PART ONE: A CRITIQUE OF THE SCIENTIFIC VIEW OF REALITY
This critique falls into two parts. The Limits of Science. The Limits of Consciousness. Foot of the page has a link to Part Two in the subsequent blog.
In this article, I draw upon decades of experience of consciousness and its inter-action with the rest of the mind, the body and past/ present/ future. Mindfulness, depths of meditation, reflection and more continue to contribute to my understanding of the dynamic of consciousness.
In my view, an experiential understanding of consciousness takes priority over a theoretical knowledge.
A former Buddhist monk in Thailand and India, I have drawn upon the teachings of The Buddha who emphasised the significance of consciousness/mind/matter as spheres of mutual influence. Years in a disciplined Insight Meditation monastery in Thailand, a hut in a sub-tropical rainforest, nine months in a cave and meetings with remarkable teachers serve as a backbone to this article.
I am not a scientist but have engaged in years of research into science – social sciences/ neuro-science/evolution/matter/nature. We cannot leave the science of life, of reality, to the scientists. They have a limited remit to know reality – namely specific sciences/matter/energy/time/space/experiments/hypothesis and concepts.
Since December 2020, I subscribe to the New Scientist, a 56-page weekly UK magazine covering a wide range of scientific subjects for those interested in the recent discoveries of science. The publication slips into the occasional sensationalist cover headline. Here are three examples: Dark Matter. Our Theories are Falling Apart or Why this Chair Does not Exist or How to Think Yourself Younger.
Please email me the correct scientific viewpoint if you find errors in the text.
Dependent Arising – A Key Concept
I use a key concept – dependent arising – in this critique. Teachings on consciousness/mind/matter require an appreciation of the meaning of dependent arising.
A simple example of dependent arising makes it easier to comprehend.
Take a wristwatch. It does not have self-existence, though it seems that way. There is no single cause for the watch. A watch dependently arises due to its parts. All the parts also dependently arise including the watch designers/makers.
All appearances of consciousness/mind/matter dependently arise. Primary and secondary conditions contribute to what dependently arises. A watch or anything else, sentient or insentient, have no self-existence since every ‘thing’ emerges from dependently arising conditions.
A single change in the conditions for the arising of a watch can stop the watch working. The same principle applies to everything in the so-called subjective world and objective world.
Consciousness depends for its arising on condition as much as anything else. A change in conditions can affect consciousness including the end of consciousness (death)..
Consciousness, attention, awareness, mindfulness, meditation, presence, insights, inspiration, selflessness, selfishness and more influence dependent arising.
The emptiness of self-existence of a subject/object and dependent arising reveal an enduring truth whether humans live on this Earth to confirm it or not.
PART ONE: The Limits of Science
This critique addresses nine primary areas of concern:
- Science cannot convert consciousness into an independent object to research.
- Consciousness reveals the objects, physical and mental.
- Science gives priority to objects of scientific interest at the expense of consciousness
- Consciousness and Science require two different disciplines.
- Science often views the reality of the world, via lifeless sub-atomic particles/wavelets.
- Science excludes consciousness, feelings, emotions and heartfelt perceptions of reality.
- Science does not offer an objective, independent truth since it constantly adapts views
- We can find uncomfortable parallels between God and Science in terms of accrediting both with superior knowledge.
- Free will and determinism reveal polarised views but not reality.
The cover of the weekly edition of the 21 July 2021 issue stated:
SPECIAL ISSUE. CONSCIOUSNESS.
THE GREATEST MYSTERY IN THE UNIVERSE
I opened the pages of the New Scientist to turn to the nine pages devoted to the issue featuring Consciousness.
What is Consciousness?
New Scientist asks: What is consciousness?
It then states: “Consciousness is any kind of subjective experience.”
“Conscious content is whatever you are conscious of, including awareness of sensory perceptions. Conscious self is a unique component of conscious content that refers to self-awareness – the subjective feeling of being you and includes being aware of your own awareness and reflecting on your conscious thoughts.”
I regard this viewpoint as defining limits on consciousness.
What is Consciousness? This critique offers an expansive view of consciousness.
- reveals itself in any kind of experience, subjective or objective.
- confirms itself in everything we see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel, think and view.
- found in mindfulness, meditation, mystical states and altered states of consciousness,
- present in dreams, state of deep sleep and a coma.
- arises in the waking state as being conscious of – fully, partly, barely.
- shows in every human/sentient activity.
- relies upon objects for its confirmation.
- objects rely upon consciousness for their confirmation
- shows in objects of interest including scientific research, hypothesis and conclusions.
