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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Elliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 230 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.
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The Remainder Conjecture vs. the Critical-Skeptical-Agnostic Perspective
The upshot is that one's conclusions on the scientific status of psychic phenomena depends upon one's perspective on these experiments.
I read David Lane's recent Integral World essay The Remainder Conjecture: Driving Science to the Brink of an Epistemological Cul de Sac  with much interest. At first glance it may appear that Lane's Remainder Conjecture already is what I have pitted against it in the title of this essay: a “critical/skeptical/agnostic” perspective. I certainly have no disagreement with Lane's basic argumentto exhaust all possible physical explanations for “mysterious” phenomena before making any spiritual interpretations. However, I feel uncomfortable with Lane's basic a priori materialistic premise, even though I understand his logic that “if something is genuinely beyond scientific reach, it will invariably show up as a remainder.” Let me give a few examples to explain why I feel uncomfortable with the Remainder Conjecture, at least in the way that David Lane has described it.
The basic problem as I see it is that physical, chemical, and biological explanations for phenomena may frequently involve contested theories that are vying with each other for prominence to become part of the current mainstream paradigm. Scientific knowledge is probabilistic, and we engage in double-blind (or triple-blind, etc.) controlled evidenced-based experiments to increase the probability that any given scientific theory is correct. However, there is much disagreement in a number of controversial domains of scientific exploration, regarding what “proponents” and “critics” believe have been effectively demonstrated scientifically.
A case in point is what is referred to as psychic phenomena. A good number of controlled scientific double-blind (and some triple-blind) experiments have been conducted to try to demonstrate that psychic phenomena truly existsi.e. being able to “read minds” and see objects at great distances, “know” the future before it happens, move objects with one's “mind,” etc. The upshot is that one's conclusions on the scientific status of psychic phenomena depends upon one's perspective on these experiments, and there is much disagreement about this . But there have been some experiments with statistically significant results for which the usual suspects of sensory leakage, fraud, forgotten memories, etc. have been effectively eliminated to the agreement of prominent critical skeptics of psychic phenomena . When this occurs, what generally happens is that these critical skeptics will say that the experiment and results appear to be legitimate, and at this point they do not have an explanation for what has been demonstrated (cf. , ). However, a statement such as this leaves room for a scientific explanation but one that is not currently understood. Thus the physical perspective is still intact, and what this looks like to me is essentially “promissory materialism” .
This in substance is my concern about Lane's Remainder Conjecture. I don't think it is very difficult to come up with a number of “mysterious” phenomena for which at this point science does not have definitive explanations for. This includes the nature of consciousness as well as the formation of the universe. Sure we have theories about this, and Frank Visser has worked hard at conveying to Integral World readers the theory of how the universe and life may have originated, beginning with the Big Bang . But not all experts in the area of cosmology agree that there was a Big Bang, and the question of the origination of consciousness and “qualia” is still completely open . Thus I am uncomfortable in assuming a physical explanation for “everything” initially, even if Lane assures us that this is “the surest pathway to discover that which is immune to our rationalist inspections.” What I propose is that we operate “essentially” in the way that Lane advocates, but maintaining what I like to think of as a “critical-skeptical-agnostic” perspective, which I will now refer to as a “CSA” perspective.
What exactly is the difference between the Remainder Conjecture and CSA perspective? To be critical and skeptical means to me, in the best sense of the words, that one uses one's critical faculties to evaluate phenomena without preconceived notions, whether these preconceived notions involve the assumption that everything can be ultimately reduced to material particles, or that there exists non-physical entities. When one adopts this perspective, then one is adopting an agnostic perspectiveand thus a CSA perspective. I may be operating on the surface in a way that is indistinguishable from the way David operatesand in actuality I have much agreement and respect for David's work on exposing cults and gurus, as I have done a fair amount of this kind of work myself . But perhaps a good example of how my CSA perspective differs from Lane's Remainder Perspective can be seen from our contrasting perspectives on the interpretation of possible “synchronous” events.
