The Science Delusion

An interview with cultural critic Curtis White

Curtis White pulls no punches. To readers who see in Buddhism little room for spirited debate, White’s unapologetic bluntness may seem unexpected or even jarring. But for White—Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English at Illinois State University, novelist, and author of several works of criticism including the 2003 international bestseller The Middle Mind: Why Americans Don’t Think for Themselves—there is too much at stake in our current intellectual climate to indulge in timid discussion.

White’s latest book, The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers, strikes out at a nimble opponent, one frequently sighted yet so elusive it often seems to dodge just out of view: scientism. White identifies scientism as an unwarranted triumphalism based on unproven premises—such as the claim that science has got the world nailed down (or soon will, anyway), that the answer to all of our human problems lies in the discovery of natural laws, or that submitting to a scientific perspective is a choiceless imperative dictated by impersonal facts. To White, this attitude is not only wrongheaded, it is dangerous and wreaks social, cultural, and political damage.

The Science Delusion takes dual aim: at scientists and critics who proclaim themselves “enemies of religion” and at certain neuroscientists and thought leaders in the popular press whose neuro-enthusiasm, White thinks, is adding spin to the facts. What these science advocates share, he says, is both an ideology promoting the scientific worldview as the single valid understanding of human phenomena and also a set of assumptions, “many of which,” he writes, “are dubious if not outright deluded.” But for White, the debate over knowledge claims is a side skirmish. There is a more urgent battle to fight that becomes evident when he asks, “In whose interest do these science popularizers and provocateurs write? And to what end?”

White writes at a moment when the arts and humanities are struggling for survival on campuses across America as they are increasingly eclipsed by the “STEM” disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and math). In White’s view, what we are witnessing is a takeover, on the part of science, of the multiple narratives of what it means to be human—narratives that have flourished throughout Western history in religion, art, literature, and philosophy. Scientism comes with its own narrative, which White puts like this: “We are not ‘free’; we are chemical expressions of our DNA and our neurons. We cannot will anything, because our brains do our acting for us. We are like computers or systems, and so is nature.” When this is what we think we are, we become quiescent cogs readily manipulated by societal forces. In White’s view, once scientism rewrites our story so that the things human beings care about—like love, wonder, presence, or play—are reduced to atoms, genes, or neurons, human lives become easy prey to corporate and political interests. We become “mere functions within systems.” White wants us to wake up and recognize that this view is not scientific discovery, it is ideology. Mistaking one for the other has profound consequences, “not just for knowledge but even more importantly for how we live.”

Western Buddhists, engaged as we are in adapting an Asian religious tradition, generally agree that it is valuable to try to understand how Buddhism has been shaped by its host cultures in Asia. But shining that light of understanding on ourselves is a much more difficult proposition. It is hard to see what presumptions we bring to the project precisely because they are our own and not someone else’s. In striking hard at some of our most deeply ingrained assumptions, White brings them to our attention. Whether or not we agree with his critique isn’t the point. White isn’t looking for agreement. He wants to challenge our complacency, and in so doing, to shift the very framework within which we determine our agreements and disagreements.

–Linda Heuman, Contributing Editor

Your latest book is entitled The Science Delusion, which is clearly a response to the title of Richard Dawkins’s book The God Delusion. What is the science delusion, and what are its implications for living a spiritually meaningful life? There is no singular science delusion. One of the biggest challenges in writing a book that tries to question the role that science plays in our culture is being visible at all. So the title is a provocation, although an earnest one.

What I criticize is science as ideology, or scientism, for short. The problem with scientism is that it attempts to reduce every human matter to its own terms. So artistic creativity is merely a function of neurons and chemicals, religion is the result of the God gene, and faith is hardwired into our genetic makeup.

Not surprisingly, “spirit” is a forbidden word. Science writers tend to reduce believers to fundamentalists and the history of religion to a series of criminal anecdotes. Richard Dawkins is, and Christopher Hitchens was, particularly culpable in this regard. Any subtle consideration of the meaning of spirit is left out. But of course the history of religious thought is quite subtle, as anyone familiar with Buddhist philosophy knows well. Another good example is the legacy of Christian existential thinkers beginning with Kierkegaard: it seems to me shamefully dishonest not to acknowledge such work.

Both scientism and religious fundamentalism answer the human need for certainty in a rapidly shifting and disorientingly pluralistic world. To what extent are they in the same business? As your question suggests, the drama of the confrontation between religious fundamentalism and scientism is a confrontation between things that are more alike than they know. Both fundamentalism and scientism try to limit and close down, not open up. Science tends to be vulnerable to the “closed-in” syndrome. Scientists value curiosity, and they value open-mindedness, but they are often insensible to alternative ways of thinking about the world. It’s really difficult for them to get outside of their own worldview. This problem is probably created by the way in which we educate scientists. It seems to me scientists need to have a better background in history and the history of ideas, especially if prominent figures like Stephen Hawking are going to pass judgment on that history and say things like “Philosophy is dead.”

There is a common assumption that science is not a world-view but simply “the way things are.” Along with that assumption goes another: that science derives its authority from its privileged access to how things are—that it launches off from the bedrock of the Real. The odd thing here is that science itself tells us that it does not have a privileged access to things as they are, and that the philosophical paradoxes in its discoveries, especially in physics, are an open acknowledgment of its many uncertainties.

What we have now is this very uncomfortable joining of an ideological assumption that science is fact-based with the actual work of science, something that is highly speculative and whose reality is often only mathematical. For example, physics is deeply dependent on mathematical modeling, but no one knows why mathematics seems to be so revealing about reality. As the physicists Tony Rothman and George Sudarshan point out in Doubt and Certainty, the math equation of the Black-Scholes model used by stock traders is identical to the equation that shows how a particle moves through a liquid or gas. But, as they observe laconically, in the real world there is a difference between stocks and particle movement.

Even something as familiar as Newtonian equations are mathematical idealizations and, as Einstein showed, they are inadequate in important ways. And if Newtonian predictions about the movements of things as large as astral bodies are idealizations, what can be said about quanta or strings or the branes strings are said to attach to? These things are only numbers. They have no empirical presence at all.

Most Buddhists would have little argument with the statement in The Science Delusion that “the world is something we both find and invent.” How is this understanding at odds with scientism? Even now, after Heisenberg, after quantum physics, so much of the discourse of science in its public proclamations is focused on the establishment of knowledge as fact. This overlooks the paradoxical nature of scientific confirmation. Does confirmation mean positive knowledge of reality? Does it mean probability? Does it mean that something is useful? Newton’s equations have never stopped being useful, even though they have been superseded by general relativity.

Scientism is intolerant of the idea that the universe depends for its being on the participation of mind. Immanuel Kant’s Copernican Revolution was about this single fact: we have no simple access to the thing in itself. Any knowledge we have of reality is necessarily mediated by our own symbolic structures, whether they be math, philosophy, religion, or art. Even the theoretical physicist John Archibald Wheeler could say with conviction, “The universe does not exist ‘out there,’ independent of us. We are inescapably involved in bringing about that which appears to be happening.” Yet what we most often hear from scientism is “We scientists deal in knowledge of truth, and philosophers, artists, and religious believers don’t.” End of conversation.

Many assume that logic and reason lead away from religion. How can the systematic study of literature and art affirm religion? Our culture widely assumes that all reason is empirical reason: a logical development proceeding from an empirical fact. Similarly, we tend to assume that spirit concerns things that are supernatural. But this is not the only way to understand reason or spirit. The essence of the spiritual logic of Buddhism is contained in the four noble truths. There is suffering. Most of this suffering comes from self-interested desire enabled by delusion. This suffering can be stopped. The eightfold path shows how suffering can cease. This is not an appeal to the supernatural, but it is most certainly an appeal to spirit.

The ultimate religious question, the ultimate religious mystery, is not whether or not there is a God. I call myself an atheist because I think that question is silly, childish, and beside the point. The ultimate religious question is “What is compassion?” Or as Christianity puts it, “What is love?” Compassion is not a quality that can be demonstrated empirically. It is not a thing. It is something that we use flexibly. It speaks to a quality that we keep very close to us: the urgency of kindness. Compassion exists only to the extent that we invest it with the energy of our own lives—“altruism gene” be damned.

This sort of “theo-logic” also exists in the West. If there is a God principle in existential Christianity, it is in its confidence in the ultimacy of compassion. The Protestant theologian Paul Tillich argued that God is the object of our “ultimate concern.” When we are claimed by those concerns, we open ourselves to our true nature.

And art since Romanticism participates in a similar logic. Of course, the common assumption is that art is just imagination or entertainment or a waste of time. My point is that art thinks, and the history of art for the last two centuries shows that art thinks in very particular ways. Art has its own spiritual logic. It asks: How are we to transcend what Friedrich Schiller calls “the misery of culture,” meaning industrial culture in which man is “nothing but a fragment”? For Schiller and the Romantics, the multifold path of art is the way to accomplish the transcendence of this suffering. As Pablo Picasso wrote, “Painting is not made to decorate apartments. It is a weapon of offensive and defensive war against the enemy.” As Picasso’s Guernica or Goya’s The Third of May 1808 show, the “enemy” is cruelty.

