Dream-notes to bring the Real close
What if physics had become the science of experience?
Just imagine that in the beginning of the 19th century a handful of highly persuasive "experientialists" had suggested that everything exists only in the mind, and that we should stop wasting our time studying physical things and forces. Imagine that they had argued that we should especially stop talking about electro-magnetism since we cannot even sense it, and that we can never be sure whether it really exists or not. Now imagine that physics had accepted their suggestion and that it had stopped doing physical experiments; that it had limited itself to sophisticated statistical research on what common people think about how our ideas about matter affect our lives; that it had studied the history of ancient ideas about matter; that it, after long hesitation, had started to conduct qualitative studies of carpenters and other craftsmen who claim to have direct experience of what they call "wood", "iron" and so on.
So where would we have been if this had really happened? The most likely outcome would have been that the hard sciences would have come to a grinding halt, and that the 21st century would have been strikingly similar to the 18th, and not that different from the 17th or the 16th.
In reality, this is of course not what has happened: those men never appeared on the scene, the physical sciences went ahead at full speed and changed our lives beyond recognition. But all those who have studied the history of psychology will know by now what this "thought experiment" is leading to, and they will expect Watson, Skinner and Pavlov to make their appearance in this story any minute. But we need not give them any further attention. These "behaviorists" had more than their share of attention as it is. It will be more useful to concentrate on how all those involved in self-development and the yoga traditions -- whether inside or outside mainstream academics -- can help academic psychology to climb out of the well in which it was thrown by behaviorism in the beginning of the twentieth century and become true to itself, effective, and quickly progressive.
The contribution this could make to society is not small, given the central role psychology plays as the foundational science for education and through that for the feelings, thoughts and attitudes of every new generation.
Science is making incredible progress, but its achievements have been one-sided to the extreme. It is providing humanity with incredible powers in the physical domain, but it has not given it the love and the wisdom that are needed to use those powers in harmony with one another and with the whole to which all of us belong.
What can we contribute to this change? Many will argue that we should start with our own inner change, and this is no doubt true, but it is not enough. There should also be structural changes, and these may well have to start with the theory and practice of psychology as a scientific discipline.
In their basic nature people are closer to poems than to stacks of cards, so .... the ability to enjoy poetry should be considered indispensable for psychologists.
In their basic nature people are closer to poems than to stacks of cards, so while it is not bad for psychologists to have some basic idea of statistics, learning how to understand and write poetry should be considered indispensable for psychologists.
Of course, there are also more prosaic types amongst us and even they have occasionally psychological problems or an urge for further development, so reading and writing novels and short stories could be included in the psychology curriculum as well.
Would it not be wonderful to curate selections of poems, novels, and short stories for different types of psychologists, clients, and specialisations within the discipline?
physicalism has been an unmitigated disaster for the humanities and for our understanding of ourselves...
The physicalism that is widely assumed to be an essential element of the scientific method and way of thinking, even by those who consider themselves post-positivist, is actually neither a necessary condition, nor a finding of science. It is no more than an assumption that simplified physics and chemistry to a level where they could flourish. And flourish they did, as is evident from the ever increasing speed with which our knowledge and practical know-how in these areas is expanding. But physicalism has been an unmitigated disaster for the humanities and for our understanding of ourselves, since in a purely physical universe there is no place for consciousness, nor for anything that is based on it. Our awareness of our own existence, of the world, of others, agency, meaning, purpose, love, joy, values, belonging, gratitude, awe – in fact everything that really matters to us as human beings simply evaporates when it turns out to be no more than an epiphenomenal side-effect of intrinsically meaningless brain-states.
Religion can mitigate the devastating effects of a physicalist world-view to some extent for those who still have faith in it. But religions typically depend on belief and on ancient scriptures which need a socially privileged class of priests to explain them. As a result, their role in society is inevitably conservative. The world’s scriptures — at least in the superficial exoteric interpretation that priests most typically prefer — tend to contradict not only science but also each other (and quite often themselves). All this becomes problematic for those enamoured by the progressive, self-critical attitude of science, which is so obviously right, given the social justice it seems to engender and the technical marvels it produces.
Interestingly, the Indian tradition has something that goes spiritually further than most, if not all religions, and that is at its best as open, self-critical and progressive in the domain of our inner life, as science is in the physical domain. It is there in the consciousness-based systems of yoga and meditation.
Unfortunately, they have their own difficulties. While the most popular schools are broad but superficial, others go deep but are narrow, encrusted in rituals and entangled in limited philosophies that can be as divisive as the religions based on them.
Fortunately, in the beginning of last century, several attempts have been made to distil the essence of all these different approaches to our inner truth. The most profound and comprehensive of them may well be Sri Aurobindo’s who not only made a synthesis of the psychological essence of the major schools of Indian spirituality, but combined this with the best that mainstream science has to offer: its rigour, intellectual rectitude, openness to innovation, and perhaps most of all, its idea of evolution and collective progress. The direct outcome of his broad, global integration was the idea of an ongoing evolution of consciousness, which in a fascinating manner adds a whole new dimension of beauty and purpose to our individual and collective existence on this planet. It can serve as an inspiring back-ground story for a new approach to psychology that integrates the very best of what West and East can contribute.
