Plato’s Challenge

Plato’s Challenge

Plato’s Challenge

Plato was obviously, and unchallengingly, a great thinker and a super influential philosopher.  In fact, his radical (at the time) views on the separation between the Ideal and the Real resonate deeply in current Western thought, and in the main Western (Abrahamic) religions.  The core concept of separation between the material and the spiritual.  Even more fundamental, that the material reality we live in is just an imperfect, degraded view of the perfection of the spiritual world (the Ideal.)

This is directly reflected in the prevalent (endemic) concept of God as “outside” of the material world.  That He created this reality, and is therefore inherently separated from this world we live in.  The parable of Adam and Eve emphasizes this duality — they chose “knowledge” and therefore were condemned to be both separate from this world, and to an eternity of hard work.

This duality between material and spiritual, knowledge and experience, observer and observed, is not universal. Many Eastern philosophies and religions strike a more integrated relationship between the spiritual and the material. Indigenous cultures often present an even tighter coupling — the spirit world is ever present in this world. The one inhabits the other. There is no explicit distinction. In fact, understanding the spirits dictates many actions taken in the day-to-day.

The Platonic/Abrahamic tradition can definitely be argued to have led to many successes. One huge example is the scientific method. This philosophy bases itself on the core separation of the observed from the observer. (This delineation would have to be relaxed with the advent of quantum theories of nature.) Science is without a doubt one of the most successful endeavors of man to date. We have used these methods to learn so much about the world around us, to create so many life changing and lifesaving technologies. The results of the scientific philosophy have brought the world together more than Plato would have ever imagined. (In fact, his view of the extent of the “world” would likely not have bypassed the Straits of Gilbraltar.)

But there has been a dark cost to all this progress. This stark separation of Us vs the World, literally, is now causing unavoidable damage to Us. Our insistence on conquering the natural world, and the belief that We are not part of this world, has now led to a degradation of our home world such that it could one day soon conceivably threaten our race’s very existence. It is now becoming clear that the Platonic duality and separation of Mind over matter, Man over Nature, was hubris — and self-defeating — not to mention needlessly devastating to the world supposedly “given” to us to care for.

Plus, I would posit that this enforced separation between Spirituality and Nature has created an almost intractable sadness in humanity. This inherently arbitrary separation fundamentally leaves us unfulfilled and unfulfillable. It is only when we let go of the hubris, the separation, and find moments of unity, that we find peace. I would further argue that this was Jesus’ greatest (and mostly quickly diminished) contribution — that Love, of all mankind, of the world, is what saves us. That only when we set aside separation, and see the divine in the natural, and in our fellow humans and the animals around us, are we able to find true peace.

In my view, it is imperative to find a way to consolidate the obvious successes of the dualistic/scientific way of thinking with a more holistic approach, that allows for a more complete, even spiritual view of reality. The former has been and will likely continue to be a successful method for discovery, creation of new technologies, and finding further means of decreasing human suffering. But, it seems increasingly clear that reliance on just a dualistic approach, whether it is the scientific method, or the dualism so prevalent in both religious and political spheres, is not truly serving either humanity, individual humans, or the material world we live in — and should be nurturing. The scientific method for all its power, inherently lacks a moral compass. And religions (not just Western, but all organized religions), while certainly touched by and containing sparks of the divine, have consistently proven themselves to be ultimately inseparable from politics, and generally used as a means of exercising power.

A good starting point is to step back (way back in time) and understand that the dualism started by Plato, and inherited by the Abrahamic traditions — was a choice. It is not an imperative, and not the only way to view our world, our relationship to this reality, or our path through this existence. We need to take Platonic dualism as one valuable way of thinking, but understand fully its fallacies and deficiencies, and spend some time looking at other views of Truth.

For me at least, this is the next step in my personal Journey.

Failure of Rationality — in this one instance

Failure of Rationality — in this one instance

A Failure of Rationality

The Universe is Not Wasteful

I have been thinking a lot about what is after this life — for most of my life. Big surprise! Most of us probably start wondering after we get over being completely focused on getting dates, whether our friends really like us, etc., what is the meaning of this life? And, really, IS there meaning, if all that we do and are, simply ceases to exist in some 60-80 years?

When I was a teenager, I was a strong believer in the Christian faith. I was VERY devout! In this condition, I did not have to worry about an AFTER, as it was guaranteed. I needed “only” to adhere to the core tenets, love my fellow man, etc., and I would be granted the keys to the kingdom. All good!

As I grew older, I started migrating from the Church of Jesus, to the Church of Rationality.  (Much like western society did during the Enlightenment.)  I was always a thinker, and a great student, and I adored Mr Spock, so it was natural that I focused on what Reason and Rationality could provide to me.  Now, please don’t construe the opening sentence to this paragraph as any sort of disdain for rationality.  Quite the contrary, I am convinced of the value of rational thought, and all the great advances in technology and sciences, due to rationality and in particular, the Scientific Method.  But, I have also come to understand that the strict adherence to Rationality as THE source of truth is not a logical decision as much as a matter of faith.  (Just read any number of post-modern philosophers in the last 100 years.)

