Pseudoscience & Religion

On Science and Spirituality

“….life is all about balance. To know the complete truth we must know both sides of the coin. In today’s world, where Science has a claim on every objective truth, it has become more important to look at Spirituality too, because it’s the other way of seeing things, and another way of reaching more profound truths, because Science has its limits. Science and Spirituality travel on separate paths but eventually meet at one place. It’s all about balance. So, let’s all pay attention to our great Guru….”

These were the words, not exact but in the same spirit, used by our professor at the beginning of  a ‘spiritual’ session by a guest speaker. The contents of the session are secondary to this discussion; here I want to stress more on the attitude and perception that is predominant in the educated high and middle classes towards Science and Spirituality which is aptly captured in its entirety by the professor’s introductory words.

Science and Spirituality, like Beauty and the Beast, Savage and the Scholar, are some of the pairs that derive their ‘duality’ from a perceived sense of antagonism that is more of a “I-complete-you” rather than “I-am-your-opposite” kind, and of course from the use of alliteration too. Both S’s are just long lost lovers who don’t know yet that they are in love.

But is it really so? I understand the intuitive appeal of it all, of the perceived hardcore materialism of Science and the ‘different’ approach of spirituality with its ‘different’ domain. Where Science stands on the works of the relatively modern, Spirituality is seen as a gift from the ancients, where Science is armed with microscopes and telescopes, Spirituality has its chants and myths and rituals and ashes.

And here, through my words, I seek to vindicate Science from the above narrow and distorted view, and to rescue the word Spirituality from being hijacked by religious and ‘New Age’ spiritual leaders, and charlatans.

Hence, at the outset, it becomes imperative to declare what exactly is the definition of Spirituality that I am criticising, for there are many, many definitions. In the blackest of nights and freest of skies, one look up into the starry abyss arouses in us a feeling that is nothing short of Spirituality, to feel one’s soul resonate with the sounds and melodies is also Spiritual, to empathise with the pain and joy of others, and the process of learning new things about ourselves is also that, and this is not the definition that I attack.

Hubble image

As is apparent from the introductory words, the particular brand of Spirituality that I am speaking of is rather quite distinct and easily identifiable. It mocks the methods of Science as condescending and limited, it abhors scepticism and extols unquestioning faith as being “courageous/virtuous”. This is the spirituality of joining charitable organisations and chanting mantras and dancing in groups and getting that distinct feeling that this is what existence is all about, that the feelings of camaraderie and joy felt by the spiritual practices is all the evidence that one needs to validate those extravagant claims made by the spiritual leaders, this spirituality expects you to gulp down its metaphysics (that often trespasses the domain of actual physics) without question, the kind of spirituality where a Rs. 5000/- crash course can make you an expert in the ‘art of living’ (okay that wasn’t so subtle), a spirituality which borrows and misinterprets actual tenets of Science and uses it, miserably, to substantiate its own world-view, may it be the Quantum Consciousness of Amit Goswami or the weekly “scientifically spiritual” articles of Deepak Chopra, the spirituality which robs our ancient mythological stories and scriptures of their artistic, literary and ideological value and makes it cheap, vulgar with the coating of “all this actually happened and all of it is factually true”. This brand of Spirituality has its specific trademarks, for instance, its insistence that it’s working in tandem with Science and merely interpolating its conclusions, its not-so-subtle affiliation with organised religions, its continuous whine that all physical truths have already been written down in 3000 year old texts or can be accessed by listening to the anecdotes of some ascetic, even if their “truths” don’t agree with present findings. In here, the individual is said to be at the pedestal, where he is said to lead his own path. But the individual is merely handed down an instruction manual on what he should do and also, what he should ‘feel’ after he’s done doing that, that money and crazy donations are irrelevant but somehow still needed “reluctantly” by these organisations.

But what is so bad about this ‘New Age’ Spirituality and its sibling ideas?

And what is so great about Science?

There is a natural thirst in us humans for wonder, reverence and awe, we all have a hole in our hearts that will only be filled with these emotions and nothing else. Curiosity is hard-wired in us. We yearn for more knowledge, we are always opinionated on anything that merits an opinion, we need the assurance of truths. This is the common basis and the fuel for our actions and motivations, and the basis of Science, Spirituality and Religion. These are extremely powerful and potent drives and almost all that is good about us and around us comes from these drives. We know now how life came into being, we landed on the moon and sent ambassadors across the Solar System, eliminated diseases and reduced hunger, came up with art, literature and music, all because of the power of those drives and human characteristics.

But if we are not very careful, these very same drives and characteristics just might end up destroying civilisations, or prohibit progress for Millennia, cause wars and massacres and make us monsters, and history bears testimony to the fact that this has often been the case.

And hence my cautious and critical stance on that brand of Spirituality, and needless to say, Religion too.

