Month: March 2017

Are Spirituality and Science in Conflict?

This is in response to tit’s question on, “For religious/spiritual folks: How compatible are scientific principles/theories with your beliefs? How have you struggled with any conflicts between the two?”

Good question, and the answer is there’s no contradiction, and I’ve never struggled with a conflict. Unfortunately, most people who care about science buy into science’s (ultimately unfounded) scientistic and physicalist precepts and their implications, such as the idea that there is no such thing as a soul, but none of that is proven or even provable by science. There is no experiment to show that there’s no soul, afterlife or reincarnation, there’s no such thing as an aura, the universe isn’t a living thing, there is no God, astrology is nonsense, chakras aren’t real, magic doesn’t exist, we’re not all fundamentally connected in some profound way, or many other such ideas. (Re magic and astrology, see also, respectively, this and this part of one of my essays.)

The underpinnings of the scientific view of the world that that are valid are what we think of as the laws of physics or the laws of nature. Physical laws, inferred from physical observation and experimentation and modeling, carve out specific relationships between cause and effect within the physical universe, but they don’t show or imply that those relationships are all that exist. They’re limited in their means of inference, and hence in their reach, to what’s observable by scientific instruments and is within the realm of testability and theorization. This implies they’re limited in a few other or more specific ways, such as (a) to very simple relationships between cause and effect, (b) to proximity in time and space (usually) between causes and effects (with some exceptions for exceedingly simple and obvious relationships, such as the effects of gravity), (c) to predictability based on mechanistic control rather than psychological principles, (d) to causes and effects that can be definitively, quantitatively measured, (e) to repeatable observations or events, etc.

Because of the immense efficacy of science in predicting and controlling the world, people eventually assumed that nature must be wholly mechanistic. But without being able to predict or control absolutely everything that happens, there’s no reason to assume this.

You could assert that the laws of physics leave no room for any other type of influence on events, but I’d say this is false. Again, the domains and contexts in which we surmise and verify physical theories are limited. Then there’s quantum mechanics to think about with its inherent unpredictability, which is where the mechanistic worldview of science bumps up against the open-endedness inherent in reality. If spirituality really means much, it should have some kind of influence in some way on our physical lives, and quantum “randomness” is probably an avenue for that influence.

It may sound like attributing spiritual influence on physical reality to the unpredictability inherent in quantum mechanics is a “god of the gaps” theory, but you have to remember that the idea that the world is made entirely of mechanical, non-living stuff was gratuitous in the first place. There never was a time when science predicted everything; it just assumed everything was inherently predictable and hence mechanistic and essentially lifeless as an extrapolation from the limited scope of phenomena it was able to predict and control. When quantum physics came around this inertia scientific thinking had gained lingered, and hence people assumed that either the inherent randomness of quantum mechanics either (a) just arises from mechanisms-as-such that we don’t understand yet, or (b) is “absolutely random” and meaningless. But instead, it should have caused us to retract a little the entirely mechanistic and lifeless view of reality we’ve developed in the first place.

“How gibbering man becomes, when he is really clever, and thinks he is giving the ultimate and final description of the universe! Can’t he see that he is merely describing himself, and that the self he is describing is merely one of the more dead and dreary states that man can exist in?” —D. H. Lawrence

To be fair, after writing this post I was reminded by a particular conversation that it’s not entirely true that I’ve never struggled with a conflict. There is one thing in neuroscience that bugs me, and it’s that so many of the faculties or properties of what we consider to be “just us,” or natural abilities of consciousness, are actually shown by experiment to be associated with specific regions of the brain and can be acutely affected by damage to those regions.

We already knew, of course, that the function of the brain is closely tied to the mind or consciousness, though it’s not proven that this means that consciousness is produced by the brain, any more than a TV produces the television shows you watch on it.  (If one didn’t know better, one could be tempted to think that it does because if you damage the TV in certain ways the observed television show will also be affected or even blacked out, in the same manner that damaging the brain can impair or even appear to annihilate consciousness.)

But when you get into just how specifically myriad functions of our mind are associated with specific areas of the brain and potentially impairable this way, it’s somewhat hard to reconcile this with a belief that our minds survive pretty much the way they are in life after we die and are hence completely independent of our brains. I have no problem thinking of possible ways this can be reconciled, but the issue still irks me a little because those ways seem a bit reaching without having some other compelling reason to believe their attendant assumptions are true.

But I still believe what I believe, because I’ve had compelling enough reason to, so unless and until I understand the issue better I’ll have to chalk up the apparent conflict to the fact that our puny analytical minds are largely ill-equipped to fathom the mysteries of the cosmos that lie beyond the aspects of it we’re able to experience as corporeal, sensorial humans and the modality we experience them in.

