Ramblings about Indian Culture

I attended a cousins wedding a couple of weeks back. I was expecting to get bored but ended up having some interesting discussions.

A game that turned philosophical:
An uncle was playing a game with a young cousin who had to answer several questions of the “What is your favorite …?” form. I did not see either the questions or the answers but my uncle declared that my cousin had failed because she ansered some (all?) questions with multiple answers instead of just one. That started a discussion on what it means to like or love something/someone and what these emotions are based on. To which an aunt said: A mother loves both her sons equally. One loves all one’s relatives. That does not mean that one likes them equally or even likes them much. Liking (Aavad in Marathi) is based on judgement. Love (Prem in Marathi) is unconditional (I am sort of putting words her mouth here, but that was clearly the intent). I think this particular sentiment is pretty much the general understanding of these concepts in Indian culture but I was quite surprised to hear my aunt – whom I had never regarded as an intellectual – frame the issue so clearly. It is rare to hear people outside of Ayn Rand novels say anything so clearly. I wonder how many individuals – particularly women – who are quite capable of thinking with clarity, have been turned into confirmists by our culture (More on the particularly women comment later).

A conversation that I dreaded but which turned out quite well:
I am now approaching the official, tradition-optimized age for marriage. As such, every relative – close or distant – is interested. Close relatives actually want to help me find a match. Distant ones are usually content with exhorting me to marry. Usually, I fend off the latter with a smile, but dealing with the former is a more serious affair and I knew I could not put it off indefinitely. It turned out that my uncle – mentioned previously – despite little meaningful interaction with me, had a fairly good idea of what sort of a person I am. When he – inevitably – raised the subject, he started with his own idea of what sort of person would be a good match. The matter of belief in God came up and when I said that I wanted an atheist like myself, he tried to get me to be “less rigid” by pointing out that as compared to men, very, very few women are rationalists (I don’t particularly like the term but it will do. I will use it here to merely describe anyone who does not accept the orthodox conception of God). He went on to explain that children get most (if not all) of their beliefs from their parents and their upbringing and it is only after they are grown (if at all) that they start evaluating and developing their own beliefs. So it does not make much sense to insist on specific beliefs in a potential partner. These could change after marriage too. There was nothing particularly new (to me) in what my uncle said but it was refreshing to have a rational discussion on a topic I hoped to evade.

I also got a new insight from the discussion – there must be a significant difference between the way girls and boys are brought up. In the households I have been in – urban, well-off, stable, salaried folk – I haven’t noticed any significant difference in the upbringing of girls and boys. Girls are educated as well as boys are and are allowed to pursue careers. And yet, it is certainly true that most (an overwhelming majority) girls from these households are orthodox and tradition-bound, while there are a significant number of boys who are much less orthodox. This could be a result of a difference in upbringing. Or it could be that girls tend to submit to authority more easily. I strongly suspect the former and will now be looking out for such a difference more actively. I did get an indication of the difference when an aunt asked me to marry a girl who would be willing to work part-time and take care of my mother. Paradoxically, my aunt’s daughter works a full-time demanding job and seems all set for a good career. I definitely need to understand how these things work.

A formula for life from the bridegroom:
Marry at 28. Have two children by 32. By the time you retire at 60 both your children will be married. Well, the math is certainly immaculate. But I cannot conceive living my life by such formulae. What I find staggerring is the number of people who do live like this. There is a whole thriving marriage industry to enable such formulae. No boy meets girl here. Rather it is family (with boy) meets family (with girl). They negotiate a few times. And if things work out, boy marries girl. Paradoxically, for a culture that looks upon any business activity as lowly and materialistic, the mechanics of a traditional marriage are indistinguishable from those of a business transaction.

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9 Responses

  1. From whatever I have come to know of people, issues, philosophy, and life, I can say this much: the issue of a belief in God can be a great conversation starter, but as far as the decision of whether to marry or not, it can hardly be much more than that.

    The belief in God is not only a controversial matter. It also sits at the cross-roads of multiple conceptual linkages: mysticism, authoritarianism, the attitude or orientation of understanding anything at the first hand vs. the willingness to accept something on faith, the willingness to submit to tradition for no reason other than that it is tradition, etc. Also, not only the ability to manage the usual expectations of the society all around you, but also a certain cultural sense of it (think Ganesh/Durga pooja festivals). And, in a way, even the ability to introspect. Spirituality vs. materialism. Many other things. … It’s a great conversation starter.

    However, though among the thinking circles it is easy to put the belief in God in the same basket as many other intellectual and/or moral and/or practical issues, I think it should not be done. By other issues, I mean, for instance: the decision to go abroad or not; the decision to settle there or not; the ideas concerning deciding what kind of career to have (by you, by her); how much money is “good enough;” whether staying with parents (or inviting them over) is acceptable or not; what kind of movies/novels/art one likes; what kind of home-atmosphere (even physical appearance) one likes; etc. Compared to all such considerations and issues, the issue of God really is different.

    The trouble is: God does not exist except as in people’s mind (or soul, if you wish). That makes all the difference. You cannot as easily fault people for a wrong belief, because the matter itself is both so subtle and so heavily misrepresented.