People like Deepak Chopra who vociferously advocate stuff like Quantum mechanics tells a lot about healing and “souls”,  ISKCON folks, the Zakir Naik fan-club or even highly educated and intelligent students from prestigious institutes saying with overbearing confidence that the Theory of Evolution is false or unimportant, the uncountable number of babas and yogis and swamis and magic-healers springing out of every pothole in the country, all of them have a large number of followers that even includes leading actors, sportsmen and political leaders and it’s all growing at an alarming rate. All these are not independent events and ideologies but rather symptoms of some few common attitudes and perceptions. These people, their ideas and these attitudes need to be criticised. They need to be held by their throats and brought out of the den of critical immunity and thrown in the arena of scientific scrutiny. Or else the clock of progress slowly rewinds, the cult of fanatics become organised and gain political power and social domination, truth and facts will be made to follow the norms of political correctness, and all that we have accomplished so far and could accomplish would crumble. It has happened before too.

And hence, I repeat, my cautious and critical stance on Spirituality and Religion.

Some questions crop up instantly in one’s mind at this point; questions like-

‘What is so great about Science that we should accept its monopoly over truth? Haven’t scientists too caused mass destruction with their automatic weapons and atomic bombs? Who are we to comment on other’s beliefs and their practices? Isn’t everything subjective? And how can any lab tool, no matter how advanced and expensive, ever resolve all our existential dilemmas? If Science says scepticism is so needed, then why not be sceptical about even all the established theories of Science itself? Isn’t it pure condescension to ridicule other alleged ways of attaining truth? And should all anecdotal evidence of people who say that they’ve seen ghosts and spirits, who have spoken with the dead or with the Gods themselves be neglected or rejected outright? Isn’t it just even slightly possible that the religious scriptures are completely right? And why should we deprive someone of their consolations and their faith? Aren’t there some things that Science just can’t explain? And for supernatural things like these, will we not need methods and tools that are not the “traditional” tools of Science?’

These and many such questions arise, not so much as from the predominant inclination of masses towards fields of the ‘supernatural’ or stuff that has ‘fantastic’ themes or religious overtones, as it does from a gross misunderstanding of what Science really is.

And just like almost any other vice gripping our society today, a lot of these questions and misconceptions about Science too can be safely attributed to our education system. Just like history is made to look like a succession of events and statistics with no reference to human greed, obedience to authority and our incompetence, Science too has been robbed off of its true essence. It is made to look as if it’s all about learning laws from textbooks, applying them in practicals or numericals and leaving it at that. And no reference is made to the manner in which these discoveries were made, how well were they received or criticised or what little light they gave to extend our vision in the darkness of our ignorance. And if people are not acquainted with Science, it’s easy for them to dismiss Science as highly fallible and difficult to separate it from pseudo-science.

Science is not a collection of facts or a repository of data, it is not a sceptical and doubting disorder that discourages anyone’s creativity and imagination. Science is more about the method than the findings. On our journey towards knowledge and truth, Science is a way of avoiding the assaults of our greatest enemy- ourselves. It is a method of protecting us from our personal inclinations, our biasses, our faulty sensory systems, our fetish for authority, the imprints of our cultural and traditional teachings, our stubborn beliefs on how the world ‘ought’ to be and many more.

Its most distinguishing feature (as compared to other “modes/methods” of validating claims) is that it cherishes, celebrates and rewards those who prove currently believed truths to be false. It won’t accept anything that doesn’t stand the test of sceptical scrutiny.  It welcomes debate, questions all authority, and the very fact that a clerk working in a patent office is happily allowed to demolish and rebuild almost all of Modern Physics shows that hierarchy or authority have very little to do with who might be right or wrong here.

And we all use scientific reasoning on so many occasions, its basic idea is not alien to any of us. When we are buying a second-hand bike, we never really trust the claim “perfect condition and hardly used”. We kick the tyres, look for scratches and dents that might suggest accidents in the past, or consult a mechanic. And if we can’t take others’ claims at face value for something as trivial as buying a bike, then why listen to the spiritual and religious figures who claim to know why you were born and what is the meaning of your life?

This raises the immediate valid question that why should anyone accept the scientific claims and theories without going over all of its tedious details? Why should I accept the Theory of Evolution or that of Relativity when I’m not a biology or physics graduate?

The most obvious reason for this would be the very nature of the scientific method followed by the scientists and researchers, but also, because it’s much safer to believe those who are trying to find out the truth than those who say that they’ve already found it. People who have “truths” in their mind already will always deny any opposing claims and will not be so happy to accept mistakes, but people only in search of truth fuelled by sheer intellectual curiosity, are only prone to unintentional fallacies, which are not many and readily corrected.

Portrait by Pat Linse (Image source: Skeptic.com)

 And now we come to the most important part, where, as I said earlier, we rescue true Spirituality from its “copy-cat and fake” brands. The basis for spirituality, no matter what kind, will always be our thirst for wonder, reverence and awe, and a need to feel belonged, to feel connected and important. And the very simple and basic truths if known and appreciated, offer all of these and more. To quote the most standard examples- The Theory of Evolution, the massive scales of objects and phenomena that occur in Astronomy, the absurd and counter-intuitive world of Quantum physics,  and many more have the potential of changing the very way with which we face the world. Moreover, the very method of science not only offers us access to these unlimited reserves of knowledge and wonder, it also protects us against those false institutions that, to use Carl Sagan’s words, “casually press our awe buttons and cheapen the experience”.

