Rationalism and metaphysics

How do Vedantins argue against Sam Harris’ comment on spirituality?

If Sam Harris defends rationality the way he does, he appears not to be quite reasonable or wise. He defines himself as an atheist (though he seems now to want to distance himself from that epithet), and such posturing is dogmatic in the way ‘agnostic’ is not.

His defense of rationality is flawed in other respects, and he should realize that; first, apart from science, there is feeling and emotion, fundamental and definitory of man the way he is constituted. Second, modern science does not have all the answers even within its own field of expertise – in any area.

The strictures SH has with respect of religion and the religions (their in-fights, rivalries, etc.) are widely shared by many people, and particularly in Advaita Vedanta, though, it must be said, religion has to 1) be accepted as being an attraction and consolation for the multitudes – a given fact, 2) it can be an intermediary step towards real knowledge of the reality of the world and us (as Iswara is with respect to nirguna Brahman), and, finally, 3) its aspects of surrender, love, participation, and esthetic beauty cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Neuroscience is still a science in its cradle. Not only does it lack many answers related to the brain and its functions, but some of its unknowns are insurmountable, such as what is the nature of consciousness (the ‘hard problem’) as taken from its own perspective. Consciousness or awareness cannot be explained by empirical science; it will always be a purely subjective experience (including objectless consciousness), an ultimate, irrefutable, and irreducible fact.

From the viewpoint of traditional Advaita (Shankara and Gaudapada primarily), there is no reality other than Consciousness (Atman-Brahman – which is/are just names or symbols). Phenomena are the way Consciousness or Atman manifests itself (a sort of play- maya). Multiplicity, space, time, and causality are illusory – that is, from the higher perspective, while they seem to be real from the lower, empirical one.

Empirical scientists have no truck, no real interest, in any of the above. They cannot touch it. Paul King, a prominent neuroscientist, wrote this not long ago in Quora:

“Ultimately, the question of whether or not subjective experience is an irreducible fact may come down to metaphysical stance and not anything that can be “decided” with a rational process.”

Why can’t science explain consciousness?

SL (a contributor to Qwora) & M (Martin)

SL. Consciousness is the most foundational pre-requisite for science.

M. This is obvious, as also that consciousness is a pre-requisite for all human transactions – language, literature, etc., etc.

SL. I believe that consciousness should be included as a part of science and not as something separate.

M.  No, because consciousness is a metaphysical entity not amenable to scientific (empirical) investigation, which is quantitative and measurable..

SL. … we ourselves are part of that universe, and our experience is a tiny fragment of the experience of the larger universe around us.

(Qwoting) “What we call ‘experiences’ is usually equated with the experiential phenomena – with the experiential contents as such – again, with what exists in being subjectively experienced. Now the point is: consciousness (in the Advaitic sense) is the very subjective experiencing itself. It is, as the Advaitins formulate, the witnessing of the experiences.” – ‘On the Advaitic Identification of Self and Consciousness’, Wolfgang Fasching.

M. Now, that is metaphysical or philosophical – prior to or other than empirical science.

SL. “To admit that we are matter and mechanism is to ground ourselves in the wholeness of the cosmos. In the new physics, self coalesces from the stuff of the stars, exists briefly… ” (quoting ‘Skeptics and True Believers’).

M. This is not even science – it is a physicalist or materialist philosophical position.

Is a single neuron conscious? A brief discussion.

M. Advaita Vedanta’s perspective is better seen from the top down rather than from the bottom up. Consciousness or awareness can be considered (there is a consensus on this) as a ‘fundamental ‘property’ of (or pointer to) reality’, not reality itself, which is unfathomable and indescribable. It permeates every apparently external phenomenon, which is thus an expression or manifestation of Consciousness. Accordingly, a neuron, an electron, is a manifestation of Consciousness – ‘the One without a second’. Alternately, neurons, atoms, etc. are embedded in Consciousness or reality.

PB. I think the best words you can use to characterize reality are awareness/consciousness, existence/beingness and bliss/love. However, I wouldn’t identify reality with consciousness, the other two concepts, or all three together. They are just the purest manifestations of reality that we can identify. True reality is not a thing or concept, it is beyond definition.

But yes, I would agree that neurons, electrons etc. are phenomena of consciousness, as are these words and the bodies and minds that write them.

M. Metaphysical truth is sometimes called apperception, or direct supramental perception, and it is non-transferable. Nicholas of Cusa put it this way: “The highest wisdom is this, to know… how that which is unattainable may be reached or attained unattainably”. Metaphysics (philosophia prima, or first philosophy of medieval times) is not science, and its truths are often dressed as paradoxes, analogies, and metaphors; they are not meant to convince anyone who is not open to them.

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A metaphysical truth appeals to intuition; it is an experience, or knowledge-experience… It is not speculation and is not amenable to subject-object relationship or distinction.