    What materially exist are symbols for God—not God itself. God is not just about some abstract principles of morality—He/She is supposed also to be about an unknown power. Perhaps even regarded as unknowable at an intellectual level, but not at a personal, emotional level—who could worship any God if she knew He/She would always remain beyond one’s own reach? Yet, anyway, qua power, He/She is supposed to be able to help you out ahead of, or in, difficult times. Worship is supposed to be like a recurring deposit scheme, for spiritual kind of power, from which your soul can draw.

    Now, so many things of life are in fact unpredictable. Who has been able to exercise control over the time and the family of his birth? And even if you deny the premise of a soul existing before birth, and therefore refuse to grant validity to the last question, how about this one: Who can control the times and intensities of accidents? of misfortunes? and the time of his own death? None, I suppose. Not with completeness, anyway. Now, the spiritual power you accumulated is supposed to come in handy and help you out precisely at (or before) such difficult times. For instance, whenever a major airline accident occurs, journos are eagerly running interviews of some folks who fortunately but almost accidentally ended up not being on that flight.

    Thus, several elements enter the picture now, regarding God: (i) its unknown nature, (ii) the necessity of observation of certain (religion- and culture-certified) rules on a regular basis for one’s own well-being (and that of one’s family members), and (iii) the benevolent direction of the efficacy of that power.

    Just the way, to a guy, a belief in God could mean: mysticism and blind submission to authority, similarly, to a girl, due to the factors like the above, a denial of God could mean: a materialistic outlook; a nature that is so irresponsible or careless that the person refuses to do even simple things like a few minutes of daily worship—for both nourishment of the soul and for long-term advance preparation of difficult times; and a refusal, at a basic level, and at least in part, of acknowledging the existence of benevolence as such in this world.

    Notice, all the implied issues pertain to this world—not a mystical realm of Platonic sort. That is so, even if the girl’s notion of what constitutes a God, may not be. Now, since the issues pertain to this world, the point is: What answers do you have for those issues?

    Already too long a reply. Let me end by noting two, disparate, points.

    First point. There *is* something like the things spiritual. Man does in fact have a soul. Spiritual power is not a fantastic abstraction but a very very mundane phenomenon completely belonging to this world. God *can* also be taken as an imaginary projection of certain qualities of the actually existing human beings—esp., of the human soul. Now, imaginary projection precisely is that—it isn’t real. But it also isn’t always all that dangerous a thing. When a modern astronomer tells you to believe in a singularity i.e. the Big Bang, as real, what his mind first has actually performed is: creation within his self of a belief into a projection into an imaginary, non-existing, realm. Imaginary, it is, but, in a way, it is pretty harmless. If so, why not be willing to accommodate a bit of a projection if it’s *actually* taken in an ostensibly harmless manner, and belief-wise, in such a benevolent way? The most important words in this paragraph are: “ostensibly harmless.” God is OK so long as, by the terms of this world, worship isn’t actively directed against living well in this world—against a set of values that have life serving as the standard.

    Second point. In case you don’t know, I have often been “followed up” in newspapers etc. Around the time I underwent a heart bypass surgery, I had noticed an article in the Times of India. It was an interview of a cardiac surgeon (or a brain surgeon, I don’t remember that part). The surgeon had said: “Once on the operation table, everyone turns into a believer.” I can’t tell the precise sense of the word “believer” that the surgeon had in mind. The point is: Even before my time came to lie on that table, I myself already was a believer—though not in the usual sense of the term. I had taken the idea of that surgery and all, in a way, easily. (My family and friends told me so on their own.) One reason I could take it all so easily, esp. while alone in the pre-anesthesia moments, was *not* that I knew I would necessarily “return” after the surgery (or the imminent anesthesia). The reason was: I had already “known” and “knew” right then and there, that a kind of spiritual presence apart from my own self was there, and that it will be. … Mankind, in a way, is still in the dark ages when it comes to consciousness, Ayn Rand had once observed. If so, I would say, we seem to be in the pre-civilization primitive stages when it comes to the matters of soul. … Now, once again, the most important words in this paragraph. They are *not* : “a kind of spiritual presence.” They are: “apart from my own self.” That one clarification kills Platonism, and all forms of religious mysticism. Metaphysically, there is no one super-self such that each of our selves are merely fragments of that super-self. You can both deny the super-self, and yet pursue what has come to be known as “spirituality.” Enough said.

    Oh, BTW, good topic. Might think more through some of these thoughts, rearrange, and post at my own blog.

    Best,

    –Ajit
    [E&OE]

  2. “to a guy, a belief in God could mean: mysticism and blind submission to authority, similarly, to a girl, due to the factors like the above, a denial of God could mean: a materialistic outlook; a nature that is so irresponsible or careless”
    If so, that is clearly a fundamental mismatch. I do know of counter examples (both in guys and girls). What you describe is only (though unfortunately) the more common case.

    “God is OK so long as, … worship isn’t actively directed against living well in this world”
    In itself, such a belief in God may not hurt. However, as I see it, very little intelligence is required to question and reject the concept of God. So little, that I suspect that most believers do infact have their doubts and retain their belief by actively evading those doubts or by engaging in elaborate rationalizations. It is difficult to believe that the evasion/rationalization is restricted to just a belief in God and does not show up in other aspects of life.

