Science, Philosophy and the Supernatural 101:

Summary:

Whilst I am only beginning my in-depth studies of this topic, I feel confident about some preliminary judgments and conclusions. Science is a method, which has given so much to the world over the past few centuries, speeding up progress in so many areas at an exponential rate. Unlike other methods to attempt to learn about reality (such as religion and philosophy) the scientific method produces consistent testable results, and hence the scientific community has reached consensus on various fundamental properties of reality. This success has enabled rapid economic growth that has dramatically raised the standard of living worldwide, and enabled the development of technology and medicine that have largely solved many of the causes of human suffering through recorded history.

In many ways science has had to stand against religion in its quest to discover the true nature of reality, and many prominent scientists faced ridicule and/or persecution in their time for standing against the doctrines of “the church” (primarily orthodox Christianity). Incredible as it may seem, this situation still very much exists today, particularly in North America where the religious right are still trying to claim that the earth (and universe as a whole) is a mere 6,000 years old (as an approximation) and that various animals (humans included) have not undergone significant genetic mutations. Hence it is easy to understand why many might believe that science is immune to the curse of philosophical bias, and that scientists are the only ones that are able to leave their own personal dogmas behind in their work. Unfortunately, I argue that scientists too as human beings are likewise subject to philosophical bias, and that there are a number of very obvious examples whereby this is the case.

It is perhaps easy to understand why and how this has happened when you consider the details. Part of the modern scientific method is methodological naturalism; that being the presupposition of natural causes as the simplest and most likely explanation for any phenomena, excluding even the consideration of supernatural causes. Unfortunately it seems that there has been a collective move from the use of methodological naturalism for  scientific development to an unconscious and unquestioned acceptance of metaphysical naturalism (a philosophical position that states that only matter and material laws exist, and denies consciousness and/or spirit), as a philosophical worldview, and as the scientific worldview. This transition has been largely unconscious, and I believe that it needs to be discussed in detail to reveal a major aberration in the thinking of modern man.

As a result of this philosophical presupposition, many otherwise scientifically minded thinkers have rejected outright the possibility of various paranormal phenomena, on the basis that they believe them to be impossible before even investigating them. Likewise, many otherwise rational people have failed to accept the startling philosophical implications of highly successful scientific theories and repeated experiments, as they challenge the very foundational of the worldview (metaphysical naturalism), which has been confused with the method of science. Likewise, in regards to various human experiences and phenomena, which might be difficult for science to evaluate, many people have erroneously concluded that science has proven them to be impossible. Hence we find ourselves in the same stalemate position that we encounter with many religious believers, whereby they will not seem to even entertain the possibility that their presuppositions could be incorrect, and it seems that solid evidence and rational arguments only fall on deaf ears. We are here encountering the very same manifestations of the human ego that we encounter with religious fanatics; only that in this case the very people who so often cut through religious dogma fail to see themselves falling trap to the very same behaviour.

I believe that real evidence exists for paranormal and spiritual phenomena, and some of this evidence is scientific in nature (though it’s very nature may demand that we refine and evolve the scientific method to work equally well in all possible contexts). I believe that when all is considered objectively, the evidence strongly points to Monistic Idealism as being the worldview that accurately describes reality as it truly is. Monistic idealism states that there is in-fact only one absolute substance, and that substance is infinite consciousness, with all apparent diversity and interaction occurring within this singular consciousness just as our nightly dreams occur within the mind of the dreamer.

Whilst this may seem to defy common sense at first, I believe that this conclusion is not merely defensible, but unavoidable once all is considered. I believe that science already has 100 years of evidence performed under the strictest laboratory conditions that absolutely necessitates this conclusion, and I believe that the evidence will only continue to accumulate as science moves forward. I suggest that whilst accepting this model of reality may seem shocking at first to many people, it offers immense possibilities both for personal growth and creative power, and almost infinite possibilities for the development of technology and the expansion of human civilization, if approached correctly. Hence, science does not need to fear the inevitable here, but rather will only thrive as a result.

Perhaps one of the hardest things to get our heads around will be finding the correct balance whereby science continues to debunk charlatans and reject real pseudoscience, whilst it simultaneously evolves and expands to allow in many areas which it has to date unfortunately attempted to taint with the same terms. Science must continue to stand for truth, against the campaigns of religious fanatics, who have often attempted to push their ideology into the classrooms of public schools (and have at times succeeded). However, science must be able to recognize and question its own presuppositions, and whilst we continue to apply the method of methodological naturalism to scour the working of nature, we must not be afraid to accept the consequences of our search, when it leads us back to the inescapable and shocking view of the primacy of consciousness.