Back to my point (and I do tend to wander, not just wonder.)  As I fully started to realize the value of Rationality and became enamored to its results and tenets, I found conflict with the non-rational proclamations and dogma of the Christian faith.  I never lost my love for the core principles that Jesus taught around how people should treat each other — that Love (agape) was the gift of God and our gift to each other; the awesome power of Forgiveness; the true value and power of the Meek.  But, when it came to the After Life, I could not synchronize my rationality with this part of His teachings, and the centuries of resulting dogmatic expressions.  How could one prove that there was something after this earthly life?  How do you construct a scientific experiment to detect the everlasting soul?  How do I KNOW there is a God?

Now, however, I am starting to realize that these were not valid questions. Or more precisely, these are not questions that rationality or the scientific method can address. It is true that we cannot prove rationally that there is an existence outside of our current experience. This seems like an obvious fact: How can a rationality prove or disprove anything about something outside of the realm of the observable? Perhaps, this is simply using the wrong tool for the problem. I am starting to understand that there was a flaw in my thinking — the fact that I cannot rationally (or scientifically) prove the fact of an after life is a negative finding. I can also not disprove the existence of an After Life. The real truth is that Rationality is not equipped to even address this question.

I am actually not quite sure where I’m going with this. I am just now fully aware that my previous thinking was limiting. Rationality and Reason are amazing tools, for addressing questions about this observable world. But, it is NOT the only way to find truth! Armed with this understanding, I can now start to explore other ways to discuss these other realms of question and answer.

Quanta of Transcendence

Quanta of Transcendence

Connections are the Quanta of Transcendance

Transcendence, definition:  Existence or experience beyond the normal or physical level.

What does this mean?  Transcendence is the word we use to describe the “beyond”, the something that is above or outside our normal, physical experiences of this reality.  It describes something indescribable.  Something that we cannot really define.  By definition, it is something outside of the realm that the scientific method can address — as this latter is grounded (rightfully) in the physical.  In the “normal” world around us.

The scientific method is just one particular, logical means of answering philosophical questions.  In fact, in the history of philosophy, the Scientific Method is relatively new.  During the Enlightenment, and until the rise of post-modernist thought, the scientific method was equated with logic, and was thought to eventually lead us to a place where all questions could be answered.  However, this is obviously not the case.  Answering questions like What is the Self?  What is Consciousness?  And finally, what, if anything, transcends the physical world that we see?  As science deals with repeatable, physical observations, it is inherently NOT capable of answering these questions.  We must look to other philosophical explorations.

When I think of transcendence, I think of that which will extend beyond my physical limitations. I think of that which will last beyond my existence in this physical realm. One definition of transcendence is “a state of being or existence above and beyond the limits of material experience.” So, being grounded in the material world, science by its own definition cannot address transcendence — it cannot prove or disprove, or discuss it in any way. This does not mean that we cannot have logical discussions of this topic; it just means we cannot talk about it using the scientific method.

So what transcends? Some would suggest that we, as sentient beings, have a “soul” that lives on, with an existence that is permanent, or at least extending on past our normal lives. I have come to believe that this concept, of an individual soul, is both self-centered, and limiting. I feel rather that it is the connections that we have between ourselves and others in this world, that carry on. My Soul does not exist in isolation, but rather I (in my Soul) are comprised of all the connections and relationships I have built between myself and other humans (and perhaps, non-humans.) These relationships are what really define the transcendent essence of ME.

I do not exist in isolation. I truly exist in the connections (and love) that others have with me, and I with them. The love for my children, the love OF my children, the love between myself and my siblings… Friends, peers, people I touch in the world around me.

We all have experienced the power and joy that come from the “little” moments, when we focus on someone we love, share a deep experience, or otherwise truly CONNECT. It could be an intimate and honest talk with a loved one; or a gift to a stranger in need; or the earnest and pure love of a dog for its “person”. When we feel and experience these moments, we feel renewed — we feel the true and lasting power of connection. Doesn’t this match the definition of transcendence. After all, it is just a set of interactions in this “normal and physical” world — but it means and feels like so much more. We experience the true satisfaction (and grace) of connection. And this feeling persists. If we pursue this sort of connection actively, then one such moment leads to another, and leads to another. Soon, we are filled with the power and love of such connections. These small bits of experience lead us to a true sense of something lasting — this is transcendence.

One might say, “It’s all well and good that we ‘live on’ in the minds of those we touch, but is this real? Is there a physical existence past death?” I would first state that “real” and “physical” are not logically the same thing. This bias is the influence of the last few centuries of the prevalence of the scientific method. The question is not whether something immaterial can be real, but (a) whether something real and non-corporeal can have an influence on us in our physical existence, and (b) is there some transcendent part of ME right now, that is affected by the transcendence of others, including those that lived before us.

I argue that it is self-evident that we are affected by the connections we have made with both those that have passed from this material existence, as well as those that have simply passed from our experience (such as long-lost friends or lovers.) Of course, we are changed and guided by the summation of all these connections! Is that influence any less real because it cannot be poked and prodded within a laboratory?