Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Tony Barreca (tbarreca) Tue 19 Sep 00 10:51
Personally, I remain sceptical and agnostic on "purely spiritual" entities like "qi" or "energy bodies." If they do exist--and I grant that they might, then in my opinion then fall under the rubric articulated by Ludwig Wittgenstein as Proposition 7 of his _Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus_, to wit: That about which we cannot speak, we pass over in silence. Even if these entities do exist, they are currently "invisible" to science and likely to remain so just because they are of a substance different from that with which science deals. This means that anything we say about them necessarily stems from belief, rather than from what we would normally characterize as knowledge. Even though I believe in the "deep structure" validity of intuition, a la Jung, it's not clear that this type of intuition crosses the line to allow us to claim scientific knowledge of these areas. However, scientific knowledge is not the only sort of knowledge. I grant, for example, the validity of what might be termd "poetic" or "mythic" knowledge. I just don't think we should confuse such knowledge with science. Thoughts Erik?
Tony Barreca (tbarreca) Tue 19 Sep 00 10:53
I left out the word "must" in the quotation from Wittgenstein, which should have read: That about which we cannot speak, we must pass over in silence.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 19 Sep 00 10:54
They're not quite invisible to post-Newtonian science, I would say, and they're certainly part of the mythos that Erik explores.
Tony Barreca (tbarreca) Tue 19 Sep 00 11:41
"Not quite invisible to post-Newtonian science? Jon, you must know more about this than I do. And I was even thinking about post-quantum-mechanical science, which is assuredly post-Newtonian. Please elaborate! You have really piqued my curiosity!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 19 Sep 00 12:58
Sho' nuff. When you get to the quantum level, where perception is elusive, the question of visibility is altered... we rely more on intuition and inference than clearly-articulated physical observation. Physics are metaphysics align. I was also thinking of the work of folks like Claudio Naranjo, Charles Tart, et al focusing on altered states of consciousness and manifestations of mind, subtle energies, parapsychology, all that jazz.
Erik Davis (figment99) Tue 19 Sep 00 13:05
Well, I tend to avoid the frontal confrontation of science and religion/mysticism, because the positions are already so well articulated and the debate is so insanely ideological. They tend to be battles of belief, and belief is not where the action is. In other words, there is little to be gained, in my book, from assaults on science. Rather one learns the trickster's art, because the modes of perception that allow to acknowledge the fundamental "reality" of qi, etc., are for many skeptical sorts modes that one suddenly just finds oneself in -- without even worrying about "belief." Let me explain with reference to the one aspect of Tony's response that I disagree with (otherwise, I am pretty much on the skeptic side, although I grant a wide room for the power of the mind/consciousness; I remember a comment of the druid Isaac Bonewitz: "Sure we are materialists -- we just have an expanded definition of matter.") Anyway, here's Tony: Even if these entities do exist, they are currently "invisible" to science and likely to remain so just because they are of a substance different from that with which science deals. This means that anything we say about them necessarily stems from belief, rather than from what we would normally characterize as knowledge. Wrong-o, in my book. Much of what we say about them stems from experience, not belief. I actually have no real belief in qi, or prana -- ie, when I hear New Agers or true believers go off, I just shrug. Aint my game. But I know -- and I mean, know -- what these things feel like. Science does not recognize the status of that knowledge for many reasons, most of them quite positive and productive in my view. But leaving that huge debate aside, science does err in denying the science-like nature of "mystical" exploration -- that is, as Ken Wilber wonderfully argues in the The Marriage of Sense and Soul," contemplative assertions about transpersonal dimensions, energy, etc. arise from injunctions: do certain things, and certain things will happen. This is what I believe: not that qi "exists," because we have to get in a whole argument about what exists means. I believe that if most people -- certainly not everyone -- honestly and attentively put themselves through the motions, than experiences will arise that strangely accord with the general accounts of mystics and contemplatives. Of course, the details differ, which is where science steps in to remind us of the problem of subjectivity, wish fulfillment, all the skeptical sociology that you want. I love this skepticism; it is part of my path. But it will never keep me from plunging back into the experiential mode of knowledge acquisition -- on the "inside" as well as the out.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 19 Sep 00 13:15
[Having some familiarity with Thomas Kuhn (_Structure of Scientific Revolutions_), I'm pretty sure that science is about belief, probably as much so as religion, though scientific paradigms tend to be supported by experimental observation rather than what Erik calls 'experience,' which is a way of knowing but subjective, therefore more difficult to peer review, I reckon.] Erik, I always figured to be a skeptic who can appreciate the aesthetics of belief in the way you might appreciate a Carl Barks comic strip, a Matisse painting, or a Harry Partch symphonoid... is that sorta where you're coming from?
