these are some comments I’ve written to A. Gibson’s Amazon review of Rupert Sheldrake’s book, ‘The Science Delusion”. This may be of interest to you if you found “Shaving Science With Ockham’s Razor” to be interesting:
Here is an interesting comment (I think!) from a commentary on the Bhagavad Gita by Sri Krishna Prem (a British man who wrote this commentary in the 1930s):
“The objects supposed by some to exist behind the forms are mere mental constructs devised for dealing with experience in practice. No one knows them, no one can ever know them; to believe in their existence is a pure and quite uncalled-for act of faith.”
Here are some reflections on this statement:
1. What is the nature of our current experience? Following the principle of Ockham’s Razor, we assume that whatever exists apart from our immediate experience is similar to it – that is, we will attempt to add the fewest assumptions possible. Most people assume that it does not require any additional assumptions to assume that objects exist independent of awareness; I believe it does. So, on to step 2:
2. Look at your experience at this moment and see if you can distinguish whether you are awake or dreaming. The whole point of the question “are we awake or dreaming” is to point out that at certain moments, dreaming can be indistinguishable from waking (many lucid dreams contain an internal lawful structure which is indistinguishable from the structure of waking experience; the longest lucid dream recorded in a laboratory, to my knowledge, is about 75 minutes; there is not a single scientific experiment – in physics, biology, neuroscience or any other area of science – that takes that long that could not be performed in a dream. Even Tesla was able to conduct experiments in his dreams over the course of several days, measure the changes that occurred in the “dream” machines and found that the measurements were just as accurate as those made on “waking state” machines).
a. Once it is established that it is possible to have at least a moment of experience in which a dream has an internally lawful structure making it indistinguishable from the waking state, We then switch our inquiry over to an examination of lucid dream experience. The reason for this is that the implicit, sub-cortical, predominantly visceral “feeling” of being in a world in which awareness appears to be “contained” within a physical body surrounded by purely material objects existing independently of that awareness is eliminated – or at least, largely subdued – by imagining oneself to be in a lucid dream.
3. Now, looking at our experience in the lucid dream, we can readily see that it consists of an unbroken field of awareness in which we find – rather than separate material objects – various visual and other sensory differentiations of that field of awareness. Or to put it in other terms, our experience is of a unified yet differentiated field of awareness.
4. Since we’ve already established that the **nature** of experience is the same whether in the lucid dream or waking state, we can say that the nature of experience in the waking state is also that of a unified yet differentiated field of awareness.
5. Finally, keeping to the principle of Ockham’s razor – making the fewest assumptions about the nature of the world that lies outside our immediate experience (and I forgot to mention, let’s assume at the outset that we are not solipsists, so we do accept that something exists apart from our immediate experience) we find that the simplest description of the world at large is that it must also be a unified yet differentiated field of awareness.
a. It helps, perhaps, that this is in keeping with over 5000 years of testimony from contemplatives and mystics from virtually every spiritual tradition. I personally think it is more compatible with quantum physics, evolutionary biology (particularly the findings of epigenetics) and neuroscience (particularly the field of neuroplasticity) and parapsychology (Robert Rosenthal, a Harvard based expert in scientific methodology, has stated that from a purely methodological standpoint, the precision and expertise in the research conducted by parapsychologists is at least as good if not better than that in any other area of science).
b. I can’t go into further detail here, but this notion of a field of awareness is not the same as any of the forms of idealism that I am familiar with in Western philosophy. As far as my reading of Asian forms of non-dualism goes, although these philosophies are sometimes referred to as “idealistic”, the general Asian (pre-modern, at least) idea of the mind is rather dramatically different from notions of the mind deriving from Greek and Roman times.
I guess I should add that this whole thought experiment is not meant to be a “proof” – since I think that the nature of our ordinary intellect leads to the necessity of accepting agnosticism. The only intent is to show that it is more reasonable to assume unbroken awareness than to assume purely material objects existing independent of awareness – which to my mind was the simple point that Prem intended in his comments about the nature of consciousness.
(I’m going to post Prem’s full commentary in the next comment)
APPENDIX A – NOTE ON THE TERMS CONSCIOUSNESS AND FORM
If any experience is analyzed – say, for example, the visual experience of a blue disc – two aspects can be distinguished. There is the content, a round blue shape in this instance, and the ‘awareness’ of that shape. The content is what I have termed form and the awareness consciousness.
It must be carefully noted that ‘form’ does not here mean outline, but filled-in content-shape, and the term must also be understood in the same way of other elements of experience, sensuous or non-sensuous. For instance we have the ‘form’ of a sound, a taste, a feeling, or a thought, which must be understood by analogy with the forms of visual experience.