Now, in any of these contexts, this is a perverse logic. If you had to judge the situation empirically, I don’t see how you could fail to conclude that the “preponderance of evidence,” as lawyers like to say, points to the idea that, as O’Brien says in Orwell’s 1984, the future is “a boot stamping on a human face—forever.” But Buddhism comes to the opposite conclusion. Our suffering is proof not of who we are—violent because of “human nature”—but of the fact that we are deluded, that we don’t know ourselves, and that if we are to end suffering we must, as Nietzsche says, become who we really are. It is the perversity of this logic that makes it spiritual because it is in no way supported by the facts on the ground. It’s like the story of the Jew who tells his Christian neighbor that he is going to Rome to see what Christianity is really like. The neighbor, of course, fears that once the man sees all of the corruption there he will not convert. But when his neighbor returns, he says, “Ah, my friend, yours is truly the greatest faith, otherwise it could not survive such cruelty and hypocrisy.”

The crucial thing to see in this process of thought is that it is a form of spiritual reason based in realism: our experience of how it is with the human world. True, it is not empirical reason driven by a notionally objective world, but neither are its conclusions dependent on supernaturalism or magical thinking. The idea that all human reason must be empirical is a story that is told to us by our masters.

When critics speak of scientism as an ideology, many seem to be thinking of an ideology as a set of beliefs—like propositions you hold in your head. Your book gave me a sense that ideology, in particular scientism, is much more deeply rooted than that. I use the word ideology in the sense that Marx used it: the stories and ideas that we live out as members of a particular culture. Needless to say, there is a neutral sense in which every culture must have ideologies. The pejorative sense of the term comes from the idea that structures of power and privilege can and do manipulate and enforce these stories in order to support their own interests. The stories stop being concerned with the question “what is the best way for us to live together?” and start being about “what stories best support our own interests?” Telling stories that you want everyone to see themselves in, but that really favor only one group, requires dishonesty. So what I am concerned with is identifying those dishonest or false elements within the ideology delivered to us by science and its patrons.

Of course, the primary ideological story told by science is that it has no relation to ideology. But that’s what every ideology says. It says, “We are only concerned with the way things really are.” And so the science of economics tells us that self-interest is rational, that it is the essence of freedom, and that it may even be a part of our genetic makeup. These become the covering fictions for stupendous destruction and cruelty. As Buddhism argues, these ideas are not skillful. They are delusions, and they do great harm.

Neuroscience’s claim to be able to understand meditation in terms of the mechanics of neurons and chemicals is another example of ideological storytelling. You can have Buddhism, this story goes, as long as you are willing to acknowledge that it can be best understood through neuroscience. Buddhism is dangerous if it can’t be made to confirm our culture’s empiricist assumptions. If Buddhism refuses to confirm those assumptions, it is a counterculture and therefore a threat to the stability of the status quo. My feeling is that if we in the West are fated to misperceive Asian Buddhism, let it be a creative misperception in the spirit of Buddhism, and not merely the repetition of a familiar and oppressive ideology.

You’ve written that we don’t only have technology, we also have technocracy—which is run by corporatists, militarists, and self-serving politicians. You see a moral urgency to this situation, where many, including many Buddhists, are much more sanguine. It is a mistake to think that we just happen to have these toys and gadgets around without trying to understand what their relationship is to the larger culture. One of the first books that spoke to me powerfully as political theory was Theodore Roszak’s The Making of a Counter Culture (1968). I reread it recently, and it still holds up very well. He wrote, “By technocracy, I mean that social form in which an industrial society reaches the peak of its organizational integration.” Theodor Adorno called it “administered society.” An administered society is one in which technological rationality and industrial organization have penetrated deeply into every aspect of how we live.

For example, by bringing personal computers into our homes, we also brought our workstations into our homes. And so, who knows how many hours a week you work? In a sense, many workers are never not at work, because now they carry their job in their pocket. Or consider service workers in the fast food industry. These workers are treated not as humans but as a part of a superefficient machine, and the skills required of them are crudely mechanical as well.

The more normalized all of this becomes, the more oppressive—and, needless to say, perversely successful—it is. The result is a culture that is “totalized.” Every aspect of the culture is made conformable to a certain technocratic and mechanistic ideal. That’s why I say that scientism is such an important part of state ideology. It is doing work for the boss.

How? Simply by normalizing the idea that everything is a machine, especially us. We are not likely to make a Thoreauvian or a Buddhist critique of technocracy if we have been convinced that we are computers. Thoreauvian critiques are disruptive and disobedient, and technocracy would prefer that we not think in that way. Ultimately, we are arguing about what it means to be human.

For the moment, the idea that we are neural computers is in ascendancy. Currently, from a very early age our children are given to understand that if they want a decent standard of living, they’re going to have to make their peace (ideally, an enthusiastic peace) with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, or STEM. Universities are now in the business of training people to go out into a world that is understood to be one vast mechanism, and this includes nature or, as we now say, “the ecosystem.” But that’s okay because we’re computers too. I can’t emphasize enough how oppressive this feels to many young people. As one reviewer of my book wrote, rather bitterly, “Anyone who doesn’t want to be a graphic designer, or a techie, or a slavish Apple devotee—no jobs for you!” And, I’ll add, no way to pay off your huge student loans.

Anyone who doubts the seriousness of this vision should read David Brooks’s December 2013 column for The New York TimesThinking for the Future,” in which he predicts that the economy of the future will depend upon “mechanized intelligence.” Fifteen percent of the working population will make up a mandarin class of computer geeks and the “bottom 85%” will serve them as “greeters” or by doing things like running food trucks. And yet, Brooks claims, this vast class of servants will have “rich lives” that will be provided for them by the “free bounty of the Internet.”

In your own Thoreauvian article “The Spirit of Disobedience: An Invitation to Resistance,” you quoted Simone Weil: “The authentic and pure values—truth, beauty, and goodness—in the activity of a human being are the result of one and the same act, a certain application of the full attention to the object.” In light of this perspective, what are your thoughts about the introduction of meditation into education and industry, especially into the “creative industries” of Silicon Valley? Thoreau and Weil were writers coming out of the Romantic tradition. For me, the Romantic movement was an attempt to create a wisdom literature for the West. A good part of that wisdom had to do with returning us to the immediacy of the world. As a poetic technique this has come to be known as “defamiliarization.” What it attempts to do is to destroy the world of custom, habit, stereotype, and ideology so that we can see things for what they are, so that we can see and feel the “stone’s stoniness.” When Walt Whitman says that his poetry is about “leaves of grass,” he is essentially saying, We have not been attentive. We need to look again at this leaf of grass. He wrote, “Bring all the art and science of the world, and baffle and humble it with one spear of grass.”

Perhaps the saddest thing we can say about our culture is that it is a culture of distraction. “Attention deficit” is a cultural disorder, a debasement of spirit, before it is an ailment in our children to be treated with Ritalin.

As for Silicon Valley, it has a legitimate interest in the health of its workers, but it has little interest in Weil’s notion of “the authentic and pure values.” Its primary aim is to bring Buddhist meditation techniques (as neuroscience understands them) to the aid of corporate culture, such as in the Search Inside Yourself program developed at Google. This is from the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute website:

Developed at Google and based on the latest in neuroscience research, our programs offer attention and mindfulness training that build the core emotional intelligence skills needed for peak performance and effective leadership. We help professionals at all levels adapt, management teams evolve, and leaders optimize their impact and influence.

Mindfulness is enabling corporations to “optimize impact”? In this view of things, mindfulness can be extracted from a context of Buddhist meanings, values, and purposes. Meditation and mindfulness are not part of a whole way of life but only a spiritual technology, a mental app that is the same regardless of how it is used and what it is used for. It is as if we were trying to create a Buddhism based on the careful maintenance of a delusion, a science delusion. It reminds me of the Babylonian captivity in the Hebrew Bible, but now the question for Buddhists is whether or not we can exist in technological exile and still remain a “faithful remnant.”

Bringing Buddhist meditation techniques into industry accomplishes two things for industry. It does actually give companies like Google something useful for an employee’s well-being, but it also neutralizes a potentially disruptive adversary. Buddhism has its own orienting perspectives, attitudes, and values, as does American corporate culture. And not only are they very different from each other, they are also often fundamentally opposed to each other.

A benign way to think about this is that once people experience the benefits of mindfulness they will become interested in the dharma and develop a truer appreciation for Buddhism—and that would be fine. But the problem is that neither Buddhists nor employees are in control of how this will play out. Industry is in control. This is how ideology works. It takes something that has the capacity to be oppositional, like Buddhism, and it redefines it. And somewhere down the line, we forget that it ever had its own meaning.

It’s not that any one active ideology accomplishes all that needs to be done; rather, it is the constant repetition of certain themes and ideas that tend to construct a kind of “nature.” Ideology functions by saying “this is nature”—this is the way things are; this is the way the world is. So, Obama talks about STEM, scientists talk about the human computer, universities talk about “workforce preparation,” and industry talks about the benefits of the neuroscience of meditation, but it all becomes something that feels like a consistent world, and after a while we lose the ability to look at it skeptically. At that point we no longer bother to ask to be treated humanly. At that point we accept our fate as mere functions. Ideology’s job is to make people believe that their prison is a pleasure dome.

