Cognitive Justice: Science and the Sacred

Let’s take a step back and forget about climate change and the planetary catastrophe called global industrial civilization for a moment. Some of the deeper roots of our predicament have been discussed here repeatedly. (see some of the articles under the label ‘collapse of civilization‘) I have also touched into the epistemological dimension of it, what I’d call ‘nature of truth and reality‘.

Today, I’d like to have my – much more learned – colleagues elaborate on how the dominant worldview, i.e. our most basic assumptions on the nature of truth and reality, not only started the cycle of destruction but perpetuate and aggravate it through a self-reinforcing mechanism called scientific discourse.

This is in no way meant to diminish the epistemological achievements of science (see below, Nagler), or to strike a blow for the deliberate distortion of facts that runs by the name of ‘alt-truth’. Yet for us to get a more accurate picture of what is going on we need to be aware that there are actually truths alternate to our own understanding and that those truths are just as valid as what is scientifically believed to be real (see below, Wilber).

Drone magic, by Mike Licht (CC)
There is an abundance of alternative views to rationalistic materialism, yet they initially are – very – hard to discover. The dominant culture is fighting an epistemicidal war against ‘the other’, a war that is unseen by most because the enemy is not supposed to even exist. Why?

Empire is not merely territory covered, not just populations made into subjects. Empire rules not only through political, economic, and military force but through the very culture that gave birth to Empire. In other words, Empire rules the minds of its subjects, and it does so by defining what they can know — what is real. This may sound overstated to some, likely most, but the cognitive injustice created by scientific discourse is actually key to the question why social injustice does not spawn the kind of movements that would overthrow Empire. Marx had it wrong because we are not simply victims, we are co-creators of oppression. Awareness has never been enough; it takes an awakening.
The totalitarian exclusion of ‘the other’ from our view has turned it from a simple alternative into the deadliest enemy of the dominant culture, because once you start seeing it, awakening to it, you can no longer buy into the common dogmas around separateness, competition, materialism, utilitarianism, or scientism.

If you are still with me let’s foster cognitive justice now, by exploring an example which helps making the issue obvious: the relationship between science and the Sacred.

A discourse provides a set of possible statements about a given area, and organizes and gives structure to the manner in which a particular topic, object, process is to be talked about. In that it provides descriptions, rules, permissions and prohibitions of social and individual actions.”
– Günther Kress – Linguistic Processes in Sociocultural Practice, 1988
Epistemology(literally, the logical discourse on knowledge) is the branch of philosophy concerned with the theory of knowledge. Epistemology studies the nature of knowledge, justification, and the rationality of belief. Much of the debate in epistemology centers on four areas: (1) the philosophical analysis of the nature of knowledge and how it relates to such concepts as truth, belief, and justification, (2) various problems of skepticism, (3) the sources and scope of knowledge and justified belief, and (4) the criteria for knowledge and justification.”
– Wikipedia

“The whole notion of ‘discourse‘ and ‘discourse community’ is a circular one – the community is defined as those that share certain discourse habits and functions, while skill in the prescribed discourse is a prerequisite for being taken seriously by the discourse community. Hence, academic discourse is thus revealed, from the outset, to be a self-referential self-justificatory practice that determines what may legitimately beconsidered as knowledge.”

In this era of increased knowledge the essence of religious phenomena eludes the psychologists, sociologists, linguists, and other specialists because they do not study it as religious. According to Mircea Eliade, they miss the one irreducible element in religious phenomena—the element of the sacred.“
– 1996 introduction to Mircea Eliade’s book „Patterns in comparative Religion“ (1958)
The dark side of modern science, and unfortunately it has one, does not arise from science itself, still less from any of the facts of nature. It arises from the impression we allow science to give us: the impression that we are merely biological machines in a meaningless material universe.
Science has every right to confine its attention to the physical, i.e. the outside world. It has no right to say, when it has done so, that it has given us the whole story.”
– Michael N. Nagler – Is there no other way?, 2001
Cognitive injustice, the failure to recognize the different ways of knowing by which people across the globe run their lives and provide meaning to their existence.”
– Boaventura de Sousa Santos – Epistemologies of the South: justice against epistemicide. 2014 (pdf)
Epistemicide: the war on, and the destruction of existing knowledge and the subsequent abortion of the possibility of acquiring new knowledge within a certain system of thought.
The way that a particular culture formulates its knowledge is intricately bound up with the very identity of its people, their way of making sense of the world and the value system that holds that worldview in place. Epistemicide, as the systematic destruction of rival forms of knowledge, is at its worst nothing less than symbolic genocide […]
There are others […] that view the encroachment of the scientific paradigm as a form of cultural imperialism […] They often experience the rationalization and objectivization of reality as a kind of reductionism that is inadequate to explain the complexities of human experience.”
– Karen Bennett – Epistemicide! The Tale of a Predatory Discourse. 2007
The modern age has forgotten that facts and information, for all their usefulness, are not the same as wisdom—and certainly not the same as the direct experience of Reality. We have lost touch with the intuitive wisdom born of silence and stillness, and we are left stranded in a sea of information that cannot deliver on its promise of ever-increasing happiness and fulfillment.”
The Way of Liberation is not a belief system; it is something to be put into practice. In this sense it is entirely practical.”
– Adyashanti – The way of Liberation: a practical guide to spiritual enlightenment, 2012

