Thursday, July 17, 2008

Putting All Tools Aside

Originally I intended to take a break from all posting and writing last January. I wanted to concentrate on meditation and work, and let my verbal mind have a rest. After a while, however, I got an itch and started to hunt around the internet for a different kind of conversation than I'd been used to. I've always been more science-minded than most people interested in spiritual matters, and in school I was actually much stronger in science than the liberal arts. I keep a list of science websites that I regularly look at to see what's up in those fields, and became interested in the debates they often have about religion and science, particulary the current enthusiasm for atheism and the issue of intelligent design. Having once been an atheist, from the ages of about ten to twelve, I had some sympathy with those who reject religious views in favor of science, so I decided to revisit that world with a little more depth and see what was up.

I ended up entering into a few ad hoc debates at two websites in particular: EvolutionBlog, and RichardDawkins.net. My first experiences, at EvolutionBlog, were simply awful. I had expected some hostility to spiritual views, but not quite so intensely reactionary and just plain rude. As is my way, rather than backing away I just dug in deeper, seeing how far I could go in trying to present anything remotely like a spiritual perspective to hardcore atheists. The answer turned out to be: nada. I mean, I'm used to being called a fool once in a while, but this was an unrelenting onslaught that turned into a total rejection not just of my ideas, but of me personally. That was quite refreshing in its own way, and I highly recommend the experience. There's nothing quite like being told you are a complete idiot to take away any veneer of pride you once might have had in yourself. On the other hand, it also gave me some direct experience and insight into what at least a certain sector of the scientific atheist community sees as the irrefutable truth of the scientific approach to truth.

What I got to see first hand is that scientific atheism is, for many of its adherents, simply another religious cult that tries to promote itself as the one and only path to reality and truth. Pointing this out won me few friends within that community, but I guess that wasn't what I was really after, though it would have been nice. I don't have a problem with science as a discipline, as a limited tool for finding out certain material facts about the physical universe. In that respect, it's very useful, as long as we are aware of its limitations, which are contained in the discipline itself of examining only physically “objective” material phenomena. The problem comes when scientists insist that this one tool is the only valid tool anyone can use, and advocates that we throw out everything else in the toolbox. Soon the situation becomes almost psychotic: if the only tool you have is a hammer, over time every problem begins to look like a nail, and one becomes interested only in those problems which a hammer can solve, and those it can't solve, one smashes down until they aren't noticed anymore. The problem with science is that for some people it has become the only standard by which to understand all of life, to the point where they conclude that if science can't understand it, it's not worth examining. To say the least, this is not a productive approach to any but the most simple and mechanical of life's problems. Even worse, it inculcates the notion that solving problems is what life is really about in the first place.

On a more positive note, I found over at Richard Dawkin's site a much more polite and open-minded group of characters, who at least seemed appreciative that someone was willing to engage them from the religious side of the debate with some persistence and honesty. Even if they didn't agree with my ideas, they at least didn't ridicule them, and even seemed to enjoy the process of examining what I had to say. After several long forays into their forums, I left with at least some sense of satisfaction, and an open invitation to return and have at it once again. By then, however, I felt that I'd pretty much exhausted what I could say there. If anything, the experience was even more conclusive to me that science is simply not a spiritual discipline, any way you want to put it. Not that scientists can't be spiritual people, or that people can't approach science from a spiritual perspective, but the actual approach of science itself is no more spiritual than automotive mechanics, though certainly not less so.

What was the point of all that for me? Well, it certainly wasn't preparation to become a public debator on issues of science and religion. Quite the opposite. It felt like a purifying episode in which I have had the opportunity to examine the lingering scientific materialism within my own mind, and go past it. The purpose wasn't really to convince anyone else about the folly of the scientific approach to religion, it was to convince myself of that, and to see that if I really wanted to know the truths of spirituality, I was going to have to let go of my own scientific mindset, or whatever lingering notions and doubts remained within me about these matters. As I mentioned in my last post, I came away realizing not only that I don't know anything, but that the path of becoming a “knower of things” just isn't what I'm interested in. I don't want to know things, I want to love them.