Linda Heuman is a Tricycle contributing editor.

Image 1: Courtesy Harper Collins
Image 2-4: The “Buddhabrot” is a special rendering of the Mandelbrot set, a fractal that is generated from a simple equation using complex numbers.

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sangha dassa's picture

Knowledge is not the opposite of ignorance. Wisdom is what stands in stark contrast to ignorance. One can have little knowledge and still be wise. One may have all the knowledge in the world and be full of conceit - even dangerous. Knowledge can be dangerous if it is put in the hands of the unwise. All this is made crystal clear in the teachings of the Buddha.

Science without wisdom is a dangerous thing. Why is this glaringly obvious fact not made clear in science - our salvation! The reason is obvious: it is not a scientific question! If science is not capable of dealing with these kinds of questions - and issues - it is simply not good enough. It is not capable of telling us everything we need to know! It has its important and appropriate place in the many fields of human endeavor. However, we need to have some degree of clarity with regard to its proper use - and place. If we give attention to these kinds of questions - and issues - in the humanities - and Dharma inquiry - then we begin to see how indispensable they are!

There are many important facts - and truths - that are not amenable to empirical inquiry. The scientistic ideology that insists on the singular significance of science is a vacuous myth - that is neither morally or rationally defensible. This myth has nothing to do with science as an open form of inquiry.The myth itself is not a scientific question or, a scientific finding. It really is complete nonsense! One may as well believe in the seven days of creation.

Many devotees of scientism focus on important questions that are not strictly, science. One problem with dogmatic points of view is that we can sometimes get ahead of ourselves. My brother lived a life of countless acts of kindness. And, believed that 'life and living' was nothing but brutality, violence and, the survival of the fittest! He did not recognise the dichotomy between his lived reality and his ideology. We need to supplement our inquiry with a good dose of common sense.

It would be good if scientistic devotees would dedicate a bit more time - and energy - to debunking their underlying assumptions. We would have a far more tolerant and less competitive environment. In which to ask the hard questions about what motivates us. Motives that create the divisive world that we inhabit. A divisiveness that not only dumbs down inquiry. It creates a disunity we can ill-afford in these troubled times. To acknowledge the valid findings of others in different arenas of inquiry is not an admission of failure. It is simply an appreciation of diversity. We all have a respect for science in this forum. It simply makes no sense to insist that science alone can provide us with all the answers we need.

We need to ask all manner of questions that provide countless good answers that 'makes life possible'. We need to encourage questions and forms of inquiry of every imaginable kind. We may need to come up with completely different forms of inquiry if we are to survive as a species. One thing is for certain! What we have come up with so far has not brought about the change we need to see. This is where a closer reading of the Buddha's teachings may help. However, even a wisdom being of the Buddha's stature is still not enough. We need to wake up to ourselves!

We will not be bullied by Scientism into a drab uniformity of vision. We will not settle for self-certainty at the cost of real and important life questions - that demand an intelligent response. A bit more time on a meditation cushion and less time in the laboratory - or in front of a computer - would be good advice for any science enthusiast. It might help to clarify a few important issues. We can stare down a microscope or, stare at our brains through imaging machines forever. We will not find wisdom through this approach to inquiry. The idea that wisdom could be discovered in this way is so absurd - it beggars belief. Wisdom is a way of being in the world. It is not located anywhere in particular. It is found in our relationship to our ourselves, our loved ones and, the world at large.

Just how neural networks give rise to what we experience as mental events remains an open question in science. The devotees of scientism invariably assert unproven postulates of this kind without acknowledging that science is still in the process of investigation. Correlation does not prove causality! If somebody declares unequivocally that they have understood the nature of the mind then they need to take a reality check. This is scientistic over-reach at its worst. It demonstrates that we need to confront this form of fundamentalism in the interests of science. And, also in the interests of a culture in desperate need of accelerated learning. We need to celebrate a polyphony of voices and open minded inquiry. xxoo

softwear1's picture

the last sentence of your essay is its essence ...thank you....
POLYPHONY of VOICES.....
& OPEN-MINDED INQUIRY
as i read recently, we are only a smidgeon near the answer...and as far as i am concerned, the mystery should remain a mystery, without strife , striving and hope we would not hope or WANT to continue......
WE ARE THE QUEST....we are the GOD....higher power we are seeking...
..........................................LOOK WITHIN............................................
elizabeth e.

sangha dassa's picture

And, 'thank you' dear mitra. We will look together! xo

Sit still my heart, do not raise your dust.
Let the world find its way to you. - Tagore

candor's picture

Religion and the humanities were once the primary, if not the only, generators of knowledge (almost all of which had been generated in ancient times). Since Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum, science has gradually taken over as the primary, if not the only, generator of knowledge. In the process, science has debunked many of the claims religion and the humanities previously made, and expanded knowledge beyond the wildest dreams of our ancestors. Religion and the humanities, especially in academia, continue to be threatened as science continues to make progress.

An analogy is Religion and Humanities as two older brothers. Mom and Dad had an unexpected third child, Science, who has been outshining Religion and Humanities since shortly after her birth. Since Science was born, Religion and Humanities have been jealous of and threatened by their brilliant little sister, who has been proving her older brothers wrong about various things they believed, and discovering things they never dreamed of or considered possible. The fact that S has discovered so much so young is frustrating to R and H, who now just was S to sit down on the cushion and shut up! R and H stopped learning long ago, and are reduced to old quarrels between themselves about issues they’ll never agree about. Instead of encouraging S to learn and teach them, R and H want S to stop learning and accept what R and H have known for much longer than S has been alive. But S is curious and brilliant in a way that R and H never have been. S will not be held down no matter what R and H call her, or how much they say she is conceited or deluded, or how angry R and H get at her and her supporters.

I say, go, Science, go! Learn everything you can and teach us! Ignore Religion and Humanities ignoble and self-serving criticism of your work and ambition!

And if I don’t have anything more to say after this, it’s because there is nothing that I consider worth replying to.

softwear1's picture

only a fundalmentallist would would attribute the inclusion of Science as the answer to finding the mystery. Religion and humanities are also two dogmas, perceptions and projections of the thinker. Today the Dalai Lama steeps himself in Science and its discoveriis, not to prove that science wil answer questions of our origins, of a God or a HIgher Power...but to keep our minds open. Mind training, per tibetan buddhist teachings and trainings came first, before scientific analysis and brain studie, done today with calculators and machines. We are not robots...we are spiritual beings, enclosed in a material body. we can't see our minds; proven by sitting and meditating and LOOKING for your MIND. I don't thnk it's a part of our brains....it exists; we can't see it or catch it or draw it. every dogmatic religion has a side -car in sprituality. the Kabbalah, sufiism, ciristian mystics, yoga.... shamans etc. We prove things, and then one day, something unexplainable happens. NDE's, near- death-experiences experiences, such as Dr. eben alexander, neurosurgeon, who didn't beleive in NDE's and then he had a stroke.... his experience of his own NDE read his book; he remembers all ....NOW HE BELEIVES. Erickson...Duke University studies, inspired by Edga rCayce readings; rermember that Egar cayce used it to do good things. to help people diagnos illnesses, not to get numbers to win a lottery in order to GET RICH. CONSCIOUSNESS, per the teachings in tibetan buddhism and chrsitianity et al. is who we are, and we must learn to perfect our Concsciousness. Think about what Karma means; we are endless, the results do not have to appear in this iifetime, but come from past lives and affect future lives. Reincarnation was a part of Christian beliefs until Constantine, 300 a.d. took it out, and assembled the New Testament.... to scare people,,, that you only had one LIFE, ONE CHANCE....OR YOU WOULDN'T GO TO THAT HEAVEN OF ETERNITY...but to HELL! ! ! We are infinite: read the unpanishads, THE GITA, Hinduiism, inspiring the BUDDHA.... Buddhism. Maybe if Mr. Candor meditated and stopped reading scientific reports he might get into another dimension. There is not just one universe, the Dalai Lama talks of millions of universes and so does science, spirituallity and science are interwoven butting heads. To beleive that we are the only ones....is self-cherishing.
Listen...go within....thousands of years ago meditators saw, what science sees now.
(Read:" the Quantum and the Lotus" by matthieu ricard. ( French Scientist,
studied tibetan buddhism,now lives andmeditates in the himalyas and TEACHES ! ! !........************** LOVE= LIGHT
We are mostly impure ....that's why we can't GET THERE!
WE are consciousness....impure consciousness made the materiallity where we are now! ! ! LET'S perfect who we are; awaken the I AM !!!
awaken, enlighten, eternity, infinte, infinite life, fire, water, breath, Breathe
SPIRIT
E.E.

sangha dassa's picture

Thank you for your love=light and insight! xxoo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Zl9puhwiyw

Dominic Gomez's picture

Religion, Humanities and Science are deeply related as siblings. And they are beholden to the People (their parents).

sangha dassa's picture

I see know reason not to celebrate the humanities, science and, the Buddha's teachings. I would not wish to live in a society where all three were not equally respected - and valued. There is no science envy or jealousy here. I appreciate science as much as you do. However, you seem to have learned - or concluded - that the humanities are 'somehow' irrelevant or redundant. Or, in danger of becoming so! This is a position I find difficult to understand.

