The Undeniable Dilemma | Karishma Mehrotra

The human has been gifted with a persistent dilemma. In our exposure to the world, a part of our learning stems from our desire to study the world around us as we perceive it, equipped with the tools of empiricism and rational thinking to examine our sensory experience. But we also feel the existence of a part of the world that is not explained by those tools. There are questions about the world that we can’t answer and knowledge that we can’t quite physically perceive but can intuitively or perhaps impulsively feel in an inner self. We perceive a world outside of us but we also perceive a self separate from that world. Somehow, in the search for knowledge within this dilemma, we have declared that these two sides are at conflict. Mind versus body. Internal versus external self. Subjective versus objective. Religion and spirituality and faith and the arts versus science. Spirit versus matter. At this moment in time in our particular society, we are clearly valuing the latter over the former, most prominently seen in higher education. But I argue, there is no dilemma when the human acknowledges the two domains, their values, their flaws, and their intersections. As the human perceives the world’s stimuli through their human body interfaces, they have the ability to also feel a true knowledge, a true message within them. I argue, they have the intellectual ability to believe both.

I have used a wide range of scientific philsophers to function as the base of my thesis. I have selected philosophers who have made it their life work to intertwine the two domains outlined above, whether it be on a cognitive science level, through the lens of medicene, or with the tools of physics. Each scholarly source has showcased my thesis through their work. First, I explore the realm of science — its defintion and the criticisms against it while also detangling the inevtiablity and necessity of science. Then, I switch over to the other domain, with a definition that is clearly more amporphous and less tangible. This side, too, has its flaws and qualities worth exploring. However, I show through a historical analysis, academics has created a conflict between the two. I attempt to convey some of the numerous ways in which these two sides intersect, attempting to show how one can feel an allegience to both sides to dismantle the constructed conflict between the two.

Science, its flaws, and its merits

Before launching into a juxtaposition of the two domains, it is best to focus on each individually. Science, as I conceptualize it, is based in a rational knowledge derived from a human’s experience with the outside environment. Fritjof Capra, an Austrian physicist heralded for his intersection of physics and Eastern mysticism, describes science as a constant process of dividing, comparing, measuring, categorizing, and fragmenting (Capra, 27). With Descartes’ split between the world and the self (which I will describe more later), thinkers began to “believe that the world could be described objectively … and such an objective description of nature became the ideal of all science” (Capra, 57). Science has much value to a wide range of philosophers, like Bruce Fleming, whose study on the separation between science and self provides much fodder for this conversation as well. Through labor, meticulousness, and public scrutiny, science “transcends the individual” (Fleming, 9). Finally, quite obviously, scientists themselves are not shy to champion their field: “For well-known biologist Edward O. Wilson … the scientific understanding of material reality and the scientific explanation of what is real, really has more power, more substance, and more splendor than anything that can be found in the world’s religions” (Laderman, 91).

But science is inherently flawed. For one, it takes the “objective world” as both its subject and justification. Fleming may have found science’s attributes, but he also describes some loopholes. “Things are as they are; the business of science is to discover what these might be” (Fleming, Preface). In other words, science presupposes that the reality we perceive is the only reality, the “objective” reality, and the true reality. It leaves no room for a reality outside of our perception and no acknowledgement of the possibility of visual misinformation. Throughout time, many have chided science on its claim to objectivity. Fleming states that science is not an entity but rather “an activity constructed so as to create statements that are objective” (20). Paul Boyer, a psychologist who took a cognitive science approach to studying religion, agrees, defining science as “a large set of people with particular activities, a particular database that is stored in a particular literature, and a particular way of adding to or modifying that database” (320).

Indeed, the rise of post-modernism criticized science in this very way. One of the most famous post-modernists, Michel Foucault, contended that truth and knowledge are a product of specific power relations, and scientific discovery is contingent upon some sort of scientific creation (Journal of Philosophy). The post-modernist belief that truth is conditional and influenced by collective decisions claims that science “is not a reflection of an objective reality … We human beings are, then, the ultimate arbiters of what is true. Consensus is truth. The “subjective” and the “objective” are rolled into one inseparable compound.” Poking holes in the scientist’s claim to objectivity, post-modernism’s attacks exposed science’s inherent flaws.

