Archive | July, 2011

Enlightenment: Coming to Peace with One’s End

12 Jul

Meditation and Enlightenment:  Coming to Peace with One’s End

This atheism video from Youtube gets us to really think about the issue of death versus our transcendentalizing urges to escape it and/or grasp at life in the face of our ultimate end.  (Thank you to Mike at the Inspirationalfreethought blog for pointing it out)

Particularly interesting in light of the following consideration of the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer on the topic of death.

Is that what this gig’s about then?  Not afterlife or rebirth cycles (as in the whole Buddhist metaphysical doctrine on the subject), but coming to peace with one’s own moment of passing? … I wonder.  Because, if it is, then, that makes a lot more sense to me of what there is to Buddhist practice  & meditation-based exercise than all of the whole mystical, metaphysical excess that comes with the religion of Buddhism.

It wouldn’t be about breaking the cycle of rebirths through

But via enlightened insight through meditation, we’d learn to come to grips with our own end, consciously and emotionally, in this life.

Does that sort of an idea resonate with anybody else?  Have you ever thought about the issue more on these terms than via the concept of rebirth and reincarnation?   If so, then tell me about it and share your reflections in the comments section.  Thanks.

More Material on the Free Will Issue

9 Jul

Some Excellent Material on the Free Will Issue

With all the recent business about Free Will going on in the
Blogosphere, I was happy to find these two pieces on Youtube.
Menoftheinfinite did a great job of them.

Feel free to pass along your comments to me about them either here in the comments section or by email to me at  I’d love to get your reactions on them. Thanks.

I enjoyed watching these pieces and listening to Menotheinfinite’s perspectives on the matter.  Good stuff!  I hope you find them as useful and insightful as I have.

Long Live Metaphysics!

6 Jul

Darwinism is Dead!  Long Live Metaphysics!

Thanks to for pointing out these pieces.

So Darwinism is dead now, is it?

Without spending too much time expounding on these kinds of death pronouncements for social movements & intellectual traditions, let me ask a question?  What’s its replacement or successor paradigm? … Metaphysics?  If so, then it is no more useful a substitute to the contended reductionism of Darwinian evolutionary theory than phrenology would be to contemporary neuroscience in understanding the complex dynamics of the brain.  Intelligent Design fails to explain how life as we know it today arose from the beginnings it did.  Creation Science before it also failed the evolutionary biology test.  Now we’re expected to think I.D. can still do the job or that other religious, metaphysical systems can do it?  … This is no more helpful than Wall Street bankers (post-Bailout) advising the Federal Government on how to fix the U.S. Economy.

But, again, what else would you expect in this day and age? If we are in the midst of a Fifth Great Awakening or religious revival, one that’s taking place on a global, cross-cultural scale, then maybe these occurrences aren’t such a big surprise.  Maybe, they are just appearing on schedule? … Still, there’s not much in these metaphysical, religious revivals that’s worth getting excited about.

Not much more than ‘more of the same.’  More religionist ideology, more gnosticism, and more metaphysical presuppositions about the world, without an inch of real interplay either with the world of Science as a subject or with traditional Epistemology.

As I said, ‘Darwinism is Dead!  Long Live Metaphysics!’

Transcendence: What’s the Point?

6 Jul

Transcendence.” “What’s-the-Point?” …

Jerry Coyne gives an excellent critique of Sam Harris’ recent discussion of spiritual experience and transcendence from a Q&A he did on Reddit.

Coyne questions Harris’ remarks about transcendent experiences and expresses interest in his points about

… the non-equivalence of our “spiritual experiences of beauty and awe” [of nature] with the real and much deeper transcendent experiences reported by religious people, mystics and those who meditate.

Coyne’s argument about whether the latter actually qualify as ‘higher experiences’ over the ordinary moments of awe at nature and the universe that we all experience is a very good one.  Chemically-induced experiences also produce such effects.  Therefore, it’s not so simple to say “meditation” yields objectively-deeper “higher experience”, ergo producing increased well-being in the mediating subjects and greater degrees of ethical behavior, etc., etc. Not that these functions can’t produce increased wellbeing in
individuals and lead to more moral behavior on the part of societies that place value on such activities, but there’s more to it than what Harris is saying when he identifies “meditation” with “higher experience.”