Main Article:

I have personally learned to be cautious about forming solid opinions until becoming well acquainted with the relevant data and arguments, at a level that is worthy of the topic at hand.  The question of science, philosophy and the supernatural is a vast one, and is perhaps somewhat more difficult to unravel than the question of how best to understand comparative religion if we presume that spirituality is objectively real (the premise of my first book).  As I see it this is because in this question we wish to apply scientific standards and methodology to the subjects of philosophy and spirituality (which traditionally go by somewhat different standards, and apply quite different methodology), and vice versa.

For this reason I would like to state in advance that the opinions expressed in this article are perhaps viewed as strong intuitions, which as far as I have seen (at this stage) seem to be supported by the evidence itself.  It is quite likely that my views on the subject will gain new depth over the coming 5 years (approx.) as I study it in detail, though it remains to be seen whether such study will change my overall conclusions (I personally do not think that they will).  Obviously also, the following is not intended to be a comprehensive word on the topic, but rather a quick summary of my leanings, and a hint of what I will publish here on this blog on the topic in the future, as well as what will end up in book form at a later date.

I am fully aware that I am courting significant criticism in expressing strong opinions on this topic well before I will be ready to defend them in the necessary detail that the topic demands.  I will in the near future post an article covering philosophical implications of quantum mechanics and an introduction to parapsychology. That article will go into some degree of detail as to various experiments from QM (in particular the Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser experiments) and the arguments and counter-arguments of different camps as to their interpretations and implications. Also in that article I will give a quick summary of the field of parapsychology, and discuss in some detail the results of one large-scale parapsychology experiment, the Global Consciousness project, as its methodology and results are quite unique, and as the attempts at debunking them by naturalists that I have seen have been deeply flawed.  In doing so I believe I will be able to back up my conclusions (that I give here) with at least a preliminary demonstration of the evidence and arguments at hand.  Hence, I will progressively go into greater detail as to the specifics that I believe support my contentions, and I will just have to live with whatever responses I receive to my conclusions in the meantime.  With that said, let us begin.

I have personally had a great deal of personal experiences with spiritual and paranormal phenomena, and I believe that anybody else that has had similar experiences can attest that they cannot all be explained away as due to fraud, delusion or ignorance of natural forces.  The problem is then how to present arguments in the language and standards of science that can translate these experiences into useable knowledge about nature.  Science demands certain standards for any theory, and any claim about the nature of reality needs to be clearly defined, testable and falsifiable if it is to expect to be considered scientifically viable.  Failing this standard renders any claims about the workings of our world either out of the limits of science (and hence puts it in the realms of philosophy), or at worst it can attract the label of pseudoscience (junk science).

It is understandable why many people would feel that if a theory or claim cannot be supported by science then it should be automatically rejected, as science has been extremely successful over the past few centuries at revealing great mysteries that people of the past may have believed were supernatural in nature.  It is therefore a valid question as to whether there are fields of study for which science will not be able to illuminate, or whether scientific endeavours will eventually reveal all on every subject we can imagine?  The nature of consciousness is currently seen by many as being difficult for science to deal with, yet simultaneously there are large numbers of scientists devoting their careers to its study.  Many scientists and philosophers today believe that in the near future we will have a complete scientific (read naturalistic) model for the working of consciousness.

On the other hand, there are a significant number of professionals who claim that consciousness can never be understood in solely materialistic terms, as it is by very nature subjective and immaterial.  Such a view has become quite unpopular in western academia over the past few centuries, due largely to a bit of a mess associated with Rene Descartes.  As a result many westerners erroneously refer to any and all claims that consciousness is immaterial as being “dualist theories”, and then proceed to dismiss them under the assumption that mind-brain dualism is scientifically and philosophically untenable.  This is a great shame, as it reveals one of the great flaws in western education.

In truth, in most cases whereby consciousness is claimed to be immaterial and thus distinct and separate from the brain, the claim is made in the context of a monistic philosophical worldview (that being Monistic Idealism), which is the exact opposite of metaphysical naturalism (which is also monistic).  To dismiss all immaterial theories of consciousness as dualistic is just as erroneous as to claim that metaphysical naturalism is likewise dualistic and thus false (when in fact it also claims that consciousness and matter are ultimately the same substance, though in an opposite way to monistic idealism).  I will certainly write on mind-brain dualism in some detail in the future, as we really should be doing better on the subject then we are at this point.