Even more, by focusing on only the perceivable reality, science is often blind to layers beyond the body’s interaction with the world. Anne Harrington, a Harvard historian who has studied mind-body medicine and its history extensively, calls this science’s “existential deficiency” (17). “Medicine [fails] fully to validate the complexity of one’s suffering … There is more to physical illness than can be seen just in the body; and more to healing than can be found in just pills and shots. Mind matters too” (Harrington, 18). The “deficiency” is not just seen through medical healing but, in Kant’s condescending words, the “supposed” reality that exists outside of empirics or logics has no role in science. “All scientific concepts must somehow be traceable back to phenomenological roots” (Stanford). Fleming expresses this in a similar way: science may be objective, but “this objectivity, because real, is limited—perhaps far more limited than scientists realize” (22).

Another limitation rests on the fact that scientific knowledge involves a level of abstraction in order to compare, classify, and characterize the world around us. Capra tells us that our “intellectual map of reality” reduces things to “general outlines” and “abstract concepts and symbols,” rendering the map only an approximation of reality. “It is clear that our abstract system of conceptual thinking can never describe or understand this reality completely … Because our representation of reality is so much easier to grasp than reality itself, we tend to confuse the two and to take our concepts and symbols for reality” (Capra, 28).  Our description of nature are not “features of reality” but rather are “creations of the mind; parts of the map, not of the territory” (Capra, 161). Science does not tell us what reality is; it can only give us its interpretation or hypothesis of what reality is.

Furthermore, from a cognitive level, Boyer even claims that science is “unnatural, given our cognitive dispositions” (321). Through an “odd form of social interaction”, scientific progress is “cognitively and socially very unlikely” (Boyer, 321). As philosopher Robert McCauley concludes, on the basis of similar arguments, science is every bit as ‘unnatural’ to the human mind as religion is ‘natural’ (Boyer, 322). Boyer asserts that our evolved dispositions render religious interpretations much more likely as they are are a byproduct, recruiting our existing mental functions.

Although these criticisms are worthy of mention, science’s necessary qualities are just as valid, as expressed by Fleming. The undeniable truth is that we are subject to reality, and we have to be able to examine this reality in a methodical fashion. “If science isn’t objective, what is?” (Fleming, Preface). For better or worse, knowledge will inevitably bend to the rules of science because it is solid and it is real. For many, science is the “gold standard” as academic disciplines of all sorts, including the humanities, adapt their language and craft to the scientific method, “aspir[ing] to the condition of science” (Fleming, 7) “The tendency to measure everything against science has not lessened as a result of the movement against ‘objectivity’  of the last several decades of the twentieth century … the louder the rebellion against science becomes, the more its prestige is augmented” (Fleming, 8). Because we are subject to this reality, we are motivated to test our perceptions in a logical and rational form.

The scientist is also correct that we need categories, labeling, and fragmentation to function in this world. “Maybe we only have a scale of grays rather than a distinction of black and white. Doesn’t it make sense to distinguish the lighter shades from the darker?” (Fleming, Preface). We need to agree upon “black” and “white” even though we all see different blacks and whites. We need an agreed-upon, consensus-driven truth. Thus, the post-modernism critique about science’s underlying power structure may stand but it’s an inevitable evil because, in order to gather a consensus on what is true, we submit to the direction of the educated, top elite.

The Arts, its flaws, and its merits

If science correlates with a human’s external relationship to the world, another intellectual domain is concerned with the inner self. While science has a clear and distinct name, this domain is much more amorphous, being referred to as “faith”, “religion”, “spirituality”, “humanities”, “the arts”, and more. The terminology used to describe this knowledge is never-ending. Fleming calls it “personal or situational knowledge,” used “in the moment and of no interest to anyone else but myself” (Preface). In this way, this knowledge is not subject to the constraints of consensus and power relations that scientific knowledge is subject to. In fact, Fleming says, no one demands that it be subject to scientific verification because it is usually “neither verifiable nor reproducible” (Preface). Regardless, the value in this knowledge would be erased if it were subject to scientific inquiry, he states (Preface).

