Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sri Aurobindo articulated what could be considered a truly post-metaphysical vision

Dr. Don Salmon, a clinical psychologist and composer, received a grant from the Infinity Foundation to write a comprehensive study of yoga psychology based on the synthesis of the yoga tradition presented by 20th century Indian philosopher-sage Aurobindo Ghose. Jan Maslow, an educator and organizational consultant, has, with Dr. Salmon, given presentations, classes and workshops in the United States and India on this topic. Both have been studying yoga psychology for more than 25 years. Read more... .

INTEGRAL PSYCHOLOGYBEYOND WILBER-V Inviting Open-Minded Skepticism of the Materialist View Integral World
Don Salmon

I believe in science, and I am confident that a science that can boldly contemplate the origin of the universe, the nature of physical reality 10-33 seconds after the Big Bang, anthropic principles, quantum nonlocality, and parallel universes, can come to terms with the implications of parapsychological findings — whatever they may turn out to be.... True skepticism involves the suspension of belief, not disbelief. In this context, we would do well to recall the words of the great nineteenth century naturalist and skeptic, Thomas Huxley: "Sit down before fact like a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly to wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads or you shall learn nothing." -- Charles Honorton, from his essay, "Rhetoric Over Substance: The Impoverished State of Skepticism"

In a recent essay for Integral World, "The Challenge of Writing about Sri Aurobindo's Integral Psychology", I described how my wife, Jan, and I attempted to show, in a book we co-authored on yoga psychology, that there is no fundamental conflict between the actual findings of contemporary science and the various so-called "metaphysical" phenomena associated with the yoga tradition — phenomena such as rebirth, direct mind-to-mind communication, etc. For those of you who haven't seen that article, here is a brief recap. I've also attempted in the conclusion of this paper to bring out what was implicit in the previous essay: my understanding that the non-materialist aspects of yoga psychology are not only essential, but provide the foundation for a truly integral psychology.[1]
Our ultimate aim in suggesting the compatibility between science and yoga is to encourage a greater willingness to seriously consider the yogic view — namely, that, as Sri Aurobindo writes, "Consciousness is the fundamental thing in the universe — it is the energy, the motion, the movement of consciousness that creates that universe and all that is in it." We hoped that readers who were reluctant to consider a view they believed to be at odds with science might be more willing to explore it if they felt there was no conflict. For this reason, we include two chapters in our book challenging assumptions underlying the notion that materialism (or "physicalism," as it is now referred to) is the fundamental basis of scientific endeavor. In the second of these chapters, we examine parapsychological (psi) research, the results of which seem to suggest the possibility of a reality that is compatible with a yogic vision. (Note, we do not claim that psi research proves this.)
Once we challenge the scientific basis for a physicalist view of reality, we unfold the vision of yoga psychology based largely on the work of Sri Aurobindo (many may not know that the term "integral psychology" [IP] was coined in 1935 by Dr. Indra Sen, a psychologist in residence at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry India, and that it was based on the work of Sri Aurobindo).
It is my belief that Ken Wilber[2] is in error when he retrospectively characterizes Sri Aurobindo's vision as "metaphysical," (in Wilber's lexicon, as far as I could determine, this means — in this context — that it is the product of intellectual speculation[3]). Rather, I would suggest that Sri Aurobindo articulated what could be considered a truly post-metaphysical vision — such as that expressed in the great "post-modern" text, the Katha Upanishad (circa 800 BC) — which declares that spiritual truths can be neither established nor refuted by reason, but can be understood only by entering into what might now be called "post-metaphysical intuitive knowing" [gnosis, noesis, prajna, etc].
Jan and I believe that the post-metaphysical vision of yoga psychology — what we refer to as "the view from infinity" — is as the Katha Upanishad suggests, not a set of facts or ideas which can be viewed from a distance. It is rather what might be called a "way of knowing" quite different from the "objective" attitude of mind currently cultivated in our educational system (we refer to this as "seeing through the eyes of Infinity"). And we believe that it offers, at the very least, some powerful suggestions for developing a more fruitful scientific exploration of the nature of consciousness.
Taking "metaphysical" to mean intellectual speculation, it seems then that we already have a "post-metaphysical" spirituality in the form of the Indo-Tibetan tradition. What I think is really needed to further the scientific understanding of consciousness is a "post-metaphysical" science.
Physicist Paul Davies has written recently of the unspoken assumption on the part of many scientists that "laws of nature" are "immutable, absolute and universal". It is here, rather than in the yoga tradition, that you find purely intellectual speculation regarding what Ken Wilber refers to as "eternal, timeless structures". It is taking these "laws" to be ontological, objective realities that, in my estimation, reflects the error Wilber calls "the myth of the given". Davies refers to this attitude toward laws of nature as a "faith-based belief system".
Similar purely intellectual speculation underlies the assertions of those like philosopher Daniel Dennett and biologist Richard Dawkins who proclaim random (i.e. non-conscious, non-intelligent, chance) mutation and natural (i.e. non-conscious, purely physical) selection as the sole determinants of the evolutionary process. Again, such intellectual speculation undergirds the assertion of neuroscientists who proclaim that a correlation between brain processes and mental activities proves that mind is nothing more than the brain.
I would suggest that it is precisely because contemporary scientific thinking is so thoroughly permeated with such implicit metaphysical notions that things like the existence of consciousness and the thousands of experiments demonstrating psychic phenomena are so deeply puzzling to so many who subscribe to this "faith-based belief system". The so-called "hard problem" of consciousness, for example, is only a problem within a materialistic framework. Seen "through the eyes of infinity" — that is, from a yogic vision — there is no problem.
On the other hand, the materialistic metaphysic so predominant in contemporary science has actually created a "hard problem" of matter. Rejecting the experienced qualities ("qualia") of matter as secondary epiphenomena, physicalist metaphysicians leave us with a universe of abstract quantities, based on the seemingly paradoxical findings of quantum physics.