There is not a snow flakes chance in hell of the humanities loosing their relevance anytime soon. And, there is no apparent reason why we would benefit from such a loss. Except, to satisfy the odd hard-nosed sceptic and, the devotees of scientism. A bunch of rebels without a clue!

I am also happy to understand the Buddha on his own terms as well. I see know value whatsoever in re-inventing him to suit the faithful in the church of scientism. The Buddha would not have thanked us for this! However, we need to have our thinking caps on when it comes to the Buddha - as with scientism!

So, 'Mum' (H) and 'Dad' (R) have great affection for their 'little ray of sunshine' (S). However, as if often the case - as all parents know from experience - the kids can give them hell. And, blame them for everything! Children rarely take advice from their concerned parents. They always imagine they have all the answers. Particularly when they reach adolescence.

Scientism resembles a form of adolescent reactivity. With next to no appreciation or respect for what the old folks have got to say. Most parents eagerly await that pivotal transition where their adolescent children grow up. Sadly, this is not always the case. Many of us live in the hope that our collective trajectory of self-annihilation might be averted. Maybe we need a new generation. A new vision of reality? Maybe Mum and Dad and their reactive teenager, is not what we really need?

Oh dear, there might be more that we all need to learn? That will be next to impossible if we have approached the end of our journey of discovery. If we have dealt with all the major issues. I will keep an open mind in the hope that something entirely new may come along. A pleasant surprise! The unpredictable! Perhaps something we cannot measure - or reduce to a scientific model and then go to sleep. (Here's lookin at ya kiddo). xxoo

softwear1's picture

SEVERAL OF your writings here have used the word KNOW...
when it should have been be spelled NO !
so please be careful when writing to use No for the negative
and KNOW for... KNOWING something...
hope this helps and it was just a typographical error.

e.e.

sangha dassa's picture

Thanks e.e., I will try to spell-check from now on. I got into trouble with Candor once before, for not having paragraphs.

candor's picture

No, Mom and Dad are the human mind (they reproduce asexually in this case). R and H are older siblings who have a very interesting and varied past, and are worth studying for that reason alone (they also have some ideas that their brilliant little sister agrees with), but they haven’t contributed much of anything new in hundreds of years. S is a young, precocious, brilliant, and ambitious sister who has already corrected many of R’s and H’s mistakes, and gone far beyond anything R and H could have ever hoped for in knowledge. We might find R and H charming and interesting, and much of their advice sound, but they won’t give us new knowledge. S is our rising star who has shined a bright light on our world, and will continue to shine, no matter how much she is called names or thought of as arrogant.

Go, Science, go! Ignore the jealous and defensive grumblings of the supporters of your older brothers.

sangha dassa's picture

Dear Candor, its nice that you have the 'go science' to fall back on as a reasoned objection to the points I have made. I will join you in the stadium in the team colors and cheer with you - share the ecstasy! It is really sweet that you love this precious brilliant and ambitious little sister, like the rest of us! Its nice that this 'dear sis' has lots of friends who admire her - myself included. But, there is really no need to imagine that her older siblings are envious or jealous of her. They only love their sister and they celebrate her brilliance. At least, in the circles that I move in! We need to make sure that we are hitting the right target in defense of little sis/science. We don't want to exaggerate in order to make a point or generalise for reasons that make no sense. This is not a discussion about science its about our relationship to it!

You insist that the siblings (H, R and, S) cannot get along! Acceptions disprove the rule! If untold numbers of people find no conflict of interest in maintaining an interest in science, the humanities, and Dharma inquiry, then you need to find an explanation for this that is coherent and reasonable. We might start by investigation? We might ask scientists who also have an interest in the humanities and the Dharma, and find out what is going on with them. This seems quite reasonable! It might help us to come to a clearer understanding of the issues you draw attention to. I imagine that we would come up with a variety of interesting and informative answers. None of them, directly related to science and its methods. However, the question and its answers are worthy of investigation. As they would provide us with findings of significance and value.

I made two points with regard to science earlier in this thread. One of the points I raised was with regard to the issue of the wise and appropriate use of the products of science. It is clear that scientific findings can be used in ways that do not always serve our interests. It largely depends on who has access to the science and what their motivations happen to be. For instance, many animals have been tortured - and they still are - through the application of scientific procedures, through research! Often, in the service of commercial interests in order to secure approval for their products. Clearly, science alone, is not adequate with regard to 'finding out' the propriety of these abhorent acts of cruelty! We need recourse to another form of inquiry - and deep reflection - to identify the reasons why this is something we can do without. We can provide scientific proof that this barbaric practice is unnecessary i.e. their are humane alternatives. However, we also need recourse to other kinds of arguments and 'findings'. Findings, that are more compelling and 'truthful' than scientific findings and considerations. We may need to step outside of the domain of science in order to 'see' and understand the truth of what is going on!

The second point I raised was with regard to the following. I have heard scientists and science enthusiasts say, that we should not have any kind of oversight of scientific research or its trajectory. I have heard from the same people that it is none of their business what applications the findings of science - are put to! They have informed me that such concerns would amount to interference. It will hault the progress of scientific investigation where we need to have people asking whatever questions they may choose to ask and, the freedom to inquire - empirically.

Clearly, there are issues with this kind of approach to science and its products? However, I need recourse to something other than science to make the case! To say that my considerations - that lead me to advice due caution - are invalid, because they are scientifically unproven is (morally indefensible). They are perfectly true assertions - about a genuine cause for concern - that are based on a different kind of insight into the nature of the problem. Something other - than the issue of free scientific inquiry. Something to do with the issue of 'ethical oversight'. We need to question the naive belief, that all science is necessarily beneficial and useful - in the long run. We would need time to test that hypothesis? We may come up with a heady mix of findings. Best to apply the 'precautionary principle'. Instead of cleaning up the mess later! If we apply this principle, we will be doing so because we have thought carefully about the wider implications of what we do. We would be 'at a loss' in our terms of reference, if we only had the science to determine the right course of action. Our choices may have impacts that have little consequence for science - as a field of inquiry. At least, in the immediate time frame.

You need to take issue with the points being raised in order to establish your argument. If you have no objections you have no argument! Empirical inquiry is clearly not, all we can rely on to understand many many things of enormous importance, If, we were reduced to science as the only means for establishing truth, facts, and matters of significance, our ability to make reasonable decisions and, simply live, would be impossible. And, these observations have nothing to do with an envy of, or jealousy regarding science. Your criticism is baseless and simplistic. I have come to expect more from you. Candidly yours, sangha dassa.

candor's picture

Sangha Dassa,

My replies in this thread have been motivated by the decidedly anti-science content and tone of Curtis White's interview. I like science. I think it's helpful and hopeful. So, I promote it.

I once wrote, very sarcastically and in scare quotes, that I was a "faithful devotee of Scientism." You took it as a serious claim. It wasn't.

There are many definitions of Scientism. If Scientism is being a metaphysical naturalist, then I'm guilty of Scientism. If Scientism is promoting science, then I'm guilty of Scientism. But I don't accept those definitions. To me, Scientism is the belief that reasonable belief, knowledge claims, and/or meaning can only come from hard science and/or its methods. As a classic example, the logical positivists were guilty of Scientism. I have an acquaintance who is guilty of Scientism the way I define it. He and I no longer discuss epistemology.

I am a metaphyisical naturalist and determinist, so I reject religious claims and woo-woo and "free will"; but I consider this a philosophical position, not a scientific one. Unfortunately, once one announces that one categorically rejects religion and woo-woo and "free will," one is often wrongly accused of Scientism. That's okay. Not everything that happens in life is fair or pleasant. And even when things are fair and pleasant, it doesn't last. :-)

sangha dassa's picture

The focus of interest is on scientism not on science. Do you understand the difference between the two? Are you suggesting there is no difference? Are you asserting that there is only science and, no scientism? Are you equally concerned with the prevalence of blind and ill-considered support for science, in situations where we need to exercise due caution? Do you acknowledge the obvious! That we need recourse to other forms of inquiry and investigation - other than science - to understand how the world is ordered? And, in order to make appropriate decisions that effect all of us. If you accept all of the above. Perhaps, you have an interest in moral philosophy, for instance. That would make you a student of the humanities? Are you, by definition: against scientism! So, you need to modify your jeers from the peanut gallery! It needs to be: 'Go Science! Down with Scientism!' It is a question of coherence?

candor's picture

You're full of rhetoric, bombast, and insult. You don't even bother to read my comments and offer a thoughtful reply. You're back on my ignore list.

sangha dassa's picture

Dear Candor, You are correct in what you have said. I was to busy with what I wanted to say in my last reply. And, I did not pay attention to your preceding reply. I apologise! That is not giving you the fair hearing you deserve! However, I have been paying a lot of attention to all the other comments you have made in this thread. You have also tended to ignore - and not answer - the questions I have put to you. This has lead to some frustration and distraction.