“When we find those types of statements in Plotinus or Asanga or Garab Dorje or Abhinavigupta or Shankara, rest assured that they are not simply theoretical hunches or metaphysical postulates. Those are direct experimental disclosures issuing directly from te subtle dimension of reality, interpreted according to the backgrounds of those individuals, but issuing from this profound ontological reality, this subtle worldspace.

And if you want to know what these men and women are actually talking about, then you must take up the contemplative practice or injunction or paradigm, and perform the experiment yourself […]
So this experiment will disclose the archetypal data, and then you can help interpret what they mean. And by far the most commonly accepted interpretation is, you are looking at the basic forms and foundations of the entire manifest world. You are looking directly into the face of the Divine.”
– Ken Wilber – A brief history of everything, 1996

Transcending sustainability

The second thing that came up was, The age of sustainability is over!
It was one of those talks when you expect to spend some time together playing with ideas, but then it explodes and the discussion carves deep into multiple layers of existence.
The other day an anthropology student working on her thesis interviewed me on my understanding of sustainability. I could tell her a bunch about what it is likely not and how we are fooling ourselves into believing we were living sustainably. Changing light bulbs does ring a bell, I guess. This, in itself, has the potential to upset your average conversation partner beyond reason, despite the fact that ‘greenwashing’ has long ago taken residence in every dictionary there is. Noticing she understood my point and was willing to ask the right questions in order to help the talk developing it was a real pleasure to discuss the actual party killer with her for an extended amount of time:
Not only is civilization as such an unsustainable model because it is based on separation and therefore on anthropocentrism and therefore on eternal expansion and therefore on violence and therefore on destruction (read Endgameand other works by Derrick Jensen for a more comprehensive explanation), but we have allowed ourselves to get trapped in a place literally beyond return.
Has that ever occurred to you? We could come up with the blueprint for a perfectly sustainable society, put it into practice tonight, and still get our plane crashed, because we have run out of jet fuel, the craft is already plummeting, and there are no parachutes on board… but we still have plenty of Coca-Cola available.
Being aware of the situation, what are we going to do? Do we ignore the steep decline which we can feel in our guts? Will we rattle the video screen, screaming at the top of our lungs that we want out? Or are we staying calm, trying to help our neighbour cope with the shock? As far as I’m concerned, the fact that we are all dead in a minute, with no one left to tell our story, doesn’t mean a thing. It is no excuse for selfishness. It never was, even if we had a thousand years to live, and we simply need to do what feels right, be it against all odds.
Though very few share my alleged pessimism regarding our near-term survival some of us have at least understood the need for action. Unfortunately, all of the sustainability movement & most of environmental NGOs have been hijacked by Mother Culture. People like Cory Morningstar and platforms like Deep Green Resistance or Wrong Kind Of Green have described how well-meaning activists get soaked up by financial interests which make them believe that their actions have a beneficial effect on the natural world when all they are attempting is, to sustain the unsustainable set of living arrangements called industrial civilization. The colossal misguidedness is as tragic as it is typical of modern-day existence. I cannot help but wonder whether there is meaning in anything we do when it seems we are caught in a hopeless situation. I’ll come back to this in a minute.
First let me repeat what many of my regular readers know already; I am not about stopping anyone from doing anything. In reaching out through my writing I attempt to shed a light on the insane thought patterns of our culture in order to raise the questions that actually matter. We need to see what is real. Only then is there a chance of us being able to make a difference.
Talking about sustainability, what is it exactly that we want to maintain? Our way of life? Or life as such? Ask yourself which one is more basic. The answer tells you something about goals worth pursuing and prices to be paid, and I do hold that, if we come from our deepest understanding of reality, we get a sense of a fundamental, innate kind of morality. When we allow that set of deep values to intuitively guide our actions we no longer let ourselves get stopped by petty arguments, nor do we rate success as highly as before. We eventually may fail to achieve what we wanted to happen; we may die in the process of pursuing our aspirations. The whole world may fall apart, which we may foresee or not, but we won’t stop following the path of right action.
Raising awareness in ourselves and others is a necessary first step for inciting activism. We need to know the facts, we need to get our goals straight, we need to get connected. Yet no amount of words, and I must have spilled hundreds of thousands of them already, no amount of learned philosophizing nor new-age self-improvement talking-heads’ workshops can replace walking the talk. It is only when thought, words, and action are in line with reality, with what is, that we have a chance at touching that which will last in one way or another. As over short or long none of us lasts, as even our whole species goes extinct sooner or later, sustainability requires us to transcend both our personal interests and the interests of the human race. This is why, as a person who foresees an impending calamity, I am more inclined to live actively than ever before, at times when I still believed in changing the world. In acting, I consciously manifest the understanding that wanting to change the world is rejecting what is and that this notion led us to the unsustainably complicated culture we hate to let go even as it kills us. To act sustainably, to me, means to live simple or, in its most radical form, to simply live. The age of sustainability, the bloody rule of civilized ways is over. Only existence is eternal. Whatever will be, will be.