    “Man does in fact have a soul”
    I am not clear what you mean by that over and above the obvious “Man does in fact have a mind”

    “that a kind of spiritual presence apart from my own self was there”
    How do you know that? What makes “it” (whatever it is) apart from your own self?

  3. If so, that is clearly a fundamental mismatch.

    May not be. 🙂 Though I added a smiley, I am serious about it.

    very little intelligence is required to question and reject the concept of God.

    For questioning, yes. For rejection, no. Not unless the person comes from the premise of materialism.

    most believers do infact have their doubts and retain their belief by actively evading those doubts or by engaging in elaborate rationalizations.

    A more accurate statement would be: Most ordinary believers do sense, in some terms, the lack of their clarity on this matter, and consequently do find themselves actively, but with vainly, trying to deal with it. In the process, they would grab any rationalization offered to them, and, proceed to state it. That’s what they end up doing. But the point is: there is a difference between investing your energy in maintaining an evasion, and knowingly grabbing one in order not to let one’s face fall in social interactions. (Society, as consisting of everyone else, including friends, family, and even the priests.) That’s what *most* people do. They are not active evaders in the moral sense; they are helpless over issues they cannot resolve. Whether in spirituality or in quantum physics.

    A bit of digression: I have known an IIT Bombay Gold Medalist in Physics, a PhD from US, and a well-known and a much honored Full Professor today in India, engage in precisely the same process, in issues to do with a simplest quantum physics problem, simply because none had given him an answer he could believe in and repeat to me. Over a course of 4+ emails from each side, he did not state the algorithm/mathematical method that I could use in order to make predictions concerning the times of arrival of single photons at the screen, in the single-photon double-slit interference experiment. In case you don’t know, they do have a method for the electrons version of the experiment. Text-books tell you how, but only for electrons. No text-book mentions photons. So, people have no clarity how to respond when it comes to photons. So, people (including this guy) typically proceed to offer their (actual or parrot-like) knowledge of many more advanced, sophisticated ideas—to save their face (in front of me, and in their own minds, perhaps.) But they won’t touch upon the asked question. Is this evasion? It’s tempting to think, and I might have called it evasion too. Yet, on second thoughts, I don’t think it’s an active evasion. If I have to project their actual mental states, it would run something like: “If I confess my ignorance, I will come out as incompetent. Knowing the world as it is, doing so could harm me professionally—even in the areas where I do know something. Charge of incompetence can easily spill where it is not applicable, too. So, the best course for me would be: to keep my mouth shut up.” A business manager would stop at that. Not an academic. So, further: “However, I believe in free enquiry, satisfying curiosity, giving guidance. So, I have to answer this guy Ajit, even if he is nasty. So, let me give him an indication of the kind of pains I have endured before getting here. Let him learn some advanced quantum physics, first.” They are what they are, and they do what they do.

    Similar considerations should apply on the issue of God. Just the fact that people aren’t clear on it doesn’t mean what they are engaged in is a process of evasion, as such.

    I am not clear what you mean by that over and above the obvious “Man does in fact have a mind.”

    Due to the influence of Ayn Rand, and also difficulties of language and cultural contexts, in my communications, I have often ended up using one for the other. Also, in many higher-level philosophic issues, it does not matter whether you use mind or soul. It comes out the same, simply because the point is conveyed even without getting pedantic about the subtle nuances of different but closely related terms such as: consciousness, mind, soul, psyche, “buddhi,” intellect, “aatmaa,” etc.

    Then, some (more rare) times, I use the term soul in the sense Aristotle used it: denoting a sum total of what a (life-possessing) organism is capable of doing. To Aristotle, the idea of a plant possessing a soul would not surprise—in his sense of the term, it would denote such a plain scientific, this-worldly thing as the power of a plant to grow roots and leaves, bear fruit, etc. I sometimes use the term in that sense too.

    However, I am not sure if Aristotle would be accepting of the idea of reincarnation—of transmigration of at least some residue of consciousness, some aspect of what we may call personality, from one lifetime to another. I do. To me, the transmigrating entity would be soul. To Aristotle, presumably, the soul would die upon physical death. Not to me. To me, the aspect to die with the bodily death could be the mind. But certainly not the soul. That’s the difference.

    Though my thoughts on points like these are not well-formed, not final, I liked the ideas of Upnishads as good hypotheses to think of, esp. as indicated via a reading of Dr. P. V. Vartak’s books. (I don’t buy all his ideas, and none of his Hindu Nationalistic ideas. But he still talks a lot of sense. And, explicitly, he does uphold Reason. Very rare.) Except for the Upnishadic idea of an “Eeshwar”—or the Platonic Super-Self whose fragments are our selves/souls. I reject that.

    How do you know that? What makes “it” (whatever it is) apart from your own self?

    How do I know? Precisely the same way I know anything that is accessible to me via a process of (my) introspection.

    To someone who knows Ayn Rand’s philosophy, it is not necessary to point out that introspection, in an ultimate sense, refers to only to reality apart from self. Primacy of existence. Yet, ‘ultimate’ does not mean ‘direct.’

    What makes “it” different from my own self? Both the “material” directly available in my introspection, as well as my broader, intellectual-level, metaphysical knowledge that the Super-Self is an invalid idea.

    I think I gave you a correct answer here, but haven’t quite conveyed a more exact sense. Let me try. (Sorry for expansion, again, if it was not necessary.)

