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CTDL 156: Metaphysics, Mystics, and Science

Here’s a bit from Huffington Post on metaphysics and a scientific world view.

reflect the challenge of describing ’spiritual’ ‘mystical’ or ‘metaphysical’ experiences in a language of science and reason.

Secularists following a material reductionist model of science see mysticism as a manifestation of a physical brain state; spiritualists see mysticism as a relationship with God or the universe. Yet mysticism may be both – an experience with corresponding physical brain correlates and an experience of relationship to the universe at large. Quantum physics is providing a clue as to how relationship can influence physical reality at the quantum level of neurobiology and consciousness (see Mindful Universe by Stapp).

Third, in every major religion, there are practices to enhance mysticism such as the use of peyote or the practices of sweat lodges in Native American traditions, meditation or yoga in Buddhism or Hinduism, Sufi dancing in Islam, or centering prayer in Christianity. Secular variants of such practices are now being introduced to the West as their benefits to health and well-being are realized. Self-transcendent experiences can also be realized in human-human experiences as well, such as that found in a mother-infant bond or sexual intimacy.

As metaphysical experiences become a larger part of culture in the 21st century, we need to look carefully at the culture in which they will arise, the language we use to describe them, and the direction we choose to evolve as a species. We need to see that mystical experiences may be a profound tool for sharing an interconnected view of the universe and our place in it, yet also a profound motivator for influencing human behavior – in both helpful and harmful ways. We may need to understand and discuss such experiences so that we can consider how to wisely balance their influence when the very human emotions of pride, fear, and subsequent inequity flourish among us.

[From Susan Smalley: How Mystical, Metaphysical Or Intuitive Experiences Fit In A Rational World - Living on The Huffington Post]

I added the bold part there, as I think that’s likely a flawed way of looking at it. I don’t know that we get to choose how we evolve. I think this is a strange amalgam of evolutionary theory with the “let’s make utopia” mentality.

I know Carl Sagan speaks in his book “The Varieties of Scientific Experience” to how most of the mystic experiences can be explained by brain chemistry and are hence not the most compelling “evidence” for God. I’ve not made up my mind one way or the other on this. I don’t discount that people have these experiences, and I don’t discount that they are at least related to an internal brain function/interaction with chemicals/etc. However, while I’m not willing to discount that there may be a “God” involved, it’s also a scientific non-starter (can’t prove it, can’t disprove it, can’t let that determine any of your methodology for study and experimentation).

I suspect mystic/metaphysical/intuitive experiences are amongst those things, like parent-hood, that you can intellectualize all you want, but until you’ve experienced it yourself you can’t really “relate” based on empirical knowledge.

For what it is worth, I think the authors goal (as I understand it), of “be careful how much weight you give your acid trip” (or religious experience), is a good one.


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