You are clearly a person with concerns that fall into the rubric of the humanities and the Dharma. But for reasons that are difficult to understand. You have referred to the humanities in a disparaging way. And, you have suggested that science provides the only valid answers that we all need, to understand reality. Is the mass slaughter of countless animals - and the ethical implications of that - a reality? Are the ethical implications of that a scientific question to which we can find scientific answers? You are a vegan! What is your answer? You refuse to give any! What is the point of your strategy of evasion? I don't think you have recognised the incoherence of what you are saying.

You are an avid student and supporter of the humanities - like it or not! You say one thing about the humanities and then do the opposite. You should wear your love of the humanities as a badge of honor. Come out of the closet! Declare your support for multiple forms of inquiry. And, explain why you have arrived at the conclusion, that science is an inadequate means for demonstrating the facts you draw attention to. You are currently in the habit of shooting yourself in the foot! Don't let your ideology over-ride your common sense!

I apologise for upsetting you! I do fall down when it comes to right speech from time to time. I did get a bit hot under the collar. I have genuinely attempted to say, what I feel needs saying. Things that I feel are worthy of wise reflection. Sometimes, your comments seem quite dismissive. Or, you fail to acknowledge what I have attempted to share. That is also unhelpful - at times! I think we both could benefit from a bit more self-reflection? Best wishes, sangha dassa

candor's picture

I'll reply to this to clear up apparent confusion. I do think much differently of the humanities than of religion. The humanities will always be valuable and relevant to our lives, and that's all well and good. Religion, otoh, seems to generate as much violence and hatred as anything good. Religion, unfortunately, will probably never die, but if it did, I'd smile.

My point with the story of the siblings was to get across the fact that science creates new knowledge, the vast majority of which is useful, at least eventually, at a rate incomparable to religion and the humanities. My point was NOT that the humanities are useless; ONLY that they don't generate new knowledge very fast, or at all.

American chattel slavery did not end because of new knowledge in the humanities (ethics or political theory). American slavery ended mostly because of changes from an agricultural economy, where it's more practical to own labor than to rent it, to an industrial economy, where it is more practical to rent labor than own it. It also ended because of the efforts of the more ethically-minded people of the time speaking out against it. These two reasons added to the cause of a war, which the anti-slavery side won.

The idea of leaving animals alone by not exploiting or killing them unnecessarily goes back to the ancient Greeks and Brahmans, if not earlier. If animal emancipation from slavery by humans ever ends in any nation or state, it won't be due to new knowledge discovered in ethics or politics. At best, the humanities will find ways to remix what it has known for centuries in a way that resonates with the culture at the time. To the extent the humanities generates new knowledge, it's likely due to scientific methods (i.e. science) being applied.

So, there is no contradiction. I see the humanities as highly valuable, but relatively dead in the generation of discoveries or new knowledge.

sangha dassa's picture

Dear Candor, I live on the other side of the planet from you. So, what you have had to say about slavery in America is something I am not all that familiar with. I did see bits of a documentary from the U.S. on the topic. It was focusing on the debate among Christian congregations that were advocating 'for and against' the abolition of slavery. And, what impact that had on the debate and the further impact that had on the politics. As far as I know, the abolition of slavery in Great Britain, was driven by Christian social activists, who had an impact on the politics. Perhaps the abolition of slavery in Great Britain was driven by a different constellation of variables than in the U.S..

Thank you, for taking the time to clarify your position with regard to the humanities. With regard to the early teachings of the Buddha, it is likely that we have a great deal of divergence in our perspectives. And, in our individual experience. My views with regard to the Buddha's teachings are informed by experiences that pre-date my meeting with the Buddha Dharma. My journey in Buddhism has largely been a process of trying to make sense of experiences that arose in the context of meditation from an earlier period in my life. Experiences that I have found difficult to explain within conventional frames of reference.

This is where I take issue with one of your philosophical conclusions. You have stated - categorically - that religion and the humanities, are not productive of new and significant findings. They only revise old established conclusions - that have been 'done to death'. Science alone produces new findings and insights into the nature of reality.

Unfortunately, my experience does not confirm this postulate! I have found that the practice of meditation - and related practises such as 'mindfulness in daily life'. Can be productive of new and extraordinary insights into the nature of reality. Therefore, one of your beliefs with regard to the Dharma, has not been confirmed in the context of my own experience. And, there are countless others who engage in Buddhist practice, that have arrived at similar findings. The Buddha's teachings contain countless references to the findings that arise in the context of meditation practice. Many being of a unique and transformative nature. They are not new in the sense of being 'different'. They are new in the sense of 'never experienced before'. By the meditation practitioners undergoing the training outlined by the Buddha.

So, there is every likelihood that our unrelated approaches to the teachings of the Buddha reflect different concerns, interests and, meditation experiences. As well as, the different insights that arise in the course of Buddhist practice. All of this is detailed in the earliest strata of the teachings. This may go some way to explaining our divergent points of view. Thank you for your time and effort! Best Wishes, sangha dassa.

candor's picture

Actually, the abolition of slavery in Great Britain was also caused mainly by the change from an agricultural to an industrial economy, and secondarily by social activism. Economic modes of production are primarily what drive the kind of slavery, chattel or wage, humans use. Moral arguments have some force in cultural practices, but nowhere near the force that a strong military (and violence in general) and/or economic modes of production have. Moral arguments are most effective for puffing up the chests and egos of members of subsequent generations who “know” they would never have been a slave owner had they lived back then!

As for the rest of your comment, as is typical, you misrepresent what I write and then attack your misrepresentation, often exaggerating our differences instead of reconciling them. Some advice: read to understand the details. If something isn’t clear, ask instead of assuming. If you do just those two things, you’ll be lot more tolerable to those with whom you disagree. If you really want to avoid misrepresentation, then quote verbatim, and interpret charitably, meaning in the way that you genuinely believe your interlocutor would interpret the quote, given the context and background knowledge of the situation.

I wasn’t at all absolute in my comment regarding the production of new knowledge in science versus the humanities. And yet, you misrepresented me as writing that the humanities do not produce new knowledge; that only science does. You even added that I wrote it --categorically--. Not only did I not state it categorically, I never wrote that the humanities do not produce new knowledge, nor did I write that only science does. I wrote that to the extent the humanities generates new knowledge, it does so incomparably slowly compared to science.

You then give an example of how the humanities (in the form of the Buddha’s teachings on mindfulness meditation) provide “new and extraordinary insights into the nature of reality.” You then state “And, there are countless others who engage in Buddhist practice, that have arrived at similar findings.” But individuals happening upon the same experiences in meditation, or school kids learning math and history, aren’t what I mean by new knowledge. If that’s what I meant, then “new knowledge” is being generated at a mind-boggling rate as people read the newspapers every morning, not to mention kids going to school! LOL! What I meant is objective discoveries generating knowledge or know-how that, to the best of our knowledge, no human has ever known or experienced.

If you don’t hear from me again, it’s because I don’t have time to correct your misrepresentations and misunderstandings of what I write. Reconciling disagreement (if there is any; people who agree often argue over confusion about the other's view) is difficult enough when two parties perfectly and charitably represent each other; productive discussion is nearly impossible when misrepresentation and/or spin is added at every turn.

sangha dassa's picture

Dear Candor, you said earlier: I see the humanities as highly valuable, but [relatively dead in the generation of discoveries or new knowledge]." How do you square this with the following: "to the extent the humanities generates new knowledge, it does so incomparably slowly compared to science." Is it dead or slow? Either way, it would appear to be somewhat redundant when it comes to the production of new and valuable insights that can enrich our understanding. Your dismissiveness of the humanities is the 'smoking gun' that betrays your strong scientistic bias.

The main problem you have with my earlier reply is that I have represented what you really believe with regard to the humanities - without the smoke screen. You have modified your position in your later comments. In order to appear more reasonable - and less dogmatic. Although you appear to find this a rather arduous task.

You have run into the same problem on our previous exchanges. What you say earlier on is invariably altered as the discussion proceeds. You move from more radical to more moderate statements - largely out of necessity. You exhibit all the dogmatic tendencies that are found amongst the faithful in the Church of Scientism. Particularly in your tendency to be dismissive of people who do not share your core convictions. I have simply called your bluff!

candor's picture

No, SD, you look for ways to disagree. I try to find common ground where there is or might be common ground (that said, we do have our significant differences, but this is probably not one of the significant differences). You take my searching for reconciliation on certain points as retreat. It's not.

The humanities are both RELATIVELY (AS I STATED!) dead AND incomparably slow. "Relatively dead" AND "incomparably slow" mean approximately the same thing in the context in which I used them. Once again, no contradiction! This slowness is only regarding the generation of new objective and universal knowledge. The humanities are very useful to every normal adult human, and brand spanking new to people who haven't been exposed to them. I've always maintained that, and you'll never come up with a quote from me that denies it. If the best you can come up with is the "contradiction" in quotes you posted, then I'm quite consistent.

The "new insights" are subjective and personal, not objective and universal. Science generates objective and universal new knowledge. Meditation generates subjective and personal (i.e. psychological) "insights." (This is not a bad thing at all. In fact, I greatly value my own subjective and personal "insights.")