Science definitely does not offer all the answers, but it helps us to deal with uncertainty and ambiguity and teaches how to handle our ignorance. But people might find more contentment in believing in the words of the religious leaders, those who talk for hours on how our soul is immortal, how karma will solve everything or how heaven is assured if we do this or that, and all these might give someone temporary consolations too. But if the reason for this is only contentment and a denial of reality then doesn’t it all tend to inoculate the society from any sort of revolution? Who’ll fight for the hungry (not just by mere charities and some free meals) when they’re assured feasts in the after-life or next-life? There is always loss in denying truth or even abandoning the quest for it.

But the recourse to spiritual/religious institutions is far easier than the assimilation of Science in everyday life. It requires conscientious effort and courage. It requires you to be in your senses because the pursuit of science appeals to one’s sense of empathy, curiosity and wonder instead of one’s insecurity, fear and prejudices. To go on hating the Monday morning sun for the mundane work that follows for the week ahead and yet never failing to appreciate the beauty of stars is quite a big battle that many of us lose without a fight. And if we are becoming inured to all the wrong and ugly things around us, it is mostly because we don’t let the beauty of Nature affect us enough to ignite in us the spark to change things. In a world torn apart by religious differences, where military budgets are hitting outrageous levels, where short-term profit is upheld at the price of environmental degradation, a little reminder of our place in the Universe of being the only known entities capable of unravelling and appreciating its mysteries would certainly do some good.

In the end, I’d like to borrow Daniel Dennett’s words from Breaking The Spell (2006) :-

“If you can approach the world’s complexities, both its glories and its horrors, with an attitude of humble curiosity, acknowledging that however deeply you have seen, you have only scratched the surface, you will find worlds within worlds, beauties you could not heretofore imagine, and your own mundane preoccupations will shrink to proper size, not all that important in the greater scheme of things. Keeping that awestruck vision of the world ready to hand while dealing with the demands of daily living is no easy exercise, but it is definitely worth the effort, for if you can stay centred, and engaged, you will find the hard choices easier, the right words will come to you when you need them, and you will be a better person. That, I propose, is the secret to spirituality, and it has nothing at all to do with believing in an immortal soul, or in anything supernatural.”

 

About the author

Gaurav D. Somwanshi

Gaurav D. Somwanshi.
Born: 2nd May, 1990..

Alumnus, IIM Lucknow (2013) & GEC Aurangabad (2011)

Email id: gaurav.somwanshi@iiml.org
gauravsomwanshi@gmail.com

43 Comments

  • A well argued and well presented article that attempts a very good definition of Spirituality.

    I wish people, especially the middle class and the upper crust of society, who have the most opportunity to exercise their flights of talent and creativity, truly explore the fullest measure of their faculties, in exploring natural and human sciences and phenomenon instead of falling a prey to spiritualist quackery of Godmen and intellectual pretenders.

    The stock spirituality that is running riot in the cults of today is nothing more than thinly disguised supernaturalism.

    • True. But there will always be “followers”. And there will always be seekers as well. Nothing gained or lost. The nett mass remains constant. Way the world is.

  • A very good article.

    However, I had to frequently use ‘shift + F7’ of MS Word for understanding meaning of many words.

    You could have used most commonly used words to make it interesting read for the people with limited English skills.

  • “”We know now how life came into being, we landed on the moon and sent ambassadors across the Solar System, eliminated diseases and reduced hunger, came up with art, literature and music, all because of the power of those drives and human characteristics.””

    Can you tell me how life came into being?? Have all diseases been eliminated?? And the hunger statistics are depressing. Uncertainty still rules life as it did when ancient man was a hunter gatherer which I believe is a big reason why religion flourishes. If man is hardwired for empiricism then isn’t he equally hardwired for religious experiences??

    • By saying that now we know how life came into being, I meant that now we aren’t completely clueless about it as we once were and know exactly how to approach the matter (the evolutionary approach, of course) to dig out the details. Many more facts remain unearthed, but now we have a method to search, identify and test hypotheses, something that the earlier eras lacked.

      And yes, we have eliminated diseases, diseases that killed rampantly have been brought under tight control or either removed entirely. Of course not “all” diseases but enough for us to brag about.

      And uncertainty cannot be removed from the equation, and I too only talked about the way one should deal with our uncertain and small lives.