    Have you found yourself, when you are physically all alone, and in your silent-like thought processes, talking to someone else? Or trying to understand a difficult concept of engineering by attempting to explain it to someone else, say, a friend?

    If not, none of what I mention below could possibly make any sense to you, and you should leave it alone. (Not that I won’t accept criticism about it, but the point is, you wouldn’t agree with anything else that appears below.)

    In the usual manner in which people use their consciousness, this kind of talking would (and perhaps should) be taken as only a kind of projection process, in any case, a process of mere imagination.

    However, the subtle point already given is that you are talking to, or listening to, someone in his material-level absence. You can talk to someone, within your mind, even when that someone is not there. Mundane stuff, sure. Now, expand on this point.

    Suppose, you find that once in a while, against the silent “backdrop” of your mind, you listen to someone saying something, and then, after a while, it turns out to have some truth—some kind of a relation to reality—in a way that a materialist kind of explanation falls short of. For instance, it could be that someone else real was thinking of you, and of that topic, more or less at the same time. You find this out only later on. It does not happen always. Often, it may so turn out that what you heard or talked in within your own mind didn’t have any relation to reality. It all was merely your own imagination. Yet, suppose, at least some of the times, you do find that there is some real phenomenon in effect here. If so, you begin to pay better attention to such listenings (Sanskrit: “shruti”).

    Notice that not only an “extrasensory” “telepathy” etc. sort of communication is involved here. That is the obvious part but not the only interesting part. The interesting part is that you also know that there is someone else’s soul involved in it—that the whole thing was not your own self. You could directly distinguish it because it emphatically was not: “I talking to myself” but “I listening to [XYZ].” You know it via the same kind of direct awareness as involved in any other kind of introspective process. If your soul can use the visual organ that is your eyes to focus on a material object and therefore perceive it, similarly, your soul can use the introspective organ that is your mind to focus on a “mental” object that is available to you only introspectively and therefore perceive it. Sometimes, it is possible to isolate the fact that you were rather listening or talking to someone, as contrasted to simply being engaged in thinking about something.

    If you continue to pay attention in your introspection, you develop this ability to distinguish/isolate what are your own thoughts from the thoughts you receive from someone else. (Call it a psychic ability, if you wish—though I don’t like that term.)

    Proceeding further, as you develop such abilities (often only very naturally, as a part of simple play with your own mind), sometimes, it turns out, that while you are able clearly to distinguish that some item of thought was “received” and not your own, you are unable to identify its source. You can make it out from the way in which the contents “leave their imprint on the backdrop” of your mind (i.e. you become aware etc. (just to kick bad epistemology out, that’s all))

    On the assumption that every emanation has a source, and with the direct evidence of the identity (the distinguish-ability) of the contents and the method of generation of the mental events generated by your own self vs the “received” one, you are able to tell the difference.

    Incidentally, notice here, even (a good) introspection leads only to rejection of Platonism (or of mysticism in general).

    –Ajit
    [E&OE]

  4. “They are not active evaders in the moral sense”
    Maintaining rationalizations knowingly in the face of recurring doubts is what I would call active evasion.
    If one knowingly accepts a rationalization and doubts do not recur, well, I have never experienced that.

    “Have you found yourself, … talking to someone else? Or trying to understand a difficult concept of engineering by attempting to explain it to someone else, say, a friend?”
    No. I do sometimes (rarely) write down my thoughts to gain additional clarity, effectively presenting an argument to an external audience, but that is clearly not the sense in which you mean it.
    “If not, none of what I mention below could possibly make any sense to you”
    Indeed it doesn’t. It seems fantastic. It also resembles mysticism. My working definition of mysticism is:
    Any claim about reality (not just the self) which cannot be verified by another person.
    If you say that your mind tells you X and my mind does not tell me X, and there is nothing in external reality that can validate X, clearly we are at an impasse. No further communication is possible, which, not surprisingly, is the core of all mystic claims. That the claim can only be verified by experience and cannot really be expressed in words.
    So unless you can point to some observable fact external to your own mind, I will regard your claims as mystical.

  5. Maintaining rationalizations knowingly in the face of recurring doubts is what I would call active evasion.
    If one knowingly accepts a rationalization and doubts do not recur, well, I have never experienced that.

    Wrong. See Ayn Rand Lexicon entry on “evasion.” (BTW, I am not going to see it while replying here!!). Particularized to the two points you note here:

    Knowingly maintaining rationalizations in the face of evidence to the contrary is what active evasion involves.

    Not seeking the evidence itself would be, clearly, going out of focus (at least in that respect). However, a lack of focus by itself is, say, like a zero. Being in focus is, say, like a positive quantity. If so, evasion is like a negative quantity.

    You are actively spending mental energy in evasion. In the face of evidence actually grasped at least in some rudimentary form by you yourself, you then spend some mental energy only to try and mentally wipe out that evidence. Man’s psycho-epistemology is sufficiently sophisticated/complex that the last is a possibility, too.

    “I don’t like that guy. He is successful. He is bad.” The expenditure of mental energy in the negative direction occurs in the third statement.

    Now, coming to God. Some people may be evading the issues involved. If so, their convictions would be so bad that these would come out in other issues too.