Science is a big force in our world, and an increasily dominant part of it. But it remains a tool, not a truth, and it's a fairly limited tool at that. Richard Dawkins is famous for remarking that the existence of God is a scientific proposition, and it should therefor be investigated and answered scientifically, which is to say in the negative, since there is little scientific evidence for God. This presumes that God can be known by the use of tools, and that science is the tool we ought to use. It doesn't take into account the notion that there may be no “right” tool for knowing God, and that any tool one uses to know God will only end up describing the tool itself, and its capabilities, and not God. Why? Because God is not a “thing” in the world that any tool can touch, see, or decipher. God is at the source of the very consciousness that would make use of a tool, whether it is a material tool or a psychic one. God simply mirrors back to us our own efforts to know Him, and thus the tool we use when we try to know God will give us a description of God that mirros the tool itself, and not God Himself. 

What kind of God does science come up with? Well, one could say that it is a God of mathematics, of pure mental, conceptual abstractions. It's not a theistic deity, so it calls itself atheistic, but this is not really so. It simply makes GOd into a mathematical process it tries to assume is material in nature, but cannot actually be pinned down as such. After all, what material existence do numbers actually have? None. There are no numbers in nature. They exist only in the human mind. So is there really such a God out there, a material machine that produces a mathematical universe? Of course not. This is just the mind looking at the world, using its own concepts as tools, and reporting back the image it sees in the mind of itself. Naturally the ulimate reality it uncovers is a pure conceptual abstraction of mathematical laws. It just makes the mistake of assuming that this is what "the world" really is, rather than what the tool being used to investigate and describe it is.

This problem is not unique to science, but it has its corrollaries in spirituality as well. If we use spiritual tools to see God, we also end up describing God by those tools, rather than knowing God directly. A friend of mine is quite deeply involved in studying his own dreams. He's done this for years, and has a remarkable repertoire of spiritual dreams that occur on a regular basis to him, which he records, interprets, and sees God through. The problem is, using this tool of his psyche also taints the subject of his study. God is not a dream, and yet dreams will indeed reveal God through their own instrumentality, convincing us that God is what we see in our dreams and visions. Well, not exactly. It's certainly a better tool than mere materialistic science, but it's still a tool, rather than a form of direct knowledge. Again, the psyche is merely a collection of reflections of itself, without any formal basis. As the Buddhists say, it is empty. What it uncovers boils down to a mirror that reflects back the method and tools employed in the effort to find its own truth. The psyche must be seen as empty in order to see God.

I'm not suggesting we not use these tools. Science is a marvelous tool, as are visions and dreams. But their primary value is practical, as a way of reflecting certain dimensions of ourselves back to us. Science reflects the material dimension, and dreams reflect the subtle dimension. But God is neither material nor subtle. God is in the dimension where we already stand, which we cannot see because it is not apart from us. It is us. We know God without a thought or perception involved, which is almost too simple for us to comprehend. We know God through love, which is the embrace of what we already are, what everyone and everything already is.