That's all, SD. You are one of the most annoying people -- I mean one of the very best teachers for practice -- that I've ever encountered on the Web. Unfortunately, I'm not nearly advanced enough in Dharma practice to deal with you, and even if I was, life is too short. You may have the last word. Take your best last shot. Bury my heretical ass.

PS: I cancelled my subscription to Tricycle a few days ago. Perhaps the current subscription hasn't run out, which is why my login is still active here. It seems time to log out permanently, unsubscribe to emails, and delete the bookmark. I'm moving on....

sangha dassa's picture

Dear Candor, I apologise! There are really good reasons for you to remain in this on-line community. There are many who are grateful for your presence here. I know, because I have managed to upset and annoy them as well. So, don't leave because of me - or any others. Stay for those who can appreciate you more than rat-bags like me. You owe it to them! I know you are a sensitive being and I have communication problems that can aggravate and annoy. I am working on it!

There is no need for you to leave tricycle. You have every right to speak about what you think and feel - in this forum. We both believe in democracy and freedom of expression. Just coz I am to dumb to appreciate wot u haf to say is my problem - not yours. At the end of the day we are just two brothers arguing over who gets to sleep on the top bunk! From now on its yours! You are an articulate communicator with a detailed understanding of ideas I can only guess at. I may be seriously confused and misguided. As we can turn up the heat we can also turn it down. Interdependence right! I will try to be kinder and, more considerate and, lend a closer ear. I know your heart is in the right place. I have never doubted that for a moment. Its just our heads are in different hemispheres (literally and, metaphorically). Lets support a polyphony of voices! With special attention given to the ones we find most difficult to hear. Help me to come out of ignorance. Just like the compassionate Buddha! Whatiya say?

More important than being right - is to care!

We could even try a bit of 'Gestalt Therapy' if u want? Give it some thought! The next time we meet, I could be you and you could be me? That would keep the punters guessing! I know it would be well-nigh impossible to do you. But it would help me to understand your perspective in greater detail? I would have to do some research. And, me? You could do that without trying! Take it easy on my bombastic tendencies - though. Its a bad habit! Big love, sangha dassa. xxoo

candor's picture

Thank you for your apology, SD. I appreciate your steps to reconcile.

My cancellation had/has nothing to do with you. I cancelled before this discussion started. Although we disagree about certain topics, we have given each other plenty of space since our first “battle” two or three months ago. I only brought it up to let you know I wouldn’t be around much longer, fyi, and to let you know that I was going to make it earlier than necessary, admittedly because of this discussion prior to this point in it.

I cancelled because of an article, entitled “Spotlight on Will Horowitz,” published last week on this website, that changed my perspective on this magazine. Ever since I encountered Buddhism many years ago, I’ve had disagreement and tension with Buddhists’ permissibility, and even encouragement and promotion, of animal exploitation and unnecessary killing. I say “Buddhists’” instead of “Buddhism’s” because I don’t see nearly enough room in the Dharma/Dhamma, as most Buddhists apparently see, for the exploitation and unnecessary killing of animals, especially in 2013 in affluent, educated nations. This is tension with modern practitioners, including monks and nuns, not with the Dharma/Dhamma itself.

“Spotlight on Will Horowitz” reads to me, as another person put it in the comments section, as a “. . .hipster lifestyle advertisement. Questioning the wisdom of its inclusion at Tricycle web site.” Well put. And why is Tricycle advertising such a restaurant? The only “connection” with Buddhism is that the restaurant’s owner went to Naropa University (a Tibetan Buddhist school in Colorado). I would hope and surmise that Mr. Horowitz made a generous “donation” to Tricycle for the privilege of the “spotlight” advertisement; otherwise, the advertisement’s appearance is even more bizarre! But if Tricycle is accepting “donations” for advertisements that, IMV, go that much against the Dharma/Dhamma, then the magazine has lost its compass. Regardless, even if the vast majority of readers find it acceptable, it pushes me beyond my tolerance for bullshit.

Incidentally, there is also tension generated by my secular views on the religious aspects of Buddhism. This tension doesn’t bother me at all, but I suspect many here don’t appreciate my “candor” on this topic, which I understand. I’ll also admit that I’m the one (as opposed to religious practitioners), in the case of the religious aspects, who is out of touch with Buddhism.

So, take care, SD. I sincerely wish you the best! (And I might stick around for as long as my subscription lasts, as long as I find it conducive to practice.)

sangha dassa's picture

just take a breather old-boy to recoup your energy. your entitled to that for sure. you have shared a lot with all of us and it has been pretty heavy going at times. but, i have also seen you chin-wagging with other interested parties. i saw a conversation you had with richard, where there was clearly some good chemistry. u made good complementary dance partners. as you both share common interests and passions. i have just been to a buddhist society meditation, talk and workshop. we split up into circles of fiveish and had a conversation. there were five questions to discuss but our circle did not get past number 1. question 1. was: what is freedom? the guy sitting next to me i know from a local community garden/enviro action/animal rights/social issue group. i go there on a monday night and we have a shared vegan feed and play music and love each other. anyways, this guy next to me is devoted to the same animal rights issues that you highlight. he got to share his insights with the whole gathering tonight. it is a very successful dharma group that benefits an enormous amount of people, in a variety of ways. there were people there for the first time straight out of the suburbs learning about the dharma and meditating for the first time. looking for ways to deal with their stress and loneliness and mental anguish - in short, people like us! So a broad sweep of people was there for really good reasons to share and love and discover ways to help themselves to cope with their existence.

Now this lovely man - a vegan - who is a weekly participant in this gathering consistently asks questions and highlights issues with regard to his passion for the loving care of all beings. Will you leave him standing alone? will you leave him with the burden to carry on, on his own? you have your important role to play as well! right here in this place! what if he wanted to jump ship? would you try to encourage him to carry on. and do the important sharing he is doing in the place he finds himself? He knows that he is in a really diverse mixed bag of people who are plugging in on all soughts of levels. new, middling and old dharma bums. he is happy to have his opportunity to speak his truth in this important forum because he knows people are in a receptive state where they are capable of hearing things that - are outside their conditioned way of operating. they are not just going through the motions. they have been 'interrupted' by chilling out and getting into a positive frame of mind.

so where is this going? dont underestimate the value of this forum for reaching people with regard to things that matter! sure, people are climbing on board 'as they are'. but this bus is going somewhere! people are in this space because they are in a state of receptivity - as best they can muster. we just have to keep speaking our truth as best we can. and don't loose heart with each other. bare in mind that we all climb onboard as we are! it cannot be helped. but we are all trying - in this place - to realise our potential for giving and sharing our love and understanding. we just plug away at it! With patience and, without unrealistic expectations, that every one can move at the same pace. or, that we should all be on the same page! given the uniqueness of each of our stories and, life experience its to much to ask of 'reality' that it could be otherwise. we just give what we can without expectation and trust in the process. believe me - you are needed and valued! don't give up on us! we are worth it and so are you! just take a breather and come back. we need you on board. i mean it. xxxxxxxxxoooooooooo

candor's picture

My time here doing vegan advocacy has been like an ice cube on an iceberg. For almost every day over eleven years, except for the past year or so, I have written about or debated animal ethics, both online and IRL. I’ve been taking a breather for the past year. (My time advocating here doesn’t even count compared to what I used to do. I did more in a day back then than I've done here in months.) My “breather” is and will be indefinite. Maybe I’ll return someday, but a 10 year marathon at a fast pace has taken its toll in the form of burnout for various reasons. If your vegan friend quits, I wouldn’t blame him at all. The world will not go vegan because I’m active; nor will my silence stop vegan progress. I have no money or power to influence things. Analogously to current human population, I’m just one raindrop of 7 billion raindrops. I’m vegan because I’ve morally internalized the value of animals’ lives. I advocated for 10 years because I wanted to see for myself whether I could have an effect, even a small one. Maybe I had an effect, but if I did, it is impossible to know its extent. Regardless, I’m done for now, except for occasional stints, and I don’t know if I’ll ever return. But thank you for your genuine concern. You're a good person, SD.

PS: I didn't sign up here to do vegan advocacy, it just happens sometimes when the topic comes up.

sangha dassa's picture

Dear Candor, you are the leaven in the lump! A little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough. A little yeast spreads through the whole batch of dough. A little yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise! If we want to make a good loaf of bread then we all need to help in the kitchen. Someone needs to read the recipe, gather the ingredients, do the mixing. Then, the kneading, the baking and, the cleaning up! We all have our job to do - our part to play. If vegans use baking soda instead then u r the soda! You need to fizzle and pop and raise consciousness in the community. With regard to the proper care, concern and, consideration that all sentient beings deserve - and need. They are all members of our family! Keep your cool - you are doing a good job. 1+1=2
You did not realize i was good at mathematical analysis - did you! xxoo

candor's picture

I had no idea you were a mathematician! ;-)

sangha dassa's picture

awareness, understanding and, love in action are, three peas in the same pod! 'samadhi' (natural stillness), 'panna' (wisdom), 'sila' (nonviolent behavior). We discover these in an atmosphere of open inquiry. In the company of good friends. We need to support each other! This is what makes life meaningful and a blessing!

sangha dassa's picture

Dear Candor, you said: "Maybe I had an effect, but if I did, it is impossible to know its extent." Follow the implications of this!
If you wrongly conclude that your input does not make a difference - it leads to burn-out!
If u rightly conclude that what u have to say is meaningful and important. and, it does have a positive effect, coz it makes people THINK!
Then u simply need to step back, chill out and, take a breath!
The really savvy 'advocates for change' go one step further!
They learn to breathe and chill out at the same time as they are sharing their important contributions to the welfare of all.
Therefore the process is ongoing and unstoppable!

Naturally, you will draw some heat and, meet with resistance, if you draw attention to things which 'interrupt' the flow of conditioning. Ways of being in the world that people have been acquanted with from the beginning of their lives - up till now.
This is natural and inevitable and it would be unrealistic to expect otherwise.
However, this does not mean that seeds of change have not been planted. We go away and think about things, We meet others! We keep the conversation alive about things that really matter and we don't loose heart. We have faith in people. We help them to understand. Over time, things begin to shift. Not through a sudden revelation. Through deep and sustained reflection.

There is no other way to make meaningful change happen. We cannot expect 'miracles'. If u are not here speaking the truth about the lives of animals. Who will be??????? Don't underestimate your importance here. Don't give up on us! Just understand what you are dealing with.

It takes a lot of devotion and care to look after young children. To help them learn. Eventually they learn to look after themselves - and others. You speak your truth for the animals. and their situation. you say wot u need to say in the face of the most staunch resistance. where the darkness of ignorance is at its thickest. And u take a breath! and u just keep going. because there is nothing else to do!

All of the above, is why silent retreats are such a good idea. We recharge our batteries, let go for a while - though its tricky at first, its takes awhile for the fan blades to stop spinning. We get our inner life in a condition where we can meet the challenges of making a difference. We find 'new heart' - new energy - and get back to work.

This has relevance to the topic in this blog. The importance of multiple forms of inquiry. This kind of inquiry may be as significant as any other. Meaningful change may depend on it? How to stay where going is a mistake we can ill-afford. You are important. we are are important. this makes a difference. even if we cannot measure it, and we are not able to capture - and assess - its impact. Then, so what? It does matter, in ways we may not fully understand. yours, sangha dassa.

candor's picture

Thank you, SD. You’ve inspired me. Your words remind me of what I thought, said, and wrote in my earlier years of advocacy, often against a strong, prevalent grain of cynicism in my environment. There is a good chance I’ll return to Tricycle, but I will at least take a break -- similar to a long, silent retreat. It’s nice when someone who previously annoyed you turns out to be an inspiring friend.

candor's picture

Science gradually overtaking formerly speculative subjects is progress. Knowledge is better than ignorance. Go, science, go! Explain everything! Debunk intellectual garbage!

sangha dassa's picture

Knowledge is not the opposite of ignorance. Wisdom is what stands in stark contrast to ignorance. One can have little knowledge and still be wise. One may have all the knowledge in the world and be full of conceit - even dangerous. Knowledge can be dangerous if it is at the disposal of the unwise. All this is made crystal clear in the teachings of the Buddha. Science without wisdom is a dangerous thing. Why is this glaringly obvious fact not made clear in science - our salvation! The reason is obvious: it is not a scientific question! If science is not capable of dealing with this question it is not an adequate means of discovery - period! We need to supplement our inquiry with a good dose of common sense.

It would be good if scientistic fanatics would devote a bit more time to debunking their underlying assumptions. We would have a far more tolerant and less competitive environment to ask the hard questions about what motivates us - to create the divisive world that we inhabit. A divisiveness that not only dumbs down inquiry. It creates a disunity we can ill-afford in these troubled times. A bit more time on a meditation cushion and less time in the laboratory or, in the library - would be well-advised. It might help to clarify a few important issues.

candor's picture

Whether knowledge or wisdom is the opposite of ignorance depends on the specific meaning of ignorance implied in the sentence. Given the meaning I implied, knowledge is indeed the opposite of ignorance.

Science can even shed light on and potentially explain wisdom. When I see the word spirit or spiritual, I think psyche or psychological. Science has the potential to tell us about our brain, which creates our mind -- our psychology. Ultimately, science has the potential to explain happiness and contentment and the genetic and environmental factors that affect it. Science has the potential to resolve many of the speculative theories in psychology, which can also help resolve many issues regarding wisdom. Science is not in conflict with the secular, non-religious teachings of the Buddha. In fact, my fondness for science and its methods comes from the same source as my fondness for the secular, non-religious teaching of the Buddha and the Buddha's method of careful observation. The tools of science, such as the fMRI, have already confirmed via objective measurement, the efficacy of mindfulness for improving various psychological aspects of our lives, just as the Buddha claimed.

Go, science, go!

oliverhow's picture

Thank you, and....WOW, and I don't know which is more exciting, the article or all the great posts that follow it!....richard

sangha dassa's picture

If I was to 'dismiss' your point of view, by pointing out your delusions. And if I claimed to be an advocate and spokesperson for science. Then you would deserve a good explanation as to why I had come to this conclusion. It might be the case that I - the science expert - could use 'the claim' that something is a myth, a fairy tale or, its simply 'not science'! As a device for closing down discussion. To be dismissive! To do this is not any kind of argument. It is not any kind of scientific finding.

It is clear that there is a 'mythic' domain. Some myths are just fairy stories, others may convey meanings that are not contained in their outward form. As to what comprises a myth - and what is not. Well, this requires some degree of investigation. Many theories in science were also thought to be myths to begin with. If the people who are responsible for many of our greatest scientific discoveries, had failed to question the assertions of the 'naysayers' - then where would we be? I feel we should be free to exercise our imagination. Our mythic imaginations may prove to be the source of many new discoveries in science, in the arts, in every field of life, and living.

I think it is easier to talk about - and critique - the myths of old, than it is to uncover 'the myths we live by'. The myth of the belief-less and myth-less secularist, scientist, or modern 'enlightenment man'. In contrast to the ignorant people of the past! Is one of the strangest myths of all. Some people may be happy to dismiss the Buddha as an 'ignorant ancestor'. Because he was not born in the age of modern science. They feel that he must have been an ignorant fellow, because he missed out on the opportunity to share their views on modern science, and the wonderful insights it has given us.

We can believe our spiritual ancestors were ignorant folk, and we are fountains of wisdom and understanding. However, an education is no guarantee that we will not spend our time, in ignorant and careless pursuits. In reality, wisdom is not a product of time or place. It has nothing to do with the era that we live in. Wisdom and knowledge are not the same thing. Ignorance and a lack of knowledge is not the same thing either.

Wisdom arises in an atmosphere of open inquiry. It is important not to close down inquiry. So our wisdom and understanding can unfold together. It is good to avoid dogmatic assertions of any kind. This is anathema to science. I think we should avoid making dogmatic assertions, as a means to facilitate all forms of inquiry. Many scientists are happy to entertain the possibility of 'valid forms of inquiry and understanding' that may fall outside their area of expertise. In the 'humanities' for instance. The 'belief' that the scientific method is the only valid means for answering questions - or the best - is not a scientific finding. It is an article of faith in the 'ideology' of Scientism. Some people are devoted followers of this modern 'faith' and, others are not. Some scientists may agree with the articles of faith in Scientism. Some, do not! We are all entitled to our beliefs.

We would be well advised to 'at least' familiarize ourselves with the detailed methodologies taught by the Buddha. In order to see what kind of findings they produce. This is what Buddhists have an interest in doing! The Buddha taught his Dharma on the basis of his own inquiry. He encouraged us to 'test' his findings. But not before we have carried out the experiments. We need to observe the correct experimental procedures, carry out the research and, collect the data. Then we analyze the findings. Then we are in a position to affirm - or negate - the Buddha's teachings. Not on the basis of an ideology - ancient or modern - but as a result of committed and diligent research. We require this kind of diligence and rigor in science and Buddhism. This is how we show respect for and, do justice to, the Buddha and science. Both of them can challenge our core beliefs and assumptions.

The Buddha encouraged us to explode our own myths! Any kind of reified 'identity' is one of the myths he tried to expose. The Buddha referred to his mendicant followers as nobodies. How can I be a 'nobody' (akinchana) if I am overly concerned with that which sets me apart - from others? If I live in a world that is inhabited by believers and non-believers. And I believe I am one - or the other. How am I going to follow the Buddha's advice, and realize that I am a nobody? If, I am concerned with affirming who I am, in contrast, to who I am not? This whole - self affirming - exercise may be nothing more than tilting at windmills.

We create an artificial division when we think, and then feel, our 'sense of self' into existence. We then affirm the existence of 'the other'. Self and other are dependently arisen phenomena. They have no 'own being' (svabhava). Believers and non-believers are the 'heroes and villains' in the 'mythos' of Scientism and earlier faith traditions. They just reverse the stereotypes. It is a recurrent narrative theme, or plot structure.

We are all believers! More deeply, we are all nobodies! We should hold our beliefs 'carefully'. Through our assertions of fact and fallacy and, in suggesting that people are off with the fairies! By being dismissive and derogatory! We may actually be doing people more harm, than good! They may retreat into their ideology as a place of perceived 'refuge'. Missing the liberating wisdom of the Buddha entirely. We may also harbor our own share of delusions as well. The Buddha declared that we are all deluded, with few exceptions. Instead of affirming that which divides us. The Buddha taught 'emptiness' (shunyata). Where there is not-self and therefore, not-other. The 'Buddha's teachings' (Buddhism) are not a philosophy or religion. It is the uncommon sense of the Buddha's awakened intelligence!