This inner knowledge exists without our awareness; it is subconsciously intuitive. Boyer offers an analogy to conceptualize this in a complex brain: the Pemberley estate in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The guests staying upstairs at Pemberley never see the cooking, cleaning, and preparation that is conducted downstairs, allowing them to have a smooth stay. In the same way, the human’s brain is able to function as an efficient organization without any awareness of the systems downstairs that create mental life. Rather than a general-purpose intelligence machine, the brain is actually a network of inference systems that together handle each situation or problem. “What makes the system work smoothly is the exquisite coordination of many specialized systems, each of which handles only a fragment of the information with which we are constantly bombarded” (Boyer, 95). This knowledge is not consciously accessible for good reason: we are often led to the right direction by our impulses and emotions, not by “abstract descriptions” of potential consequences (Boyer, 250).

While Boyer argues that a large part of religious beliefs is “hidden from conscious introspection”, I extend his assertion to most of our inner knowledge (95). Capra, whose theories will be explored more in depth later on, studied the world of Eastern mysticism in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism, which focuses on “a direct experience reality which transcends not only intellectual thinking but also sensory perception” (Capra, 29). “Absolute knowledge is thus an entirely non-intellectual experience of reality, an experience arising in a non-ordinary state of consciousness” (Capra, 30). In seeking this knowledge, the Eastern mystic develops “a meditative mode of consciousness” (Capra, 39). He doesn’t only read notes, but also listens to his teacher play to learn Indian music. He doesn’t just listen to the instructions of T’ai Chi movements but practices each step with his teacher (Capra, 39). Indeed, many other art forms — prose, poetry, painting and dancing — are attempts to externally express the hidden, inner self that our regular rhetoric simply cannot capture. “The most fundamental facts of life will always escape articulation. The direct expression of the most profound wisdom is notoriously difficult … This is where literature and the arts come in: they crystallize wisdom in a form we can process” (Fleming, 24). This inexpressibility is precisely why we have numerous terms, such as the arts, humanities, faith, and spirituality, to explain this one concept.

Along with this terminology, Gary Laderman, a religion scholar at Emory, uses another expression to describe this concept: the “sacred”. “The sacred explains what cannot be explained, it accounts for the incomprehensible, and it communicates the inexpressible” (xiv). For Laderman, religion, or the “sacred”, is an expression of the “basic, universal facts of life and fundamentally biological phenomena in human experience: suffering and ecstasy, reproduction and aging, family and conflict, health and death” (xiv). Revolving around questions that have resonated with humans throughout time and space, the sacred attempts to locate a truth about “why the cosmos is the way it is, how life came to be, and what, at bottom, are the driving forces in this world” (Laderman, 90). One can already see how these questions are also of concern to the scientist, but are approached in a much different manner by those of this domain.

Capra describes the Eastern mystic’s desire for “absolute knowledge” outside of the distracting sensory experience. There is an elated level of truth beyond our bodily and sensory experience. For Eastern mystic religions, meditation can help achieve this state and rid one’s scientific-based fragmentation of the world around them. “When the rational mind of silenced, the intuitive mode produces an extraordinary awareness; the environment is experienced in a direct way without the filter of conceptual thinking … It is a state of consciousness where every form of fragmentation has ceased fading away into undifferentiated unity” (Capra, 40).

Harrington’s several narratives about mind-body medicine also promote an emphasis on this domain in the realm of medicine: “Reductionist medicine, it would seem, has triumphed. Nevertheless, this book has been all about demonstrating that there is more to say—much more” (Harrington, 243). Illness was not, Harrington argued, only a “biological event”, but also a “biographical event rich with (usually hidden) meaning” (Harrington, 84). In her discussion of hypnosis and hysteria research, some found that “medicine had underestimated the power of the mind to heal the body” (Harrington, 108). “Something is going on that isn’t explained by the laws of physics or modern medicine. So our laws of physical science, which we’re so proud of in our modern civilization, have overlooked something very significant” (Harrington, 115).

Unfortunately, too often, this domain is not seen as significant but rather as a primitive or less intelligent aspect of ourselves. Boyer finds that skeptics label belief as a form of “mental negligence”, in which emotions lead the scientifically-untrained astray. What these critics are calling for then, is for people to only consider precise and consistent thoughts, related evidence, and refutable claims (Boyer, 299). Not only is this a ridiculous notion, it is an undesirable one, as I have shown. It completely ignores an ever-present realm of our knowledge: the self. “The self is distinguishable from the world. The proof of this is that we have distinguished it” (Fleming, Preface).

