Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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.

The Feynman Delusion

The True Cause of Ecological Devastation
and Worldwide Economic Collapse

Don Salmon

I think it's obvious to any Integral World reader that I think physicalism is a faith-based, unfalsifiable, bizarre, non-empirical, dogmatic belief system.

Hi David, Hi Elliot,

Elliot, I'm glad you responded in letter format ["Science, Consciousness, Spirituality, Evolution"]. I've been (in my mind) writing and re-writing several different responses to David's very interesting essay ["The Feynman Imperative"]. They all seemed a bit too serious; then I saw your response and realized writing a letter would be much better.

I don't think that the essay format is really the right way to have this discussion with David. I think, if I'm reading him right, that we're using words like "consciousness", "matter", "physical" etc. in such dramatically different ways, that we keep missing each other. I'm hoping that if we take this up on the Integral World Forum, we might, through brief letters (well, I know I can ramble on a bit:>)) so I should probably say, "through what I'll try to say in 'brief' letters), perhaps we can clear up some of the misunderstandings.

I thought what I wrote in the "Shaving Science With Ockham's Razor" essay was clear, but in reading David's (and later Andy's) response, I realize that I had failed to get my point across. Whereas I was attempting to convey the idea that anything outside of what Michel Bitbol has referred to as "lived experience" is a matter of inference, David took me to be using "consciousness" in the conventional cognitive science sense (and why shouldn't he have—I didn't make it clear I was speaking phenomenologically—in fact, I didn't even realize it until a wonderful exchange on the Integral World forum with "anonymous" in which he pointed out that I was "bracketing" any assumptions about the "real" world. That helped enormously, and then I read Bitbol's online essay, "Is Consciousness Primary" and realized how much I was drawing on my phenomenology background).

So, in David's "Disneyland of Consciousness", he referred to the question of whether the Lincoln statue at Disneyland was "conscious" or "unconscious", whereas I was offering the question of what it might mean to even speak of the "Lincoln statue" outside the field of lived experience.

Similarly, I evidently failed to make clear to Andy that I was bracketing my own position (which I never meant to hide—I think it's obvious to any Integral World reader that I think physicalism is a faith-based, unfalsifiable, bizarre, non-empirical, dogmatic belief system which is impeding progress in virtually all areas of science, particularly neuroscience, but in evolutionary biology and physics as well). When I referred to the mysterious "X" that supposedly stimulates our sense organs and leads to the "world" we perceive, Andy understandably thought I might be referring to something 'spiritual', whereas I was simply characterizing the world the way physicalists describe it—as an essentially unknowable "something" of which we can never have direct knowledge. I personally disagree with this point of view, but my personal view was not the point of that essay.

Again, in the most recent essay, "The Feyman Imperative", David assumes that the point of my online conversation with him was to object to pursuing inquiry into the possibility that matter is the source of consciousness. I'm perfectly happy if someone wants to explore that, or if they are interested, wish to explore the possibility that the flying spaghetti monster (FSM) is the source of consciousness (which actually, would be more of a scientific question than the one about matter, since the FSM is at least something that could be found in lived experience, whereas there is not a single scientific experiment that could ever be done (at least, not within currently accepted bounds of scientific methodology) to determine the absolute existence of some material or physical "stuff"/object/thing/anti-matter or whatever you want to call it, existing absolutely independent of lived experience (which, again, sorry to belabor the point, is not to say that I'm trying to prove that such independent matter or physical "stuff" doesn't exist; that's not my intention—only to point out that such a belief is a nonscientific, nonempirical, unfalsifiable assumption).

Now, this assumption may be true—as far as I'm concerned in this bracketed framework—but since it is an extraordinary claim (and as we all know from the debunkers who have relentlessly repeated this mantra which was not coined by Carl Sagan—that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof)—if somebody wants to have a discussion and introduce such an assumption, well I think the burden is on them to show why it is worth anybody's time to consider such an absurd idea. It is like they're asking us to go beyond Tertullian's "I believe because it is impossible"—at least, the "God" that Tertullian is asking us to believe in is potentially something that can be "known"; but this physical idea is by definition beyond any possible knowledge or experience. Again, it may be that such a thing exists and is in fact the source of consciousness, but it doesn't seem too much to ask that there be at least some minimal attempt to provide some remote basis for asking people to take the time to bother with such a quite strange notion.