I recall a story about Ramakrishna, when a woman came to him in despair of ever knowing God. She had tried all kinds of practices and beliefs, but she couldn't find God in any of them. Instead of recommending some new method she hadn't yet tried, Ramakrishna simply asked her if there was anyone in the world she loved. She thought for a while, and then replied, well, I love my son. Ramakrishna said, there is God. Wherever one finds love in the world, there is God. In the beginning, we love the objects, the others we encounter most intimately, like the woman's son. But God is not truly in the object of one's love, God is in the love itself. Learning to see love as a force that transcends its own objects is probably the most difficult part of spiritual life, but the only truly important part. This is what science and psychism fails to understand, because they are concentrated on objects and the tools we can use to know and manipulate the objects around us. Even if science and psychism are done with loving care, they still cannot know love itself without relinquishing their own tools, laying them down and knowing without the mind, which is the root of all tools. Mind itself is only a tool, but we tend to let it rule us and define us, and we try to solve all the world's problems with the mind, even the problems of the spirit. But the mind, even the deep psyche, is just a tool we have developed for practical purposes, and we must put them down to enter the temple of the Lord. What is Holy is not manipulable, is not decipherable, is not knowable. It is known through loving embrace with open hands in the darkness of love's mindless embrace.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Conrad...
Good to see you up and articulating again. Scientism posits that the total lack of empirical evidence is their cause to deny God, yet with no more
evidence, they acknowledge consciousness without question. Suggests that it is atheistic ideological revulsion to the God tradition that raises the defensive bias in the science community forums. I went through a similar session of discoursing in forums like badastronomy, sciforum and physorg starting threads on
'panpsychism' and 'conscious electromagnetic matrix' but got pretty well hammered down by the uber-atheists who regularly ridicule ideas like The Tao of
Physics, Implicate Order and Privileged Planet as 'junk science'. Must admit compared to your flowing style I write with stilted effort but couple of years
ago managed to compose a webpage that overviews the challenge of 'new science' to overcome 'physicalism' and move towards synthesis with broad metaphysical truths. It's entitled "Cosmic Consciousness: is Science Closing In?" at http://beyondmaya.awardspace.com. Liked your thoughts on mind tools and love and feel that the love we project on objects is our expression in duality of the palpable essence of God 'experienced' in nonduality at the source- the primordial bliss
and light of nirvikalpa samadhi that Rumi celebrates, saying: 'there is no better love than love without object'.
maya-gaia

Anonymous said...

I mean, I'm used to being called a fool once in a while, but this was an unrelenting onslaught that turned into a total rejection not just of my ideas, but of me personally. That was quite refreshing in its own way, and I highly recommend the experience. There's nothing quite like being told you are a complete idiot to take away any veneer of pride you once might have had in yourself.

I enjoyed your reflections on your experiences at the science discussion groups, but I'm confused by your statement quoted above. Why does being told you are a "complete idiot" take away your "veneer of pride?" It would only do this if you were convinced that the points of view that you were arguing were indeed wrong, and that the views of those you had opposed turned out to be right. In other words that you recognized that in fact you were wrong and they were right. Thus their characterization of you as a "complete idiot," while certainly an overstatement, would have at least had a kernel of truth that you had to accept, and thus putting at least a nick in your "veneer of pride".

If, on the other hand, you continue to hold the view that those who called you an idiot are incorrect in their views (about what is god, or what is the capacity of science to reveal "truth", or whatever, etc.), then there is no damage to your veneer by their name calling. Instead your ego is reinforced by feeling that you are right and your accusers are wrong. Then such accusations as being called a "complete idiot" actually serve to reinforce your egoic sense of self. The ego loves nothing more than to be right, and to see others as wrong. No matter whether or not they call you names, you come away from such an exchange with your ego inflated by the sense of being right, even if they can't see it. That they are so "cultic" and can't see how right you are, and even see you as an idiot, is big-time food for your ego. You come away with the ego more bloated than ever.

However, this would not be the case if you were convinced that they were actually right in their views, and that you are wrong. Then their attack on your intelligence might "bite". So please, tell us, specifically, which arguments you presented that turned out to be wrong in your view now, and which arguments they presented that you opposed but now see to be correct?

Thank you!

Mike said...

The first two links you have under
"pyschisms and metaphysics" present a curious, puzzling picture. Have you expanded on that here? (I have read some of your visionary reports here, I believe one related to your father and another where you assume the perspective of the reincarnating higher personality, to use the vocabulary of Adi Da...guess I'll go through old posts here to see what I missed and find clues to what caused you to have an interest in the writings and perspectives introduced in those first two links).

Appreciate and enjoy your articles here!

maha mantra blogger said...

Very good post, i presume you're referring to ramakrishna paramahamsa by saying ramakrishna.
I wish you'd call him paramahamsa or ramakrishna paramahamsa in your future posts.

Anonymous said...

I was struck by the term "hardcore athiests" Athiests, like everyone else, are hooked on a subjective set of assumptions about the unknown. Yet they labour under the dangerous delusion that they are worlds above the foolish dupes of conventional religion that have bought into some hocus-pocus dogma. And yet, this is exactly the attitude that is the most obnoxious aspect of most conventional religions. The Unitarians being a notable exception but they are the exceotion that proves the point since they are roundly attacked and derided for their unique effort.