To be sure, this domain is also inherently flawed. Because of its inexpressible nature, any expression of this knowledge can only be partly true (Capra, 42). “The contradiction so puzzling to the ordinary way of thinking comes from the fact that we have to use language to communicate our inner experience which in its very nature transcends linguistics” (Capra, 45). At the same time, this knowledge is un-falsifiable by nature. The paradox renders this knowledge a consistent nightmare for the scientist and yet somehow it offers a state of zen for the artist. In attempting to transcend the external world and its reality, this domain acknowledges an inevitable layer of ignorance that is unsurmountable. “We know there are things we don’t know, but classify these as less worthy of sharing with others than the things we do know. We have only to shift our point of view to see these unordered things as constituting the lion’s share of the world” (Fleming, 3).

But just as there limits to science’s pursuit of the truth, the inner self has its own set of faults. For one, this world view will not help humans build machines or cope with modern technological problems. Even more, if taken too far, those who continuously doubt reality risk venturing into a state of depression, or worse, insanity. “It is a sense that all this is lived for no one but ourselves—and what is the point of that? The sense of life as a theater piece being staged with elaborate preparations for no audience has haunted much of the West for centuries” (Fleming, 6). Just as the scientist’s most crucial tenet is the undeniable fact that we are subject to reality, this domain’s largest loophole is that the external world is a reality we have to trust, if not for the fact that we have nothing else to go off of. Otherwise, an overwhelming lack of trust for the external world with an over-emphasis on the inner self can result in the melancholy of a purposeless living.

The Myth of the Conflict

While these two domains — the external reality we are exposed to and the inner self we must also trust — are undeniable, their separation and supposed conflict is our own unnecessary creation. The separation of spirit and matter or the dualism between body and soul became characteristic of Western philosophy in the fifth and fourth centuries with the Greek atomists, who imagined the foundations of matter to be many “basic building blocks.” “These were purely passive and intrinsically dead particles moving in the void” (Capra, 21). Philosophers then refocused on the spiritual, rather than the material, world of the soul for the next two thousand years. Led by the Aristotelian model of the universe, this view went unopposed with the Christian Church’s support throughout the Middle Ages (Capra, 22). In the late fifteenth century, the advent of the Renaissance ushered in a newfound interest in a scientific approach to nature, a mathematical language to express scientific theories, and a separation from Aristotle and the Church. In this moment, Galileo gave birth to modern science (Capra, 22). Fleming asserts that, in this time, academic thought bestowed superiority to the “body side” in believing “objectivity is certain, the subjective is merely individual” (Fleming, 1).

Then, in the seventeenth century, René Descartes’ fundamental division of mind and matter — the Cartesian division — paved the way for scientists to imagine matter as different, dead objects that were separate from humans. Along with this division’s influence on thought, Descartes’ philosophy “I think, therefore I am” introduced the image of the self attached to the mind, not with the whole body (Capra, 22). Harrington argues that Descartes’ mind-body dualism “launched medicine on the path toward its current unsatisfying vision of human mind-body relations” (Harrington, 20). “‘He and the Roman Catholic Church struck a deal: As a man of science, Descartes would restrict himself to the study of human anatomy, leaving the mind and soul to the care of the church’” (Harrington, 20). Newton’s classical physics adopted Descartes’ “mechanistic world view” that fragmented reality and came to dominate scientific thought till the end of the nineteenth century (Capra, 22). “Imagination … was the enemy of rational enquiry—a quixotic, irrational, and poorly controlled faculty of the mind … a danger to clear thinking because they were not grounded in truth. Scientific methods were thus required, not to understand them, but to unmask them for the unruly, dishonest things they really were” (Harrington, 47).

This division and ensuing creation of the conflict has continued to agitate Western thought. “The mind has been separated from the body and given the futile task of controlling it, thus causing an apparent conflict between the conscious will and the involuntary instincts … [and] endless conflicts generating continuous metaphysical confusion and frustration.” (Capra, 23). Laderman says the recent public debates regarding science and religion have “a fury not seen for nearly a century” (85). In essence, the debates boil down to a discussion of “the limits of scientific authority” and the question of the human’s relationship to the natural world” (85). “The subjective self is usually opposed to the objective world, in a late echo of Cartesian dualism, or the Christian neo-Platonic division of the soul from the body. And so the problem haunts Western philosophy: how can subjective creatures re-unite with the objective world? By definition, of course, we cannot, so long as we are primordially separated from it” (Fleming, Preface).