Tony Barreca (tbarreca) Tue 19 Sep 00 14:38
I don't we're so far apart. I wouldn't deny the reality of experiential knowledge at all. In fact, Erik, you put your finger on the crux of the argument. It's not about whether or not experiential knowledge is valid or not. It's about the implications it has for what does or does not exist from the perspective of scientific theory. And since in the sentence of mine that you quoted I was referring specifically to "scientific" knowledge, like I said, I don't think we disagree. However, Jon...I do disagree with you on your interpretation of Kuhns. Certainly Kuhns credits the arational--the intuitive, again--with help to lead to his famous (and overworked phrase) "paradigm shifts." But I don't think that Kuhns says that the resulting theories are "beliefs," at least as that term is commonly used. I think he would call them "knowledge," irrespective of their arational or intuitive origins. In other words, we can have a belief without any supporting evidence, etc. Oh, gentlemen! I don't want to rehash this old and tired stuff. Six years of it in school was more than enough for me! But me oh my...Jon! Why do you say that "perception is elusive" in quantum mechanics? It's not about perception being "elusive." It is about perception altering the fundamental structure of reality!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 19 Sep 00 15:24
Well, first... I think it's Kuhn, not Kuhns, and I didn't mean to imply that he sees paradigms as 'beliefs.' However, his book establishes that the models of reality constructed by science, however rational, are transient, and my own inference from Kuhn's proposition is that what we call science depends on belief in the paradigm du jour. Scientists have "known" that the world is flat; from today's paradigm this 'knowledge' looks like a rather quaint belief. We seldom have beliefs without evidence, I think. Perception is clearly elusive when you can't 'see' what you observe, even more so when your observation alters the reality of the thing perceived...no?
Tony Barreca (tbarreca) Tue 19 Sep 00 15:42
Jon, you are, I believe, correct on the spelling of the name (I had inadvertently to the name of one of my professors, Richard Kuhns). I'm not sure that I agree with you about beliefs without evidence. Unfortunately, we get into one of the situations that Erik mentioned in which we place the burden of the discussion on the definition of evidence. Many would argue that there is little to no "evidence" for the existence of God, for example, though many surely share a belief in God. I'll let it go at that. But I also apologize for not reading your previous post carefully enough--you certainly made the point about scientific evidence there. However, I don't think that perception is "elusive" when we can't "see" what we observe. I know that you do not mean "see" literally. But the point is that if a theoretical object is not scientifically detectable, then its ontological status is at least uncertain from a scientific perspective, irrespective of the theoretical arguments that can be made for it. In fact, much of what passes for "modern physics" is an attempt to detect entities postulated by various theories. Presumably once such entities are intersubjectively detected, there is an evidentiary basis for accepting them as "real." Again, I don't see any elusiveness there.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 19 Sep 00 19:15
You don't see it because it's elusive! All perception is an act of faith, in a sense, because there is no direct perception, so this entity we call 'self' depends on the mediating wetware to pass on a more or less accurate interpretation of phenomenological reality. We get sufficient evidence of the accuracy of the interpretation that we *believe* it to be 'real,' however there is always room for doubt.
Tony Barreca (tbarreca) Tue 19 Sep 00 20:29
Jon! Such a Kantian! Of course what you say is true. Descartes' famous "demon argument." But I don't think all perception is created equal, and at the end of the day, you don't either! Where's Erik? I'm sure he'd get a laugh out of this exchange!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 19 Sep 00 20:45
Bet he's not far away...!