Dog philosophy 101

Thought is highly overrated in our culture. As s matter of fact, we are obsessed with it so much that we are working our whole life towards our ultimate, our very last thought. This has been expressed by teachers saying that it is our last thought that matters most and that defines whether we find salvation or continue struggling when our time is up.
The philosophers („More light!“), the Christians („Sweet Jesus!“), the materialists („Crap!“), the Hindus („Holy cow…“) the spiritual folks („Oneness, here I come!“), the Buddhists („—“), they all have an idea what that thought should be about.
Just once should we listen to a dog guru who might tell us that it is our last fart that matters most. Does it smell pungent or lovely? Is it meat or rice that created it? For how long is it strong enough to maintain our territory after we are gone?
A spiritual dog might hum a song of one of my favourite bands, Velvet Hammer, singing, „I am leaving my mark in this world by not leaving a mark when I leave.“ Think of it!
But then again all this food for thought will surely result in some sort of flatulence, mental or otherwise. So whether dog philosophy is relevant for us or not remains a question to be thought of.

The Wall: Live in Berlin

Life is like a big city, a Metropolis such as Tokyo, or Sao Paolo, or Los Angeles, with broad streets and narrow pathways, with huts and individual houses and huge towers, parks and rivers also.
On my way through it, I pass bridges and crossings with thick traffic jams. What am I going to do when I get stuck? Shall I make a turn? Better walk on my own or follow the crowd to the underground? Take the bike? Watch my step in darker corners? Look out, a stop sign! – Nevermind, I don’t care about those.

As a child, I played in the streets, mindlessly but with a vague sense of danger. Don’t let yourself get hit by a car, Mama said. Don’t take sweets from a stranger, either.
As years went by I discovered more and more of the streets in the quarter and roamed the city as an adolescent. It was exciting; still a lot to see and get familiar with, and the fact that my life was like Berlin, surrounded by walls and fences with barbed wire atop, did not matter as much as you might think. For my visitors, Berlin was all about THE WALL. But for me, the wall was such an ordinary feature that I couldn’t care less. Like all of us, I earned my first Marks by joining the construction team, even. It is safe to say that we ‘Berliners’ were somehow proud of our wall. After all, it was necessary to protect us from evil forces outside.

Then came the day when I realized that things went worse. Still, the shop windows were filled with tons of bright-coloured stuff to purchase. But many people lost their jobs, their homes. There were more beggars on the streets than ever before, also junkies and bootleggers, whores and thieves… and of course the police and military, trying to suppress the spreading unhappiness.
Our family didn’t do too well, either, although we still had a living. But it was all too obvious this was not going to last. Suddenly, the existence of the wall became a hurting reality. My world was finite, narrow, with each road ending in a blind alley. There was nowhere to go. Maintaining the wall had drained the city of its energy. Berlin had become a prison. Me, I got dizzy from banging my head against the wall; some guard shot at, and injured me, and from inhaling heavily polluted air, I was suffering of chronic sensual numbness.

