.
luxvalence
Sep. 12th, 2007 05:44 am (UTC)
First, I have to say I find this whole discussion fascinating - these are exactly the kinds of things I hope to base my graduate study on; building a bridge between science and art. You're very right. We speak completely different languages - but different doesn't mean "better or worse". I value your viewpoint particularly because its so foreign to me.

Scientists are specifically selected for their objectivity which means that they are experts at not letting their preconceived biases affect their conclusions and interpretations of what is likely to be true (something that most people could use a lot more practice with).

Has it ever occurred to you that science is your religion? You speak about religion and spirituality without being particulalry objective. It attacks what your belief system is based on (rationality), true, but you sound as bad as those you accuse of being narrow-minded! It's good to be challenged. ;)

I don't think that your assertion that spirituality and dualism are so completely tied to one another is correct. Sure, in some cases and in a superficial way, but mostly only for those who are uneducated or haven't got a better grasp of deeper spirituality. Its a paradigmatic tool to integrate opposites - both rationality and spirituality into a cohesive whole.

I haven't gotten through reading all of this post plus comments yet - but this is a really good debate. I wish I could find that article by Simon Penny... He's much better at succinct debate of this topic which definitely is not new to the arts (see theory Intersections of Art, Technology, Science & Culture).
spoonless
Sep. 12th, 2007 07:36 am (UTC)

building a bridge between science and art. You're very right. We speak completely different languages

Do you see religion and art as related? I didn't mention art in this post at all (or consider it), but I suppose I'd agree, artists probably have a very different perspective from scientists as well :)

I don't think that your assertion that spirituality and dualism are so completely tied to one another is correct.

The main statement I made was that most spiritual practitioners I've met are some kind of non-materialists (either dualists or idealists). I did talk about dualism a bit more than idealism, but after seeing the responses maybe I should have focused more on the latter one.

Has it ever occurred to you that science is your religion?

Yes, I've heard that critique, and thought about it a lot, and I'm quite sure it's completely wrong. What do science and religion have in common? Almost nothing. The only thing similar to a religion that my beliefs have is that they are beliefs. That's not much of a similarity. The central idea of religion is faith, which is antithetical to the core of my beliefs, which are derived solely from observational evidence, life experience, and careful consideration of every viewpoint that I come in contact with. (I don't agree that they are based solely on "rationality" although I would consider myself a rational person. Ann Coulter recently wrote a book called the "Church of Liberalism" which she made the critique that Liberalism is a religion. It seems her main point is that liberals have a creation story "evolution" and believe in global warming. So basically, what she's really saying is that she thinks science is a religion. I complelety disagree. I responded to her briefly here.

see theory Intersections of Art, Technology, Science & Culture).

The link isn't working for me
luxvalence
Sep. 12th, 2007 05:18 pm (UTC)
Do you see religion and art as related?

Good god no! (blasphemy intended) I meant more that your paradigm is really based on a particular set of rules that limits what observation you allow yourself to have. Science is and should be a tool to better understand what we know - creativity is what allows people to think outside that framework and its where the breakthroughs in science happen - when scientists are able to think outside the established cultural paradigm.

I think of art as more like the intersection between other disciplines - the glue that helps fill the gaps. Similar to philosophy, although philosophy is an intellectual exercise and art is also a physical one. As Queen Victoria said, "Beware of artists they mix with all levels of society and are therefore the most dangerous...."

The central idea of religion is faith, which is antithetical to the core of my beliefs, which are derived solely from observational evidence, life experience, and careful consideration of every viewpoint that I come in contact with.

You just contradicted yourself. Science is a faith as well. Things that were once "proven" in scientific history have been challenged and proved wrong. In order for progress to be made you must have faith in the correctness of your predecessors. You need to take a step back from the content of your beliefs and examine how they come about. If you're so open to the fact that this cognitive framework (the basis for your faith) may one day be shaken by observational evidence then you should be able to be more open to the fact that there may be more in heaven and earth than is dreamed of in your philosophy Horatio... Its kind of like arguing with a deeply religious person to accept a scientific fact that contradicts their faith. Science and religion aren't so far apart from one another in the nitty-gritty paradigms. You're still placing faith in "evidence" that may not turn out to be truth. And how much is this rigidity effecting the outcome of your observation - especially in terms of your exploration of spirituality?

I can't wait for you to have an experience that doesn't fit your rational paradigm - then you'll be able to say you understand spirituality!

see theory Intersections of Art, Technology, Science & Culture). - The link isn't working for me

Bummer. Maybe a second shot will work? It's an extensive website of links revolving around similar discussions of the language/thought process barriers between science and art. Here's an example.
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 12th, 2007 07:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - spoonless - Sep. 13th, 2007 08:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ankh_f_n_khonsu - Sep. 13th, 2007 10:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
topdrop
Sep. 15th, 2007 02:39 am (UTC)
Hey Jeff,

I think I need to read your blog more often. That was excellent, and I wish we had had more time at burning man to talk about this stuff.

I've been struggling with this, albeit far less eloquently, for a while. My kink has been solidly moving in the 'spiritual' direction for a while. There is so much incredible territory to explore.

However, to go much further, I need to get learn some formal system that I can use to talk about this type of phenomena. I haven't found anything I can use yet.

Tantra is far too dualist for me, and I've read far too much Edward Said not to find some of it too racist for me to swallow.

The 'Manifest Everything' religion of FC, on the other hand, is just too anti-materialist for me. It also implies an ethical system that I can't help but find frightening.

The sex cultists that we were camping with seem to have a workable system. But it seemed too, well, culty.

There just has to be decent, materialistic, non-idealistic, non-faith based, consistent spirituality somewhere.

Where the hell do I start?
weiskind
Sep. 16th, 2007 05:47 pm (UTC)
Ken Wilber might be of help to you here. He's a philosopher with a very deep and long history of meditation, and has a lot to say about spirit, subtle bodies and causal bodies and things I don't really get. But at least he's not espousing a religion, just talking about how he sees things.

I also like to use the Hindu take on a lot of it (I think it's Hindu--the kundalini schtick) because if I take it as mythology, a description of experience made to make sense of it, and nothing more, its descriptors feel prety accurate and having a common frame of reference is really helpful.

Hope this helps.
( 73 comments — Leave a comment )

Profile

blueshirt
spoonless
domino plural

Latest Month

May 2017
S M T W T F S
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031   

Tags

Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Lizzy Enger