Erik Davis (figment99) Tue 19 Sep 00 21:26
Well, again, this is the kind of debate I tend to instinctively withdraw from, and watch the way one watches a tennis match: bobbing your head at each point as they bounce across the fundamental divide,however you consider that divide: subject/object, mind/matter, apollo/dionysus... Not that I dont have my ways of thinking about it. I do think that scientific beliefs, esp. current ones, have a different status than other sorts of belief. The metaphor I use is technological: belief systems, paradigms, organizations of experience, narratives, cultural perceptions, etc, are like different machines. The subject (whatever the hell that is) engages a particular machine, which produces certain effects. Those effects are quite different when compared with one another. The machinery of science -- peer review, falsifiability, instruments, repeatability, disciplinary language -- is one mighty mofo, and I am no longer interested in the leveling approach of cultural studies/relativist critiques that claim that this machine is just "the same" as all the other ones because it also depends on beliefs which, on some level, "pre-select" which perceptions count. That said, my critique of science is largely ideological: in *this* society, the machine of science is coupled far too tightly with all sorts of other, more nefarious machines: capital machines, repressive machines, authoritarian machines. So Im also no longer interested in the sacrosanct approach to science vs other ways of knowing the world. Whatever E.O. Wilson wants to proclaim, scientific knowledge *is not integrative* in itself. That is, it may integrate vis a vis other domains of science (though what we actually see, in actual practice, is a multiplication of perceptions, technologies, "facts," specialization, etc), but it is not integrative vis a vis the human subject. And it is the human subject, and the way it -- we, I -- respond to various machines of belief and perception, that interests me. For example, I just wrote a piece on Descartes and The Matrix for an Australian cyberculture journal. I love the demon, but what interests me is not the "philosophical" problem the demon poses about skepticism, the status of knowledge, the ontological status of the subject, etc. What interests me is the "existential" problem the demon poses: that is, if you *actually* engage Descarte's thought experiment (Which no one studying philosophy actually does), how does that make you feel? What does it do for your experience as a subject? This question is not idle, because I take Descartes' demon to be foundational: he lurks at the very basis of these sorts of debates about science and reality, grinning, licking his chops.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 19 Sep 00 22:20
Yeah, well. I reckon Bouwsma sniffed the demon, or at least gave him flowers. You can think in circles with this stuff, but I've tried (though not always able to reason from the deception) to be both skeptical and present, and to go for the bare attention. While you seem bored with postmodern relativism, you (and Tony) also seem to move from one ideological template to the next without casting anchor. Could be that we're all on different parts of the same stormy sea, completely untethered.
Erik Davis (figment99) Wed 20 Sep 00 09:38
I think that postmodern relativism adequately describes the crisis of knowledge, or of subjectivity, or of the stormy sea. I am just not too interested with it as a merely critical tool that "shows up" science for just being ideology, power, discourse, etc. In other words, how do we map the stormy sea, understand its flows, the patterns of the spume? To do this work is no longer simply postmodern. Bruno Latour is someone who does this remarkably well -- a "science studies" guy who has no belief in sacrosanct science, but also gives it the specific anthropological reality it deserves, understanding it as a specific function of instruments, institutions, discourse, training -- all the anthropological structures that construct science and its statements. And he also insists that these structures are social and historical, that they do not possess the "god's eye view" on the field. But he does not reduce them to mere "discourse," but sees them as profoundly productive structures that carry on, rather than revolutionizing, the work of human understanding.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 20 Sep 00 09:55
For the record, when I characterized science as a belief system, I didn't mean to seem dismissive. I think our contention started over a question of the visible, and what is or is not outside the realm of scientific inquiry. Along the way I tried to make the point that 'science' and 'belief' are not antonymns. I think (believe!) that science is undiminished in its power to define and explain when we acknowledge that no paradigm is absolute... no? To my mind, science is just a rigorous examination of 'beliefs' to determine whether they are valid, and how they are valid, and to construct a model of the world that is viable based on analysis of the evidence. An assumption of the absolute truth of any paradigm is counterproductive, I would think, because it is a barrier to further inquiry. I guess this is Fortean thinking...
Tony Barreca (tbarreca) Wed 20 Sep 00 10:55
I sense convergence here approaching violence in its rapidity, since even I granted the validity of other knowledge domains informed by other mechanisms (i.e., "poetic" or "mythic" knowledge. Personally, I think these forms are essentially "deep structured" or "hard wired" into our nervous systems, and in such a way that the proposition that they are may turn out to be not susceptible to analysis by any of the physical sciences. But that's a whole other conversation.) Erik, I really like your metaphor of different machines yielding different results. However, I must ask you to elaborate with any thoughts you may have on how we can integrate the whole, given that science itself is non-integrative. Jon, your comments have been a tremendous, and much-needed, contribution to this discussion! Thanks, and keep 'em coming!
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Wed 20 Sep 00 10:59
Thanks, Tony! This is a great discussion!
Members: Enter the conference to participate
Non-members: How to participate