I do not feel ill-will towards anyone because they differ in their point of view. But I feel the need to defend science and objectivity. It is not clear to me that the devotees of Scientism do science any favors. They seem to confuse their 'ideology of science' with science - as a method of inquiry. I believe that staying true to the principles and precepts of Buddhism, best serves the interests of science. People are entitled to 'believe' what they like. Whether it be Scientism, or any other ideological position. But don't imagine that you are defending science as a field of open inquiry - in the process.

jackelope65's picture

Neuroscience, for example, is at a point where we are beginning to understand what neural structures in the brain are activated by emotions, thoughts, sensory perception, and motor activities, but our understanding remains crude, at best, and we really do not understand if thought drives neural activity or the reverse. Findings are exciting, such as comparison of empathy, a purely emotional response versus compassion which initiates an emotional response quickly supplanted by thought then motor activity, as per Richard Davidson. Neuroscience's journey may be compared to hiking the Appalachian trail where we have just ascended the foothills of Maine with the remainder of the trail left. Modern science relys on faith almost as much as most spiritual belief where we cannot directly perceive what theory and mathematical equations suggest. Science cannot prove or disprove faith based religion, and when scientists infer that hypothesis, they, themselves, are relying upon their faith in science. Regarding mindfulness and meditation in business and the military, it could be used to make a better bomb and a sniper could improve his kill rate. Buddhism includes compassion, morals, and tradition. Without the four noble truths attachment to outcomes increases and simple relief or enlightenment becomes impossible.

mitri62's picture

nice article, though i feel your argument would be better served by exchanging the word scientist for the phrase materialist science. Many of us are working to educate and inform about what has been termed "post materialist science" to address the ideas you focus upon here. the materialist ideology (the idea that all can be explained as material phenomena alone) has been with us most solidly since newton and advanced via post darwanism. it suggests that there is no such thing as consciousness that is not an epiphenomenon of a material interaction. this is to me the core of your thesis, that the belief that we are all only matter and that all experiences only exist as a part of matter has many and huge paradoxes which point to the inadequacy of this materialist world view. It has given us a belief and a value set that is intimately connected to this body and its experiences and offers no room for expansion outside of this ideology. Even TED has determined its alliance with this material only world view and the inevitable atheism that results. the term scientism makes me bristle a bit as it suggests something contrary to the process of inquiring thought. thank you for your work and service to us all.

DharmaDuck's picture

"Even TED has determined its alliance with this material only world view and the inevitable atheism that results."

Curious why you say this. My experience of TED (informed by many years in that community) is a wide range of people from ALL points in the science-spiritual spectrum (from Jill Taylor to Michael Shermer). I will say that TED'sters tend to eschew fundamentalism, whether in scientism or religion-ism. There's also a strong focus on practicality, so we don't see a lot of "evangelizing" from the TED stage. Rather, we see spirituality in raw practical terms: how can we feed and shelter more people? how can we reduce planetary suffering? how can we reduce the risk of environmental catastrophe? how can we reduce polarization and develop greater empathy among people, tribes, and nations?

Certainly I don't hear a lot of "spiritual jargon" at TED, but I know a whole lot of people working on the biggest problems of life, and I think that's about the most loving, spiritual thing we can DO. Talk is cheap.

Dominic Gomez's picture

TED'sters touch upon a practical concern of Buddhism: How can humanity change its karma?

dhRma4all's picture

Thanks for the article, but I don't find it helpful to equate science with scientism, any more than it's useful to confuse practitioners of any field with unsupportable fundamentalists. Looking back over the history of science, one frequently encounters people like Newton, Galileo, and Einstein, who saw a deeply spiritual element in how "the world" seems to work. Many of them used this reverence and sense of beauty as inspiration for their work (more craters on the moon's visible side are named for Jesuit scientists than for fundamentalist atheists). Like the Buddha's advice to the Kalamas and to Salha, science demands a well-founded but open mind and a confidence in the coherence and value of experience, rather than superstition or anarchy. I have not seen any data that suggest scientists and clinical scientists generally believe in a fundamentalist scientism a la Dawkins (many I have spoken with seem embarrassed by such a dogmatic and bullying approach, which opposes the grounded but open mind that science requires). Science is one of the most remarkable achievements of the human mind and heart, as is the Buddhadharma.

Let's not confuse science with scientism. That's a category mistake.

sirmalcolm's picture

So many of us agree with you in acknowledging the open, inquisitive mind of the true scientist - including Mr. White as I read it. It seems to me he coined the term scientism precisely to note the difference between true science and dogmatic ideology.

mkwart's picture

I just found out about an interesting book that would add to the discussion of this article: "Who's Asking?--Native Science, Western Science and Science Education" by Douglas L. Medin and Megan Bang.
I was a graduate student in Indigenous studies in Alaska and we were made acutely aware through our studies with elders and others of our western scientific bias. That is where I became aware that science is as much a religion as religion. The scientific method was unquestioned as providing the most accurate portrayal of reality. But native people had traditional ecological knowledge from living on the ground in places for thousands of years. I would try to get this information included in environmental assessments of government projects, but this kind of information is "only" anecdotal, and so it is discounted as not "real" knowledge. We are just trying to come out of this paradigm now with research. I realized that my acceptance of the scientific method and the "truth" of the information scientific research provided was interfering with appreciating real knowledge, as exemplified by the traditional ecological knowledge. These two worldviews are being combined now. I was like a fish in water with science--I didn't realize how completely and invisibly I was caught up in it's paradigms until I encountered traditional knowledge.

Richard Fidler's picture

Science presents its methods clearly; indigenous tradition does not do that. Science attempts to provide a description that investigators from varied backgrounds will agree upon, while indigenous sources are not always consistent from one informant to the next. This is not to discount what indigenous peoples have to say--only to point out the difficulties in relying upon native traditions to the exclusion of insights derived from science.

Am somewhat confused as to exactly which scientific methods are unsatisfactory to you. Are you opposed to ethnography, for example? It attempts to gather information from many sources and tries to construct meanings not just from a "Western" point of view but from the viewpoint of indigenous peoples. Are you opposed to the system of juried journal articles? Also, I am curious as to whether you would criticize any testimony from indigenous sources. Will you accept without question whatever an informant tells you?

You say "science is as much religion as religion", but I can see plenty of differences. Scientific findings are open to review and criticism. They must be replicated. They must present methods clearly. They must address alternative interpretations. Religion doesn't do those things.

Perhaps your discontent with science has to do with your impatience for the slowness with which science responds to problems. It does not accept stories immediately--nor should it--but it will, if given enough time, entertain those stories as hypotheses for investigation. I think you are too quick to reject scientific explanations and descriptions: relying solely on indigenous oral traditions is fraught with problems, too.

barry.cull's picture

Essential questions are nicely dealt with in "The Quantum and the Lotus" by Matthieu Ricard and Trinh Xuan Thuan. The book explores what is knowable, how we know, and to what use we put that knowledge. In his book Curtis White criticizes the ideology of scientism in its unshakable belief that technology should serve the interests of the industrial-military complex at the expense of building sustainable communities. The relationship between science and capitalism seems vulcanized at this point in time. The hope lies in being able to examine the way we live our lives in a mindful and compassionate way.

jungsoo's picture
barry.cull's picture

I posted in the wrong spot. Not sure of how to delete.

jungsoo's picture

me too!

GordClements@hotmail.com's picture

Yes science has emerged as the modern common sense way. part of the effort involved is to try to understand our lives through rational thought, science being the ultimate tool. There are cognitive limitations to understanding life in this way. It only helps us to see in a different way looking at pieces and parts with the indirect metaphoric use of language. Understanding the essence of life is something that we can better know from another way of more direct experience.

Will.Rowe's picture

I enjoyed this article. Science/scientism as an ideology seems ever apparent with the man-made global warming theorists who demand we accept their ideology, much with same the fervor shown by rabid Marxists or religious fanatics. Such extreme attachment to ideology does not seem in keeping with a Buddhist desire to rid oneself of attachments.

marginal person's picture

The author tells us that there is an assumption that science is not a world- view but simply, " the way things are".
Replace the word "science" with "Buddhism". Another assumption is that science derives authority from its privileged access to how things are, that it launches from the bedrock of the real. This statement could be a faithful Buddhist describing the dharma to a non-believer.
Buddhism can also be seen as an ideology in the sense of the various sects putting forth their story with the primary motivation to further their own agenda.
We all have ideologies. The problem arises when they are covert. Most Westerners see Buddhism as a philosophy but the problem is they suspend critical thinking in favor of comforting belief. Why are terms like the dharma, impermanence, contingency , the four noble truths etc. not questioned vigorously but instead accepted as "reality".
It's important to question the assumptions of science, but don"t stop there. I'm not speaking of religious Buddhism, people are entitled to believe what they will. I say question Buddhism's claim to valid description of "what is"..