It was at this point in time, when I discovered a second-hand bookshop somewhere in a remote corner of Berlin people rarely used to go to. The ‘KDW’ was way more popular those days, although less people than ever before could afford to buy there. Anyway, the bookshop turned out to be extremely interesting to me. Browsing through its shelves I found the wisdom of ages. At first I passed by without noticing; soon enough I would return. The thing that completely changed my blurry, distorted imagination of the city was a visionary map of a future Berlin. Yet to be built were a couple of new axes, some more parks, and an extended version of the wall. Wow. That felt liberating. Much more space for us in store to proceed with our lifestyle, if only we wanted to conquer it.

Quite life-changing were a couple of historical maps, and the one that showed today’s Berlin: though it may seem to contemporaries that a city is a static feature, it actually grows and changes over time. Once, it was simpler. Once, it was not divided. Once, there was no wall. Almost unimaginable. New buildings got constructed, then amended, torn down, rebuilt, replaced. New alleys appeared, others got buried under glass and steel, depending on the needs of the citizens. There are countless winding ways to get from A to B (or C, or D, or…); there have been countless others in the past. But the one thing that never changed throughout the centuries was the main boulevard, a vast alley running almost straight from West to East, from dusk to dawn, from fear to love. Each section of it shows various landmarks and has a different name. Depending on your position, you would find traders, or priests, or members of the administration. Some people would spend a whole lot of time in museums; others stroll through the park. There, a couple of kids with their headsets on, music loud, bored to death with the concrete reality of highrises. Passing-by workers throw angry glances at the lazy bunch.

Back on the streets after having left the bookshop with a much clearer picture of the situation in mind I would notice, that most people were either skipping sides aimlessly, getting lost in the vastness of the city, or they were heading West. Me, fascinated by the features shown in the old maps, I wanted to go East now. That meant swimming against an endless stream of people violently pressing me to follow them to the factories. The wall was forever, they insisted; ain’t no bulldozer big enough to tear it down. Come with us.
Needless to say I didn’t.

It took only little effort. The forces of imagination found a way, and the wall, too large for one individual to remove it by force, crumbled and fell where it once barred the main alley. With nothing but a backpack in my hands I headed east.

From time to time I return, although it hurts. There’s still ties to where I once was home. After all, I am not intending to leave Berlin too soon. I like to speak of the places I found beyond the wall, what they look like to me, the stories they tell me, and the new directions awaiting the traveller to explore them. If I were a leader person, I’d like to be a guide giving my services for free. So many people got stuck in their ghettos and slums, working class capsules like bird cages, apartments apart from reality, and castles to-be in the sky unable to float high enough to cross the walled border.
Yes, I’d like to be a guide, but I am untrained in applying first aid to the homesick. So I remain just humble me, nothing more but a road sign pointing from nearby a viewing platform to an alleyway most people dare not enter; each traveller is responsible only for himself, and most would rather starve their soul to death than take the risk of running into one of the self-appointed guardians of the status quo or the pit-holes near and beyond the wall.

Despite all that, numbers of refugees are increasing. That’s good news. From what I saw behind the iron curtain, there is the chance we can make it to a new way of life, a new Berlin, that might resemble a garden rather than a city. People are much kinder there in general. I have faith. And whenever a guard stops me to ask about my business, I reply, “I want to be there, more than anything”, and take a pass.

What’s your story?

As I proceed with translating “The Ascent of Humanity” I almost daily stumble upon sentences reflecting deep insight into the fabric of reality. Stella Osorojos from the Santa Fe Time Bank called it “one of the most important books of the century”. She says she means it, and so do I. So please forgive me for coming back on elaborating on content from “Ascent” every now and then.

Many thinkers describe life as “living a story”, meaning that there is no such thing as an “objective universe out there” by the rules of which we have to live, and that the thing we call reality is not the actual thing of infinite properties, but merely a limited, abstract projection of, and withiin, our mind; what remains after so many filters of perception and selection. That projection is comparable to a map, a picture or a story which represents reality in the form of symbols (“The map is not the landscape”). Depending on the zoom level you prefer, the attributes you pick, the number of details you go into, the presentation format you choose, the symbols you design and the emphasis you set, the outcome will be very different from any other persons’ work. How many different maps of the world are there? How many interpretations of “Amazing Grace” or “The Count of Monte Cristo”? How many different opinions on any political matter, any piece of art, and every single person on earth? How many different definitions of God? And have you ever wondered why witnesses to a certain crime (or any other event) are talking of seemingly completely different things?
All those are stories, and so is life. For the way we look at it is arbitrary – and it shapes our actions depending on the choices we make, thereby changing also the repercussions we experience from outside.
Buddha called the way we usually look at, and live, our lives an ‘illusion’, J.Krishnamurti called it ‘image’, Adyashanti described it as ‘virtual reality’, and Villoldo actually called it ‘a story’. So does Charles Eisenstein who explains in Chapter VII-10 of his book how we are not victims, but creators of our fate; how there is no inescapable coercion, just surrender to stories; and how language, which is a story in itself, partakes in shaping the story of your life: 

Even naming these stories and observing them in operation already makes them less powerful. However, I have found it useful to deliberately undo them through the way I speak to myself and others. We can use words in ways that deny the stories that enslave us, and thus accelerate our freedom. For example, Marshall Rosenberg suggests rephrasing every “have to” sentence as “I choose to… because…”

Here is a personal example. I used to say, “Even though I hate it, I have to give grades.” When I rephrased it as “I choose to give grades because I am afraid I will lose my job if I don’t,” everything became much clearer. I realized that my job was much less important to me than my sense of integrity, which for me personally was violated by giving grades, and so I decided to leave academia. By thinking in terms of “have to” we surrender our power. The very words carry within them an assumption of powerlessness.

As I wrote in earlier essays, a gun to your head does not imply being unrejectably forced to do as you’re told. With or without that gun, you still have all the choices in the world, as long as you are willing to take the consequences. And please don’t ridicule my words there: it doesn’t mean you are to making stupid decisions in a dangerous situation. It just means you are free to do whatever fits into your value system, your story, if you are aware of that story. The less fear you have of forces threatening to overpower you, the more freedom there is for you, up to the point where there is no coercion at all.

You do not have to believe in the shamanic concept of physical-reality alteration by forces of the psyche to actually shape your personal reality the way it suits you best – although such forces might have an impact, who knows.
Unluckily most of the people I have been talking to hardly understand the concept or even reject it, and I could feel the underlying fear. People speak of freedom, individuality, and the power of love, yet don’t trust it much. And why would they, having been raised under a system where there is such a huge background fear, a survival angst about not fitting in with all the others, losing their job, losing their livelihood, sometimes even physical hurt. How would you not feel threatened and coerced into doing things you don’t like, such as working a degrading job, watching your back, and giving into all sorts of constraints.

The fact is: this is just one story to live by. If you equate an external attempt of force to a reaction of yours, then this story will shape your experience of reality, your life. The threat then, of course, feels very real. But as countless individuals have proven, other ways are possible. With the number of choices available to you, increasing by the degree you free yourself from unconsciously lived-by stories, life becomes better. By better I mean satisfying and fulfilled, as you then tend to make ever more choices by yourself, out of free will, instead of being forced to obey, subordinate, follow, give in, which equals to living someone else’s life. If you take the freedom of living a story where there is no irresistible pressure creates even more freedom. Freedom from (particularly fear), and freedom to (create your reality).
Living by the story of Western civilization, on the other hand, resembles being hunted down by all sorts of predators, getting driven from one crisis into another, until you eventually get trapped and die. You may even be lucky enough to count as one of the predators; but as long as you are unaware of survival-of-the-fittest being just a story – the story of our culture – you are a slave chained to a story like all the others. Gandhi put it best when he asked, “Don’t hate your oppressors. They need liberation, just like you.”

What do we actually need?

I seem to have a phase of disorientation lately, resulting in either not knowing what to think (and therefore write), or alternating between multiple ways of looking at the world. The dissolution of wrong and right combined with the study of various solutions to the current crises do me no good, some may say; although I guess this is the only way for me to eventually get rid of a sickening belief in the concept of control over my environment. During the past two years I have learnt to let go of the idea that, by controlling money flow, people’s view of my person and the world, and other variables, I could finally reach a stable state of security, a safe ground to plan the future on. I was taught to believe in the power of control – and believe I did.

The concept of control is an illusion. After all that has gone ‘wrong’ in my life, all failed plans and relationships, hardly anyone around here knows better than me. (I owe everyone hugs and apologies for having been mean, I guess.) Still it ain’t easy to accept and let things come my way, awashed as I am still by Western culture. To naturally let go means to have faith, trust and belief in fate, especially the ways of people. I admit to have a deficit in that field, a deficit that, thanks to Auroville, is not quite as awful as it used to be.
Back in Europe, where I am currently stuck, I am also stuck with developing ‘skills’ like those mentioned above. For how can you trust people in a competitive society, i.e. an everyone-for-themselves system of constant fighting, battling, and warfare? Can people whose whole life is based on againstness and who make a living out of destructiveness show you how to love and feel loved? Would you ask a priest to learn programming?

It sure takes a peaceful environment and a loving teacher to develop the qualities mentioned above. You cannot do it all by yourself in environments like the one I have been in all my life. Therefore my longing for a fundamental change in the ways of the world. And yes, there is an emphasis on ‘my’, as I might share this longing, this need, with other fellow creatures, but can only speak for myself. When I once adopted Jacque Fresco’s vision of a resource-based, fully-automated civilization, I had the dream of cutting off the crap, preserving only the best of nowadays’ society. But shortly after, I had to learn that, right when I got where I was intellectually going, the road was still stretching a long way in front of me.

Yes, there is the need for a very different social environment, but no matter how you put it, the way there starts with a thought, feeling or intuition, rather than with an action.

If we are able to survive the next 100 years, The Venus Project may very well become a reality. But the longer I go into the subject of improving the world and ourselves the more I doubt the necessitiy of having a civilization at all. If we ourselves did the work that sustains our lives, it would be the ultimate means to reconnect to the foundations of existence and the happiness of being one with what we separated ourselves from as “environment”. It would be the ultimate means to free ourselves from governance and 8 hours or more a day of alienating work. Instead, we’d spend just 2-4 hours on occupations we care about, and that were really satisfactory as they make us learn, grow and survive. It was civilization that made work such an uncomfortable experience. It was civilization that made us needy and greedy. It was civilization that created organizational structures bigger than a single individual can handle. You hardly find people complaining about such things in tribal, spiritual or buddhist environments for instance – which are based on contentment with what IS rather than what could come.

Under such conditions there is no need for insurances, money, global markets and all the like. There is also no need for cities, industries, robots and all the technologies that endlessly distract and amuse our minds, separating us from the real world around us, and that demand for solutions to problems that haven’t been there in the first place.

We know that people can be happy without possession. We know that we can be happy with living off the land, not wanting anything but a little bit of company. In fact, it is the wanting that makes us (and others) suffer, for it creates discontentment; in other words unhappiness; in other words conflict with our situation.

All that boils down to the question: What do we actually need? How did we ever come to the idea we could not live without all the stuff that surrounds us today, along with made-up concepts of “society”, “institution” and “civilization” that have materialized in our lives without any basis in the material world whatsoever?

Of course we are a species that doesn’t like to relinquish even the slightest bit. It would be hard to change ourselves to being content with less stuff than we own today. But isn’t that exactly the walls we are running into all the time? People refusing to give up the pieces of shit they have, despite accurate information of a better world where there is no ownership, no fight, no oppression?
Then how much does it actually take to make our existence worth living?

I’d say, it is just a change of mind on the deep spiritual level – which no technology in all the world will be able to bring about. Whether or not there will be highly developed technology in the future hence doesn’t make a difference in bringing about such a process. On the level of ideas I am not against the direction of The Venus Project in so far as we want the same: The end of the monetary madness giving path to something much more healthy.
It is only that I highly doubt we’ll be able to trigger a general paradigm shift as long as we are organizing at the millions, while using technology as a means of control. To learn how to govern yourself you would want to live with and by yourself; to learn how to heal the world you would actually have to stop treating it like disposable, dead lump. To know what is real we have to get rid of the symbol, the word, the rational logic, and “get in touch” again.
How do you do that within our culture? – You can’t! It is the culture’s aim to keep you off this path. It provides no means by which to achieve it, even destroys you if you try too hard. You cannot change it as a whole, yet need a place to stay.

And there I go, off into the wilderness, into communes, or whatever my path may be. As I leave, as we leave one by one, the culture of competition, againstness and destruction dissolves, and society falls apart in yet another way than the self-defeating rip-off of nature’s gifts.

AUTHOR: Is there any way out of this mess?

GOD: “Yes. Shall I say it again? A shift of consciousness. You cannot solve the problems which plague humankind through governmental action or political means. You have been trying that for thousands of years. The change must be made, can be made only in the hearts of man.”
(Neale Donald Walsch: Conversations With God)

In an interview with Larry King, Walsch described the inception of the books as follows: at a low period in his life, Walsch wrote an angry letter to God asking questions about why his life wasn’t working. After writing down all of his questions, he heard a voice over his right shoulder say: “Do you really want an answer to all these questions or are you just venting?” (Wikipedia on “Conversations with God”)

Both quotes kind of sum it up, what I am thinking of the situation we are in. The latter also gives a hint to sane use of thought; philosophy, if you will. Philosophy can equal verbal masturbation if you do it just for the thrill of shuffling words and dealing with puzzles. If it tells you something about the life you are living, and if you use that insight for improving on things, that’s when God is answering your questions. Sometimes, it even might work the other way round, philosophy being an expression of wisdom gained through living. Then God is you.

