A (Martin): It is difficult to fathom what time, and timelessness, are. When confronted with such a conundrum, St. Augustine retorted: ‘If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to a questioner, I do not know’ — such are the limitations of our understanding of reality (physical and non-physical), even though physics and mathematics come to our aid in this and also with the phenomenon of space (space-time). What is more, philosophy and metaphysics have a better grasp of the non-physical dimensions of reality than science, aided and abetted as they are by (universal) intuition. For metaphysics, time does not exist outside of our minds, and it is the same, by implication, with the concept of the ‘present’, even though the latter is what gives a semblance of reality to reality tout court (all that is and ever has been) – almost incomprehensible to the ordinary mind. The concept of space is in the same category. In Advaita Vedanta space (Akasha) is postulated as the subtlest of the five physical elements, which gives rise to the other four and is characterized by pervasiveness. Three types of space are considered: physical, mental, and intellectual or spiritual.
Mostly yes, except for mathematics, which is not theory-dependent. If you are appalled at reading this, wait a second. 1) All scientific statements are theory-dependent and subject to further developments in the empirical sciences. 2) In ordinary life what is considered true, objective, common-sense statements (e.g. London is the capital of England) are true within the parameters of empirical life.
From the metaphysical perspective, however – for instance, that of Plato – things are quite different, e.g. what is a physical object, whether natural or man-made? What is ‘true opinion’? What do the senses tell us and how to relate them to the Intellect (nous)? In this higher, metaphysical, order there is, following Plato, only one (ultimate) truth: that arrived at through contemplation of ‘Ideas’ or archetypes, themselves reducible to the one supreme Idea, ‘the Good’. This is the only thing that merits the name of real knowledge according to Plato and is not transferable from person to person.
All interactions between people can be considered at most ‘true opinion’ (except, as said, consensual, empirical truths for the most part). Plato found ‘true opinion’ to be lacking in epistemic support; in the end, he even made a joke about it, rather than ending with the usual ‘aporia’ (indeterminable). A similar account of truth v. belief or opinion can be found in Eastern metaphysics.
Enlightenment, for Plato, can only be effected through the contemplation of the highest Idea, the Idea of the ‘Good’, which involves having led a life in accord with that supreme end.
If one has in view Advaita Vedanta in that respect – opinion (or ’true opinion’) – the ready answer lies in vyavahara/vyavaharika, which refers to the empirical life as a whole, where everything is relative. In this realm can we not say that everything in human interactions is just an opinion, except, say, for the words of a real jñani?
Q: If metaphysical entities cannot be verified to exist, how can we say anything meaningful about them?
Martin: My position is that everything is metaphysical. (c.f. the question ‘Is everything metaphysical?’ on the Quora website: www.quora.com/search?q=everything+is+metaphysical).
So, everything that exists is metaphysical, including language and thought, sticks and stones, trees, all bodies, etc. In other words, there is nothing that is ‘material’ or ‘physical’ per se (which is a pure abstraction or a metaphysical theory).Continue reading
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.”
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.
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.
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).
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.
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).
. 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
[“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
(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