Is True Objectivity Attainable?

This is in response to tit’s question on, “Is true objectivity attainable?”

I don’t know. I don’t know why I don’t know. It seems like something I should know. Maybe because like much of philosophy the concept of objectivity is a language game? What does objectivity mean? Is it being right about something? is it being right about something with absolute certainty? Is it being right about everything? Is it having knowledge about something that’s exactly, precisely correct/reflective of the thing in question? Is it being able to know things for no reason other than that they’re true, as in Kant’s “direct apprehension of the noumenon”?

I think we can be right about things all the time, but probably no one has the ability to be right about everything they ever believe. Though you can be a lot better at it by understanding what things you actually have enough of a reason to be sure about vs. which things you don’t, rather than just leaping to conclusions that are really fueled by your personality and what it suits you to believe.

What is it to be right about something? Surely reality exists in a state that’s totally unlike our ideations of it, and therefore whether a concept “rightly” reflects that state is an arbitrary judgment call? I don’t know, but I know in my heart that there’s such a thing wrong or right and having truth (even if sometimes it’s not all that clear which is which or at least a belief can be somewhere in between). I also know things with absolute certainty all the time. Doubt isn’t the absence of certainty; certainty is the absence of doubt, and doubt is a behavior. I wrote more about that here:

I tend to think that reality isn’t actually made of non-living information but is 100% made of life and mind, so that makes thinking about something in a way that exactly reflects that something more tenable. I have a feeling saying that our thinking may “reflect” the thing we think about in that context is a little naive, as if the thing and our idea about it are separated by some wall or chasm, since some degree and in some sense, there is no separation between the self and other in a universe that is all life.

Can we know possibly know things that are true just because they’re true, without having to go through the processes of indirect sensation, reasoning, vetting of assumptions, etc.? I think we have intuition, and intuition is not only subconscious pattern matching or whatever—it’s that combined with genuine psychic divination. But it’s not really 100% reliable because it’s hard to differentiate the divination from the unconscious pattern matching, biases, etc. And intuition is a vague sort of knowing anyway and it doesn’t always come.

Also, even psychically attained knowledge isn’t necessarily 100% objective. The universe is made of many minds and those minds have various opinions and interpretations on what’s true, some minds having more refined or sophisticated opinions than others. Your spiritual self will be more aligned with some minds than with others; which ones you resonate with depends on your path/personality. Of course, some kinds of knowledge are less open to interpretation than others. How to characterize or understand someone, for example, is highly open to interpretation. What someone deserves or what’s likely to happen in the future are thing that are highly open to interpretation. The fact that the Eiffel tower is in France isn’t.

When I say that things are “open to interpretation” I don’t necessarily mean it in the human sense in which even things that are clearly, objectively true and provable are open to interpretation by people who just don’t have all the information yet. I mean that with some kinds of truths, interpretation is all there is. That’s why we, or some people, can actually *make things true* with their minds. You can do this either through the sheer power of your perspective or, even more effectively, through a proof (i.e. a line of reasoning seems infallible). The thing is that such proofs aren’t really infallible to the degree that a mathematical proof is; the thing wasn’t necessarily true before it was “proven,” and perhaps someone else could have proven an opposite case, but nonetheless the ethereal collective takes the proof to be the truth anyway, and that makes it true, because there’s no deeper substrate for a truth of that kind to exist in.

When we die, our bodies and minds become less dense and we become open in all sorts of ways. We can hear each other’s thoughts, for example. Divination is probably much easier in this state, and perhaps we can go so far as to do what one would call “have objectivity,” at least if we choose to and/or really want to and/or are lucky and/or it’s given to because it’s in our path or whatever.

There are many painful limitations to being human; we’re practically trapped and dead here compared to on the other side. This pining for something we call objectivity might be one symptom of that.

We’re dim and somewhat trapped while in this world, not only because of the intrinsic nature of physical bodies but because of deadly thought patterns that pervade our culture. These thought patterns could be largely as old as language itself, but the modern scientific/analytical revolution didn’t help. Yes, it’s not as if everyone was enlightened before science; they were previously equally poisoned by religion, but scientific/mechanistic/physicalist and analytical thinking are the current color of our benightedness—or at least of that portion of the population that is scientistic rather than religionistic. And it’s partially this scientific or analytical outlook that engenders the whole notion of or focus on “objectivity” and whether we have it or how we can get it.

I wrote more about whether we can have objective knowledge here: