Oct16 Rational Mysticism Meetup Dialog

October 16 Agenda and possibly poetry night
Some logistics and consideration for the future ( poetry night ):

Please note there are some attendees not on meetup, so the actual attendance is larger than what is posted there.
We are considering alternating book readings with “poetry night”, where you are encouraged to bring a poem (s) which resonates for you and read and share with the group. You can even bring your own poetry if you so choose ( I may) . Here the idea is that poems are actual experiences of Rational Mysticism….. Let me know what you think of this initiative.

For October 16 at 7pm on Harris “Waking Up” at Stittsville United Church:
Here are some questions triggered from Harris’s “Waking Up” which we can consider: feel free to bring more questions to the session.
Please note the questions are fairly broad, so its strictly not necessary to have read any of the book. It is of course encouraged to do so.
1. What does Harris mean by spirituality ?

My read is Harris sees spirituality as heightened experiences in consciousness , and explicit rejection of “spirit”, which I find very limiting.
For me: Spirit is very much creative force in a person, in a collective sense, and in the world.
Harris end point for spirituality appears to be unity of consciousness with all and no self .
I am somewhat sympathetic to this view, but prefer it left in more mysterious terms.. Many traditions point in this direction.

What is spirituality for you ?

I’ve only finished the first chapter, and begun the 2nd — mostly because I’ve been reading slowly to try and discern clearly wherein Harris’ prejudices lie and how they cloud his view, which is a judgement I intuit throughout whenever I encounter his writings or online dialogs, etc. I’d say that I agree that his concept of spirituality (I would rather term it something like ‘inner work’ or ‘spiritual activity’) is limited, cutting off what is actually possible (and needed) at the knees. I think this coloration of his concept is derived from two main factors: his rational scientific bent (which thinly conceals in his case a good deal of materialism), and his biographic exposure to neo-Buddhist (modern day, Westernized) methodolgy and interpretation (which pushes him towards an abstracted — that is, not yet legitimately experienced — layer of imposed worldview ideas).

What is spiritual inner work for me? Taking seriously my inner subjective landscape, trying to map and relate it insightfully (using much inspired literature and technique as guideposts), paying attention to intuitions about meaning connected to things and persons which come to meet me, and working on what I experience within dreams. This all could be widely expanded, and the practicing of it leads to many other things. For example, becoming more aware of the nature and relationships between thinking, feeling, and willing. Also taking seriously virtue ethics, i.e. the cultivation of virtues while remaining awake or sensitive to what happens subjectively at various crossroads in this undertaking. Developing moral perceptivity. (Nagel realized and explored in his 2012 book that in the same way that ‘life’ cannot plausible emerge from inorganic matter, nor consciousness emerge from complexity of organization, so too the perception of the inherent moral coloration of anything cannot emerge from merely our capacity for reason or rationality).

I would further add something along the lines of noting that discerning the prevalence of ‘monkey-mind’ regarding one’s feelings or emotions, thoughts, and impulses to action represents only a kind of useful beginning point on a spiritual path of inner work. Sam Harris seems to ascribe it a much more inflated status, approximating towards ‘realization’ or waking up. No. It is one entry point, and a common one in today’s fragmentation-happy (attention wise) cultural milieu. What do we do next? That is what matters.

2. Can science accommodate spirituality ?

Harris answer:
Select Spiritual practises that can be confirmed in practise and is consistent with the findings of modern psychology
Reject any Dogma inconsistent with modern science
Harris agrees physical science at present is very far from explaining “consciousness”.
Do we agree ? Where do we disagree ?
Yes, agree. The one statement Harris makes, so far, which I unreservedly applaud is that it is literally, logically, impossible for subjective experience to be a delusion. Beyond denying consciousness’ existence, the other main strategem used by rational pragmatists, if you’ll allow the term, is to label everything associated as products of emergentism. (And thereby magically explaining it.)

For me: What does science actually disclose about the nature of the world ? — yes, good to ponder that!

There are many contemporary philosophers who reject “physicalism” as incoherent when scrutinized.See Philip Goff : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTvqoKHG2PI

Somewhat Sympathetic to rejecting any Dogma that clearly violates reason and common sense. — Sure, me too, but Harris, to take an example, often is severely limited in his ability to consider various sacred texts from any non-literal purely factual point of view. Sacred texts are intuitive documents, and viewing them otherwise opens one to the errant belief that they’ve devastatingly refuted ‘dogma’ at a blandly dialectic level in the name of common sense reason.

What is a spiritual practise ? Could it not be anything that moves a person into more well being and connectedness ? — I want to lighten the correlation (which Harris and many make) between spiritual activity and personal well-being. This has roots, I think, in the modern translating of Aristotle’s concept ‘eudaimonia’. Because of the unconscious prejudice against the notion of ‘Spirit’ as a noun, as a fundamental thing in itself, the ‘daimon’ within the old Greek term has been reduced to make it more palatable for modern tastes. Hence we get the facile bland concept of flourishing, whatever that means.

How do you integrate science and spirituality ?
This is a full topic in itself, deserving expansive thought and treatment and discussion. One must see the question backwards from the usual way of looking at it. It is the spiritual which must, and does, accomodate the scientific. Spirit subsumes Science, not the other way around. Taking science at it’s purest, in other words the applyicatin of reason and observation with the later unfolding of posited ideas needing further investigation, we must completely divest ourselves of physical attachments and work entirely within the conceptual. If the subject matter is not forced to be material, then we can and should apply scientific methods or ways of proceeding towards spiritual phenomena, which in our case at the moment, are the elements and experiences and observations within our subjective consciousness. Reason is just one of our tools. In general, guard against, and severely root out assumptions, abstract theory, and beliefs without warrant. Work with phenomena, rigorously, and I would say, kindly. The phenomena of the spirit is just as amenable to this kind of ‘science’ as the phenomena of the material world.

An interesting thing: the words subjective and objective have nearly completely reversed their meanings from where they were a century or so before Shakespeare. Think about that. I am indebted to Owen Barfield for this observation, I think it is covered in his book of four lectures “Speakers Meaning” and “History Within English Words”.

3. Harris sees the “truth” of Buddhist meditation centrally in the reality of cultivating awareness and the doctrine of “No Self”

The doctrine of No Self and consistency with findings in Modern Psychology:

The Self Harris is targeting I think is the “Thinking Self” where the “thinking person” sees his thinking self is ultimately real, and is unaware of the mediator’s perspective that “thinking” is simply another object of consciousness. Someone who overly identifies with his thinking self may have behaviour and views very much scripted from her thinking. Such a person may have reduced ability to be present to reality.

—would amend though, that thinking is an activity or capacity noticed within consciousness, whereas the thoughts are that which are objects within consciousness.

The science Harris claims are thing like surgical separation of left and right hemisphere which can result in at least two thinking selves…

This line of argument is further expanded in Robert Wright’s recent best seller “ Why Buddhism is True”

Is this sufficient to show that the thinking self is an illusion ? Would argue that modern psychology only shows that there are some people who lack integrity… —Of course, agreed.

Would also argue there are places where reason and consciousness can be aligned. For instance even in Harris observation that consciousness appears to be intrinsically selfless. Or in the thinking that provides good explanations of some aspects of reality ;

who is doing the thinking ? —Yes. I reject the contemporary understanding of the Buddhist idea of no-self. As Gurdjieff once put it, paraphrasing about his students, ‘so many of your are so anxious to give up your egos, to sacrifice them… Don’t you think it sensible to go about having one in the first place to give up?’ ANother way of looking at spiritual work is to cultivate a more coherent center, the self. This is inherent in Christ’s dictum with John’s Gospel. I AM the I AM. To become aware of monkey-mind in no way demonstrates that self does not exist! It merely demonstrates that the I is in need of cultivation, healing, and coherence. This is one of the most flabbergasting errors in modern thinking. And WHO, exactly is it WHO realizes this, once it is perceived?

Most religious traditions speak to the death of the egoistical self and being born into a larger self that is mysteriously integrated into something larger. —yes. And this needs to be respectfully kept mysterious, as you said, while traversing a path, rather than hastily reduced to some logically reasonable Harris-esque formula.

How do reflect about your own “self” within your own consciousness and in reality beyond ?
— The I is malleable, evolving, and just at the beginning of coming into clearer focus. The boundaries of the I are also expandable. On the basis of what we think, of what control we exercise or do not upon our thought clouds. The I is most closely, if fleetingly, experienced or glimpsed during inner moral revelations. This, for those more rationally inclined, is also intimately connected with the apprehension of truth about something perceived. Especially when this apprehending is experienced as occurring beyond the dialectical or rhetorical level. The ‘proving’ is worked out slightly affterwards, but the intuition of truth is it’s own mysterious faculty.