INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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There is always an interpretive process at work whenever anyone makes any kind of assertions based on deep meditative, contemplative, or mystical experience.
At Integralworld.net, Don Salmon opens his article, "Shaving Visser, Goswami, Lane and Carter with Ockham's Razor" with a quote from William James which begins, "Science taken in its essence should stand only for a method and not for any special beliefs..." Salmon then asks, "To what extent are our current accounts of neuroscience and evolution written in accordance with William James' description of science as method, not belief?"
Many contemporary writings about evolution by scientists and non-scientists who oppose the teaching of "intelligent design" in US public schools include discussions of the distinction between methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism. The authors I have in mind never fail to state that to posit that there is no God and no supernatural or supranatural entities and forces is to go beyond methodological naturalism.
Salmon writes, "Confusion seems to set in—or so it seems to me—when we call on our current methods of science to give us more than they are capable of doing."
Every scientist and non-scientist I've read who distinguishes between methodological naturalism and ontological naturalism agrees with this.
But what about the confusion that seems to set in when we call on what might be called the methods of mysticism are called on "to give us more than they are capable of doing"?
Salmon quotes Krishna Prem (born an Englishman named Ronald Nixon) to explain "why, as long as we confine ourselves to the currently accepted scientific methodology, we will never discover any form of non-material causation."
In a previous article at Integralworld.net titled, "The Challenge of Writing about Sri Aurobindo's Integral Psychology," Salmon cites Buddhist practitioner and scholar Alan Wallace as saying that "one of the basic requirements for reliable exercise of what we call ‘paranormal" abilities is precisely the ability to maintain this awareness [e.g., "pure 'nondual' awareness" or "meditative awareness"]—unbroken—for at least several hours." And Salmon adds, "Traditional yogis have generally considered that, along with this ability, a profound ethical development is also essential—honesty, sincerity, humility, etc."
Elsewhere in the same article, Salmon asks, presumably rhetorically, "suppose one day, Alan Wallace's contemplative researchers succeed in producing (and reliably reproducing) significant paranormal phenomena, how will this be explained? Will it actually require a non-materialistic explanation?"
I assume that by "non-materialistic," Salmon also means non-naturalistic, non-physicalistic, and thus supranatural (supranatural being Aurobindo's preferred spelling of supernatural; as the OED explains, the prefix supra- "is for most part parallel to" the prefix super-).
And I infer that Salmon would answer his own question by saying that an event like that which he describes would require a "non-materialistic" explanation.
Let's say that there was a way that all parties could agree on to determine if someone is able to maintain the requisite meditative or contemplative awareness for hours. A number of subjects who are so capable participate in research, and all report experience of non-ordinary phenomena—paranormal phenomena. We still have the problem of how to interpret such phenomena or experience. Given that Salmon seems to want to stipulate that we cannot use the scientific method to study such phenomena, how would we approach the problem of interpretation?
(Let's say that the meditating subjects are asked to see if they can apprehend a long number that is written on a piece of paper kept in a locked safe. If we were to ask the meditators if they picked up on a number and we then compared those numbers with the number in the safe, we would be using the scientific method. As Salmon quotes Krishna Prem, this does not take us out of the "closed circle" of phenomena within which science moves.)
Let's say that all our meditators come up with the same interpretation, which is basically that their deepest meditative apprehensions make readily apparent the existence of an ontological supranatural dimension of reality. Are we now good to go? It seems to me that we are still operating within the "closed circle" to which Krishna Prem refers, though we have shifted from making an appeal to the scientific method to making an appeal to popular albeit "expert" testimony.
But what if I maintain the requisite meditative awareness for hours, and have the requisite apprehensions, and on this basis it is patently obvious to me that there exists an ontological supranatural dimension that is beyond the reach of the scientific "closed circle"? Isn't that all the "proof" I need that there is indeed an ontological supranatural dimension?
I appreciate that there are many closed-minded people in the world who are also what we might consider psychically closed, who could benefit from having their "closed circle" worldviews opened up. I also know that once someone makes a transition from what for convenience I'll refer to as consensus reality to non-consensus reality, and a whole new world of experience opens up for them, there are endless traps.
(There are countless non-extreme examples, but an extreme example would be when several dozen adults who seem reasonably intelligent and educated decide, on the basis of mystical experience, that there is a space ship hidden behind a comet and that within this spaceship is a portal to a "Level Above Human," and in order to access this portal, they participate in mass suicide.)
I don't think that people who are psychically (by which I mean psychologically, albeit in as broad a sense as possible) closed should remain so because of the potential risks of opening up. But I also don't think that people who do open up to what really and truly appears to be an ontological supranatural dimension should fail to recognize that appearances can be deceiving, and that there is always an interpretive process at work whenever anyone makes any kind of assertions based on deep meditative, contemplative, or mystical experience.
One approach is to do exactly as Salmon seems to suggest when he quotes David Lane's advice (see Lane's articles at Integralworld.net) to "confess our own ignorance." There is no conflict whatsoever between having profound mystical experiences and confessing our own ignorance about what, if anything, these experiences may imply about ontology (what exists or doesn't exist, how things exist, etc.).