    However, in contrast, what most people from the typical middle-class backgrounds (educated, productive, well-meaning, stable, etc.) seem to be doing here is: Knowingly maintaining some semblance of a sort of a collage, consisting of patches of imaginations picked up at random from various sources, in the face of a lack of knowledge, a presence of doubt, and an inability to derive or gain any form of firm knowledge on these counts. It’s not that they have an evidence which they then deny. They simply don’t have evidence one way or the other; that’s the point.

    Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained in reference to mere incompetence. Or, plain stupidity.

    The whole thing is very simple. The important point isn’t what such an individual does or says, in reference to God. The important point is: how would that personal typically react in some other matters or issues in which he has a doubtful disposition, and someone points out the answer or a way out to him. Is that individual eager to pick up the offered knowledge, remove the doubt, gain clarity, etc? If not, he might be lousy.

    However, if the answer is yes, you have to ask further: is this his typical character trait? If yes, then the onus actually comes on you: What do you think could be the reason the person would not reject God, if satisfactory knowledge is provided to him? He could be vague in some areas but not necessarily compartmentalized. That’s the point. Also, you must understand, when it comes to spiritual matters, one’s own experience matters.

    …but that is clearly not the sense in which you mean it.

    Yes and no. That’s clearly the sense with which I begin, but then, I change the referred modality of the mental experience later on, esp. when I come to add “listening,” too.

    (Also more: feeling i.e. experiencing a certain calmness, serenity, etc., which can happen more easily and more sharply than your knowledge of your own mental make up tells you, in the normal circumstances. Indeed, this is far more common, even in my case, than “listening.” I deliberately added “listening” because it is dramatic. Also, negative aspects, viz. psychic attacks are possible. All of that is extra.)

    My working definition of mysticism is:
    Any claim about reality (not just the self) which cannot be verified by another person.

    Wrong again. Refer to Ayn Rand Lexicon.

    The matters of truth and falsehood are not established in reference to other people. It’s all between your own self, and reality, full-stop. The objective standard is (your grasp of) reality, not other people. And, note, “reality” also does include consciousness, i.e., “self” (and the selves of others). Primacy of existence doesn’t deny that fact. Consciousness is real.

    Other people do enter, but at a subsequent stage: when and if you care to communicate with them, or wish to convince them, etc. Not otherwise. This is the reason why many of the more advanced practitioners of spirituality often simply don’t care to even identify themselves as such. For instance, pick up any prominent spiritual personality of historically recent times, say, those from Maharashtra. Typically, they spent decades being known as only “mad” “saadhu” or “fakir”, etc. Which was perfectly OK by them. Typically, all the stories in circulation (given in “pothi”s, “paath”s, etc.) refer to the last one or two decades of their life—not the earlier 4/5/6/etc. decades. None knows about those initial times, because none has/had a way to know. These saints never cared to tell how they spent it. It all was between them and (I say) reality—not with any other people—and it all was quite fine by them!

    As to me, I don’t wish to convince anyone, nor have all that much of an advancement in spiritual matters—and am talkative. So, I do talk about it. And, hope to be able to identify the issues in explicit intellectual terms. Just as a matter of hobby or fun, not professionally or even otherwise, very seriously. I don’t even practice spirituality on a regular basis. But, yes, I *know* that such things are possible, that these are not just figments of pure imagination devoid of any connection to reality. That’s all. So, there. 🙂

    If you say that your mind tells you X and my mind does not tell me X, and there is nothing in external reality that can validate X, clearly we are at an impasse. No further communication is possible, which, not surprisingly, is the core of all mystic claims.

    First, just to see its importance, delete this middle part: “and there is nothing in external reality that can validate X.”

    Deleting it, an entire category of counter-examples becomes possible: in fact, any valid concept unknown to you but known to me. We thus draw an intermediate conclusion: it is this line which is crucially important.

    Next, re-insert that line back in, but delete the adjective: “external.” The result is perfectly acceptable to me. So, the issue really is only with the qualifier: “external.” Agreed?

    If so, would you please tell me why you insert that qualifier? And, could you offer me a definition of the term “external?” I will try the second question myself, here.

    The only way you could define “external reality” is in reference to existence/reality and consciousness/mind. You would begin with reality, and then subtract mind, and that’s how you would presumably get at “external reality.”

    Now, if you offer only the “rest of reality” as the acceptable scope of ultimate referents to settle any debates (here or otherwise), I have issues with it. Can phenomena of self at all be an object of study in its own right? Stronger: Can consciousness at all be an object of study in its own right? Stronger: Can consciousness be an identity so that its study is possible?

    Obviously yes.

    If so, how do you propose to study consciousness in reference to only that part of reality which does not have it?

    Can you study the property of weight or measure it, in reference to, say, a gravity-free (or better, a static) universe? If so, why apply a similar epistemological procedure, when it comes to a study of consciousness?

    Or is it your position that you would tolerate the inclusion of consciousness into reality, but only if it is your own consciousness, and not those of others’—such as mine? If so, what you in effect do is to deny reality to a part of reality. But, reality being one, by implication, you deny all of reality. That is, you deny my axiom. If so, why should I take you seriously? (Serious, but, still, LOL!)

    The real problem in any discussion of this kind is this: In the primary sense of the term, the only direct evidence of consciousness that one can have is that of one’s own consciousness, and of no other (i.e. leaving aside some minor, secondary possibilities such as mind reading—which, to you, wouldn’t count as possibilities, anyway 🙂 ). The rest of it all is indirect. Inferences. Drawn from observations of reality, no doubt, but, still, only inferences. If I see a baby smile at me from his cradle, I don’t experience his happiness. I only infer that he must be so. Why? Because, when I smile, I know that my own self is, in a sense, in a happy state (as contrasted to a sad state). It’s an inference.

    Consciousness being such a basic concept, the difficulty can show up in all issues of life, and in many many ways. The present issue (of spiritual things as possible or otherwise) is not the only one in which the trouble manifests itself.

    Here is a commonplace example. Consider the query: “Do you think I have put on weight?” This is one of those queries which, I have been told, can never be answered fully satisfactorily—a doubt or a denial, I am told, is guaranteed always to remain 🙂

    Another, more serious, example is this: the inability of science to come up with a pain/pleasure meter. All that they can possibly do is to find some material correlate that correlates well with the subjective reports of the direct experience, and then find some means to measure that material correlate—but not the primary experience itself. That will always remain primarily specific to each individual. “Primarily specific to an individual” does not necessarily translate into “subjectivist” or “mystic.”

    I would recommend the Lexicon on mysticism. Right in the first entry, first line, Ayn Rand mentions: “one’s” sense, “one’s” reason—but does not mention “another” in the defining parts at all. In the ending line of that entry, she makes reference to “other reality,” “unnatural,” and “supernatural.” However, what I have spoken of is a phenomenon that, I explicitly said (even in this purely on-the-fly, informal exchange), belonging to “this world,” “natural,” killing Platonism, etc. There is a very definite difference.

    Whether to believe my words or not, and even after believing these, whether to pursue these matters or not, is entirely up to you. I don’t quite see how I will gain or lose either way. I mean, come to think of it, can there be any dearth of people believing in spirituality, in a country like India?

    However, what I would not accept, and therefore could possibly debate about—whether with you or with others—is the idea that it all is mystical or subjectivist. No, some of it is neither—and indeed does have, IMO, objective validity. I have briefly indicated how.

    Therefore, the worst imaginable but objective charge against me, coming from you, could be, that I (and others) am (are) mistaken. Not that I (or they *all*) are mystical or subjectivists. Nope. That’s the part you haven’t shown, and given my positions (including Objectivist axioms), in principle, you can’t.

    Best,

    –Ajit
    [E&OE]

  6. Knowingly maintaining rationalizations in the face of _evidence_ to the contrary is what active evasion involves.
    Normally I would agree, but with regard to the non-existence of God, there _can_ be no evidence. The fallacy involved in the concept of God is precisely that there is no evidence. By your definition of evasion, belief in God could never involve evasion.

    b.t.w, I did look at the lexicon, and Rand’s focus seems to be on a denial of that which is, by refusing to identify it. What about positing something that does not exist, by refusing to identify the fact that one has no evidence? Both involve surrendering the active use of the mind to one’s wishes or fears. Believers want a God to exist, they are afraid to face a world without a God and so choose to evade the fact that they do not have any evidence.

    “Never ascribe to malice that which can be adequately explained in reference to mere incompetence. Or, plain stupidity.”
    I do not really like that dictum. If belief in God were entirely harmless, like belief in UFOs for example, perhaps. Given that all the evils perpetrated by various religions ultimately rest on/exploit the concept of God, evaluating that concept is not something to be taken lightly.

    I think Rand’s “Errors of that magnitude are never made innocently” is much closer to the truth “Never ascribe to malice that which can be explained by stupidity.” Besides, I don’t think people are as stupid as their beliefs/actions would suggest.

    In particular, is it so difficult to grasp the concept of the arbitrary – that for which there is no evidence whatsoever, positive or negative? That one concept is enough to reject the concept of God and I think almost everyone is intelligent enough to do so.

    “The important point isn’t what such an individual does or says, in reference to God. The important point is: how would that personal typically react in some other matters or issues in which he has a doubtful disposition, and someone points out the answer or a way out to him.
    OK. I think it is extremely likely that if the answer is sufficiently against his tastes, an individual who believes in God would do the same thing he does in regard to God – evade. One easy way of judging this is to see if the individual accepts the ethics of self-interest with an explicit rejection of altruism. I see the same evasion there.

    This reply is now too long for my taste, so I will reply to the rest of your comment (regarding mysticism) in another post.

  7. Believers want a God to exist, they are afraid to face a world without a God and so choose to evade the fact that they do not have any evidence.

    Believers can also think that the notion of God is a valid concept that can subsume certain of the spiritual experiences that they actually have. In such a case, typically, what is happening is intellectual error, not evasion.

    Given that all the evils perpetrated by various religions ultimately rest on/exploit the concept of God…

    No, they don’t. What they essentially rest on is the well-known axis: mysticism, altruism, collectivism. It’s the overall philosophy which is a fundamental factor in human life, not just one isolated notion (even if invalid). Do actually think of the actual evil perpetrated by various religions, all the bloodshed, all the brutal suppression, and compare it all to many utterly harmless devotional movements that also talk of “God.” I am afraid I am going to run wild here, so let me confine to only one example: (i) Sometime just before the British dissolved the last remnants of the Maratha empire aka “Peshwaai,” once, it so happened in Pune that an untouchable was found walking in front of “VishrambaagwaaDaa” without wearing the mandatory sweeper tied to his rear end. (The idea was, an untouchable could pollute merely by walking. But then, no upper-caste could remove the pollution because to clean some muck, you have to get your hands dirty. So, the ingenious solution: Attach a sweeper (“zaaDu”) to his back, so that it automatically cleans up the pollution.) Someone took an offense at that. So, someone cut his head off, and kicked the cut-off head. Right in the day-light, and in front of “VishrambaagwaaDaa” in Pune (roughly the same place where today’s Tulshibaag and the road to “ManDaee” is). It didn’t stop there. Some of them thought that kicking the dead-head was fun. So, many of them (and, going by published accounts, all of them Brahmins), began playing the game of kicking that dead-head, laughing, having fun. I am sure they would have performed suitable purifications using “gangaajal” etc., later on. That is what religion is, for example, capable of doing. Was it the (invalid) concept of God? To decide, contrast this example, not to that Eknaath story of rushing to offer Kashi’s gangaajal to a dying mule, but to a more commonplace practice: in 700+ years of its existence, all “waarkari”s have kept one tradition alive: immediately to reciprocate the gesture of touching other’s feet, the idea being (the purely imaginary) God Vithal is present as much in the other as in one—regardless of caste/religion. Eknaath’s story could be dismissed on the grounds that he was an especially enlightened or sensitive sort of a fellow. How about the ordinary “waarkari”s? Why didn’t the anti-concept of God also induce evil of the contrasted sort over all these years? Clearly, there is a difference between the imaginary thing that individual people take “God” to be. (To be “politically correct,” guess one could make some references to some kindly acts of some Brahmins in Peshwaai era, too. And, add the atrocities performed by all other religions, too. Sure. Perfectly fine by me. It wouldn’t still affect the basic contrast provided here. I took the example because both parts of it concerned common people, not intellectually sharp debaters, and pertained to closely relatable place and time—the difference simply being: what people mean by things like: God, as in contrast to abstract ideas, mysticism, and religion—the low levels to which the latter can drive people. You can’t lay everything of that sort at the feet of the notion of God alone—even if the notion of God is an invalid concept by itself.)

    In particular, is it so difficult to grasp the concept of the arbitrary

    If doing so (grasping the concept of the arbitrary) were that easy, why would a philosopher as great as Peikoff reject reincarnation as arbitrary even in today’s age, but not me—even while I could still supply two extra points: (i) Christianity’s deep influence in the areas and culture where Peikoff has lived together with Christianity’s rejection of reincarnation, and (ii) indirect evidence for reincarnation such as that provided by many psychology researchers.

    Normally I would agree, but with regard to the non-existence of God, there _can_ be no evidence. The fallacy involved in the concept of God is precisely that there is no evidence.

    I took this part last, though it was your initial point. Answer: True. God does not exist. However, the matter does not end simply there—at God. There also are issues of spirituality very very closely associated to it. You reject these two. I don’t. That’s the difference.

    So, in a sense, my position is: There is evidence for spiritual things though these things have not been well-identified at an intellectual level. Not very consistently. Hence, not integrated with our rest of the knowledge either. Hence, there is a great scope for ordinary people to err about these issues at an intellectual level. Often, they use the invalid concept of God in trying to reach a suitable intellectual-level explanation of it. This intellectual exercise is error-some, hence vain, hence cannot allow them to be consistent. Hence, there can be doubt that they continually carry. Yet, the reason they don’t entire jettison the idea of God as such is: their having those experiences. Some others may not even have those experiences, but, based on their general understanding of how things work (including their soul), they, too, may repeat those error-some conclusions. In neither case is, I say, an evasion. Nope.

    Now, what typically happens is, the same people who argue against God, also reject those spiritual experiences. Their arguments do not at all involve, in any sense, those spiritual experiences. For instance, since Acquinas’ reason-based attempt didn’t directly include a rich tapestry of spiritual experiences, but instead involved such abstract ideas as omniscience, omnipotence, etc., the people who wish to reject God also end up taking up only those (or such) arguments. The believers, thought most of the times greatly skilled intellectualizes, sense in some terms that the concerns they have in mind and the reasons of rejections don’t match. As such, the debates only make them more adamant.

    In contrast, I reject God because I think it is a projection into the imaginary—not because spiritual experiences are not a part of man’s reach. Indeed, I can faintly see how the projections, before they “take-off” from reality, do have some correspondence to facts of reality. You don’t (see that). That’s the difference.

    in another post

    See you there, some time later.

    –Ajit
    [E&OE]

  8. “What they essentially rest on is the well-known axis: mysticism, altruism, collectivism.”
    Agreed. God is only one small part of the picture. And yet, I doubt most people would be able to separate the concept of God from religion. Religion teaches them that God exists – a God that commands them to follow their religion faithfully. How many people break that circle? And would those who do continue to believe in a God? How succeptible are normal believer to the evils of religion? I can concede that not all are. However, I do hold that a belief in God means one of two things for sure – lack of intellectual ability or lack of intellectual commitment. I continue to regard the second as more likely but as regards marriage, I don’t think it matters much. Neither is an attractive trait.

    “So, … my position is: There is evidence for spiritual things … there is a great scope for ordinary people to err about these issues at an intellectual level.”
    I could buy that, except that I don’t think these spiritual experiences (whether real or mistaken) are common at all. If they are, it is extremely surprising that they have not been researched with greater seriousness.

  9. If they are, it is extremely surprising that they have not been researched with greater seriousness.

    In recent times, proper universities have begun awarding PhDs on topics like these. It wouldn’t be possible to make a general statement concerning the level of intellectual rigor of all these theses and papers. However, though one couldn’t dismiss the enterprise as being arbitrary, it is fashionable to do so, mostly on the grounds of skepticism—and, such also are positions of Objectivists (including off-hand remarks of Ayn Rand herself).

    Among serious researchers a few ones readily come to mind: (i) The late Ian Stevenson at Uni. of Virginia (the Ivy League uni. founded by Thomas Jefferson, with his research being funded by the scientist-gentleman who had founded, I think, Xerox, after discovering the process for it), (ii) one of his junior collaborators, Dr. Satwant Kaur Pasricha, who today, heads the clinical psychology department at NIMHANS Bangalore (India’s top institute in psychology), and (iii) the now closed PEARS lab at Princeton, run by someone (I forgot his name) who had retired as a Dean of Engineering at Princeton or Duke or so.

    One point on research. If you think epistemological principles for science are clear, you would be mistaken. Far from it. And, this was so, in a sense, even in the 19th century. There has been enormous progress, but often on only implicit grounds. The Aristotle-Acquinas-[Galileo-Newton]-Mills lineage is rather an exception. There have been Platonists galore, in addition to Hume—even if you discard Kant and his descendants. In its commonly used and reliable sense, the term “research” does lean somewhat towards materialism. Even though, since consciousness does not have color, cannot be weighed, etc., the same standards as are routinely used in physical (including most of biological) sciences wouldn’t be as appropriate for a research of this kind.

    Finally, a note of advice. Do not approach the old Indian literature with a bias that it *all* is: myth/fantasy/mysticism. Enlightenment (and, earlier, Renaissance) did not happen in India, nor did the Britons come here with the intention to bring it here. The British Raj was full of mixed premises. The so called European Enlightenment came in rather unwittingly, perhaps even unintentionally. It did lead to the formation of the middle classes for the first time in India’s history. But it also had Christian missionaries serving as intellectuals, interpreting the Indian literature from viewpoints convenient to them—their religion, their rulers’ status, and their culture—which still was only a mix of Aristotle and Plato, with Aristotle moving ahead only haltingly.

    Post-Ayn Rand it ought to be far easier for us to review the ancient Indian literature for better clues on the spiritual matters, even though, IMHO, even she was wrong inasmuch as she rejected reincarnation and similar spiritual matters. (Another instance of Peikoff’s valid observation: A philosopher’s fundamentals are consequential, not every nuance of every secondary or minor position he might have advocated. Aristotle could succeed enough to give us the progress since Renaissance despite having an epistemology faulty or not well-formed in many places, because he had the right metaphysics. Ditto, here.)

    So, those who get interested in these matters should not simply stop at the above three researchers (or William Tiller, or go back to Vivekananda, Aurobindo Ghosh, Theosophical Society, etc.). They should go directly over to our ancient texts, including Upnishads. I indicated elsewhere, there are excellent insights, at least excellent hypotheses, apart from wonderful practical advice, all waiting to be “discovered”—provided you know how to keep your axioms with you, all throughout. Yes, some part of it can be research—and, some part, I am sure (though Peikoff and others may not agree with me): rational philosophical.

    And, they should never lose the sight of purpose. If your purpose is to highlight the inconsistencies in these texts, it can be done, because inconsistencies, fallacies, errors, falsehoods, etc. are there even in these texts. But then, the point is, all that perhaps already has been done many times over (say, by priests of other religions like Christians, Muslims, skeptics, etc.), and given the polemical nature of the exercise, little positive can possibly come out of it. So, to pursue a positive value like research, you have to approach those ancient texts (and their modern commentaries) with a clear knowledge of the nature of your purpose.

    PS: I could have said that I could arrange for a spiritual experience for you, and I could have publicly asked you to pick up that challenge, together with some mention of bets flying around from *my* side, etc. I didn’t, and I wouldn’t. The reason is: If someone doesn’t know how to find or work his way through the already done research and philosophization on these issues, if someone doesn’t know how to pursue all the easily accessible leads (from bookstores and people in India, and on the ‘net), then it is difficult to see how simply having a spiritual experience could possibly lead for him to suddenly acquire that intellectual sophistication and/or honesty which would be required to place that spiritual experience in a right context. A spiritual experience, by itself, won’t give you that—just the way an intellectual argument that such an experience is possible won’t give you that kind of an experience. People have to develop their intellectual powers too—on their own (no matter what help others may provide). Sometimes, they even have to learn the basic intellectual honesty part of it—how to practice it most ruthlessly and most consistently, no matter how odd the truth might seem to be to what one has been brought up to believe, or told even by one’s own most revered teacher(s). It can be done. Truth can consistently be chosen as a friend—a “magis” one, regardless of the nature of the object of comparion. This last part, I think, I need not have mentioned to you.

    I think this is my last comment on this thread.

    –Ajit
    [E&OE]

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