I’m not going to say Coyne’s correct either  …

He seems to be indicating that the fruits of meditation and spiritual experience are absolutely no different from drug-induced altered states of consciousness, dream states, and so forth.  They may, in fact, be molded out of the same stuff; yet to automatically conclude and infer from that, that they are as fictitious and delusional as fairies dancing on the lawn, and are therefore to be dismissed as quackery, confuses the matter as much as Harris’ considerations do.

The dilemma is that neither Harris’ or Coyne’s solutions here are helpful ones.  Apply what Harris suggests and you’re left with a pop [therapeutic] psychology of meditation that can’t go the distance in understanding its essential nature as a practice, and that ultimately misses its opportunity in actually providing a reference point from which the classical principles of meditation can be cross-referenced with neuroscientific research and psychological study.  Yet, to go along with Coyne, is to accept a neutered perspective of human experience, one in which neither the meditating subject’s situation nor the poetic awe of the world is given much credence beyond pooh-poohing and cursory scientific curiosity of the subject.

It’s to be made short-shrift of as one might dismiss the hallucinations of the mentally ill, and let go at that.

But, again, that’s not helpful either!

The issue of spiritual experiences should be given better attention than this.  The reality of these experiences in peoples’ lives (and the psychological, neurobiological state of EXPERIENCE itself) should be more readily acknowledged by scientists in their work other than to peg them as just being pie-in-the-sky fantasies or figments of the human imagination [as Harris purports to demonstrate in his writing about these issues].

Furthermore, for the fact they do exist, this does tell us
something about the world in which we live
. …

No!  Not that we live in a conscious universe (ala Deepak Chopra) or that the universe is imbued with Life-Force (ala modern conceptions of Vitalism) … But that (1) the material-physical universe in which we live was complex enough and dynamic enough to project-for life systems in the first place and rational entities [as Homo sapiens on earth] in the second … & that, (2) just as we can be opened to more enhanced experiences of nature, that “nature” itself was predisposed by virtue of the way it developed as a complex, material system – that creatures like us can explore, investigate, and even experience it in the way that we do.

That’s what we must comes to grips with:

That the world of E Equals MC Squared … that is our material-physical-natural universe produced the world of Gautama Buddha, of Lao Tse, and other spiritual luminaries of human history.

That’s the real miracle!  And, it didn’t require supernatural or
metaphysical agencies to do it.

On Nature and Metaphysics

6 Jul

On “Metaphysics” and the Natural Order:  Some Nomenclature Issues

My last post and others raise questions about metaphysics, nature, and related concepts.  It may be good at this point for carrying the conversation forward to define some terms vis-a-vis the ‘philosophy of science’ topic that we’re working through.

  1. I contend the universe to be of a single order. Ergo the ‘moral dimension’ of human experience must necessarily reflect the ‘state of nature’ itself in the world.  “Human Experience” embodies “Natural Law” which itself mirrors and refers back to the “Laws
    of Nature” and “Existence.”

  2. Now, in arguing that, this requires me to set some concepts in order —>

METAPHYICS:  The old Classical and Scholastic definition held this to be synonymous with ONTOLOGY (the study of ‘being’ in itself)(the same as “scientia” and theoria” was understood as being the same as “philosophy”, philo-sophia, the ‘seeking after of wisdom’

However, the matter gets confused as soon as we realize the rationalist orientation of these original terms.

“Metaphysics” and “philosophy”, as we in contemporary times understand their significance, are mastheads of “Value” and “Meaning”, not points of ‘critical analysis.’

But in Aristotle’s times and Plato’s, as later in Abelard’s and Aquinas’, their definition was a little more open-ended, but with a primacy and preponderance more on ‘rationality’ than ‘soulfulness.’   Therefore, philos-sophia, as ‘love‘ of ‘wisdom‘ wasn’t a sentimentalist, spiritual concept, but a tendency of mental habit towards ‘logos’ and the stuff of ‘Intellect’, more than any ambiguous idealization of “wisdom” as a gnostic spiritualized principle of the “soul.”

