Posted by: KG | Thursday, December 2, 2010

Metaphysical Baggage

Self: I have always felt that the kind of metaphysical baggage which comes with the eastern philosophies are useless, and at best be considered with serious skepticism, however intuitively appealing and verifiably true the experiences are. If the baggage needs to go, it should go.

Manasi: Am curious to know what is the ‘metaphysical baggage’ which you say eastern philosophies come with.

Caution: Dry, long post ahead. Travel with appropriate lubrication.

This post is in reply to Manasi’s question about what I meant by ‘Metaphysical Baggage’  in discussing an earlier link I posted on Facebook (Mysticism and Logic). (Phew!)

When people first became aware of the forces of nature, and could think about them, and also express their emotions about them, beauty, utility, awe, fear etc, they described these events with the help of patterns available to them. One common pattern available to them was that of (personal) agency. So, the Wind becomes an agent, the Sun becomes an agent. Of course, these entities have agency, but not the same agency as humans, or bees. Agency can be a complex, even an absurd attribute to assign to certain entities. So, if you considered photosynthesis, the light of the sun is a causal agent in that process. There is different kinds of agency at different levels of perception. What is the agency of blue, or that of snowflakes? I can change those assertions about people, all to present tense, and it will still be true. Basically, it is natural for people to think about the patterns not available to them, using the patterns available to them. Trivially true. These patterns, I see as metaphysical baggage. They are a sine qua non, but they also should be dispensed with when their utility runs out/when the truth in them is replaced. Attachment to these patterns will only take us away from the truth.

When you assign a belief (which to me, is a fuzzy truth value) to a story about certain events in our perception, we inevitably buy into this baggage. There is only so much truth in a story, as there is freedom from this baggage. Stories can get more powerful and beautiful when such baggage is retained, of course. Ambiguity is a key element of art, but not of science. It is more fun, but when you need to click send, I would rather have the message delivered faithfully, rather than beautifully. Especially, in matters of paramount importance as The Way. This gets us to the question of whether such precision is possible. This is a difficult question to even consider, so I will skip that for now.

These ideas, if you extend to the way eastern philosophies (and from my knowledge, most of the rest of philosophy as well) have developed, one can see these patterns, the amount of belief in postulated entities, the exact form of mudras, the asanas, the mantras, the description of the experiences are all mired in metaphor/distortion/jumps to the point where it is difficult to reliably reconstruct them. What one sees as faults of religion is attachment to this metaphysical baggage. This is not to say that describing these experiences, and the ways of living an awakened life, is easy, but there are definitely obvious corrections we can learn from our advances in other areas of life, such as the scientific method. This is not a simple experience-confirm paradigm today. This is a really advanced paradigm with double-blinded studies that continuously expend energy in self-correcting learning, built from a culture of doubt and questioning, foremost that of self-doubt. Not that the challenge of studying a fundamental topic as consciousness has already been conquered. This is of vast scope, occurring on scales that we cannot imagine and across categories, which we cannot normally cope with. But we have come to reason rather well (in terms of the ability to predict, and explain) about other long-term processes such as geological/biological evolution).

One question is, if I know any specific evidence where a certain *documented* experience has been proven to be beyond human capability. I am not interested in that kind of certainty, because I believe we cannot know for sure. On the other hand, these philosophies routinely make that kind of certainty claim. So the onus is on them to provide the appropriate evidence.

Hope this clarifies my thought process. Thanks for the opportunity and the patience. (I hope to make it clearer by more precise examples from specific books. I have had the feeling that this kind of example can be shown even in Ken Wilber’s writing. But I will rather be precisely wrong, than be fuzzily right, after all the generalizing above!)

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