- depends for its arising on primary and secondary conditions
Death confirms the cessation of consciousness. Liberation/awakening confirms the cessation of entrapment/confinement to any kind of consciousness.
There is no scientific evidence to prove conscious self is a unique component. I and my (self) consists of a component/condition in dependent arising. The inflammation of the importance of self arises due to conditions, including identification/grasping onto the notion of self as a unique component.
The perceiver of a unique component does not make a truth of the perceived component.
Scientists have a legitimate viewpoint, but that does not mean we have the obligation to pay deference to science. I regard it as an error of judgement to leave all scientific standpoints to the minds of scientists.
For understanding: Science relies on Knowledge. Consciousness relies on Experience.
Footballers play football. Cricketers play cricket. Footballers may know little about cricket. Cricketers may know little about football. I would humbly suggest we explore increasingly deeply what we know and deepen our interest in other areas.
Scientists often explore the science of matter. This is one feature of life. Consciousness is another. There is a place for scientific knowledge and a place for the experience of consciousness with our potential to explore both disciplines.
A dialogue about science and consciousness ranks as worthy of attention. It is not easy. Science experts rely upon a theoretical analysis while explorers of consciousness rely upon an experiential approach. We need both to develop agents of change in our vulnerable world.
Can those with knowledge/understanding of science and/or consciousness find a common appreciation?
Science offers a hypothesis, views and evolving perceptions
Science offers a legitimate viewpoint of reality as defined through its methodology. To its credit, the scientific viewpoint evolves and adapts in time according to research, analysis and conclusions. This also reveals the Achilles heel of science. Established scientific ‘facts’ frequently change relegating previous ‘facts’ to the dustbin of history. Current conclusions can only show what research has revealed so far.
We also need to acknowledge the limits of intellectual activity via systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical world. Such a study gives priority to experiment and observation of matter/of nature. To the credit of science, this shows an open mind. Consciousness (living a conscious life) concerns itself with wise development and enduring truths, such as dependent arising, the emptiness of self-existence and freedom from exaggeration of the significance of matter or consciousness.
Clinging to a fixed position reveals one extreme and adapting views reveals another extreme.
Science and its application have contributed benefits and harm to humanity and global habitats. Our major interests benefit from scientific discoveries – education, manufacture of certain goods, medicine, transport and much more. We appreciate the scientific endeavour and noble service of caring and compassionate scientists.
Yet, the science of research and applied science have also failed to discriminate between tools of construction and tools of destruction. These harmful tools include procedures leading to the exploitation/extinction of creatures and the environment. Broadly speaking, Science finds its unwilling to engage in self-reflection to develop a comprehensive science with global ethics at its root, via a noble consciousness.
In religious terms, compassionate and humane science seems like a small scientific sect. Ther are scientists who apply science in an ethical and compassionate way, but I do not get the impression it is the dominant paradigm in science. In 2020, 2.88 million procedures were carried out in Great Britain alone involving scientific experiments on living animals. Rather than stop animal experiments, these scientists have stopped using the word experiments and changed the word to procedures to make the experiments sound less abusive and violent.
Does Consciousness show the limits of science?
Science engages primarily in the measurement of matter, evolution, time, space and the natural world to know a version of reality. Consciousness does not fall into the category of measurement/mathematics because it has no consistency, no substance and no specific characteristic as an object unlike scientific conclusions.
The exploration of the experience of consciousness requires co-operation and shared insights rather than think it is purely subjective.
Experiential insights of consciousness cannot reduce consciousness to neuroscience or any other science. Neuroscience informs us the brain controls functions of the body, interprets outside information, examines brain/mind relationship, holds memory and thought etc.
According to neuroscience, the frontal lobe includes personality, planning and movement. The parietal lobe, a rear section of the brain, interprets touch, pain and signals from seeing/hearing etc. This science provides a general map of the brain.
Experts in science cannot explain the dynamics and inter-activity of consciousness and the brain within the multiplicity of daily life situations, which enable us to change our ways.
The arena of consciousness includes the provision of mindfulness/reflection/tools/practices skills and human cooperation to change unhealthy patterns, develop calm/clarity and discover insights for a fulfilled life. We require the same clarity of purpose to impact on the social-economic-political system to bring quality to people animals the environment.
Consciousness includes feelings and emotions (intensification of feelings) due to the dependent arising conditions of memory, intention, contracted feelings or sudden releases of energy from love to rage. These responses/reactions matter and influence our perceptions of reality.
For the welfare of people and Earth, we have a duty to develop consciousness, via an inter-active life, not explain it away through scientific reductionism.
Scientific theory breaks down each atom comprising a tiny nucleus containing protons and neutrons surrounded by electrons. We cannot experience the reality of our daily life as lifeless atoms despite the scientific claims about reality.
To Survive and Reproduce
In the Origin of Species (1869), British naturalist Charles Darwin said that organisms which adjust to their environment can survive and reproduce. The science community points out to us our current behaviour reduces the possibility for our long-term survival.
Are we deluding ourselves if we think we always evolve? Do some of our species evolve? Do some stagnate? Do some regress? Who decides?
Theories of evolution can give us the impression of our superiority among creatures. Religion also gives the same impression. Some religions tells us we have a soul and animals do not.
We might destroy ourselves and our habitats within a century through being too clever for our own good.
Gradual increases and swings in global temperatures, destruction of our environment, diminishing resources, over-population and consumerism require a political priority and vision instead of adherence to the short-term interests of the nation state. Consciousness and science must co-operate together to face global challenges.
Given the current situation of life on Earth, we could consider a different priority to the 19th century Darwinian view.
Here are four examples of priorities for the application of consciousness-science
- What are the conditions to develop to change consciousness of the natural world?
- Can we look at life on Earth via time (past/present/future) and the timeless?
- Can we make the priority wisdom/compassion challenging greed, hate and delusion?
- Can we respond to life via ethics, wise action and community?
These examples require working simultaneously on ourselves and working for the welfare of life on Earth. This is an urgent conversation involving everyone without exception.
Science and God have areas in common
Why has science excluded feelings, emotions and heartfelt responses from reality?
I have a response, which will displease hardcore believers in Science as superior to everything else. Science has become the new archetype of the Patriarchal God through via knowledge, power and control over the Earth. The Patriarchal God continues to dominate the Earth in an omniscient, all-powerful and all controlling way. Science is a mirror of God, a top-down view of the Earth exercising dominance over the Earth. To believe in science as the ultimate authority compares to a belief in the Patriarchal God.
A parallel between science and religion emerges. Most religions believe in God while finding God hard to explain. Religious minds/mystics will refer to the Mysterium Tremendum and conclude we can only know the Greatest Mystery but not resolve it. Science has a similar relationship with consciousness as the Mysterium Tremendum.
A handful of physicists recognise perceptions (another aspect of consciousness) influence matters in research. Such recognition makes a minor difference to the overwhelming view in science of an absolutely independent, objective world, knowable and measurable.
The death of the Patriarchal God in science and religion will return us to consciousness-science and connection with the Earth. Science will switch from preoccupation of mind with lifeless matter to care and respect for life on Earth including the diversity of sentient beings.
Impact of the ancient belief in God the Creator on Science shows itself in the transference of God onto consciousness. In the 18 September 2021 issue, the New Scientist Academy offers an online course on Secrets of Consciousness. Title: Know Your Mind. Sub-title: Discover how consciousness creates the world around you. If consciousness could create the world around us, we would create a happy and agreeable world for ourselves and stop creating an unhappy environment.
We hear it daily such as views as “The Science says…” similar in tone and authority when religious minds proclaim the word of God.
Difference between Morality and Ethics
Science adheres to rules, codes of morality and laws set up within the legal system. For example, UK scientists conducted 3.4 million animal experiments in 2019 while observing legal codes of conduct in the laboratory. Ethics express a cruelty-free approach to animal welfare rooted in empathy and inter-connection with sentient life forms. Ethics derives from a conscious being, a purposeful training of the heart-mind, not from conformity to rules and regulations. Through this training, we address the truth of suffering, the reality of suffering, to dissolve it, not add to it.
Scientific research will endorse war and support exploitation of people, creatures and the environment.
Owing to conditioning, we think in a dualistic mode, such as us and them, superior and inferior, good and evil.
Science of war-making becomes the force to make unbelievers submit to our demands. The defence industry functions as one of the major employers of scientists. Millions of scientists worldwide have employment in one of the international arms industries, amounting to more $350 billion in sales in 2019 based on the root belief system of us and them.
A BBC Science Focus report in March 2020 stated women scientists make up only 23% and very few of those reach the stop of their profession. Women scientists have the potential and duty to disarm their patriarchal God.
Science finds itself unable to understand consciousness, the feeling world and organic life. The power of consciousness reveals the kindness/wisdom of a human being and a confirmation of the capacity of consciousness to shed light on events. Ethics reveal attunement to feelings, a sense of conscious co-existence and a profound empathy with the other. Ethics roots itself in nature. Codes of morality reveal detachment/alienation from connection with nature.
An increasing number of thoughtful scientists and others agree on the crisis facing life on Earth. Such caring scientists deserve our full support.
PART TWO: The Limits of Consciousness. See next blog.