INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

Integral World Forum


Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".

Don Salmon and Jan MaslowDon Salmon, a clinical psychologist and composer, received a grant from the Infinity Foundation to write a comprehensive study of yoga psychology based on the synthesis of the yoga tradition presented by 20th century Indian philosopher-sage Aurobindo Ghose. Jan Maslow, an educator and organizational consultant, has, with Dr. Salmon, given presentations, classes and workshops in the United States and India on this topic. Both have been studying yoga psychology for more than 25 years.

SHAVING VISSER, GOSWAMI, LANE AND CARTER WITH OCKHAM'S RAZOR

With a little off the side for DeGracia and Huang

Don Salmon

Science taken in its essence should stand only for a method and not for any special beliefs, yet as habitually taken by its votaries, science has come to be identified with a certain fixed general belief, the belief that the deeper order of nature is mechanical exclusively, and that non-mechanical categories are irrational ways of conceiving and explaining even such a thing as human life.
—William James

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QUESTION: To what extent are our current accounts of neuroscience and evolution written in accordance with William James' description of science as method, not belief? To what extent do we, in our explorations of the universe, follow David Lane's advice to “confess our own ignorance?”

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In a previous Integral World essay ("Shaving Science With Ockham's Razor"), I suggested, along the lines of what James has written, that:

There are no scientific findings which preclude considering consciousness as a causal factor in the universe. Nor are there findings in any area of science—including quantum physics, parapsychology or near-death experience research—which require the consideration of consciousness as a causal factor. Both of these statements are in regard to current scientific methodology.

Such an open-minded approach to scientific investigation is expressed forcefully here, by David Lane (from his Integral World essay, “Adventures in Gumby Land”):

But in order to allow for a participatory understanding of the universe (and not merely our solipsistic version of it) we are required to do that most radical of things: we must be willing to confess our own ignorance and be willing to follow the lines of evidence wherever it may lead us, even if in its sojourn it upturns our previously held cherished ideas or truths.

Confusion seems to set in—or so it seems to me—when we call on our current methods of science to give us more than they are capable of doing. This is why I made a great effort in the “Shaving Science” essay to question the conclusions of people like Amit Goswami and Chris Carter, who claim that the objective data of quantum physics “proves" consciousness must be a causal factor in the physical world.

I would have the same problem with the claim that the application of quantum physics to evolution proves that consciousness is a causal factor in the evolutionary process.In an Amazon review of Chris Carter's book, “Science and the Near-Death Experience”, I wrote,

In the chapter on quantum physics, Carter writes as if the data themselves—that is, the data directly resulting from quantum physics experiments—require the conclusion that consciousness is involved in quantum phenomena. It seems to me that this is a rather dangerous claim, as it is only one step away from the New Age claims of Zukav, Capra, [Goswami] and others. On the other hand,[there are] respected physicists and philosophers of science [such as Andre Lind, Nobel prize winning physicist Brian Josephson, and Nobel prize winning biochemist George Wald] who agree that it is not unreasonable to suggest a consciousness-based interpretation, while maintaining that the data themselves are neutral with regard to ontological assumptions.

As David Lane, in his “Adventures in Gumby Land”, explains,

Invariably I have a student in one of my college courses on science and religion who wishes to propose a metaphysical explanation for a naturalistic event, whether it is a new stylized version of creationism or a subtler than quanta interpretation of disease. My rejoinder is that in order to do science properly (even if we allow for the wildest of speculations at first) we have to ultimately find ways to verify our proposals in the sensible world.

In the following passage, Ronald Nixon expresses very clearly the reason why, as long as we confine ourselves to the currently accepted scientific methodology, we will never discover any form of non-material causation:

The modifications of [nature] form a closed circle… Science moves in the sphere of phenomena… and there will always be an apparent causal sequence among all phenomena in the plane of phenomena and there is small reason to suppose that the end will ever come and, even if it did, it would be back to the beginning again—the snake with its tail in its mouth. In time, science will no doubt come to admit certain apparently marvelous phenomena now denied [such as the data of parapsychology and near death experiences] but they will be found also to be explicable along similar lines to all other natural phenomena. All phenomena can be explained in two ways: one in their own plane, and the other at right angles to it as it were, that is, in a different dimension. In their own plane all phenomena follow mechanical laws. This is the mechanism by which they take place (for, after all, everything, however 'marvelous' has to take place in some definite way) and this mechanism is in the realm of science…. But when an explanation has been given along the lines of the first method there is an almost universal tendency to think that the phenomena in question have been completely explained.
—Ronald Nixon, aka Sri Krishna Prem

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In my previous essay, “Shaving Science With Ockham's Razor”, I noted that advocates for currently accepted scientific methods generally assume that they are adhering to William James' description of science as a method rather than a belief system. To evaluate whether this is actually the case, I also proposed trying out, as an exercise, the careful examination of scientific passages to discern the presence of such beliefs. I've collected several passages from essays posted on the Integral World site that would make interesting candidates for this exercise of separating beliefs from scientific methodology.

