Monday, December 10, 2007

Wrestle with an Alfred North Whitehead or a Sri Aurobindo

Summary of some points I made to an atheist friend recently in response to his objections to mysticism:
  1. The intellect and the senses cannot go further than a wide agnosticism on the existence of the Divine and supraphysical realities.
  2. Exclusivist religion is slowly but surely giving way to an inclusive, non-sectarian, evolutionary spirituality, which is bio- and pancentric rather than anthropocentric.
  3. Materialism has also been challenged rationally by panpsychist philosophers like Alfred North Whitehead or philosophers of mind like David Chalmers.
  4. The scientific study of consciousness, like it or not, can no longer afford to ignore subjective experiences and first-person perspectives.
  5. There is no need to drop empiricism. It’s just that empiricism need not be limited to the physical senses alone. If we consent to the required inner changes, we can develop modes of perception that transcend the physical senses and the intellect. Sri Aurobindo, himself a radical empiricist, writes:
    “To see the composition of the sun or the lines of Mars is doubtless a great achievement; but when thou hast the instrument that can show thee a man’s soul as thou seest a picture, then thou wilt smile at the wonders of physical Science as the playthings of babies.”
    Can private/subjective experiences be discussed in the public sphere? They already are being discussed, due to their enormous importance and implications for fields like consciousness studies, neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology and psychiatry. In neuroscience, the Buddhists are at the forefront of this. Watch the Mind and Reality conference held at Columbia University recently featuring B. Alan Wallace who is a very important person building bridges between science and spirituality. (Another speaker was Stephen H. Phillips who has studied Sri Aurobindo as well, but in a totally dry, mental way.)

In my humble opinion, my atheist friends might wish to consider quitting wasting time arguing against the small gods of religion, and instead wrestle with an Alfred North Whitehead or a Sri Aurobindo. How much more challenging would that be!

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