In fact, “nous” the root of “noesis” which means “soul” is itself
tempered by the reality that its function is not “value oriented”
at all.

It’s instead defined as “cognition” rather than being ‘intutional’ as we understand the word in a modern, Western sense.  Therefore, rationalism holds vis-a-vis the original framing of metaphysics, philosophy, etc.

SUPERNATURAL:  This is another problematic term.  Modern usage has this being used for all super-physical phenomena of a spiritual, other-worldly order.

The older intellectual usage was somewhat different.  “Nature” wasn’t referring to the physical, material order as we know it today in a scientific, empirical sense, but instead on an “essential” order of the world – i.e., the order of “Essence” or “Essential Being”  Therefore, to be Super-Natural was not to be just higher than the physical plane of ordinary human experience and material living, it was to be beyond “Essential Being” – a non-starter.  Even in the theology of Medieval Scholastic thought, God, the Summit of ALL BEING (referred to under the rubric “God is Being” or by Meister Eckhardt as “Being is God”), was seen as being “Essential” as well.  Only God could be “Supernatural” (insofar as that term could be applied) in that God was posited to have no distinct “Essence”, as separate from the [Divine] “Being.”  The Divine Being was God’s Essence.  Ergo, all “being” was “essential being.”  All “being” was “natural.”  Hence, there was nothing truly “supernatural” at all in the world; material or non-material, it was all of the “Essential” order of nature.

This is an important point worth stressing.  There’s nothing truly “supernatural.”  There is no truly “metaphysical” phenomena, in the world, in any sort of meta-natural sense.  In that case, then, even if one doesn’t hold to a God principle or believe in spiritual entities, the basic point’s the same → The natural order of the universe still holds.  The laws of science reflect the laws of “being”; the ontological standard of the cosmos.  The moral order must, by its very state, reflect the laws of ontology and nature.

Hence what we would understand to be “supernatural” is not as universal as we would think, based on our apperception of supposedly higher-level metaphysical principles.

It’s not that everything is supernatural-metaphysical.  It’s that the connection between material existence as we understand it and higher-order nature is so integrally and intimately linked that we see it as being ‘metaphysical’, whether it truly is or not.  Those parts of reality that are ‘seen as being such’ [including the dimensions of human experience][in either baser or higher form] are not at all in fact ‘super-natural’ … but we do view them that way through the lens of our human perception, whereby we have to ‘transcendentalize’ in order to make sense of them.  Yet they are as natural as a hummingbird buzzing past one’s window or the molecules of water in one’s glass that one is about to drink from …

In fact, it’s all ‘natural.’ 

And just as the laws of quantum mechanics/relativity must be aligned with this order of reality, with the laws of ‘ontological being’ in turn reflecting-off what we know of scientific laws by necessity, all aspects of human experience and what we note of “ethos”, “telos”, and noumena in the world around us … all this has to be in alignment with “logos” and the principles of science, otherwise the “world of meaning” makes no sense.  … Metaphysics ghosts everything, warping everything into an ethereal haze.

But it need not!

We can still have a “world of meaning” even if it’s not transcendentalized … ‘Meaning’, after all, is “what we put into things” and “make of the world.”  Not “what the world makes of us!”  A new-found Secular Scholasticism can help clear up these confusions over “Is” and “Ought”, “Scientia” and “Sophia”, and Moral Philosophy versus critical Scientific Theory.   Without it, science languishes over its ‘matter’; philosophy languishes over its ‘ideals.’

There’s a better middle-way between both.  Revisiting Aristotle and Aquinas, we have a way of bridging scientific rationalism with philosophical understanding.  The materially-empirical merged with substantial-being in the realm of essential things (i.e, the entities and phenomena of nature, beyond which nothing exists).   That’s the way of bridging quantum mechanics with noumenal principles, and of bridging the possibilities of human experience with the cold, hard facts of science.

Short of doing that, all scientism fails, all philosophy fails, and all higher enlightenment fails.  Embracing ‘logos’ is our only way out of The Cave.  But all too often, both positivists and idealists would rather watch the Shadows on the Walls.  …  It’s time we emerged from Plato’s Cave!