This problem of consciousness, Jaynes says, has been a part of human life since consciousness began. “It is the difference that will not go away, the difference between what others see of us and our sense of our inner selves and the deep feelings that sustain it. The difference between the you-and-me of the shared behavioural world and the unlocatable location of things thought about … How do these ephemeral existences of our lonely experience fit into the ordered array of nature that somehow surrounds and engulfs this core of knowing?” (Jaynes, 2).

This divide has infiltrated the academic thought of our universities. For Robert McCauley, cognitive science professor at Emory, the divide is between explanation and interpretation — sciences and humanities respectively. In regards to the “epistemic preeminence of science”, he states that “since the natural sciences are invented, everyone agrees that natural sciences get nature right. But social sciences say they only get nature right.” Fleming also argues that our intellectual world has adopted the dualistic quality of our philosophy. “Those who do science think it absurd to hold that there is not an objective world. Those who do not do science think it old-fashioned to hold that there is. Thus there is a fundamental split between science on one hand and the non-science disciplines on the other” (Fleming, 5). The split also revolves around the attitude of the two sides, which Capra labels the “physicist” and the “mystic”. He finds that both sides see that no phenomenon can be fully explained but the physicist is satisfied by an approximation while the mystic searches for the “absolute knowledge involving an understanding of the totality of Life.” Because the mystic sees everything in the universe as interrelated, nothing can be explained in a vacuum, and, therefore, nothing can be explained (Capra, 290).

Part of the blame indeed lies with the modern scientist, whose practice of fragmentation has dominated our academic landscape. Capra’s philosophy problematizes not only this inner division of internal and external self but also the same method of fragmentation applied throughout the natural environment, especially seen in social groupings of nations, races and religious groups. “The belief that all these fragments—in ourselves, in our environment and in our society—are really separate can be seen as the essential reason for the present series of social, ecological and cultural crises. It has alienated us from the nature and from our fellow human beings” (Capra, 23). Capra champions the Buddhist’s philosophical goal: “transcend the notion of an isolated individual self and to identify themselves with the ultimate reality” (Capra, 24).

At present, our attitude is too yang … too rational, male and aggressive. Scientists themselves are a typical example. Although their theories are leading to a world view which is similar to that of the mystics, it is striking how little this has affected the attitudes of most scientists (Capra, 307).

 Capra attributes the scientists’ reluctance to accept the validity of the other domain to his miscalculated indifference towards mysticism, labeling it as “vague, mysterious, and highly unscientific” (Capra, 5). “The demand that everything link to the objective world through truth and provability is merely the error of assuming that science is only, or at least the best, form of knowledge … If we try to climb the ladder of abstraction from the mutable, we find ourselves deforming reality at every step. We leave reality behind” (Fleming, 9).

But the scientific domain is not the only side responsible for the creation of this divide. The debate between science and religion took a turn with the creation of a monopolistic doctrinal religion that “made the crucial mistake” of mixing empirical statements of fact in a list of statements about biology and the cosmos that were disproven by science. “Every battle has been lost and conclusively so” (Boyer, 320). Laderman shows how biblical creationists are often “imaginatively limited” by a similar “dichotomous thinking” of right and wrong (Laderman, 89). Recently, the church has especially felt threatened by “the cultural consequences of its truth-telling power: rational thought triumphing over blind faith; quantified experimentation trumping subjective spirituality; and, for critics of this mechanistic, deterministic, disenchanted explanation of the universe and its intricate workings, the authority of science displacing the authority of God.” (Laderman, 92). Both sides, it seems, are persistently stubborn. The defense of evolution embraces similar “rigidities, close-mindedness, and self-righteousness as the most obnoxious Christian fundamentalist” (Laderman, 90).

Two Complementary, Parallel Truths

But perhaps an entirely different path of reasoning will help us overcome the conflict. There may be a natural divide between the layers of objectivity and subjectivity that I have laid out, and we, therefore, are drawn to the duality. However, duality need not mean conflict, as I will show below. Within our own individual capacity, we must give room to understand the describable, physical, external reality as well as believe in the meaning of the internal and cerebral one.

