INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
David Christopher Lane
Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical
(New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession
(New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992).
is a tenured Professor of Philosophy at Mt. San Antonio College, where she has been teaching since 1991. Professor Diem has published several scholarly books and articles, including The Gnostic Mystery
and When Gods Decay
. She is married to Dr. David Lane, with whom she has two children, Shaun-Michael and Kelly-Joseph.
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Attack of the
And the Rise of the Myopic Materialists
Exploring the paranormal world of Jeffrey Kripal
David Lane & Andrea Diem-Lane
Materialists at least have a consistent argument about why this life should be valued since without it we don't exist.
In a previous article for Integral World, entitled "Understanding the Improbable", I took Jeffrey Kripal to task for not delving deeper into the alleged psychic narratives of Mark Twain and others, since a closer contextual reading of such stories revealed a more commonsense explanation for them.
While I admire Jeffrey Kripal’s persistence in championing the paranormal, even when the evidence betrays his devotion, his anti-materialist screeds don’t hold up under closer analysis. Indeed, the very logic he employs to convince us of the evilness of materialism boomerangs back against him and vividly demonstrates the opposite of what he intends.
This became even clearer to me this past week while reading an interview published by Disinformation called "Altered States and Paranormal Narratives with Jeffrey J. Kripal" conducted by Benton Rooks.
Jeffrey Kripal (who is a Professor of Philosophy and Religious Thought at Rice University) seems to have a very odd definition of matter and what it portends, particularly when he can argue that
“Our environmental crisis is partly (not completely) a function of some pretty bad stories, like materialism again. I mean, if we are only matter, why does anything really matter? Why not use up the environment?”
I had to re-read Kripal’s response several times, each time scratching my head thinking he must be misquoted since his logic about materialists is upside down. Kripal’s idea appears to be that if one is fully entrenched in a purely matter worldview then he/she wouldn’t care about this world or the universe in which it arises. Yet, this doesn’t make any sense, since if Kripal’s myopic definition of materialists was true then one should actually care more (not less) about the environment because without it nothing exists.
Kripal claims (echoing Teilhard de Chardin) “my own view that human beings are, by nature, spiritual beings.” Yet, it is this stance, given Kripal’s understanding (and not those who only hold to “this is it” purview), which should care less about the environment since it is secondary to a spiritual realm that transcends this world and its limitations.
In other words, if I believe that life persists after death and that this existence is merely a phase in a much longer, or even eternal, sequence of events then the relative value of terra firma doesn’t grow greater as a consequence. Whereas those who hold that this life as we live it now is the only one we will ever know and that this earth is the only residence we will ever experience then it is not a stretch of our credulity or imagination to appreciate our temporary lives and our temporary homes much more than those with a spiritual bent.
This is perhaps why we find it strange that the current Catholic Pope can claim to be sad when one of his cardinals die when, in point of theology, he should be feeling a great sense of relief and joy, particularly when their personal contact is relatively rare. Do we really get sad when our friends tell us that they are going to Disney world for a week? If Catholicism is true, as the Pope and others of faith keep saying, then when a Cardinal dies he will enter heaven and feel unbounded bliss. What is there to be depressed about?
Materialists at least have a consistent argument about why this life should be valued since without it we don’t exist. Nietzsche, of course, gave a very instructive thought experiment concerning appreciating this life just as it is with his famous “myth of eternal recurrence” where he enticed his readers into imagining
“This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence - even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!" Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus?... Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life to crave nothing more fervently than this ultimate eternal confirmation and seal?”
Nietzsche’s isn’t making a transcendent or spiritual argument, but rather pointing out a very obvious one. If this is the only life we can ever know wouldn’t we appreciate it all the more given its rarity, provided we truly came to grips with its uniqueness?
Edward O. Wilson, also comes from the materialist camp, but one would be hard pressed to find anyone more concerned with preserving the grand diversity of organic life on this planet, a sentiment he clearly articulates his book, The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth. As Wilson himself explains,
“Perhaps the time has come to cease calling it the 'environmentalist' view, as though it were a lobbying effort outside the mainstream of human activity, and to start calling it the real-world view.”
Kripal seems to be suffering from his own astigmatic understanding of all things material when he voices such opinions as,
“they think that we are only tiny dead things bouncing around and forming slightly bigger things, and bigger things, until you get to ‘us.’ They think we are biological computers, basically zombies with computers perched on top.”
First, I am not sure who “they” are but more importantly why place the adjective “dead” in front of the word matter? This old and tired canard merely illustrates that Kripal is using a straw man definition and as such is arguing against a boogey man of his own making. Second, who is it that really thinks we are “basically zombies with computers perched on top?” Here Kripal is creating a false and misleading caricature of what neuroscientists actually believe and makes them sound as if they are theorists for the popular television show, The Walking Dead.
Why is it that the word matter sends Kripal and others like him into an existential tailspin, such that he and others feel the need to combat it as if all subspecies of materialism were mutant offspring from the 1950s movie, The Blob?
There is nothing to fear from being just stuff, since there is nothing “just” about it. Matter is multi-dimensional and is ultimately as mysterious and beguiling as anything conjured up by religionists preaching a spiritual only creed.
There is no need to get entrapped into an unnecessary Manichean dualism where spirit and flesh wage a never-ending war. In this context, I think the oft-repeated pun summarizes it best, “If we are this matter, what then is the matter?” That is the real quest of science and there is no need to prematurely abdicate that responsibility simply because we are mired in a definitional delusion about what such a term ultimately signifies and foreshadows. In other words, Kripal’s real fight is not with physicists with empirical leanings, but with his own confused misunderstanding of what science can indeed accomplish by resisting immature metaphysical speculations.
There is nothing to fear from being just stuff, since there is nothing “just” about it.
“Imagine for a moment that we are nothing but the product of billions of years of molecules coming together and ratcheting up through natural selection, that we are composed only of highways of fluids and chemicals sliding along roadways within billions of dancing cells, that trillions of synaptic conversations hum in parallel, that this vast egglike fabric of micron-thin circuitry runs algorithms undreamt of in modern science, and that these neural programs give rise to our decision making, loves, desires, fears, and aspirations. To me, that understanding would be a numinous experience, better than anything ever proposed in anyone's holy text.” - David Eagleman, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain