Nonsense masquerading as profundity

I do not read the Economic Times and so did not know that it had a column named Cosmic Uplink (What does that mean?). It recently featured an article by Mukul Sharma titled “There’s nothing less real than reality” that ended with

Zhuangzi, said one night he dreamt he was a carefree butterfly flying happily. After he woke, he wondered how he could determine whether he was Zhuangzi who had just finished dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who had just started dreaming it was Zhuangzi.

The Times of India has a similar column named The Speaking Tree usually featuring similar articles. All that is needed to refute such nonsense is to take it literally. Aristotle The Geek does that very well with

Let me chop off the index finger of your right hand. If you are dreaming, the finger will still be there when you wake up. If you are awake, the fact that you are awake will be confirmed and a finger is a small price to pay for such profound knowledge.

Such articles are inherently dishonest. What is Mukul Sharma relying on when he writes such nonsense? He is relying on the fact that his readers are capable of reading it and understanding it. And yet it is the roots of that understanding which his article intends to destroy. Some time back I wrote a little about a book called “Practising The Power Of Now”. It contained this gem

The essence of what I am saying here cannot be understood by the mind.

But Mr Sharma and Mr Tolle, I do understand what it is that you are trying to do. And I refuse to fall for it.

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6 Responses

  1. Actually, that little blurb of an article on the “Cosmic Uplink” section is a brief and sloppy run-down of an important problem that has been discussed by eminent philosophers, especially during the “Modern” period starting with Descartes. As for the argument(s) the wikipedia page is probably more informative: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dream_argument

    Regarding the so-called “refutation” by Aristotle the Geek, it is nothing of the sort. Here is my response to him:

    That would not confirm anything. There is no reason to believe that the consequences of a dreamt action would not influence the course of future dreaming, just as the consequences of a real action influence the course of reality. In other words, I could cut off a finger, go to sleep, experience a dream with all 10 digits, and then wake up with the finger still severed. But, on the other hand, I could dream about cutting off a finger, wake up with all 10 digits, fall asleep the next night and have a dream in which my finger has been severed.

    I will admit, though, the “Cosmic Uplink” was a pretty shallow presentation of the argument.

  2. Konservo,
    It is not an explicit refutation. It assumes that philosophy is not a game but actually a tool to live. It assumes that the answers provided by philosophy should actually be useful. Would Mukul Sharma agree to have his finger cut off? Surely not. Why? Because he understands what that would do to him, no matter what his ramblings suggest.
    The problem (and it is certainly not a big one) should be used to reach and validate a theory of knowledge that explains why we can be confident that we are not dreaming at a particular moment. That is its proper use.
    If one is not able to reach such a theory, one can honestly say the problem is unsolved. But to claim and preach that the problem is unsolvable, and that all knowledge is therefore in doubt is inherently dishonest. It is dishonest because such a claim can only be understood if one already has some prior knowledge. Knowledge has a hierarchy and doubt comes after certainty in that hierarchy. To claim otherwise, while acting in accordance with it and depending on others to act in accordance with it is dishonest.
    If you are not convinced, just answer this: What honest purpose does someone who believes that no knowledge is possible to man have in communicating his beliefs?

  3. “If one is not able to reach such a theory, one can honestly say the problem is unsolved. But to claim and preach that the problem is unsolvable, and that all knowledge is therefore in doubt is inherently dishonest.”

    Very Well put. I think most newspapers do not take secondary articles (like Cosmic Uplink) seriously. They just write something to fill the paper.

  4. I would like to believe that. But then, why is the article there in the first place? How is it related to economics? In fact the article says (in effect) that one should not take things like reading the Economic Times seriously. They may be unreal.
    Unfortunately, as I wrote in another comment, too many well educated people in India have a streak of mysticism. There was a photo in Bombay Times (last year, I think) of some 30 CEOs along with Shri Shri Ravishankar. What was he doing there? A number of those CEOs are his disciples. He spouts the same kind of nonsense – cosmic consciousness, transcending the mind, becoming one with the world etc.

  5. Why do you think most people are attracted to such talks like cosmic consciousness?

    Did you write about on it or anything similar. If so, can you point me to it.

    T.R.

  6. I don’t have an answer to that one. Ideas on metaphysics and epistemology are so fundamental to ones thought, that it is really difficult to put oneself in the shoes of another person and think “Why might he have developed such ideas?” All I can say is that such ideas make no sense whatsoever to me.

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