M. (to another participant) Did you look up the word ‘rishi/s’? It means ‘sage’ – Swami Vivekananda described Rishi-s  as Mantra-drashtas or “the seers of thought”. He told— “The truth came to the Rishis of India — the Mantra-drashtâs, the seers of thought — and will come to all Rishis in the future, not to talkers, not to book-swallowers, not to scholars, not to philologists, but to seers of thought.” (From Wikipedia).

 

 

 

 

1) Knowledge and the Vedas; 2) Is everything metaphysical?

Do the Vedas really contain any advanced knowledge as so many people claim they do? (Quora)

I would say the Vedas contain the most fundamental and ‘advanced’ knowledge there is, though usually portrayed  in the form of paradox (analogy, metaphor, story, etc.), so that one has to crack the code in order to find the wealth hidden in them. That knowledge is not like empirical science, which is cumulative and provisional, and can be said to be somehow contained in the latter, even if in embryonic or potential form. That knowledge or perspective is metaphysical rather than mystical. According to the Vedas there is one and only reality: consciousness (brahman, the Absolute, etc.), which pervades the whole universe; it is immanent in it as well as transcendent… “the smallest of the small, the largest of the large”. It cannot be measured or understood by the mind, for which it is ineffable, but it is that by which the mind comprehends… it cannot be expressed in words but by which the tongue speaks… it is eye of the eye, ear of the ear, mind of the mind, as expressed in the Upanishads.

Modern physics is having a hard time trying to explain away what consciousness is in terms of physical phenomena (neuronal activity in the brain), but consciousness is not an irreducible phenomenon or datum; it is reality itself, everything being comprehended in it (theories, doubts, projections, emotions, things, thoughts, intelligence, observer and observed, you and I). For the Vedas reality is one, and present physics is trying to find out in which way it is so (‘theory of everything’, ‘unificatory theory…’). Not all physicists are reductionist, some of them having seemingly mutated into philosophers with an understanding of the core of Vedic teachings.

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Is everything metaphysical? (Quora)

‘Is everything metaphysical?’ My answer is a resounding Yes! despite the widely accepted, prevailing, physicalist theory: everything is reducible to matter/energy. This last position is being insistently questioned ever since the rise of the new physics (the role of the observer, uncertainty principle, etc.). Nobody knows what matter is intrinsically, and why an atom is an atom – its nature is a mystery; scientifically we can only talk about mechanism, ‘behavior’ or function, in relation to physical processes. Thus, everything is metaphysical – including tables and chairs or, rather, the material they are made of, wood (hilos) – which means non-reducible to the physical. Psychology, mind, selfhood are equally non reducible to the physical – nor are they purely mental or purely conceptual – , thus they are metaphysical, however psychologists may protest. ‘Man’, ‘personhood’, are metaphysical or philosophical notions.

Metaphysical doctrines are couched in LANGUAGE (concepts, plus logic and reasoning -tarka), which de facto is dualistic, but that is a springboard and a conditio sine qua non for realization or uniting with the TRUTH or REALITY which is indivisible, non-relational, and inexpressible by the mind (anubhava).

 

Empirical science vs. metaphysics / philosophy

 

What are some really ‘deep’ thoughts?

www.quora.com/What-are-some-really-deep-thoughts

. The truth is the whole (Hegel)

.Consciousness is the whole of reality (advaita).

. Causation, space, and time are unreal (advaita).

. The microcosm is a reflection of the macrocosm – ‘As above so below’. Hermetism.

. If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite (William Blake).

. The kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it. (Jesus).

. People forget the reality of the illusory world. (Huang Po).

. There is neither birth nor dissolution; nor aspirant to liberation nor liberated nor anyone in bondage. That is the ultimate truth. (Gaudapada). Continue reading

Is the universe conscious?

www.quora.com/Can-you-disprove-the-fact-that-the-universe-is-conscious/answer/Lonny-Wortham-II 

Can you disprove the fact that the universe is conscious?

[“Universe” is defined as “all existing matter and space considered as a whole”.

There are conscious beings within this universe.

They are part of the universe.

Therefore, the universe is conscious (with its consciousness manifesting in specific places such as the brain of a conscious being).]

 

LW. No. You are essentially asking whether or not we can disprove the existence of a pantheistic god.

We can not disprove that possibility. However; we can take a look at the logic that underlies your supposition. Continue reading

Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 9

(Read Part 8 of the series.)

A Return to Scepticism

The Scottish philosopher David Hume accepted Locke’s empiricism and also agreed with Berkeley that we cannot ever know that there is a world outside of and separate from ourselves. Indeed he claimed not to understand what people meant by the idea of ‘substance’. We only know about perceptions, colour, sound, taste and so on. If this thing called ‘substance’ is something else, we have no knowledge of it – why invent it? If we took away the sensible qualities of things there would be nothing left, would there? Why should we need anything to explain or support our perceptions and impressions? Questions about why they arise are unnecessary and the answers suggested to explain them are unintelligible. The idea of ‘mind’ is just as illogical. If we simply dropped both of them, we would have no need to try to imagine ways in which such supposedly different ‘things’ might interact, as Descartes had wasted so much of his time doing.

