Tuesday 15 August 2017

#220 Compatibility

Growing up, I never bothered trying to reconcile my belief in God with my knowledge of science. For the same reason, I never tried to measure love with a ruler or ascertain the speed of light in a vacuum by reading The Bible. Frankly, any such attempts seemed pointless.

That may still be the case. However, some cheeky substitutions of the word God for let's say, spirituality and the word science for philosophy seem to permit the possibility of at least some common ground between certain positions that one might come across in each of those areas.

Take, for example, the physicalistic philosophical theory that our traditional experience of consciousness can be explained as a sort of emergent illusion. One way of elaborating on that might be to say that the reason we find it so hard to put our finger on what consciousness is, is that it isn't one thing at all. It's like trying to explain the blur of a lot of car lights whizzing along a road really fast. In reality there is no blur, it just looks like there is because our brain is taking in a lot of information and it can't pick out all the individual cars. In fact, there isn't even a blur inside our brain. It just seems like there is.

When I use the word physicalist, I don't mean to describe someone who insists that there's no such thing as subjective experiences, or that everything is physical. I'm using it quite loosely to describe someone who has higher than average tendencies to think about the world in physical terms.

I like this theory of consciousness. I like it simply because I find it interesting and I find it interesting because it's different from the kind of ideas about consciousness that I grew up with. However, I'm wondering how compatible it is with a more spiritual view of the world. The kind of view held by some gurus and yogis. Specifically, the kind where instead of God being "up there" and us being "down here", we think of the whole universe as a sort of giant manifestation of God, defining God as a kind of "nothingness" or "awareness" which is present in everything, accessible to any one of us and transcends all of the reason and dimensions that we usually equip when we talk about the world. I think words like pantheism/panpsychism probably work well enough here as a broad brush description of such viewpoints.

Not wanting to completely ignore the traditional Christian beliefs on which I was raised, to me they seem to tie in quite nicely with pantheism. Christians can often be heard remarking that God is everywhere. Many of them try to wriggle out of pantheism by quickly adding that while he's everywhere, he's not completely saturated right the way through every single aspect of reality. I regard their slimy quibbles as nothing less than outright blasphemy. Punishable blasphemy. I'm joking, of course.

Back to the physicalists and panpsychists. Would they agree on anything?

What jumps out is that both ideas completely do away with, or at least diminish the egoic mind, or "who we think we are". Both ideas offer ways of getting beyond the ego and our ordinary stream of thoughts, in fact they both use methods of logical enquiry. Then one goes off and meditates while the other learns as much as he can about neuroscience. The outcome, at least in one respect, is the same though: the realisation that in essence, we're more than just the thought stream. However, after acknowledging that similarity, I seem to come to a fork in the road. Acknowledging that consciousness is an illusion appears to disprove the spiritual understanding of consciousness as a more fundamental feature of reality.

Out of my own biased reluctance to admit defeat so early on in my little search for compatibility between the theories, I'm inclined to want to check whether, when the physicalist and the panpsychist talk about consciousness, they're talking about exactly the same thing.

I like the thought that there's a kind of base level of awareness that's deep enough to evade the sword of the physicalist, when he slashes away at the romantic idea of consciousness that most of us have grown up holding but I can't find any part of the physicalist musings that warmly accommodate such a possibility. Only a quick caveat that the physicalist evidence doesn't amount to complete certainty.

Now, when gurus and yogis talk about their own higher states of consciousness, we might see that as a step away from our own experience, which is in turn a step away from say, the experience of a cat or a dog. One thing the yogi has in common with the animal though, is that neither pays quite as much attention to an ego. Neither one participates in much undue worrying over whether its God is real, if it's lived a truly fulfilling life or whether its bum looks big today. Also, both might experience "what it feels like to be alive" differently than does the average person.

The physicalist occasionally uses a different word for animal consciousness. He calls it sentience. Does it still fall under the banner of consciousness which he purports to have explained? Maybe. I think this is the point at which I would need to read more into the arguments for and against physicalism. I may save that for another day.

Why blog about such things? My wonderings on these topics are likely to have been something that I have engaged in, in part as a result of a desire to procrastinate or entertain myself. Any leanings that I may have toward a particular viewpoint and even any attention that I have given at all to the above topics, probably has some reactionary causal relationship to my circumstances.

Therefore my consideration of the subject in general, much less any thoughts that I might have on it, for all that it tries to say about the state of the external world, might say an equal amount or more about my own internal world, appreciating that this itself might be a product of events that occur physically.


Running on empty said...

Lots of long words here.

Fizzfan said...

You've been doing a lot of thinking and that's always confusing :)
I wonder if we hadn't developed language what we'd think? Would we then just be like animals and just feel stuff?
Might be happier?
I like to think we have spirits, but not sure if it's just another way of thinking we're 'special'. Ego.