Many people today believe that metaphysical naturalism is the scientific worldview, and claim that if you reject metaphysical naturalism then you reject science.  This is a slightly dangerous situation we have gotten ourselves into, as it appears to place science and spirituality in opposite camps directly opposed to each other, when in reality nothing could be further from the truth.  Some of those that take such views are willing to accept that spirituality can still have the right to exist, as long as it stays out of science and remains a form of vague pop psychology that adds meaning to peoples personal lives, but doesn’t attempt to interfere in debates as to the nature of reality, or the interpretation of scientific experiments.  Still there are other naturalists (atheists) who would like to see the end of all religion and spirituality, and do not believe that there is anything at all worthwhile in the entire field, and that the world would surely be a better place when it is gone (which some believe is inevitable).

As for those modern thinkers that claim that there is no divide between science and spirituality and attempt to bridge the gap in the mindset of the scientific community, they are largely dismissed as peddling New Age nonsense, and tagged with the titles of pseudoscience or “woo-woo” (a childish insult which attempts to presuppose that any and all beliefs in the supernatural are ridiculous and unworthy of a serious response).  I do certainly agree that there are a great number of charlatans out there seeking attention, money, sex, power and so forth, and there are likewise countless nutcases out there making claims that are worthy of ridicule.  However, there are likewise many brilliant thinkers and scientists who I believe have correctly attempted to balance scientific endeavours with spiritual and philosophical studies.  What’s more, I believe that there are likewise many brilliant thinkers that have correctly identified the place in science for consciousness, in which consciousness takes the centre stage, not merely as an emergent phenomena or epiphenomena, but as the substratum of reality itself!

I also agree that there are many New Age writers who have perhaps not risen to the task of discussing the intersect between science and spirituality at the level that science demands, and this is perhaps where we (in the New Age movement) need to lift our game.  Part of the reason science has been so successful is the high level of precision that it demands in the use of language, and its insistence that a theory be testable and falsifiable to be considered scientific in nature.  There have been many New Age thinkers that have failed to meet these standards, regardless of whether or not their conclusions have been correct.  Deepak Chopra is frequently ridiculed by naturalists for his attempts to bring science and spirituality together.  I find myself in a difficult position with Chopra in that I really like the guy, I agree with most of his conclusions and I admire his passion, but I tend to agree that his means of expression has not yet succeeded in meeting the necessary standard.

Do I believe I can do better?  Well yes and no.  Chopra certainly has fair more precise knowledge than myself, a lifetime of experience, real academic qualifications and almost certainly a far deeper level of spiritual attainment than myself.  So, I do not mean to insult the man; rather if I met Chopra I would feel privileged to be in the presence of someone who lives their life fearlessly pursuing what they believe to be true and good, regardless of the backlash.  However, I would like to attempt to do things differently from how I have seen most writers in the field proceed, and only time will tell if I succeed in attaining the standard to which I aspire.

Most scientists consider the field of parapsychology to be pseudoscience, despite the fact that it has met practically every criticism that has been launched towards it, and established rigorous standards for its research.  I will personally invert the accusation, and state that those that deny parapsychology are guilty of pseudoscience; literarily refusing to accept the results of real science and refusing to accept reality as it is, rather insisting on the impossibility of phenomena, which have been repeatedly studied in laboratory conditions.  Parapsychology has successfully and repeatedly produced results so far beyond the realms of chance that in any other field they would already be well accepted, but under the presumption that they are impossible they have still not received recognition.

Likewise, I believe there is a vast ignorance amongst the scientific community as to the true implications of Quantum Mechanics, and the mechanisms involved in the experiments themselves.  Whilst most scientists merely scoff at the claims of New Age writers regarding QM, so many of them seem to have little understanding of what has actually been discovered in the laboratory, and it seems to me as if it is only those of us with spiritual leanings that are ready to accept the startling implications of science in this manner.  I will make the rather bold claim that there are many deeply talented scientists who should know better, that are making claims that are mutually exclusive with the data.

For example, naturalists commonly claim that the differentiations between particle and wave results in dual-slit experiments are the result of interference between the particle and classical, material objects, such as the instruments involved in making measurements in the experiment itself. This is despite the fact that in recent years this possibility has been absolutely ruled out through highly sophisticated experiments, such as the many variations on the Delayed-Choice Quantum Eraser concept. Such experiments have proven time and time again that it is knowledge of the “which-path” information of the particle that determines the outcome, and that this has nothing to do with any physical interaction.  Again then, I invert the charge levelled against the New Age movement in regarding to QM, and accuse much of the scientific establishment of pseudoscience, in refusing to accept the results of 100 years of experiments, and ultimately refusing to accept reality as it is.

