Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 6

(Read Part 5 of the series.)


The age of increasing importance of science is usually claimed to have begun with Copernicus in the early 16th Century when he argued that the sun is the centre of the solar system and not the earth as the church had always insisted. (This is stated in the Psalms of the Old Testament and by the Greek astronomer Ptolemy in the 2nd Century.) In fact, so afraid was Copernicus of incurring the wrath of the clergy that publication of his beliefs did not take place until after his death. Even Galileo, later confirming the facts by telescope, was forced to deny it since he wished to stay alive. Galileo advocated that all prior beliefs and opinion should be kept out of scientific observation, which should be completely objective. Needless to say, once such ideas gained support, the authority of the church began to diminish and their dogmatic pronouncements about the nature of everything began to be supplanted by more tentative suggestions based upon specific observation and experiment.

Isaac Newton was born in the same year that Galileo died and his discoveries were to have a devastating effect on religious faith. Once it became accepted that the workings of the universe could be understood through scientific laws, the idea of a divine creation became suspect. Man was just a tiny phenomenon in a vast universe, no longer the centre of everything. This had a profound effect upon man’s self-image and outlook. Previously it had been believed that our earth was effectively the creation and that man was the most important being in it, capable of communing with God and aspiring to union with Him. Henceforth it became increasingly apparent that the earth was insignificant in the immensity of the universe and the concomitant conclusion was that man himself was nowhere near so important as had previously been supposed. Continue reading

Three Q&As in Quora

Three Q/As from QUORA (on brain, philosophy, QM, NDE, consciousness)

1. How does the brain understand philosophy?

M. The brain… understanding philosophy? My reply to this is similar to the one I gave recently to another question and which was based on Socrates’ answer to an observation that someone was making. The man saw a pool of water being stirred by a stick held by a man and said that the stick was stirring the water. To which Socrates replied: ‘Is it the stick, or the man moving the stick?’ (Which one is the real agent – the material, or the instrumental cause, in Aristotelian terms?).

Equally, is it the brain, or the mind which ‘moves’ the brain which moves the stick which stirs the water?

Is it the brain, or the mind which (using the brain as an instrument) understands philosophy? Actually, it is consciousness (as a substrate) using the mind using the brain… Consciousness itself does not do anything Continue reading

Overview of Western Philosophy – Part 2


(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

How could we merge absurdist and Buddhist philosophies?


M. Provisionally we could put side by side ‘absurd’ (or illogical) and ‘unprovable’, even if they are not synonymous; and the main tenets of all religions are such. They are not ‘rational’. On the other hand, neither science, ‘common sense’, or rationality are the ‘end all’. There are many things that escape explanation with the current state of our knowledge and understanding.

Paradox is a term related, one way or another, to the above. Just consider the following:

i) “How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress”. Niels Bohr (famous physicist)

ii) Is there anything more absurd to ordinary understanding of the world and us than the following (taken from my blog): “That truth, put into words, is paradoxical: you are all (as Consciousness) and ‘you’ (as perceived individual) are nothing, or a phantom; you are the final witness, but ‘you’ are not a witness; the world is illusory (as appearance), but in essence is reality itself. That revelatory, transcendental experience is non-transferable, not provable to another.”

GL. If by absurdism you mean acknowledging that there is no absolute truth, then zen buddhism when asked what is enlightenment, answers “6 pounds of flax”, which is, I believe, trying to point out that absolute truth is impossible.

M. You probably mean ‘impossible to demonstrate, or to know, with the ordinary mind’, but ask a zen buddhist if it (absolute reality or truth) is impossible to grasp, to grok.

GL. I think the point of the flax koan is that you can’t know satori with certainty.

M. Is it not rather that the experience cannot be explained – or transmitted – with words, being ineffable? Such is a transcendental experience, where there is no individual per se present.

GL. Isn’t “ineffable” the same as saying we can’t know with certainty?

M. No, it means ‘inexpressible’, the experience being overwhelming (rather than being too sacred – another meaning).

GL. If you can’t describe it, then it isn’t knowable.

If it is purely a matter of experience, then there is no way for me to know you are experiencing something the same way I am. Color is ineffable. You experience red and green the way you do, and I experience it the way I do. And unless we have an objective test for color blindness, there is no way to know if you see what I see. Some people see color when they hear sound. And as long as that experience is ineffable, there is no way to know if we see color the same way. Only when we establish some objective explanation and some objective testing can we know with certainty if we are experiencing similar things.

M. You refer to what are called qualia, but I am not sure how far you want to go (can nothing be known? In what sense?) Most empiricists/scientists tend to disregard this question or deny that it presents any problem for their physicalist stance. In non-duality, which is what interests me, there are not, cannot be, any objective tests referable to either external or internal experiences of what generally is understood as reality (the world and oneself) except, perhaps, in one’s facial expression and/or demeanor. That agrees with what you say about qualia but, aside from non-duality (or as a preliminary to it), it doesn’t mean that there cannot be agreement, concurrence, in the realm of thought, sensations, and feelings. Two people reading the same book or page – if they are on the same wave length (let’s say interest in non-duality, or in a particular modality of art, like Baroque or modern) – will have similar thoughts and feelings. Language is for communication – even about the understanding of non-duality (like zen) – but certain experiences cannot be communicated, such as particular intuitions or epiphanies, regardless of what we understand as qualia, though related to it.