People tend to forget that whenever you reject anything, you are at the same time embracing something else. In this case, by rejecting conventional religion, the athiests are embracing a zealous devotion to rationality. There are worse gods to worship, to be sure. But, as I see it, the athiests are turning into an exact replica of their sworn enemies.

Desika Nadadur | I Am My Own Master said...

An atheist and a theist are no different from each other, both are constantly thinking of God. An atheist says, "I don't believe in God," and a theist says, "I believe in God." There is more in common to them than differences as you can see. In Hinduism, there is a concept of "Vaira Bhakti" (Devotion through enmity). Puranas, Ramayana and Mahabharata are replete with the stories. In Ramayana, the demon king Ravana constantly thought of Rama in anger, more so than any devotee of Rama. Same thing in Mahabharata with Sisupala constantly thinking and ridiculing Krishna, only to be finally slain and liberated by Krishna. In Prahlada Charitra (Story of Prahlada), Prahlada's father, HiranyakaSipa was the demon king wanting to kill Vishnu. It so happens that Prahlada was a great devotee of Vishnu. When HiranyakaSipa asks Prahlada to show Him where Vishnu is, he tells HiranyakaSipa that Vishnu is constantly dwelling in the heart and mind of HiranyakaSipa, since he has been constantly thinking of him, though in anger and enmity. Lord Krishna said that whoever thought of him, in any manner, was dear to Him.

In my opinion, atheism cannot stand on its own. An atheist is against a particular concept and definition of god. If there is no theism, then there is no atheism. Also, without atheism, theism cannot survive. Why at one point or another all of us questioned the existence of a higher power only to be propelled on our individual quests. Both are two sides of the same coin, IMHO.

My 2 cents.

Thanks,
Desika

Yogi Bear said...

Desika,

Your honest opinion is over-valued at 2 cents.

Anonymous said...

scott Fraundorf:

Hi Broken Yogi, i'm familiar with your comments from david Godman's blogspot page.

I wanted to say that alot of what you said fit with my own views of God, and Science.

i actually am a Molecular Biology Major, science fiend. But a fiend, in the same way that I like to look at pretty things, I like math, I like molecule tinker toys, and at the same time I'm an attempter of Inquiry, Maharshi-style.

I even wrote a fake encounter between Maharshi, and richard Dawkins, I don't know how good it is, but I was trying to deal with how would that go over.

It is funny because of the allergic reaction to 1) the idea of God, 2) the idea that plants might be conscious in some in the "scientific community"

Not necessarily true, for all scientists. My dad, a theoretical physisist genius, isn't really that shallow about things, and enjoys me reading dialogues with Maharshi on the phone to him.

There is science the ideology, and there are those who enjoy tinkering, and playing with concepts. Einstein pretending to ride a light wave, stuff, that I think can be really fun. Also I don't think science and spirituality are in conflict at all, only by the ideologists who want to draw clear divisions in the sand. Just something to be right about.

But just like I'm obsessed with maharshi, I'm obsessed with protein molecule machines, and what they do to make the theatrical concept of life go. But I also unlike some of my scientific brethren, recognize the limits of this, and that these are just concepts, however fun they may be, concepts can never be the truth. Some thoughts.

Anonymous said...

"I 'saw' God".

Here is an excerpt from a site I created (just launched Oct 25th) to communicate my experience (squishyrocks.com):

"She told me the shape [I "saw"] is universal microcosm or some such.... and it is when I googled this information from the Reiki Practitioner that I came across the Souls of Distortion site. More specifically it was this chapter http://www.soulsofdistortion.nl/SODA_chapter6.html that explained how the vortex that I "saw" is the internal structure of energy that scientists could not see until recently, but two "clairvoyants " saw correctly in 1895. I did not take notes at the time I saw the vortex and cannot claim to remember the minute details of the vision. So, needless to say, my paintings are not scientific. However, the eternal spin of the aether vortex that I "saw" is propelled by Gforce, or "GodForce". AetherDynamics defines it as an enormous force with no known cause. So I "saw" God."

