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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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).
SEE MORE ESSAYS WRITTEN BY DAVID LANE
Driving Science to the Brink
of an Epistemological Cul de Sac
The following article is an excerpt from a larger visual presentation given at the International Conference on Quantum and Nano Computing Systems and Applications at the Dayalbagh Educational Institute in Agra, India. Professors David Christopher Lane and Andrea Grace Diem-Lane (Mt. San Antonio College) were invited to give the plenary presentations, along with Professor Mark Juergensmeyer (Director of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara) and Professor V.S. Satsangi (DEI / University of Waterloo) on a special forum on Consciousness: Integrating Eastern and Western approaches. The entire proceedings were filmed. Also giving plenary talks on the following two days were Professor Leonard Mlodinow (Cal Tech) and co-author with Stephen Hawking of the book, The Grand Design and Professor John C. Mather, Nobel Prize winner for his work on the Cosmic Background Explorer Satellite (COBE) with George Smoot. A fuller report of the proceedings and some of the controversy certain talks generated will be forthcoming. This the third part of a 5 part series. Also included are several original short films specially created for this Conference.
The materialist agenda, I suggest, should be fully embraced, by those most engaged in a spiritual quest.
I should say right from the outset that I favor a decidedly physicalist approach to the study of consciousness and that I think those on a spiritual path are better served than they might at first suspect by those championing intertheoretic reductionism, even if such a narrow focus will not resolve the hard question of qualia and why we have self reflective awareness. In this regard, I am advocating what I call “The Remainder Conjecture,” which stresses that we exhaust any and all physical explanations first before succumbing to what Paul Kurz called “The transcendental temptation” where we prematurely jump ship and opt for supermundane explanations for erstwhile mundane events.
This, of course, doesnít mean that there cannot be something that transcends our rational understandings, but only that the best way to show evidence for it is to make sure that physics, chemistry, and biology are insufficient to the task. Far too often in our rush for the transcendental, we accept anecdotes and claims that (given enough careful study and time) donít pass critical scrutiny. In other words, if something is genuinely beyond scienceís reach, it will invariably show up as a remainder. But if we are not skeptical enough we can easily be duped and mistakenly confuse a sleight of hand magicianís trick as a miracle.
My own hunch is that the most fruitful avenue for the scientific study of awareness is to fully exhaust a physical explanation of it first. This does not mean, of course, that such an endeavor will be successful or that consciousness is merely the result of a neural net, but only that if our efforts fail we will be left with a most interesting remainder which in itself will be highly instructive about the nature of awareness.
More precisely, unless we fully option a materialist approach, we run the very real risk of prematurely optioning something as spiritual when, in fact, given better instrumentation and technical prowess it may well have been the result of subtle neuronal discharges.
The good news in advocating this consilient approach is that if our self reflective consciousness is ultimately non-physical, then our science will end up driving itself to the very brink of an epistemological cul de sac and in the process reveal that which cannot be explained away. The materialist agenda, I suggest, should be fully embraced, by those most engaged in a spiritual quest since it is, ironically, the surest pathway to discover that which is immune to our rationalist inspections.