Physics has quite literarily shown that reality is immaterial, as most of what makes up matter is simply empty space, and the only things that aren’t empty space (down into the realm of particles) have no fixed material properties, and only take on temporary physical properties whilst they are locked in interactions with other systems, in measurement and/or being observed.  Likewise, quantum entanglement has gone well beyond Einstein’s shocking discoveries with special relativity, and has shown that space and time are actually relative constructs, lacking objective and absolute reality, and can under certain circumstances be violated in ways that almost bring mockery to intuitive ways in which we view them.  I will argue that science has indeed falsified every facet of metaphysical naturalism (realism, materialism and physicalism), and has left in its place only one reasonable alternative to which evidence from all fields points; that being monistic idealism.

Modern western science and philosophy have become so biased against the possibility of an immaterial mind that they are going as far as to attempt to deny the existence of downward (mental) causation.  This is despite the fact that evidence for downward causation is abundant throughout life; one might even go as far as to state that it is one of the most self-evident facts of life.  And yet it poses a great threat for metaphysical naturalism, hence those that wish to see science wholly associated with this philosophical view have sought to deny it.  Furthermore, recent developments in neuroscience have been interpreted by many as outright denying the existence of free-will, an erroneous and outright dangerous claim, particularly when proponents of this view are quite outspoken in claiming that it is not merely a philosophical view, but a scientific one.

There is also some evidence that I believe is relevant, which is not specifically scientific in nature, but crosses over slightly into the realm of science and medicine.  Near-Death Experiences (NDE’s for short) have often been reported in cases whereby medical professionals have been able to attest that a patient shows no signs of life (heartbeat, breath, brainwaves etc.).  Hence those of us that believe that NDE’s are objective experiences of consciousness (spirit) existing out of the body have often claimed that this provides external verification of the reality of such phenomena.  In response, naturalists have attempted to debunk these claims and argue for a purely materialistic mechanism in the dying brain as the cause of the experiences.  Again however, it appears to me that such explanations fail for several obvious reasons; most notably they commonly assume that any evidence for upward causation (from brain to mind, for example the fact that altered states of consciousness can be induced through electrical stimulation to the brain) cancels out the possibility of mind being immaterial, along with the standard erroneous western objections to mind-brain dualism.

I would argue that there is abundant evidence for the brain-mind model of causation commonly known as interactionism, in which causality goes both ways; that being from mind to body, and also from body to mind.  For example, when somebody takes a mind-altering drug, this is an example of upwards causation, as a physical substance initiated changes in the consciousness of the individual.  Likewise, when somebody practices meditation or undergoes hypnosis these are examples of downwards causation, as free-will choices to direct the mind have corresponding physical effects in the changes to the brains chemistry and electrical activity.  It seems to me that naturalistic explanations for NDE’s appear to be approaching the subject not with the intent of objectively considering what is going on (the spirit of the scientific method), but rather with the presupposition that the claims of the people having NDE’s are scientifically impossible.

My contention then is that naturalists are confusing science and philosophy, trying to pass philosophy off as science, and unfortunately they appear to be getting away with it. This is a shame given the great success of science in showing how things really are and cutting through a myriad of speculative theories and providing consistent, replicable evidence for how nature truly works.  Unfortunately the lines blur between science, philosophy and religion when it comes to questions about consciousness, and interpreting data relating to the relationship between our perception of the mind and the physical organ that is the brain.

We should perhaps note a common erroneous claim made by naturalists, that if paranormal and/or spiritual phenomena were objectively real then this would necessitate that everything science has discovered about the universe is wrong, and that we need to start again.  This claim is actually quite easy to reject as it attempts to place the vast scope of science within the realms of simple black and white absolutes, when of course scientific knowledge has always been a continuum of partial, relative understanding of the working of nature, constantly moving towards a deeper, more fundamental conception of reality and natural law.  If monistic idealism is true, it does not mean for a second that we have to abandon what science has taught us about the world.  Rather, the only things that need to be abandoned are philosophical views that have been presupposed through erroneous interpretations and extrapolations of scientific data.

Monistic Idealism is the worldview of the Perennial Philosophy, as it is explicitly laid forth in the spiritual philosophy of various cultures and times (most explicitly to my knowledge in Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta, Kashmir Shaivism and Hermeticism).  This view of the world has long been known to those who have studied consciousness in-depth through meditation, revealing fundamental and absolute truths about ourselves and the world around us. Whilst science has very much appeared to be the enemy of religion for some time, I believe that it is inevitable that the two come together, albeit in purer more evolved forms.  Science and spirituality alike must weed out the charlatans and the madmen from their ranks, and working together using different methods to provide consistent and cohesive knowledge about ourselves and our world.  When this occurs we will find ourselves truly in awe of the almost infinite potential for growth that human beings have before us, and the extraordinary possibilities for the development of technology using concepts from advanced physics.

Peace

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