Determinism

I must admit that I once was a guy who couldn’t believe in anything that was out of reach of science. If you couldn’t touch it, define it, extract it, manipulate it, categorize it, prove it, it couldn’t have been real. What a miserable existence that was, denuded of all the beauty and freedom of emergence.

Well… having had a lazy day I recently stumbled into someone else’s blog who discussed the subject of determinism, and people being unwilling to rethink their beliefs. I liked the observations she made. Information per se hardly ever changes anything. People will resist new information, no matter what, unless they feel the new truth in their bones, or unless it already agrees with their world view. So I agreed with my previous responder to that blog, that using a Socratic approach can do magic (although I prefer to just present my personal view as such, rather than manipulating people into finding what I find).

As for determinism, it isn’t all that new. As a matter of fact, it has been the basis of science and technology for over 400 years. If science is right about the determinism of the universe, then people’s behavior cannot be free as well. What’s revolutionary about that idea is that we now begin to apply it on humans, although, in our subconscious, we use to think we were exempt from the laws of nature. And maybe we think so because we feel that determinism might be a wrong concept.

The Cartesian world view in public perception is very hard to kill and people trained in rational thinking and rhetorics can talk you into believing it – if you ever doubted. But since ~1900, Heisenberg, Einstein, Gödel, Turing and many others have demonstrated that we cannot be sure about anything, or even everything. Determinism is dead. We just didn’t notice.

After all it is just another concept, another ideological (or religious, if you prefer) world view. People have come up with others, like eastern religions, buddhism, animism, chaotic organisation, chaotic non-organisation and so on. Both science and religion have their use in a certain area; both determinism and free will work within a certain frame, but then they fail due to applying a rigid method to a living process. That is what the scientists I mentioned proved with their methods, and what e.g. Buddhists agree with for 2500 years now after having applied their own methods, and why I say that determinism is yesterday’s jam.
Of course that is only my view, no more valid than anyone else’s view. I see no objective reality “out there”, truth being the same for everyone when in “fact” it isn’t.

Sorry if I didn’t make myself clear here. I didn’t intend to say that Heisenberg alone declared that we cannot know anything for sure, but that he, the persons I mentioned, and others like Schrödinger *together* paint the picture of a science different from the deterministic ideology of pre-20th century science. Taken as a whole their work unintendedly shows that science as such fails with explaining reality, especially in complex systems, and therefore will never be able to make true precise longterm predictions.

Why is it that the laws which science finds don’t fit reality and have to get redefined over and over again? Besides the complicated one (represented by Gödel &co.) there’s two easy parts:

a) The nature of a law (especially a scientific law) is generalization. You have to reduce individual things with infinite properties each to categories of similar things with a finite set of properties to which the law applies. There are two problems with that:
– The set of properties is of arbitrary choice. Look at the definition of “planet”. Look at any map.
– The rest which we discard as irrelevant but which represents an infinitely higher number of properties has a significance. Think of it when you listen to the weather forecast or when you drink a vitamins shake instead of eating an apple.
The categories we make up along with the limited-properties things create a picture that may follow the laws of science within a given frame set, but only if you don’t look too close. Taking that picture for real hence trying to apply the laws universally results in chaotic, unexpected response. Always.

b) Even if we do not look for rules and do not gain our knowledge from books, we can rely on our senses and say, “I see that thing. I measured some of its properties.” Still people disagree for a vast amount of reasons, one of which is that we cannot handle infinite amounts of properties. What then, following from that, is reality if not that what we choose? Isn’t it different for each person? What can we actually know for sure if we cannot completely know at least one single thing?

You do believe in determinism, but you do not believe your life is unalterably fixed, past, present, and future, do you? For, no matter if we are able to predict what’s to come, that is what “determined” means. Otherwise I didn’t get your reason for acting as responsible individuals. If I’d ask a person in a deterministic world why s/he is doing something, the answer I’d expect would be, “Because I cannot help but to follow the laws of the universe. There is no choice”; like a planet cannot willingly resist the gravity of its star. Without choice you could not act responsibly. You were just a puppet on a string, a programmed robot.
But, as a matter of fact, you are free to choose whatever option you prefer; even in a situation of being “forced” you are free to say: “Pull the trigger!”