In order to do the exercise, it will be helpful to make an effort to evoke the state of mind described in Part I of the “Shaving Science” essay—the uncanny feeling that often occurs after a succession of false awakenings, the state of unknowing regarding the reality status of one's experience. Even more helpful will be to apply the same analysis that is described in Part II, in the section, “Which is More 'Real': A Rainbow or a Tree”—the recognition of the relational nature of our perceptions. The exercise (separating out beliefs from method) is further described in later sections of the paper, as well as in the endnotes.

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PASSAGES

PASSAGE #1:

From David Lane's Integral World essay, “The Neural Basis of Consciousness”:

If we are more than the physical substratum of our cerebral cortex, why is it that everything we do is modulated by our brain? I go to sleep because of chemical-electrical signals triggered within my skull; I wake up for the same reason. Yet, because my awareness seems distinct from my bodily apparatus, I somehow believe that I am running the show. However, the reality is that I can do very little. "I" don't digest my food. "I" don't beat my heart. "I" don't develop antibodies to ward off diseases. "I" don't even know if I originate thoughts or only direct them. The "I" does very little indeed, except believe itself to be more than what it actually is--an epiphenomenon of networking neurons. So far so good, but there's one glitch here: consciousness talks about neurons, neurons don't talk about consciousness.

Everything we have known in the world must come through the medium of consciousness; even the idea of neuroscience, even the idea of philosophy, even the idea of materialism, must arise through the medium of self-reflective awareness. It is, in fact, that medium of consciousness—non reducible in terms of actual lived-through experience—which contextualizes everything we can ever know about the universe.

What comes first: Neurons or Awareness? If you say the former, how do you know unless you are already aware? If you say the latter, why is it that when someone clubs you over the head with a bat your awareness of this world ceases? The fact remains that whatever is the source of our "I" awareness, it does not alter our existential dilemmas. We are still stuck to living in a world which seems to transcend its neural origins. The following seems to summarize the mind-brain debate, at least from a materialist perspective:

"Indeed, we know we are more than just neurons firing; or at least we think we are while the neurons are firing."

As you perform this exercise, pay particular attention to the question of how (and what, though “how” and “what” are inseparable) we know about the following: “physical substratum”, “brain”, “chemical-electrical signals”, “food”, “heart”, “antibodies”, and “neurons.” For further exploration of the question regarding the cessation of awareness following a head injury (or head clubbing), see the dialog—representing two starkly opposed points of view—here:

And related material is here:

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PASSAGE #2:

From David Lanes Integral World article, “The Faith of Physical Causes”, a passage from Harvard biologist Cliff Tabin:

The revolution in developmental biology, and the revolution in biological sciences as a whole, has gotten us to the point where we actually can start to understand how genes make an embryo form the way it does, why a limb forms in the first place, and then why the arm is different from the leg, why the heart that starts as a tube in the middle folds up to be on the left and not the right. We're starting to understand those sorts of really fundamental questions, and that's amazing in itself. We are also getting to the point where we can understand not only how you make a limb, but how the process can be altered in what are actually subtle ways such that the limb takes the form of a bat wing versus a human hand versus a flipper. And that to me is enormously exciting. So, to me, the fundamental aspect of evo devo is understanding how development is tweaked over evolutionary time.

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PASSAGE #3:

From Frank Visser's Integral World article, “Arguments from Ignorance”:

None other than the late evolutionist Ernst Mayr spelled out the difference between proximate and ultimate (or evolutionary) causes within the context of evolutionary theory. In one of his textbooks on biology, This Is Biology (1997), which devotes much space to the philosophy of science in general and the philosophy of biology in particular, he wrote on the topic of causation in biology:

"Proximate and ultimate causations

Every phenomenon or process in living organisms is the result of two separate causations, usually referred to as proximate (functional) causations and ultimate (evolutionary) causations. All the activities or processes involving instructions from a program are proximate causations. This means particularly the causation of physiological, developmental, and behavioral processes that are controlled by genetic and somatic programs. They are answers to "How?" questions.