      I also never said that we are ‘hard-wired’ for empiricism or religious experiences (although temporal lope epilepsy seizures are strongly said to be connected with religious experiences, but that’s another matter). The article presupposes another essential human trait- that we have incredibly ‘plastic’ brains and can fit into almost any “molds”, and what remains in our hands is the way we shape these “molds” (our education system, our social structures, our inspirations & ideals etc) which in turn would shape the posterity and so on…

      • Thanks for the clarification. I felt the statement, which claims we now know how life came into being, to be a little sweeping and unsupported.
        I agree that much has been accomplished on the medical front and the failures especially in areas such as control of infectious diseases in India has mostly to do with sheer carelessness, callousness and ineptitude on the part of the medical fraternity.
        The “hardwiring” (too strong a word I now think) was an observation I made to emphasise my point, and to one which you most likely will agree to, that the human mind is capable of expressing both faith and empirical/evidence seeking behaviours irrespective of the prevailing social, economic and cultural situations and that both are capable of bringing contentment and satisfaction to the individual. In this context, the new age guru business, I feel, is only following the law of demand and supply where the spiritual demands of the seekers results in apparent attempts at fulfilment of that demand by the gurus and which by and large comes to and end when their devotees see them for the manipulative, disingenuous conmen that they are. But I have seen that disengagement from the guru doesn’t necessarily mean a disengagement from the spiritual requirement itself.
        My own personal experience is that in most individuals both exist in varying proportions. I saw the most striking example of this coexistence when Gujarati businessmen, full of pride over their hindu culture, normally unconcerned with the fate of the Muslims, and normally supportive of the manifesto of the VHP/RSS/BJD, completely repudiated their edict to stop dealing with Muslim businessmen. Countless examples like this one can be given to show that both behaviours may express themselves wherein the individual slips effortlessly from one to the other.
        Hitchens once commented that while he wouldn’t like to see religion eradicated, it would be ideal to relegate it completely to the private domain/space of the individual. I would agree with him on this point and feel that, religion properly domesticated, is indeed capable of giving deeply satisfying and enriching experiences to life to those individuals who may choose to have them. I also feel that unless and until science is willing to take the burden of, say, the terrible grief that follows losing a loved one, it should concede at least that little space to religion and should adopt the fairest means possible when trying to create an environment in which individuals choose science over religion.

        • Your post cleared quite a few points that I had not understood properly in your previous post.

          As you said, people do slip effortlessly from one belief to another apparently opposite one. It’s what Orwell would call “double-think” or as the modern jargon goes- “compartmentalisation” But it’s not just about words and definitions now, is it? I think issues like these raise interesting questions on how we choose to select or suppress beliefs (and opposite beliefs) as per our convenience. For example, I know at least one scientist who has written passionately on Evolution and still personally believes in the Jewish doctrines. And instead of sweeping these examples so as to make conclusions on the “human nature” itself, I think it would do us more good if we selectively choose to study the causes of such behaviour. There’s a lot to the human mind than we can possibly imagine.

          Onto your second point where you mention that Religion does provide solace and that there is indeed a “demand” of solace. We are spiritually hungry you mean, and I couldn’t agree more.
          But the entire point of the article was to choose truth over false beliefs that might bring oneself temporary (or even permanent) consolation. One of the main reasons behind this demand in spiritual gratification is the very structure of our society, with its profit-centred themes and consumerist lifestyle and 9-5 jobs; it does indeed, to use Marx’s word- “alienate” us from our work. The frustration one feels is real, the dissatisfaction is not just something one can grow out of, and the last thing we need is a mentality that teaches us to gulp everything down with the water of religious-offerings. As I mentioned in the article, temporary consolations tend to inoculate a society from any kind of revolutions. Of course, this is just one aspect of the “demand” side and there are many other. (like the loss of a loved one).

          And also, I don’t think Science will ever take the entire burden of events like the loss of a loved one. That isn’t what it was meant for. At the best, it can, well, I’ll quote an example from Evolution itself- Feathers were never meant to fly, instead, their primary use for insulation. But after a critical point soon the creature could glide and its descendants could fly. On similar tones, although I say Science was never meant for stuff like handling grief and losses, the approach it teaches us towards life and the wonders it unearths to cushion the burden of our “unbearable” existence, should be almost enough. Again, I’m only guessing and it remains an untested thought.

  • Very good write-up. It is time we think of collating all write-ups and bringing it out in book form. Of all the knowledge that man was able to pass on to the other, this one knowledge – that there is no supernatural thing – is the most difficult one to pass on till today. This is the greatest challenge for all us.

  • The author is unconvincing in his attempts to project science as superior to other knowledge systems. It is often conveniently ignored by the rationalists and the drum beaters of the “science is the only way” brigade that the scientific method itself depends on a certain unprovable worldview – or metaphysical postulates, the chief among which are:

    1. All knowledge can be acquired only through senses – the empiricism argument;
    2. there is nothing but matter- and all phenomenon ultimately has a basis in interaction between dead matter particles – the materialist argument, and;
    3. the whole is nothing but a sum of its parts, and the whole can be known simply by analyzing the parts – the reductionist paradigm.

    It needs to be pointed out that each of the above assumption is unfalsifiable, and hence has no stronger metaphysical claim than alternative viewpoints. It is also very clear by now that science has no answers to the bigger questions such as the origin of universe, the origin of life and evolution – and the theories touted in each case cannot be proven by the scientific method since they are non reproducible and unfalsifiable. The epistemic strengths of scientific method, at present, are confined to low level phenomena- answers to how rather than why.

    • Thank you for your arguments as they have made me think over some aspects that I’ve not thought over in detail before.