The physicalists have been telling us for more than a century and a half that it is a complete mystery how the stimuli from the "outside world" set our optical, auditory and other nerves in motion and then—suddenly!—across some kind of mysterious "gap"—experience takes place. Fodor I think tells us we don't even have an idea of how to think about how this might take place. But oh, according to the catechism of promissory materialism, by gum, they're going to find the answer. As Steven Pinker puts it so delicately and ever so humbly, when asked about the hard problem, "Beats me. I have no idea, and nobody else does either."

So, when someone offers you a physicalist view, remember that he has just disappeared the entire universe—at least, the universe as we know it and live it—no color, all sights have vanished—inexplicable! No sounds, nothing solid or tangible ("solid" that is, in the sense of lived experience, not the physicist's definition of "solid"). No smell, no taste. And since emotion as lived experience, and thoughts as lived experience, and comprehension as lived experience—well, as all cognition, affect and volition as lived experience—is admitted (at least, in dark corners of philosophically inclined academic journals) to be inexplicable—not only does the world disappear but you disappear as well. And we're not talking about a Vedantic/Mahayana/Taoist disappearance, but rather, pure, unadulterated nihilism, beyond anything Sartre or Camus ever conjured up.

As for the title of this letter, the Feynman delusion can be found at the Integral World Forum, along with several other related pieces, including the evolution religion and the science delusion, which deal with ideas raised in David's piece. And about the subtitle of this letter—in one of the above mentioned forum entries—I think it's in one of the "Feynman Delusion" letters—there's a long passage from David Korten which expresses quite well, I think, the environmental and economic consequences of a physicalist based culture.


So David, and Elliot, and anybody else interested—I invite you to join me in a dialog over at the Forum. I've learned an incredible amount talking to several dozen people over the last year about the Shaving Science ideas, and have learned quite a bit just in the effort of putting this letter together.

As for Maya and physicalism? Leaving aside the "bracketing" of any "position" that I've done above... I've always liked this letter from Sri Aurobindo (he wrote it in response to a letter that Sri Krishna Prem wrote to Sri Aurobindo's musician disciple, Dilip Kumar Roy):

'The scheme [science] has built up of... evolution... is an irrational magic more baffling than any the most mystic imagination could conceive.'
—Sri Aurobindo

"The more you go inward or upward, the more the view of things changes and the outer knowledge Science organises takes its real and very limited place. Science, like most mental and external knowledge, gives you only truth of process. I would add that it cannot give you even the whole truth of process; for you seize some of the ponderables, but miss the all-important imponderables; you get, hardly even the how, but the conditions under which things happen in Nature. After all the triumphs and marvels of Science the explaining principle, the rationale, the significance of the whole is left as dark, as mysterious and even more mysterious than ever. The scheme it has built up of the evolution not only of this rich and vast and variegated material world, but of life and consciousness and mind and their workings... is an irrational magic more baffling than any the most mystic imagination could conceive. Science in the end lands us in a paradox effectuated, an organised and rigidly determined accident, an impossibility that has somehow happened,—it has shown us a new, a material Maya, aghatana-ghatana-pahyast, very clever at bringing about the impossible, a miracle that cannot logically be and yet somehow is there actual, irresistibly organised, but still irrational and inexplicable. And this is evidently because Science has missed something essential; it has seen and scrutinised what has happened and in a way how it has happened, but it has shut its eyes to something that made this impossible possible, something it is there to express. There is no fundamental significance in things if you miss the Divine Reality; for you remain embedded in a huge surface crust of manageable and utilisable appearance. It is the magic of the Magician you are trying to analyse, but only when you enter into the consciousness of the Magician himself can you begin to experience the true origination, significance and circles of the Lila. I say "begin" because the Divine Reality is not so simple that at the first touch you can know all of it or put it into a single formula; it is the Infinite and opens before you an infinite knowledge to which all Science put together is a bagatelle. But still you do touch the essential, the eternal behind things and in the light of That all begins to be profoundly luminous, intimately intelligible."
Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, Volume 1, pp. 196-197


I just came across 3 different writers who are much more qualified than I am to speak of these matters (pun intended).

The philosopher Thomas Nagel has just come out with a book, "Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False".

At the "Evolution and Consciousness" blog, medical researcher Lawrence Horstmann has been posting marvelous essays on the role of consciousness in evolution.

And finally, if you google "Stephen L. Talbott" + Materialism, you'll come across some unusually subtle examinations of unfounded assumptions propping up materialist beliefs.

I've also been posting some excerpts from these and other writers over at the Integral World Forum, including at least one from Feynman himself:>)

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