In contrast with these forms, which are all different both as regards individual forms within one class and as regards different classes of forms, there is the awareness or consciousness, which is of the same sort throughout…
It should be clear from introspective meditation that all forms are sustained in consciousness, and that, apart from consciousness, we know nothing and can know nothing of forms. It is in fact meaningless to talk of forms as existing apart from consciousness [he adds this footnote: "This position must by no means be confused with that of subjective idealism. The consciousness spoken of is not 'your' or 'my' consciousness, in fact 'you' and 'I' exist only as constellated form-sequences brought to foci in that consciousness..."] The objects supposed by some to exist behind the forms are mere mental constructs devised for dealing with experience in practice. No one knows them, no one can ever know them; to believe in their existence is a pure and quite uncalled-for act of faith.
It should not be supposed that by the forms are meant sensations, camera pictures of reality located somewhere in the brain. The brain itself (as an ‘object’) is one of the constructs of which mention has just been made. The usefulness of such constructs in certain realms of thought and study is not at all denied, but they are irrelevant here.
The primary bedrock of experience is not sensations in the eye, ear, or brain, but visual and other forms in space. All the rest is inference and construction. Materialistic science begins by abstracting consciousness from the forms in order to deal with them more objectively and impersonally and then, when analysis fails to reveal any life or conscious principle in those forms, triumphantly exclaims that all is mechanism, nowhere is there anything of a spiritual nature. Behaviorist psychology is an example of the same procedure applied to mental life. If you start by abstracting consciousness from phenomena it is obviously absurd to expect to find it as a term in your concluded analysis. For this reason no one should feel disappointed that science (as nowadays practised) does not know anything of the existence of the ‘soul.’ It is the old story of looking for one’s spectacles when they are on one’s nose.
…It follows… that the modern term ‘unconscious’ mind can have no meaning. There is not the slightest reason for supposing that anything whatever, physical or mental, exists or can exist save as the content of consciousness. Hence we can talk of a sub- or a super-conscious mind, meaning by those terms mental processes that are sustained in consciousness below or above the level at which it is normally focused, processes which are not attended to by normal consciousness, but we cannot talk of an unconscious mind, for that would have no meaning.
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The comment about “the whole body” being involved in all cognitive processing is relevant to the points being made by Sheldrake and by the various reviewers. If you try to understand what he is saying solely by means of “left mode” processing it may not make sense (though in my previous two comments I’ve tried hard to make purely logical points accessible to pure left mode thinking).
But ideally, attempts to understand the limits of materialism – the very foundation not only of modern scientific thought but to a great extent the major factor coloring the visceral experience of people living in developed countries, particularly urban areas – should involve not only right mode as well as left mode thinking, but subcortical as well as cortical processing; that is, a fully integrated left mode/right mode, cortical/cardio-neurological (heart)/enteric brain processing, and even beyond that, the neuropeptide system (involving the so-called “molecules of emotion”).
To put this in more psychological language, understanding the basis of experience requires the full use of an integrated mind-heart-body experiencing, and still beyond that, a willingness to attempt going beyond one’s habitual assumptions and dearly held mental models about who one is and what the nature of the world is. Very difficult!
Please support the “Occupy Wall Street” gatherings that are happening around the United States and around the world. Get up to date information at occupytogether.org. Google Chris Hedges for a particularly inspiring talk about this.
Click here for PDF file: Shaving Science With Ockham’s Razor
Please feel free to write me at firstname.lastname@example.org with suggestions as to why the premise of this essay is wrong:
PREMISE: There are no scientific findings which preclude considering consciousness as a causal factor in the universe. Nor are there findings in any area of science – including quantum physics, parapsychology or near-death experience research – which require the consideration of consciousness as a causal factor (both of these statements are in regard to current scientific methodology).
Our book, “Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness: Seeing Through the Eyes of Infinity“, is available on Amazon.
There’s a 45 minute CD that comes along with the book. We made the CD for two main reasons. One was to help those who do not have a meditation practice develop one. The first 5 tracks of the CD are brief guided meditations accompanied by music. These include basic breathing exercises, relaxation and concentration practices, and meditations for refining awareness. They are basic meditative practices that can provide a solid foundation for whatever kind of meditation practice you may eventually wish to pursue.
The second reason we created the CD was to provide a contemplative, experiential version of the main themes of the book, including the ultimate causes of suffering, the means for developing a more enduring sense of joy, meaning and purpose, and the relationship between spirituality and social change.
In 2012, we will be posting a series of videos based on themes from the book.