Personally, I have given up on determinism as soon as I found out that it doesn’t work on me when I decide so; it also doesn’t hold for natural processes, if you take a closer look.
Instead, I (in short) think of an interdependent system of self-organizing complex subsystems, in which each element has options within a given frame, but each action changes the context by causing feedback, so we evolve while, and by, adapting to the constantly changing world we created and that created us. We are both free and bound. That’s pretty much what I see around me and inside myself – which results in active participation in the world’s affairs without desperately clinging to my ideas and wishes.

Unreasonable rationality

The other day I read somewhere that you can make a rational decision, but that doesn’t mean you’re reasonable by doing so. I guessed the same would go for the opposite. I had to contemplate a while on it, wondering about the fundamental difference between the two. Are they incompatible systems of decision-making, or is there some sort of relationship among them? I came up with the following answer.

To be rational means that you roughly follow a certain value system in which material and scientific issues matter most, and emotional or spiritual least. If, by applying the scientific method, you can serve an emotional interest as well – fine. But looking after the emotional issue first would be regarded as irrational.

Let’s say you have to shift to a new place and there’s a cat with you. You cannot move to the cheapest, nicest place because they don’t allow pets. So you take the less attractive, more expensive flat where you can stay together. From a rational point of view you’d be silly to act according to your emotional relation to a “disposable thing”. It’s irrational to give up a financial advantage. Many people get rid of their pets in such a situation. But others find it more reasonable to go for the other solution: keeping the cat at any cost.

So what does reasonable mean?
The term simple states that you act according to reason. You have a reason to do something, whatever that may be. That reason could be anything, and as long as you have it and your actions reflect its logic you can always claim sanity. It might be irrational, but there is sense in what you’re doing, as opposed to nonsensical, random, insane, impulsive, or compulsive decisions and behaviours. To be reasonable means to be connected to a value system, any value system, and it can contain science and materialistic points, although it is not limited to those; it means you are likely to have a much broader perspective than a physicist or an investment banker, because you are not an expert with a narrow range of interest.

It means even more than that.
From a reasonable point of view, not only the nonsensical, but also the rational way often represents insanity. Why is it, that there is enough food on Earth for twice as many people, but more than one billion are starving? Why is it that we use drinking water for flushing off faeces? Due to rational decisions which save us time, money and effort our whole civilization, especially in its current form, is a global madhouse full of insane people making foolish decisions and acting like maniacs – absolutely unreasonable.

What makes a merely rational person an unreasonable one is that they leave out vital information, crucial reasons, fundamental values other than pure matter and instant benefits. They may act on just one thing, e.g. immediate money profit, and forget about (or dismiss) longterm or “side” effects, such as the biosphere getting damaged to the point of collapse or humans being deprived of their dignity til they claim it back with violence.

Ratio (latin: the mind) is condemned to repeat foolish acts over and over again because it is limited to science and logic which, by categorization, reduce knowledge to an abstraction of the actual thing and which are by (self-)definition just fractions of what is going on within a human life and the biosphere as a whole.
You cannot reduce reality to abstractions and expect the outcome of your acting upon those images of reality to be consistent with the real thing.
You cannot have a value system that dismisses feelings as irrational and expect the outcome to be worth living for human (and other) beings. Much worse so in a world where cybernated units, the apex of rationality, would run the show, as The Venus Project promotes it.
You cannot achieve working solutions while you “arrive at decisions” by assuming that “the real problems in the world are technical” when in fact they are not. There’s more to life than this. So much more than this.

It took me a while to realize that but finally I arrived at a point where I see no more use in pimping up our social systems or, heaven forbid, our gadgetry which failed to make life better for 10,000 years now. Rationality itself has failed, and it isn’t likely to do better within the next ten years either. To believe in that sounds Utopian to me, insane even.
It’s fine to have water desalination devices and electricity and virtual libraries which all help in patching problems of industrial civilization. But as far as I’m concerned, that’s far from constituing a solution. The real change will be a shift from rational to reasonable, and from there to spiritual which is a state beyond reason, because there is no more need to argue.
Spirituality can end world hunger, regardless of (and freed from) scientific rationality – which created the problem in the first place. You can call me irrational to say so, or even unreasonable, and you would be right. I have nothing to add.