      Allow me to answer your arguments separately.

      1) “All knowledge can be acquired only through senses – the empiricism argument”

      If I am to take this argument literally, I must say that we are long past the stage of mere senses- Mathematics, logic, telescopes and microscopes, all of these go beyond the mere definition of senses. If I am to consider the argument in its entirety, which is that Science is only “materialistic” and deals with only things that are proven or known to exist, well, I must ask what else is left, and which exact method or knowledge system would one choose to study phenomena that are allegedly beyond material existence.

      2) “there is nothing but matter- and all phenomenon ultimately has a basis in interaction between dead matter particles – the materialist argument”

      My answer would be same as that in the first point, and would only like to add energy along with matter particles too. (both are same as you know, but only felt that it needed to be added).

      3)”the whole is nothing but a sum of its parts, and the whole can be known simply by analyzing the parts – the reductionist paradigm.”

      If you happen to read Vilayanur Ramachandran’s works on Neurology, where he attacks the reductionist method when applied to the working of the brain, you’ll see that this is never really the case, and yet never for a moment his approach departs from the basics of the Scientific method.

      4) “It is also very clear by now that science has no answers to the bigger questions such as the origin of universe, the origin of life and evolution”

      A century before you could have added Science has no answers to why stars shine, and a century before that you could have added why there is such a diversity in the biological world. I hope you get my point.

      5) “The epistemic strengths of scientific method, at present, are confined to low level phenomena- answers to how rather than why.”

      And why should we try to answer or even “formulate” the “why” questions before even having a clue for the “how” questions? Aren’t questions like “why do I exist” a bit too “anthropocentric”?
      We see that such questions are abundant among religious fanatics but I find it hard that a scientist who has spent his life studying the diversity and the mechanisms of life would come up with a question like that. I am not discouraging the habit of questioning, only the habit of formulating questions for which the answers are already present and embedded in our prejudices.

      • So you admit that the scientific method is confined to studying only that which can be perceived through the senses – telescopes and microscopes are no different in that they provide their output in a form which is amenable to analysis by the senses. In short, science is based on hardcore materialist dogma – and while the scientistic mind has internalized it to such a degree that it is assumed to be the only explanation of reality, it is only a metaphysical postulate – no weaker or stronger than other positions – and equally unprovable. What if I were to take an extreme idealist position – that there is no material reality, and that it is all a hallucination of senses. This is equally unprovable or un-disprovable.

        And if you take a hardcore materialist position, there is no way that a reductionist paradigm can be avoided. If matter is all there is, there everything is matter, including phenomena such as mind, consciousness, emotions, logic, mathematics, the laws of nature and such like, and then you cannot escape having to explain each of these in strictly materialist terms. so, mathematical laws will have to arise from the interaction of atomic particles and consciousness – dead matter becoming sentient – will have to be explained.

        If science is to defend its claimed alpha position among various knowledge systems, it cannot forever stick to the how aspects and why questions will need to be answered.

        • I will begin with first justifying the use of senses while trying to find out objective truths, then follow it up with the limitations of this method, and finally answer the matter of materialist and “non-materialist” positions.

          The use of senses while trying to pass judgements on nature of reality is reliable to a certain extent. As explained by the neurologist V.S. Ramachandran, the false notion that what we perceive is subjective and therefore not “real” exists because of silly misconceptions. The “redness” of the apple you see is reality indeed. It is not a subjective delusion or a hallucination, because if it were, evolution would have weeded out the false representations of the specific stimuli, whether visual or auditory or any other (like say, if someone felt fire as cold through his senses he’d have a hard time surviving). It’s just that to bring something in the realm of consciousness requires the language of consciousness, and hence the perception of “redness”. Pretty reliable thanks to the meticulous forces of evolution. And hence, your hypothetical stance to take an extreme idealist position that there is no “material reality” is not equally competent as its counterpart.

          But also, when it comes to matters that were or are not related to our immediate survival, like say, the knowledge of Black holes or quantum physics or even Evolution, these very senses (combined with our basic assumptions and our intuitions) no longer work. And this is where Science comes in. So, isn’t Science more of a way to safeguard us against our senses rather than a method that totally relies on it? It’s a way to stop relying on the crutch of our direct senses in order to postulate, confirm and know about the existence of stuff that otherwise our “senses” would never have sensed before.

          Also, I still find it hard to know what exactly is the nature of the realm that you claim exists beyond that which can be called “material” (try to see beyond the negative connotations of this word), and also, how does one go about knowing about this if not through one’s senses, that includes the mind too.

          You mentioned in your comment the following argument-

          “If matter is all there is, there everything is matter, including phenomena such as mind, consciousness, emotions, logic, mathematics, the laws of nature”

          If you see the core of this argument, you would see that this is exactly the kind of attitude that would hinder any kind of actual research. If mind, emotions and nature and the likes can indeed be explained in terms of matter or interactions of billions of neurons, what need is there (as the Occam’s razor argument would go)
          to come up with theories that raise more questions than they tend to lazily suppress. And if we currently lack the knowledge of many questions like what exactly is the nature of consciousness, what possible help could we derive from the attitude of simply moving on to supernatural explanations? If at some point it does turn out that “material” explanations are not enough and evidence keeps cropping for your side, I’m sure the scientific field would happily reconcile with this new paradigm shift, but until that, the best way to about is to go about the research with the (so far reliable) assumption that everything can be explained in terms of interaction of matter and energy or things that actually tend to exist.