A few years ago David and I engaged in seven back and forth Integral World essays that was initially stimulated by my License Plate Synchronicity essay . David's perspective was that everything I experienced could be easily explained by mathematical probabilities, and my perspective was that perhaps this was the case and perhaps this was not the case. In other words, I was comfortable remaining in the middleand I actually still am. Yes I still see what appears to me to be more than my share of “496's” than I think should occur by mathematical probability calculations (cf. ), but I certainly have no “spiritual” confirmation about this. However, I also do not have any “material” confirmation that what I see is “not” some kind of uncanny “synchronicity” that is related to my mathematical love of the third perfect number: 496 (cf. ). What I have is an agnostic perspective that is squarely in the middleand I am comfortable saying “I don't know.”
A recent related example involves my classical piano playing. A few months ago I participated in a very intensive week-long chamber music adult program, and in the process of deciding if I ever want to do this again I was working on a very challenging (for me) violin/piano Beethoven sonatathe Spring sonata. Now I frequently listen to classical music on the radio station in the evenings, and never have I heard this sonata played (well let's say “never” in my recollectionsin anticipation of how David may respond to this). One evening last week I found myself immersed in practicing this sonata on the piano, listening to the professional CD recording of it, trying to play along with the recording, and engaging myself for about two hours in this way. When I finally finished my arduous musical experience, I turned on the radio and I'll give you one guess what I immediately heard was coming up in a little while. Yes in a few minutes I found myself listening to Beethoven's violin/piano Spring sonata on the radio.
Now what are the possible explanations for what I experienced? Well of course we have the mathematical probability argument, as Lane would undoubtedly offer as the most likely explanation. And I certainly do not know that this mathematical probability argument is not the correct explanation. But on the other hand, we can investigate a good number of controlled experiments on human intention and events taking place, with statistically significant results (cf. , ). Possible theoretical explanations for this kind of postulated effect of intention could involve a generalization of our currently accepted quantum physics theories for sub-atomic particles, though how this could possibly work to bring about the kind of events that I have experienced with music and mathematics is completely unknown territory. But my main point is that it seems to me that a “middle” perspective is what is most honest and appropriate here. Once again, I am comfortable saying “I don't know.” I am not comfortable starting out with a physical “assumption,” though I already have a physical “perspective” in mindfor this is what it means to me to be a “critical-skeptical-agnostic.” But I also have a non-physical perspective in mind, or at least a perspective that may not be explainable by our current scientific knowledge.
Perhaps David Lane and I are talking about the same thing, but in a different language. Perhaps it is just Lane's language that I am not comfortable with. But at any rate, I want to offer my CSA language as an alternative to Lane's Remainder Conjecture language, for anyone who may be more comfortable with the kind of “middle” agnostic perspective that I like to engage in.
1) See David Lane (2014), The Remainder Conjecture: Driving Science to the Brink of an Epistemological Cul de Sac. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net
2) See Etzel Cardeña, Steven Jay Lynn, & Stanley Krippner, (Eds.). (2000). Varieties of Anomalous Experience: Examining the Scientific Evidence. Washington DC: American Psychological Association; Stanley Krippner and Harris Friedman (Eds.)(2010), Debating Psychic Experience: Human Potential or Human Illusion? Denver, CO; Dean Radin (1997), The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena. New York: HarperEdge; Dean Radin (2006), Entangled Minds:Extrasensory Experiences in a Quantum Reality. New York: Paraview; see also Dean Radin's peer-reviewed psychic phenomena articles at http://deanradin.com/evidence/evicence.htm
3) See for example Ray Hyman & Charles Honorton (1986), A Joint Communiqué: The Psi Ganzfield Controversy. Journal of Parapsychology, 50, 351-364. (note that Hyman is a well-respected psychic phenomena critic/skeptic and Honorton was a prominent psychic phenomena proponent)
4) See the website http://5eshs.hpdst.gr/abstracts/226
5) See Frank Visser (2013), Integral Theory and the Big History Approach: A Comparative Introduction; and Frank Visser (2014), Integral Theory and Cosmic Evolution: A Natural Approach. Retrieved from www.integral world.net
6) See for example John Bockris (2004), The New Paradigm: A Confrontation Between Physics and the Paranormal Phenomena. College Station, TX: D & M Enterprises; see also the following website that describes the plasma cosmology theory of the universe: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plasma_cosmology
7) See Elliot Benjamin (2013), Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis and Exposé. Swanville, ME. Natural Dimension Publications.
8) See Elliot Benjamin (2010), License Plate Synchronicity. Retrieved from www.integralworld.net; and see the subsequent Integral World Synchronicity articles exchange between Elliot Benjamin and David Lane.