Science vs. Philosophy (in three parts) – Part I

[Seed of the discussion (in QUORA A young (so I thought) good-natured and apologetic woman made an excellent remark to a leading Question about science and consciousness, though the question was in fact as per the link above. I then tried to support her and, soon after, a rumbustious, self assured ‘pro-science’ male person (Y) entered and started the fray.]

I (X) to the woman: ‘Why did you not just stay with the unquestionable, direct experience of what you are as you stated it? Yes, it is unprovable, to others, that is, but it is truth with capital T. You touched gold, but then covered it with everything else you added’.

— “That which is the subtle essence – in that have all beings their existence. That is the truth. That is the Self. And that, O Svetaketu, THAT ART THOU.”‘ (From Chandogya Upanishad).


Y – ‘Entered’ and made some deprecatory remarks about the foregoing, all in defense of science and against spirituality or metaphysics (for him “making stuff up”):

“science of the spirit”.
Is that anything like engineering of the pixies?

X – Yes, that expression is puzzling and, in principle may be unconvincing, but not so in India, where the foremost philosophy (Shankara’s) is actually neither philosophy, theology, or science per se, but a combination of them all; no compartmentalization there, as is usual in the West. And it is not a blending of spirituality with (empirical) science, which I do not find satisfatory as it is recently being espoused also in the West. It is ‘science’ in a wide, comprehensive sense, definitely to do with knowledge – primarily intuitive knowledge, plus reasoning – for which one needs to be immersed during a usually long time in reading (or ‘hearing’), reflection, and ‘contemplation’. If one studies, e.g. ‘Vedanta or the Science of Reality’, by K. A. Krishnaswami Iyer, one can appreciate that it is not a joke, by any means; this book contains a comparative account of the Indian  tradition of the Upanishads and Western philosophical systems.

Y – You are playing fast and loose with the word “science”.  There is nothing, nadda, zip, zilch, zero in the philosophy of Adi Shankara related to science. it is simply more mystical woo woo.

Make a falsifiable hypothesis regarding “spirits” or regarding Nirguna Brahman or any other religious drivel, and then we’ll talk.

X – If you want to narrow your mind, despite the options it has in terms of getting an understanding of difficult matters, which can only be proven to oneself – not to others – by analysis, introspection, and meditation, it is up to you. The word ‘science’ comes from the Latin ‘scire’ – to discern, distinguish, and this is what, at least myself, am talking about. You write off mysticism because it cannot be proven in the lab or with the tools of empirical science, and put so much stock in the (provisional) notion of falsifiability… again, up to you. That is scientism or reductionism – a narrow view of what constitutes reality, which is immense, ultimately unfathomable.

Y- Your comments regarding the etymology of “science” are terrific, that is frightening, or in this case frighteningly bad.  You see the etymology or the root of a word is not its meaning.  Science has a specific modern meaning that I’m sure you are well aware of, and bastardizing that meaning in this context is self serving hoey.  The philosophy and theology of Adi Shankara has nothing whatsoever to do with science. Unless of course you redefine the word to mean whatever you want it to mean.

And I’m sorry, but the old “narrow mind” argument is simply what gets shoveled out of the male bovine pen.  Having an open mind does not mean simply accepting any old tosh simply because you like it, or because it is part of the proud tradition of my culture or some such nonsense. Being open-minded means being open to evidence.  Please provide some evidence that any mystical experience has any relevance outside the brain of the person experiencing it; if you can’t then any comment you make about it is just making stuff up, and has no more relationship to reality than any other religious rubbish.

Also please do not put words in my mouth, I write off “mysticism” in the sense that it has any supernatural connotation because there is simply not one single piece, not a tiny insignificant shred of evidence that it does, not because “it cannot be proven in the lab  or with the tools of empirical science”.  (by the by science doesn’t “prove” anything, it is pretty good at disproving things, science is based on reaching conclusions based on evidence, that is not proof.  All scientific findings are provisional) Now the practices of the mystics are another matter, it is perfectly demonstrable that meditation, etc have an effect on the mind and body, this is not however evidence for any of the simply invented rubbish such as a universal spirit etc.  You disagree?  Provide the evidence, can’t do it?  Then your conclusions are no better than simply making stuff up. It is exactly the same, and I mean exactly the same as if I meditate, have an experience because of my altered brain state and then claim that this means Elvis is the divine creator of all blue jeans which are in fact a conduit to universal peace and oneness with the universe and in fact there is a perfect god pair of jeans in heaven and our earthly jeans are merely avatars of the perfect jeans, and that all other trousers are avatars of the Evil Carl Perkins.

I agree reality is immense, and unfathomable, however that doesn’t mean that simply making up the answers without evidence is of any use in describing reality, best to be honest and say “here are the things for which we have evidence, and here are the conclusions we can draw from that evidence, everything else? Well at the moment we don’t know”.

If you want to use pejorative terms like “scientism” instead of more proper and descriptive terms like “honest appreciation for the evidence” well that simply shows your bias.

X – ‘Science’ is tied up with ‘knowledge’ and with ‘truth’ – knowledge in any area one chooses to study. Etymology is always/usually quite useful, because the original meaning of words/concepts has something to tell us which may be lost to sight. I am not bastardizing science, only referring to its limitations. I accept empirical science for its value and results (as a physician, I move within its sphere of expertise). I also value philosophy because it has a wider, far reaching view of things, in particular advaita philosophy.

Making fun of what I am saying doesn’t help our conversation – most likely nothing will, since our viewpoints are wide apart, though there is nothing wrong with being a student, or practitioner, of science and at the same time a student of philosophy – von Heisenberg, Shrödinger, Gödel, and many other eminent scientist were, and presently are, such. Philosophy – critical thinking – is at the basis of all science. You keep repeating the word ‘evidence’, but there is/may be some kind of evidence which you refuse to accept or consider as a possibility. For example, there is no scientific explanation for most paranormal phenomena, or near-death (out of the body) experiences, but they do exist and are currently being documented by physicians and others. You can dismiss these if you want, but they still, stubbornly, keep happening and being experienced. Evidence? Facts speak for themselves.

Y – Sorry, but science has nothing to do with “truth” it will not tell you what is true it will tell you what is the most likely answer based on the evidence, that answer will never be “true” it will always be contingent on further evidence or better analysis. Unlike religion which pronounces “truth” out of thin air.

It is nice that you think the etymology of a word is always/sometimes useful,

nice (adj.) late 13c., “foolish, stupid, senseless,” from Old French nice (12c.) “careless, clumsy; weak; poor, needy; simple, stupid, silly, foolish,” from Latinnescius “ignorant, unaware,” literally “not-knowing,” from ne-“not” (see un-) + stem of scire “to know” (see science).

Once more, the word “science” has a well understood meaning, and I didn’t claim that you were bastardizing science, I said you were bastardizing the word “science”, although you are having a pretty good go at the former.

” I also value philosophy”

I’m happy for you, what does that have to do with science?  You don’t just value philosophy you are saying that it “is” science.

“because it has a wider, far reaching view of things, particularly advaita philosophy.”

Does it? What “evidence”, that isn’t anything more than wishful thinking, do you have for that?  Again you can make all the claims you like for your philosophy, but until you back those claims with evidence it is simply unfounded tosh.  A wider far reaching view of what?  Stuff that is simply made up? And it would be pretty hard to get a wider view than that of science considering the view of science is the entire universe.

“there is nothing wrong with being a student of science and at the same time a student of philosophy”

That was not your claim, you started with the oxymoron “science of the spirit” and then went on to make the ludicrous claim that Shankara’s philosophy was science. It isn’t, it has nothing whatsoever to do with science, it is theological philosophy.

“For example, there is no scientific explanation for most paranormal phenomena, or near-death (out of the body) experiences”

Yes there is no scientific explanation for most paranormal phenomena, because guess what? There is no evidence that any paranormal phenomena exist. As soon as you produce some you won’t be rabbiting along on Quora with a nobody like me you will be world famous.

“but they do exist and are being  documented by physicians and others.”

Really? They exist? care to share this documentation?  People have strange experiences when their brains are deprived of oxygen, this is a well known phenomena, there is no evidence that there is anything paranormal about it, got any reliable cases where someone had an out of body experience and was able to detail something going on in another room that they couldn’t have otherwise known? No, if out of body experiences were real and as common as people claim this kind of evidence should be a dime a dozen.  This kind of balderdash is the height of mystical woo woo, all it would take to confirm is for someone to float up to the roof and tell you the order of a deck of playing cards that had been placed there, but I’m sure you’ll come up with an excuse for why this isn’t so.

Also I’m sorry that you feel I’m making fun of you, I was simply using a directly analogous (and equally ludicrous claim) to point out that your position holds no water.  However if you put on the magical jeans of Elvis I’m sure you’ll see the light.

By the way telling me your credentials as a physician is not evidence of anything and it lends no credence to your claims, the great speaker of utter tripe Deepak Chopra is a board certified endocrinologist, that doesn’t stop him from spouting some of the biggest loads in history.

X – ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy’.

Saying that I am a physician merely indicates that I have been trained in, and should know something about, science and the scientific method; nothing more. Each one, to his own interests and hobbies. Incidentally, someone in Quora has just mentioned subjectivism and fallibilism in connection with the logic of science and other disciplines; you, and I, will probably agree with what that means once we (myself at least) go into it: a type of relativism with respect of ‘truth’ – no problem with that. Objectivism in science was given up long ago (no doubt you know it, from what you are saying). I said previously that knowledge or truth is the relationship /’adequatio’ of ‘rei’ (subject matter) and/with the intellect. I still like that medieval definition of ‘truth’.

In advaita philosophy all truths, being merely conceptual, are relative (mithya) – all of them; they are not only falsifiable but sublatable or stultifiable. The only ‘thing’ that is unsublatable is experience of the transcendental ‘something’ (Consciousness, Atma… the name is not important – “sages call it by many names”), which is indescribable, the only reality there is, and which pervades everything (like the Tao in that other tradition). I happen to be interested in/attracted by this ‘thing’ and this way of thinking about it. The evidence? Purely subjective (more so than the subjectivism of science referred to above). You can call it mysticism if you wish, but it is something more, and not just mental speculation… and I cannot provide any evidence for you. But, sorry, I am boring you…

Y – “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Yep, and what is the best way to find out what those things are?  Rational inquiry, or just making stuff up?  Personally I’ll stick with rational inquiry.

X – ‘It cannot be found by searching, but only those who search may find it’ (Nicolas of Cusa). I am not particularly fond of entering into a (forced) marriage between science and philosophy or “spirituality”, so I don’t particularly recommend dipping into a site called ‘Non-duality North America’, or something like that – where a bunch of physicists and cosmologists have their say. Rationality? Why not say ‘(searching), unbiased Intelligence’? That includes it.

P.S. I said that the evidence is ‘purely subjective’, and that is because there is only one ‘Subject’ – with no object/s. Consciousness reflects on itself, ‘knows’ itself. It cannot be said that Consciousness is aware of ‘anything’, or knows ‘anything’, but everything is known, etc. in its presence. There are no things; there is only Consciousness (I am no-thing).

5 thoughts on “Science vs. Philosophy (in three parts) – Part I

  1. I cannot resist citing this quote from Max Planck:

    “I had always looked upon the search for the absolute as the noblest and most worth while task of science.”


    • Thanks, Charles for the Quote.

      And to add to that, I may quote here the response given by the Physicist Dr. L.M. Krauss in Sep 2008 to the questions of Journalists about the expensive LHC experiments that were being launched at that time:

      “Ultimately, we address the questions of how we got here and what we are made of.”

      The questions that Science tries to investigate are much the same as what all Vedantic inquiry begins with: “What is this world and who am I” (aparokshAnubhUti – 12)

      [BTW, It would be nice if you can cite the full reference to Dr. Planck’s Quote.]


      • Hi Ramesam,

        Before seeing this post, I had just been reading Raphael’s “Tat Tvam Asi,” where he gives the Planck quote, but without reference. I looked it up online and found the following citation: A Scientific Autobiography (1948), in Scientific Autobiography and Other Papers, trans. Frank Gaynor (1950), 46.

        There are many other interesting quotes by Planck. For example:

        “I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. We cannot get behind consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing, postulates consciousness.” As quoted in The Observer (25 January 1931).

        One of my favorites by him:

        “Science advances one funeral at a time.” 🙂

        Best Regards,

  2. (The following selection is relevant to the debate on science and philosophy being published here)

    Tom McFarlane (in Quora A pervasive problem in discussions about the hard problem is that consciousness is defined and understood in different ways by different people, and if it is defined as a state of the brain then there is simply no way to coherently state the hard problem. To “see” the hard problem as a problem first requires one to accept a definition of consciousness as being something essentially non-physical, and that is something physical realists will not do.

    The other problem is that those who “see” the hard problem have trouble providing a clear definition of what exactly consciousness is, and that makes it easy for their position to be dismissed by physical realists as being inherently incoherent or meaningless. For example, how can the subjective experience of red be defined? If it is defined in terms of the distinction between experiences of other colors, then the physical realist can map that distinction to physically distinguishable brain states, and assert that what is being talked about is nothing more than that. The fundamental issue here is that subjective consciousness can not in principle be objectified. It is essentially ineffable. Proponents of the hard problem have not always seen this clearly.

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