Ultimate or evolutionary causations are those that lead to the origin of new genetic programs or to the modification of existing ones—in other words, all causes leading to the changes that occur during the process of evolution. They are the past events or processes that changed the genotype. They cannot be investigated by the methods of chemistry or physics but must be reconstructed by historical inferences—by the testing of historical narratives. They are usually the answer to "Why?" questions.

It is nearly always possible to give both a proximate and an ultimate causation as the explanation for a given biological phenomenon. For instance, for the existence of sexual dimorphism one can give either a proximate physiological explanation (hormones, sex-controlling genes) or an evolutionary explanation (sexual selection, aspect of predator thwarting). Many famous controversies in the history of biology came about because one party considered only proximate causations and the other party considered only evolutionary ones." (p. 67)

(conclusion of exercises)

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The modifications of [nature] form a closed circle… Science moves in the sphere of phenomena… and there will always be an apparent causal sequence among all phenomena in the plane of phenomena and there is small reason to suppose that the end will ever come and, even if it did, it would be back to the beginning again—the snake with its tail in its mouth. In time, science will no doubt come to admit certain apparently marvelous phenomena now denied [such as the data of parapsychology and near death experiences] but they will be found also to be explicable along similar lines to all other natural phenomena. All phenomena can be explained in two ways: one in their own plane, and the other at right angles to it as it were, that is, in a different dimension. In their own plane all phenomena follow mechanical laws. This is the mechanism by which they take place (for, after all, everything, however 'marvelous' has to take place in some definite way) and this mechanism is in the realm of science…. But when an explanation has been given along the lines of the first method there is an almost universal tendency to think that the phenomena in question have been completely explained.
—Ronald Nixon, aka Sri Krishna Prem

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When an investigator has developed a formula which gives a complete representation of the phenomena within a certain range, he may be prone to satisfaction. Would it not be wiser if he should say 'Foiled again! I can find out no more about Nature along this line.
—Sir Arthur Eddington

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The Koran is teaching nothing from beginning to end but abandonment of belief in phenomenal causation.
—Jalal ad-Din Muhammed Rumi

Additional Exercise:

Read this keeping in mind Ronald Nixon's comments about different modes of explanation -- one on the plane of phenomena, and another mode in a (metaphorically) different dimension. Maintaining awareness of what David Lane referred to as the "medium of consciousness" as the sole means of knowing anything (including neurons, chemical and biological evolution, etc), and keeping in mind that virtually all the processes, systems and objects described in this passage have as much -- or as little -substance as a rainbow or tree (see the rainbow and tree section of "Shaving Science"), see what the relationship is between [careful not to fall asleep here!] "Eros", the objective... world of ideal forms (referred to below), and the physical world.

One might be tempted to associate Wilber's mysterious "membrane" with the intrinsic dynamics of the system under consideration. However, as we have seen, this has nothing whatsoever to do with probability and chance. Nor is it literally a boundary as a membrane is. But the intrinsic constrains of the network dynamics are a bounding structure that limits the allowed states of the complex system. The network view is a palliative to the reductionist who has painted himself into an intellectual corner by using only classical probability theory to deal with complex systems.

However, it is not wise to put words in Mr. Wilber's mouth, and we probably should assume that such notions did not guide his use of the membrane metaphor.

Where "Eros" or "Love" fit in is, essentially... nowhere. The variety of forms of love itself, as felt by humans, can now be understood as specific configurations of the complex networked structure we call the human nervous system. It is rather difficult to see how this specific set of brain configurations can drive processes (e.g. chemical and biological evolution) that are, effectively, isolated from human brains in both space and time.

However, there is a great irony here. Wilber, who has spent his career trying to re-"spiritualize" the Western intellect, is missing a most fundamental point. In John 1:1 it is said: "In the Beginning, God had the Logos". God had the "Logic", the logic that created and sustains the Cosmos. It would seem that the Logos seems to express itself via mathematics in the human realm. There are no membranes, there is no love, and it is not chance or probability. The facts of physical experience map to ever greater degrees to mathematics. Many practicing mathematicians have openly expressed their adherence to the Pythagorean philosophy of math[12] that there is indeed an objective (in some sense) world of ideal forms of which our physical world is but an imperfect reflection.




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