Atma vichAra

The Self cannot be ‘known’ in any objective sense because it is the ultimate subject – there is no other subject that could know it. This is why science can never tell us anything about the Self. Science works by collecting data and analyzing it; formulating theories and then using them to predict what will happen when data are gathered in a different situation. This can never be applied to Self/brahman, because brahman has no data.

Strictly speaking, vichAra refers to investigation into ‘things’ so that Atma vichAra is effectively a contradiction in terms; the Self is not a thing. Spiritual investigation has to be done rather differently. The correct term is shAstra mImAMsA and it is really scriptural ‘investigation’ that we must conduct in order to find out about the Self. Monier-Williams translates mImAMsA as “profound thought or reflection or consideration; investigation, examination, discussion”. The philosophical branch that studies the Upanishads etc at the end of the Vedas (Vedanta) is called uttara mImAMsA. (uttara means “later, following, subsequent, concluding” but also “superior, chief, excellent, dominant”.)

We ‘discover’ the Self by removing ignorance. If someone holds up a screen in front of our face and then brings an object to show us, but keeps it behind the screen, we can say nothing at all about the object. However, as soon as the screen is taken away, the object is revealed to our senses and the perception takes place automatically. Similarly, knowledge of the Self is obscured by ignorance but as soon as that ignorance is removed, the Self is immediately self-evident; we do not have to do anything to ‘investigate’ it.

Scripture functions like a mirror. When we look into a mirror, we do not literally see our face and body, we only see an image of it. Yet this enables us directly to perform whatever actions are required on the body itself – combing the hair, shaving and so on. We do not shave the image but the actual hair on the face. Similarly, the scriptures do not directly represent the Self but the information therein, when explained by a qualified teacher, directly enables the ignorance in our mind to be removed, revealing the Self-knowledge which is as though hidden beneath.

Actions will never bring about Self-knowledge, since action is not opposed to ignorance. Nor will practices such as meditation or prayer. As Swami Paramarthananda puts it, meditation will only bring about quiet ignorance.

As Shankara puts it (if he was the author of vivekachUDAmaNi v.13): “It is through reflection over the words of a truly benevolent soul that one comes to a knowledge of reality, and not through bathing at sacred places, charity or hundreds of breathing practices”. [1] I.e. it is through shravaNa, manana and nididhyAsana and not through asking ‘Who am I?’ that one gains Self-knowledge.

[1] The Crest Jewel of Wisdom; viveka-chUDAmaNi, commentary by Hari Prasad Shastri, Shanti Sadan, 1997. ISBN 0-85421-047-0.

Modern knowledge and the Vedas

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

15.3.15 – I’d say the Vedas contain the most fundamental and ‘advanced’ knowledge there is, though mostly 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 which could be said to be somehow contained in it, 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 one 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 out 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 just 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). The part (for instance, an ‘external’ observer) cannot understand the whole into which he/she is enclosed. For the Vedas, to repeat, reality is one, and contemporary physics is trying to find out in which way it is so (‘theory of everything’, ‘unified field’…). Not all physicists are reductionist, some of them having seemingly mutated into philosophers with a workable understanding of the core of Vedic teachings.


Science and Philosophy – Part III  

“The intellectual life of the whole of western society is increasingly being split into two polar groups…literary intellectuals at one pole – at the other scientists, and as the most representative, the physical scientists. Between the two a gulf of incomprehension.”

“A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: Have you read a work of Shakespeare’s? “- C.P. Snow (in the 1960s)

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How Many Universes?

Multiverse - Nature - Sept 2014 I wrote a Blog Post with the title “How Many Universes Make A Multiverse – The Story of Bhetala” inspired by a story narrated by Sage Vasishta in the first part of the Sixth Chapter: Nirvana in Yogavasishta. The Link to the Post dated Nov 4, 2009 is here. The metaphor described was as follows:


“Think of the universe that we are all living in to be a humongous fruit.

There is a bough with thousands of those fruits.
There is a tree with thousands of such boughs.
There is a wood with thousands of such trees.
There is a mountain with thousands of such woods.
There is an island with thousands of such mountains.
There is a huge globe (mahi peetha) with thousands of such islands.
There is a huge star system with thousands of such globes.
There is a heavenly egg with thousands of such star systems.
There is a sea with thousands of such heavenly eggs.
There is an ocean with thousands of such seas.
Thousands of such oceans will be the waters in the stomach of a man.
That man’s name is Vishnu. Continue reading

Science vs. Philosophy – Part II

Y – I can not parse your meaning, i.e. I have no idea what you are trying to say.

Still have no idea what you are trying to say.

X – What I’m trying to say is to point at core insights within Eastern philosophy (Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism), particularly in advaita Vedanta – but also in Christianity and Islam in their highest metaphysical conceptions. If you are not interested in any of this, that’s alright.

Actually, whatever science – and its highfaluting ‘scientific method’ – is is shot through with difficulties and controversies, including the sacrosanct falsifiability principle (or dogma). Just read the Wickipedia article on this (and on rationality, etc.) and the respective positions of Khun, I. Lakatos, and P. Feyerabend among others. You must know something about all this already if you are scientifically inclined.

Y – What “core insights”?  There is nothing insightful about making up unevidenced tosh, anyone can do it and each piece of tosh has exactly equal validity, none.

And with regard to your ludicrous and unfounded “criticism” of the scientific method, I have one response, yea shall know them by their fruits.

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