I am a skeptic of anything religious or spiritual... or at least I was up until July 21st 2008.
What happened that day TRULY changed my life (at age 31). I then went on a journey to figure out what my experience meant and if I could repeat it.
This NEED to understand what happened to me inspired me to communciate it to as many people as possible. I am an artist & graphic designer (coincidentally, this is my livelihood). I painted and journaled my experiences since July 21st. I created a website to communicate my esperiences:
http://www.squishyrocks.com/story.html

Anonymous said...

Scott Fraundorf:

To dawkins (I'm not sure if this contact would actually reach him), I thought you might be interested. my e-mail is hiroshima11@graffiti.net

I somehow doubt it, but I was wondering, is there a way to contact Dawkins to bring up interesting arguments....
If so...I'm going to take a gander at it.
I'm a molecular biology major at Portland State University. My understanding of Religion, and spirituality differs greatly from the Spirituality, or Religiousness, Dawkins is critical of. The kind of beliefs that entail belief in something imagined, something memetic, something ideological. A great God in the sky with a white flowing beard, who metes out justice and punishment. In my own life, religiousness, entails the surrender of the ego, the surrender of subject and object, of I and mine. It can be to an imagined god, if that helps. It doesn't require it. The sense of being an individual, the ego, the self-concept is an obstruction to really living in my own experience. So religiousness to me entails investigating where that sense of an individual seperate from the rest of the universe comes into being. God, as I experience it, is the blissful existence consciousness that is left over, when the sense of being an individual goes away, merges. I've also noticed that the foundation of most religions whether Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Rumi, and others, often seems to be this same subjectless, objectless Existence, God. Then the less mature followers interpret the statements of these "founders" of religions in far fetched ways. This kind of religion, I've been diving into, experiencing more and more doesn't seem to be in conflict with scientific investigation, infact it is scientific investigation, because it doesn't require anything imaginary to be believed. But it's also not strictly science, because it doesn't involve physical phenomenon in a physical world. I thought this, is something that seems to escape Dawkins notice. Many saints, "Catholic, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist", and others, didn't believe in an imaginary God, but had direct experience of this blissful nondual awareness of what they called "God". Catherine of Sienna, and St. Francis of Assissi come to mind, in the Hindu tradition the modern sage Ramana Maharshi, and the 8th century sage Adi Shankara. I was an atheist for many years, because I believed in the supremacy of the intellect, now I find that the intellect is complemented, not injured by other important aspects of knowing, such as intuition and emotion. It's an interesting worldview flip similar to Selfish Gene, but it's the Selfish Gene, the religion version, paradigm shift. Instead of relying on fantasy, imagination, instead the Big Questions, Who Am I? Where did reality come from? the religious question of where is happiness? It's interesting in the Dawkins debates, that the Soviet Union was considered atheist, and Nazi Germany Catholic. But are these people that oppress others, truly reverent to life, to existence. Many atheists such as Dawkins are far more reverent to the Universe then many loud mouthed religious preachers. Who then is more religious, Dawkins or who he is critical of? What does Religion mean, does it mean faith in fantasy and imagination, statues, and imagining that when I'm praying I'm talking to someone? Or is religion, as I believe it to be the search for happiness, love and wisdom. Is the search for happiness, wisdom, and love, internally, are these unempirical, unscientific? Or is Science, the investigation of the Universe born of happiness, wisdom and love?

Anonymous said...

Hey Busted Yogurt,

Come on over to Heartmind.us and help polish up some threads with us. Love your insight. Best wishes,

John

maya-gaia said...

Conrad - hoping you will return to share your thoughts. The URL for my maya-gaia Nirvikalpa Samadhi chronicles has changed after June, 2009 to http://maya-gaia.angelfire.com/mysticalexp.html

Your blog still is highly ranked in Google searches for esoteric terms.

Losing M. Mind said...

I did the same thing on richarddawkins.net. They said that I was a troll.