          • “If you see the core of this argument, you would see that this is exactly the kind of attitude that would hinder any kind of actual research. If mind, emotions and nature and the likes can indeed be explained in terms of matter or interactions of billions of neurons, what need is there (as the Occam’s razor argument would go)
            to come up with theories that raise more questions than they tend to lazily suppress. And if we currently lack the knowledge of many questions like what exactly is the nature of consciousness, what possible help could we derive from the attitude of simply moving on to supernatural explanations? If at some point it does turn out that “material” explanations are not enough and evidence keeps cropping for your side, I’m sure the scientific field would happily reconcile with this new paradigm shift, but until that, the best way to about is to go about the research with the (so far reliable) assumption that everything can be explained in terms of interaction of matter and energy or things that actually tend to exist.”

            Practical considerations cannot justify the high pedestal which is assumed by “science is the only way” trumpeters. Then be humble and say that we dont know. That we are simple working with assumptions which may or may not be true.

            “Also, I still find it hard to know what exactly is the nature of the realm that you claim exists beyond that which can be called “material” (try to see beyond the negative connotations of this word), and also, how does one go about knowing about this if not through one’s senses, that includes the mind too. ”

            How do you know that there is a material realm out there? What you record as reality is simply the output from sense organs as interpreted by consciousness. How do you know that an iron bar id solid. Ultimately it is only a collection of wave packets which collapse upon observation. so if reality is ultimately illusive, what is the basis for an objective science?

          • “How do you know that there is a material realm out there? What you record as reality is simply the output from sense organs as interpreted by consciousness. How do you know that an iron bar id solid. Ultimately it is only a collection of wave packets which collapse upon observation. so if reality is ultimately illusive, what is the basis for an objective science?”

            At the outset I must first ask you to be beware of solipsism and it’s hydra’esque variations. By extending the logic (?) behind your conclusion that the natural world can be doubted, one can practically doubt every single thing one wants to and reach nowhere except only the realm of one’s biases.

            Now, allow me to answer this in detail for the gravity of the argument in question demands such attention.

            First, you owe your very confidence with which you claim that what we see is nothing but wave-packets collapsing to Science. Where would we be if we just doubted even confirmed results?

            And the material world exists and we perceive it as it exists. How so? Imagine your wave-packets themselves. Given a choice, how would you choose to perceive a “wave-packet”? Think over it. The moment you decide to bring it in consciousness, you will have to use the language of consciousness (just explaining the concept of “qualia”, and I sincerely suggest you read works of the Neurologist V.S. Ramachandran).
            External stimuli must have a kind of “representation” if we are expected to put it in our minds. And these perceptions need to be mostly right (you can’t feel ice as hot one time and cold the next time) if we are to survive. And as it turns out, we have survived. For over 3 billion years. Is it not proof enough of the material realm? There is a material realm out there but also we are that material realm itself, in and out. If you have any evidence or even logic (other than the one that your “realm” cannot be disproved hence it exists, which is not logic at all) to support your claim that the material realm is still illusive and there’s something “beyond” it I suggest you start being less vague about it.

      • That is what science claims. because it can work only through models and all models are approximations.A model is only a simplified abstraction and cannot be the reality. And you are again making a metaphysical assumption that there is an objective world separate from the observer. Please realize that this is only an assumption which you cannot prove.

          • Can you define reality? What you tout in your argument is that reality cannot be known except through its approximation via models. I agree.Perception of reality via senses is also a model and this is not different from the maya concept of advaita. After all models are abstractions- and hence concept and observer dependent and can never reveal the complete picture. It is futile to deny that science adopts a very specific model – that the material world is all that exists, and that it can be explored through a reductionist approach. As these are the apriori assumptions, science cannot be expected to furnish prrof for them as this would lead to circularity. Other models for reality can be equally valid and they cannot be refuted by the scientific method as different model work on differing assumtions. science can claim superiority over religion only in the mundane world of sense dependent reality. It cannot provide a worldview since it itself is slave to a particular worldview. It is like an expert car mechanic who can take a vehicle apart and tell something about its fuction. God, however, is the inventor of the car.

          • “Mr. Ashish, please define reality.”

            So you want to steer the discussion into an alley of your choosing and then claim that reality is what the models define. Sorry, but I am not biting the bait. You want to lay down the rules of the game so that you can then claim the superiority of the scientific method because it provides the “best” models – best as per your own worldview. I simply reject your worldview as being too limited, and for not being able to provide answers to a majority of the bigger questions. Let science first accept that there is more to knowledge than the empirical-materialist-reductionist model and then let us see how it compares with religion.

          • @Ashish,

            Your post-modernist gobbly-gook will stand exposed if you were to jump out of a building. No set of differing assumptions will stop you from falling down.

