Beyond the Res Cogitans

I love this post from Scott Preston with a great title. It draws together ancient philosophical/ spiritual/ religious ideas and more modern thinking to suggest the direction that human consciousness is moving in, letting go of Monkey Mind and coming into presence.

And there’s a great poem by Rumi.

The Chrysalis

Huike said to Bodhidharma, “My mind is anxious. Please pacify it.”
Bodhidharma replied, “Bring me your mind, and I will pacify it.”
Huike said, “Although I’ve sought it, I cannot find it.”
“There,” Bodhidharma replied, “I have pacified it for you.”

It is often very difficult for Westerners, especially, to understand the meaning of this parable. Generations of conditioning has inculcated the belief that the res cogitans is fundamental to who and what we are — that is “the thinking thing”. “I think, therefore I am”, pronounced Descartes, and divided being into incommensurate domains of the res cogitans and the res extensa — the subject which thinks and the objective realm that it thinks about, the realm of extension, of space and motion. Cogito ergo sum — I am because I think.

This formula (called “metaphysical dualism”) has generated all sorts of problems for the modern mind, which are not…

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Interview with René Descartes

I recently came across this interview, dated 2001/1649.

Interviewer: Bonjour, Monsieur Descartes. Can I call you René?

Descartes: Allô, allô. Mais of course!

Interviewer: I have come back from the twenty first century to ask you a few questions. People there are very interested in your ideas, but you have been getting some bad press lately. Are you happy to take part?

Descartes: I think so.

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Inner and Outer

Simple observation tells us that there are two aspects to life: inner experience and the outer world, subjective and objective. Our senses provide the link between the two, the inner perceives the outer.

We also recognise the life in other humans, beings in the animal world and, more subtly, insects, fish, the vegetable world, and so on. They clearly also have a ‘vital, living’ inner as well as a perceived form. Even places and spaces can have a clearly perceived atmosphere.

As far as I can see, Descartes came along and muddied the water, saying ‘I think therefore I am,’  when the reality is ‘I perceive therefore I am’ – thinking is something layered on top of this. This was part of the process that led to the creation of modern science and technology, and their focus on the objective, rather ignoring that inner subjective element. Quantity became all-important, to the exclusion of quality. Vitalism, that recognised the living spark within, was in the process rejected.

It seems at times that we live in a sort of half-world, glorifying science, technology, money, material goods, laws – but somehow disconnected from the qualities, beauty, truth and goodness that make it all worthwhile, indeed that make human life work sustainably – as is beginning to become apparent.

Featured image of Tao symbol courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.


Restoring the Soul of the World

restoring_soul_of_worldReview of the book by David Fideler, subtitled:
‘Our Living Bond with Nature’s Intelligence’.

This is a story that cannot be told too often – our story from the beginnings to now, in the tradition of such a magnificent telling as Richard Tarnas’s The Passion of the Western Mind first published in 1991.

David Fideler’s great breadth of knowledge and understanding is on show in this tour de force, as he traces human development and our relationship with the natural world over millennia.Read More »

Gravity and the Universe

Gravitational_WavesThere has been a bit of a fuss about the recent ‘observation’ of gravitational waves that confirm the predictions of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. As the Guardian reported: “We have detected gravitational waves. We did it,” said David Reitze, executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Ligo), at a press conference in Washington.The discovery is well explained by Martin Rees in The Telegraph.

This is an undoubted major achievement that scientists have dreamed of for 100 years, and will open up new areas of exploration. And it’s great to know that there is still essentially ‘pure science’ being pursued without the underlying carrot of commercial success. However, we must beware of some of the hype that inevitably comes with it.

For example, does it really get us anywhere nearer to understanding ‘how the universe was created’?

Well yes a tiny bit, but hold your horses. Let’s go back centuries to metaphysics, Descartes and the subsequent development of science. There is a duality of subject/object, the objective domain is amenable to measurement, whereas the subjective is not. Science developed as the way of understanding the measurable objective domain.

The subjective domain is not amenable to experimentation by the Scientific Method. Although modern neuroscience is able to establish correlates of brain activity with subjective experience, this does not mean that some day, mysteriously, subjective consciousness will somehow be explained by the objective understanding of the objective brain – contrary to the irrational belief of some scientists.

Surely the question of ‘how the universe was created’ is a question of the whole, with subjective interior and objective exterior. So any improvement in science’s models of the exterior is merely one part of the overall picture, which must necessarily involve also the interior question of consciousness.

Footnote: Einstein himself was a mystic as well as a scientist. Consider for example this quote:

“Every one who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe-a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.”

Image coutesy of MoocSummers and Wikimedia Commons