However, according to physicist Ulrich Mohrhoff (see his website at, the apparent paradoxes of quantum physics are only paradoxical within a (metaphysical) materialistic framework. In several brilliantly written articles, Mohrhoff shows that within a spiritual or "gnostic" (not intellectually metaphysical) framework, the seemingly paradoxical findings of quantum physics make complete sense. In Yoga Psychology and the Transformation of Consciousness, we offer one such gnostic (post-metaphysical) vision, in the form of the yogic psychology of Sri Aurobindo. We believe this vision offers a way of understanding the relationship between consciousness and matter, as well as the evolution of consciousness in the physical universe, that is deeply inspiring.
In our book, we invite the reader to "try on" the yogic vision, that is, to attempt to develop an intersubjective mind-set which we believe is more conducive than ordinary analytic thought for understanding the truly radical implications of the yogic view. And again, our hope is that a fair consideration of the parapsychological research might help to allay the concerns of the skeptical reader not only about psi phenomena, but about the yogic view, of which psi is an integral part (note here that we are not asking the reader to affirmatively 'believe" anything, but simply to be willing to consider what may be for many a point of view different from their customary one).
Shortly after my previous paper was published on Integral World, Geoffrey Falk responded with an article in which he presented a number of criticisms of parapsychology[4]. These criticisms are based largely on writings of the members of the well-known skeptics organization, the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (known as CSI-COP). Reading Geoffrey's article inspired me to look more closely at the writings of such prominent CSI-COP skeptics as James Alcock, David Marks, Ray Hyman and Susan Blackmore.
Although I had done a great deal of reading on parapsychological research and the criticism of it by skeptics during the several years of working on the yoga psychology book, I was nevertheless surprised at a number of things my most recent research uncovered — especially regarding the strategies employed to discredit the field. For example, despite my sympathies with the plight of psi researchers, I'd been perplexed as to why none of them had responded to the various challenges put forth by magician James Randi — challenges offering anywhere from one thousand to one million dollars for a definitively successful experiment. I was stunned to discover that Randi never meant his challenge to be taken seriously, and had put it forth only as a publicity stunt! (as he is quoted as saying, "I always have an out")[5].
As a long time meditator familiar with the stringent requirements set forth in traditional yogic texts for developing paranormal abilities, (along with stern warnings as to the dangers of developing psi abilities), I have long been amazed that parapsychology researchers have been able to come up with any successful experiments at all. It seems to me a testament to the persistence of psi researchers that even hardened skeptics like Ray Hyman and Susan Blackmore have been compelled to acknowledge that "something" is going on in various experiments on telepathy, remote viewing and psychokinesis, that is inexplicable in conventional terms.
I'm going to answer each of the points Geoffrey made in his response to my article, but first I want to take a critical look at the credibility of the criticisms that have been leveled at parapsychology by leading critics such as Alcock, Marks, Hyman and Blackmore, as their credibility goes to the heart of Geoffrey's comments. At the conclusion of this essay, I will address the issue of weak effects which continues to plague psi research — and which seems to me to be critical to the whole debate over psi phenomena. My guess is that if the size of the effects were anywhere as dramatic as their statistical validity, the whole debate would come to an abrupt halt, and a new era of scientific research would rapidly dawn. As I mentioned earlier, the reason for weak effects has been made clear in yogic texts for thousands of years, and the exposition of yoga psychology in our book explains in some detail both the basis for and obstacles to the accessibility of psi phenomena. I will also offer an experiment you can do for yourself that demonstrates why they are so difficult to access. Integral World

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