One of the strongest and earliest proponents for the merger between the two domains was Fritoj Capra, a physicist whose book The Tao of Physics proposes a parallelism between Eastern mystic religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism and quantum physics. First, to overcome the Cartesian split between mind and matter, he finds cognition to be the process of knowing and the mind to be the process of cognition. Consciousness is an elaborate manifestation of this process. “Mind and matter no longer appear to belong to separate categories but are seen as representing two complimentary aspects of the phenomenon of life: the process aspect and the structure aspect. Mind is the process of life, the process of cognition. The brain (and indeed the entire body) is the structure through which this process manifests itself” (Capra, 8). This is the same insight found in ancient spiritual traditions, which see spirit as the “breath of life”. “One in the technical language of science, the other in the poetic, metaphorical language of spirituality” but both attempting to speak about the same truth (Capra, 8).

Capra found many more ways in which mysticism offers a philosophical background to modern scientific theories. Deep ecology, a modern advancement in science, views the world as not as a plethora of isolated, fragmented objects, but as an interconnected and interdependent network. Human beings are but “one particular strand in the web of life” and all living beings are of value to the network. Ecology, then, reaffirms the very essence of spirituality—the human’s connection to nature (Capra, 25).

Deep ecology is corroborated by the foundations of twentieth-century physics, quantum theory and relativity theory. “The further we penetrate into the submicroscopic world, the more we shall realize how the modern physicist, like the Eastern mystic, has come to see the world as a system of inseparable, interacting and ever-moving components with the observer being an integral part of this system” (Capra, 25). Modern physics has exposed how there are no fundamental building blocks to nature but rather that everything in the universe is connected (Capra, 290). This puzzle of quantum theory neatly parallels the “puzzles of Zen” offered by ancient Eastern wisdom, furthering the idea that two are harmonious. Julius Robert Oppenheimer once said, “The general notions about human understanding … which are illustrated by discoveries in atomic are not in the nature of things wholly unfamiliar, wholly unheard of or new. Even in our own culture they have a history, and in Buddhist and Hindu thought a more considerable and central place” (Capra, 18).

Capra’s beliefs have found their way into many other realms, as seen in Laderman’s example of cell biologist Ursula Goodenough. Gooenough’s concept of “religious naturalism” strives for a for “a scientific understanding of Nature … [opening] the door to spiritual wonder and reverential obligations rather than closing out the possibility that the cosmos is infused with sacred meanings” (85). Goodenough explores mysteries like protons, brains, music, and Earth with a “scientific rigor and sacred devotion” that doesn’t result in reductionistic, nihilistic attitude (Laderman, 87). Rather, “she continues to see an enchanted, mysterious, spiritually invigorating universe that has meaning and purpose without God at the center of the Epic” (Laderman, 87). In other words, Goodenough can exist in a state of ignorance, acknowledge and value that ignorance, and proceed. “Like Goodenough, Albert Einstein once said that “science without religion is lame, religion without science is bland” (Laderman, 91). While he denied the existence of a personal God, he saw science as a way to discover the “sacred wisdom” in nature (Laderman, 91).

Ultimately, Capra provides the most convincing explanation of crisscrossed scientific and spiritual trends. A mystical experience and a modern physics experiment are both sophisticated, mysterious, valid, and useful (Capra, 36). One offers an avenue to a technologically modern life and the other a “balanced and fulfilled spiritual life” (Capra, 304). “Both are records of enquiries into the nature of the universe” but neither description or representation of the truth “can give a complete picture of the world” (Capra, 36, 303).

I see science and mysticism as two complementary manifestations of the human mind; of its rational and intuitive faculties. The modern physicist experiences the world through an extreme specialization of the rational mind; the mystic through an extreme specialization of the intuitive mind. The two approaches are entirely different and involve far more than a certain view of the physical world. However, they are complementary … Neither is comprehended on the other, nor can either of them be reduced to the other, but both of them are necessary, supplementing one another for a fuller understanding of the world … Science does not need mysticism and mysticism does not need science; but men and women need both. Mystical experience is necessary to understand the deepest nature of things, and science is essential for modern life. What we need, therefore is not synthesis but a dynamic interplay between mystical intuition and scientific analysis (Capra, 306).