  • Let me be honest by saying that I have not gone through the article in detail! I was a non-believer like you at one time. The problem is as a Free-Thinker, I was not really free! The mind can run riot and needs to be controlled. And the consequences of that are unpleasant. That’s where meditation comes in. Chanting or Meditation on Mantras like ‘Om’, ‘Om Namah Shivay’, etc can make one feel good. It can give an inner peace and contentment. And that’s what is required in life.

    • Thank you for your response.

      In my article, I have never questioned the efficacy of the consolations offered by religion as I would agree with you when it comes to the point that they do indeed provide emotional support. But I am questioning the sustainability of such approaches and their broad and long-term consequences while simultaneously highlighting the alternative of a rationalist approach . Also, spirituality & religion today (at least the types that I pointed out and criticised) is anything but a personal endeavour.

      • For me, the so-called ‘rational’ method was anything but sustainable. Ah, the irrationality of rationalization! Spirituality is always a personal endeavor because it is about the journey of the Self, and no one but the Self can take that journey. Of course, it has to be initiated by the Guru. But the person to walk the path has to be the Self. And that’s where Spirituality is different from Religion. Even I am not a religious person according to the conventional sense of the term. Religion involves focusing on the skin of the fruit while Spirituality involves enjoying the fruit. As Society comprises of individuals, spiritual growth of individuals brings about a betterment in the whole Society. And one more thing, the Universal principles of Spirituality i.e. Supreme Consciousness, Kundalani Energy, etc are mentioned in eclectic sources from around the world. Though they differ in words, they essentially mean the same. Surely, so many sources can’t be wrong at the same time.

  • “A century before you could have added Science has no answers to why stars shine, and a century before that you could have added why there is such a diversity in the biological world. I hope you get my point.”

    Yes, I am aware of this game of promissory materialism. Unfortunately, the cutting edge sciences of genetics, quantum physics etc have stalled completely and there is not too much on the horizon.

    • Like it or not, unlike religion, science a) takes upon itself the burden of proof, and, b) does not argue from personal experience. In the words of the wise monk Agehananda Bharati (Leopold Fischer) “Mysticism is all very good but one needs to realise that it is the body that is doing the mysticism”.
      As someone mentioned earlier on nirmukta that all religions cannot be simultaneously true but they can all be simultaneously false.

      • And what is wrong with personal experience. You need to realize that by excluding first person experience and insisting upon third party verification and replication, science is bound to exclude vast areas of human experiences. This is not a problem if supporters of scientific method realize its limitations. However, they do not, and insist that science must intrude into every domain and pronounce its judgement even if it does not have the suitable tools. Third party verification needs effectively excludes the entire field of study of consciousness – which is first person experience par excellence. So we end up with absurdities such as behaviorism and Daniel Dennett’s suggestion that qualia does not actually exist.

        It should not be difficult to appreciate that the domains of science and religion are not co-terminus. Religion begins where the reach of science ends. Explanatory powers of religion in respect of mundane matters are clearly insufficient and it has been rightly supplanted by science in such areas. Likewise science cannot provide a holistic worldview, a sense of purpose to life or ethical prescriptions which religion can.

        • Religion doesn’t begin where science ends. Rather science exposes the faulty premises of religion and makes it irrelevant. To take an example, religion believes in Karma carrying over from previous lives and expounds some ethics based on it. But since science shows that such Karma is non-existent, it has also shown that ethics based on such Karma are on shaky ground. That’s just one example. Religion is rife with beliefs based on false premises.

          Btw, if you want to do an actual comparison of worldviews, you should compare religion with something like naturalism. If you do, then you will see that personal experiences aren’t excluded, but only tempered with science lest we get carried by some experiences and start believing in Invisible Pink Unicorns. Again to give an example, one can enjoy profound experiences without putting stock in convoluted metaphysics.

          • How can science disprove theory of karma? Your sweeping statements expose your ignorance of both science and religion.

          • That’s like asking how can science disprove the theory of Invisible Pink Unicorn.

        • Here’s an example (an award winning one) of the consequences of using personal experience alone to shape one’s worldview.

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Eyjeimdeg4

          BTW religions such as the abrahamics and sikhism reject personal experience in favour of scripture to arrive at the correct religious experience. Even Adi Shankaracharya upheld the supremacy of scripture over pratyaksha because he knew that personal experience could be multiform.