He was also sceptical of Descartes’ conviction of his own existence as a thinking individual and made his own attempts to find some irreducible ‘self’ of which he could be certain. He decided that, whenever he attempted to look for ‘himself’ he could only find thoughts, feelings and perceptions; never a ‘self’ that is the perceiver, feeler and thinker. And so he concluded that there was no such thing. One feels one wants to get hold of him and shake him and say: “Yes, when you look, all that you find are thoughts, feelings and perceptions but who is it who finds this? What is the ‘who’ that is doing the looking?” He also felt similarly about God. We may well feel convinced that there is a God – this is effectively the definition of faith, a firm conviction without any empirical evidence – but this is not the same as knowledge. Continue reading

Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 2

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(Read Part 1 of the series.)

Part 2 – Metaphysics

Metaphysics, as the study of the questions of ‘life, the universe and everything’ is known, fell out of vogue in the twentieth century, when the attitude arose that most of what had previously been thought to be intransigent problems were not really problems at all but arose through our inability to formulate the problem correctly. Once we used language properly, it was argued, the difficulties would disappear. Many recent philosophers have not even addressed the sort of fundamental questions that are being asked on this site. In this respect there is a similarity with science. There was a time when an enquiring mind could range over the entire domain of what is now thought of as ‘science’, becoming expert in many areas and making new discoveries. The amount of material that was written down and accepted as proven was minimal. Over the past few centuries, the rate of investigation and discovery has accelerated and it is now possible to conduct novel research in only a tiny area of specialisation. In the 3rd Century BC, Aristotle’s multi-disciplined enquiries have already been noted. By the 20th Century, most of the philosophy in England was devoted to analysing the meanings of sentences! Continue reading

The ego, the ‘soul’ and metaphysics – 6th and final part

EXPLANATION
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It was made clear at the beginning of this essay that what we mean by the “ego” (the “personality”), it being no more than a delusion, a false image or projection, cannot be a subject, except in a dream -and is itself a “dream”. We described the fight of the “ego” in its efforts at reaffirmation as an “unholy war”. That it is obviously the soul, the person, who is the subject of the delusion, the “dream” ; his/her’s the “holy war”, the suffering and the required effort towards reawakening (is not life itself a dream? –it is so for “fallen man”). The soul’s, the person’s destiny – and this is conditional according to the monotheistic religions – is to finally be “reabsorbed”, united or reintegrated , and thus liberated. Liberated not from itself (its Self!) by itself , not even from life, but from a false image of itself and of life (“the world”) due to ignorance (avidya).

It is thus through ignorance, passion and attachment, that individual man (non-gender term) has “become” an “ego”, a “dreamer”, until, or unless, he wakes up. Existence itself is a ‘becoming’, not ‘being’, according to Plato and all traditional thinking. This subject is otherwise inexhaustible, and here we may remember the saying of Râbi’a quoted at the beginning, as well as the utterances of so many other sages and mystics. Continue reading

The ‘ego’, the soul, and metaphysics – 3

2. And here we come to a necessary distinction: ego and ‘ego’, or self and ‘self’; the necessary, real or true ego, and the contingent ‘ego’, the ‘false ego’. Based on the previous considerations, it might seem that the latter is what is meant by the empirical, worldly ego, or ‘outer man’ of philosophical discourse (as in Frithjof Schuon), but that would be an error, since that ‘ego’ does nothing, being merely an impostor, or a mask, thus ultimately as unreal as the son of a sterile woman. What is real – though ambivalent, as will be shown just below in this same paragraph – is the soul (jiva in non-dualistic advaita philosophy), that is, the subject, one of his sides, as it were, facing the higher, spiritual domain and the other facing the outer world. This last, outer or ‘empirical man’, is the doer and the sufferer – this is the way he sees him/herself (cf. ‘Explanation’, p. 9, et passim).

Similar remarks can be made for now about individual and ‘individual’, the second term referring to a limited, narrow view, actually an ideology, that is, viewing the individual, and the individual viewing himself, as ‘self-sufficient’, ‘self-motivated’, independent and autonomous –in other words, the product or result of individualism (about which there would be much to say in psychological and sociological terms). The first (individual or jiva) is a metaphysical entity, rooted in being… but why ‘ambivalent’? The answer is that while the second, ‘individual’, stands for a psychological construct (as the ‘ego’, its equivalent term, is such, obviously), what can be said of it – namely, that this deluded ‘individual’, rootless, ‘for himself’ alone, happy may be at times, but mostly forlorn, and subject to all sorts of dis-ease if not despair(1)- is by and large the actual description of the ‘normal ego or individual’! And so a clarification is in place: Continue reading