Fleming is in complete agreement with Capra as he explains his notion of the “spectrum of knowledge”. “Objectivity and subjectivity, as well as the many states that mediate between them, sit in equal chairs along a line with no center and no head” (Fleming, 19). Despite this so-called conflict between science and religion ensuing around us, we can each individually entertain both sides. “Life is something quite different from the continuous agon implied by such dualism. Most of the time, we do not have the sense of fighting the world that is presupposed by inside-outside mind-body dualism” (Fleming, 22). If we can already acknowledge both domains in our intellectual capacity, why must we declare them in conflict? We do not doubt either one entirely and we do not trust either one entirely … and life continues (Fleming, 27). Instead of asking how an individual can re-join the world, Fleming says, we should not presuppose our primordial separation. Instead, we should ask, “in what ways do we relate to the world?” (Fleming, 23).

If Fleming is showing that we do not agonize over this supposed divide between our two selves, Boyer can describe why we can intellectually manage both domains. Humans can believe in two seemingly contradictory things at once because of the layered systems in the brain (Boyer, 88). Boyer breaks down belief in the brain in terms of the judicial model with the “Representations’ Attorney”, who creates representations with claims and justifications for the “Belief-Judge”, who weighs the evidence, asks questions, and declares a final verdict. But not all systems use this model. Some systems act as their own Attorney and Judge and decide on the case before presenting the information to other systems. One example is the visual system, which convinces the rest of the brain of the reality it sees without making a case. These are the “implicit processes of our inference systems” (Boyer, 303-305). “What we usually call a ‘belief’ … is very often an attempt to justify or explain the intuitions we have as a result of implicit processes in the mental basement. It is an interpretation of (or a report on) these intuitions” (Boyer, 305). In other words, some beliefs are an external representation of the processes that occur in the mental basement without our awareness. But there are other pictures of how a mind reaches a verdict on a belief. On one hand, we weigh the evidence. But, on the other, “there seems to be a great deal of underground believing making going on that is simply not reported” (Boyer, 304). Consequently, our inference systems can create multiple competing interpretations (Boyer, 315).

Unfortunately, Capra’s revelations, Fleming’s approach to knowledge, and Boyer’s scientific explanation have not changed the methods and practices of higher education, as seen in the fact that decades later Harrington calls for almost exactly the same intersection. “I have believed in the potential of mind-body medicine to destabilize and creatively redraw tired ‘two-cultures’ approach to knowledge of what it means to be human.” Harrington saw how universities put humanities buildings and science laboratories on opposite sides of the campus, questioning if this is a reflection of the way that “academics have wanted to think about the relationship between the natural and human worlds? In other words, do our literal campus maps function also as metaphorical cognitive maps, and do these cognitive maps serve us as well as they should …. Do we humans really divide neatly in two, as so many academic campuses seem to imply: ‘This way for the body, please, that way for the mind’?” (Harrington, 251). In agreement with Harrington, I argue that to achieve a proper academic learning, universities must recognize the value in both types of knowledge that I have described.This would undoubtedly require a cultural revolution, upending the entire intellectual infrastructure of the academic disciplines. But to not do so is to continue to fool ourselves that there is some inherent conflict in the human’s existence.

Indeed, as I’ve shown, the scientific domain of measuring, testing, categorizing, and labeling the external world may be separate but is not at war with the internal, inexpressible, unconsciousness, intuitive, spiritual truth. While science is a necessity — as we must rationally and logically assess the reality we are exposed to — it simply does not apply to the reality that transcends sensory perception, that rids ourselves of a fragmented reality, and that is driven by an inner self. But as both seek to comprehend the truth, they both intersect in numerous ways, exposing the harmonious parallelism of the two worlds. Until higher education rids itself of the supposed conflict — a product of a specific Western historical trajectory — we will forever stumble on our way to understand the truth, utilizing only one side of our dual-natured tool to sift through the noise and determine what is truth and what is reality.

 

 

 

References: 

Boyer, Pascal. Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. New York: Basic, 2001. Print.

Capra, Fritjof. The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism. Berkeley: Shambhala, 1975. Print.

Cassirer, Ernst, and Ernst Cassirer. Substance and Function and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. New York: Dover Publications, 1953. Print.

Dowden, Bradley, and Norman Swartz. “Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2015.

Fleming, Bruce E. Science and the Self: The Scale of Knowledge. Lanham, MD: U of America, 2004. Print.

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Harrington, Anne. The Cure Within: A History of Mind-body Medicine. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print.

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