          There was a debate between Carroll/Shermer and Dsouza/Hutchinson on the topic “Has Science Refuted Religion” in which the naturalists and believers presented their respective arguments. It may be helpful in the context of the above post.
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKk62brr4o4

    • Ashish obviously has spiritual delusions and seems to think his personal experience alone to be supreme. His knowledge of scientific progress is outright laughable. The whole educated world knows that genetics is forging ahead on many fronts, it has largely explained where mankind arose and to where it spread, for a start. It is providing the tools for understanding and eventually correcting virtually all hereditary illnesses and penetrating the deepest former secrets of how cells are built and regulated and how diseases obtain a hold and how they can be stopped.
      Nano-science (as a branch of microphysics) is making huge strides in understanding and manipulating matter even at the atomic level.
      Ashish does not even understand the issue of falsifiability. Key assumptions cannot be falsified in any direct fashion. The cannot be falsified by reason alone, but only by their demonstrated fruitfulness in explaining the cause and predicting events after the assumption has been played out over very long periods of time (centuries). Science as a world community project has generated the entire basis of the benefits of modern civilization, while religions have mostly only hindered that development, and has proven itself as fruitful, while the warring sects of religions have produced very few benefits, has obscured education and enforced puritanical and ineffective ‘values’ while being inherent to countless conflicts (to this day the world is threatened by murderous religious clashes).

    • I repeat my request: Somebody please define reality. We are using this word, so let us be sure that its meaning is the same for all of us.

      • Please do not quote a spent force such as Hawkins who is ready to accept a mind boggling number of parallel universes just to avoid God as originator. In fact, as the limits of science become more and more apparent, its theories are getting Kafkaesque in their absurdity. Theories of strings, parallel universes – or for that matter, even the Theory of Evolution, are unfalsifiable, and are hence, by definition, not scientific theories but dogmas. Witness the desperation which is evident in the LHC and the yearning to detect the God particle. Theoretical physics has hit a wall for some time now, and the same is the position of molecular biology. The explanatory limits of science and the empirical method are now only too evident. Hence the nonsense of no-reality-but-model-based-reality.

        • So, according to your views- Hawking is a just spent force and an “escapist”, the complexities of the world are nothing but our fantasies, Evolution is unfalsifiable (it is not, try reading more), and the LHC is nothing but a desperate attempt?

          Everyone is entitled to any opinion, but if you want to reach a place you don’t know, the opinion of using a map definitely holds a bit more credibility than the opinion of dancing naked on the street.

          Can’t you see where you’re leading to and the whole context of your opinions? You’re cherry-picking (you saw Dennett, but not the dozens of others)and even wrongly assuming statements to suit your “world-view”.

          I had never imagined before that the LHC could be termed as a “desperate attempt” when I can’t think of any phrase other than ‘one of the greatest collective endeavours of the human race’ to describe it.
          These people, the scientists, whom you so passionately hate, are only trying to find more about the world. If you cannot agree to their methods, at least spare the absurd hatred- for most its part it is just hatred of ‘knowledge’ itself.

  • “Where Science stands on the works of the relatively modern, Spirituality is seen as a gift from the ancients”- That’s a myth my friend..please know about UG Krishnamurty, Nisargadutta Maharaj, Mahirishi Raman,Shri Hari Lal Poonja, Mooji,Adyashanti….

    ” Both S’s are just long lost lovers who don’t know yet that they are in love.”- True, pure, unadulterated wonder,curiosity of the world and of the self, witnessing the spectatcles of nature and of one’s own ability to perceive, these are not CONCEPTS. These dualities we see are a result of millenia of CONCEPTUALIZATION of what is essentially present everywhere, all the time.

    ” this spirituality expects you to gulp down its metaphysics (that often trespasses the domain of actual physics) without question, the kind of spirituality where a Rs. 5000/- crash course can make you an expert in the ‘art of living’ (okay that wasn’t so subtle)”- I accept your point. Does it change anything? Firstly, even a scientist takes his allownace from taxpayer money. Even a “spiritaul” organization needs damn mony to survive isn’t it?So first let’s get out of the “materialism” debate. Even Gautam Buddha needed food to physically survive and hence his disciples begged on his behalf too.The more pertinent point is the brand of spirituality that demands silent obidienc. It seems that while technology has smoothened out physical existence, man remains gullible, full of anxiety, unsure of himself. He is seeking answers to these in religious groups. It’s simple demand and supply; the demand is for getting over his inner anxieties. Science is doing NOTHING to sort it out. Why blame these channels when science is doing nothing to address the demand?

    “. Or else the clock of progress slowly rewinds, the cult of fanatics become organised and gain political power and social domination, truth and facts will be made to follow the norms of political correctness, and all that we have accomplished so far and could accomplish would crumble. It has happened before too.” – What is needed is not a simple thing to do.Every, and I mean every..grain of truth needs to be seperated from the chaff..in scientific or spiritual discourse. This would need much more than debates.And first of all, it would require a first hand enquiry and trnasimission of only that which is found true first hand.That’s a tall ask..

    “But the recourse to spiritual/religious institutions is far easier than the assimilation of Science in everyday life. It requires conscientious effort and courage. It requires you to be in your senses because the pursuit of science appeals to one’s sense of empathy, curiosity and wonder instead of one’s insecurity, fear and prejudices”-
    While you’re true about insecurities and their use by institutions,pure meditation involves pure awareness at ALL points in time, awake and in sleep.The problem is that the baby who got thrown with the bathwater was the real prize. Please experiment on meditating constatntly while doing science, sports, politic, war, whatever. Just be more alert,conscious..and see for yourself whether any contradictions are there in the first place. Then you’d be better suited to instruct the masses.

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