There are two distinct ways in which Indian Psychology can be applied. The first could be called instrumental or pragmatic, the second essential or paradigmatic.
There are two distinct ways in which Indian Psychology can be applied; there is a gradient between these two approaches, and many mixed forms are possible, but conceptually it is useful to distinguish them. The first could be called instrumental or pragmatic, the second essential or paradigmatic.
In the first approach, decontextualised ideas and techniques from the Indian tradition are used as adjuncts to existing ways of dealing with human beings that are standard within the present global civilization. Typical examples are the way yoga-asanas are used as fitness exercises that increase physical beauty and lower blood pressure; the rebranding of meditation as a relaxation response that helps to cope with the stresses of corporate life; and the use of vipassana as a stabilizing adjunct to psychotherapy. All these are, no doubt, for the good, but one cannot help but feel that they miss out on the essence, on the most beautiful, and in the end most important core of the Indian tradition.
Of the second, the essential or paradigmatic use of the Indian tradition, it is much more difficult to find good examples. One could perhaps think of the philosophical stance of some post-Newtonian physicists like Erwin Schrödinger, the educational experiments based on the work of Krishnamurti and Sri Aurobindo and, of course, certain developments in Transpersonal Psychology.
For those who try to apply the theoretical core of the Indian tradition to their psychology practice in fields like education, psychotherapy, counselling, inner growth and self-help, it is useful to make one further distinction. This is the distinction between approaches that emphasize the outer, instrumental nature, and those that focus on finding the Self.
There is natural tendency to start with changing one’s outer nature, and in strongly structured paths like that of Patanjali, an extensive list of social and outward practices are mentioned as first steps that need to be taken up seriously before one can safely embark on the higher and more inwardly oriented steps of yoga. The reason for this sequence is that a certain harmonisation of the outer nature, even if not essential for finding the Self, is still likely to make the inner quest more safe and secure. But the argument should not be taken too far. It is true that too early, too exclusive a quest for the Self can lead to what the Americans call “spiritual by-passing”. But it is also true that too early and too exclusive a stress on outer perfection, if it succeeds at all, tends to lead to hypocrisy and to a hard to break spiritual ego. If it fails, it is likely to lead to endless and completely unnecessary frustration.
The fact of the matter is, that a real and lasting change of one’s nature is only possible once one has found a safe haven in one’s eternal Self. It is not for nothing that in the Puranic stories, the devas, the divine powers of the mind, only win their eternal battle with the asuras, the darker sides of human nature, once they have made contact with the Divine who then functions like a helper and a guide towards their innermost Self. On a more mundane level, this is the inner reason that mindfulness helps in CBT: even a little stepping back, moving just a tiny bit closer to one’s eternal Self, helps to face one’s inner demons more effectively.
It is a subtle balance and one of many areas where Buddha’s middle path may offer the safest option.
Imagine a group of young people entirely moved by Truth, Nobility, Light, Love, Beauty...
When I woke up, I thought the place was very well-known, that I had been there so many times, and that others had been there as well. But now I'm more fully awake, I wonder.... At least in my waking consciousness I’ve never been there, and I wonder how many others have. All humanity seems to know are the most bizarre deformations and distortions of it.
Now I am fully back in my waking consciousness, it is hard — if I'm fully honest, it is impossible — to imagine or even recollect that beauty. In my ordinary waking consciousness nothing comes anywhere near.
Try to imagine a spontaneous, completely “true” grouping of youth, with all the dynamism of youth, a spontaneous, collaborative union of young people who are completely luminous, without the least internal shadow or the tiniest impurity or darkness.
Perhaps it was something like what Mother describes of the people on the supramental boat [ADD LINK]. That joyous unity of youth was there, ready to do together the works of true nobility.
In my ordinary waking consciousness, when I hear or see words like “goodness”, “nobility” or “perfection” for a group, I immediately think of their opposites. Here “perfection” is always false. We need the graciousness and charm of imperfections. But there in that other, inner world there was the genuine reality of the complete perfection of nobility, light, goodness, the works.
Just before coming out of it, I saw it as a space in which there were a few rectangular blocks that differed in proportions, colour and radiance. The colours varied from a dark terra-cotta, a muted stone brown-red, through gerua, to yellow gold. The colours were not painted on the surface but through and through, and everything was self-luminous, radiant like molten steel, but neither hot, nor grainy. The shapes were all composed out of perfect rectangles — but who knows, the shape of these “visuals” might well have been a contribution from my mind’s sense of perfection.
The words, "golden youth cooperative” came after I woke up — in that world itself there were no words. The words came when I had come half-way out it but still could see it. Initially these words themselves were also true, gold and noble. “Golden youth cooperative” was full of energy, like what it stood for, enthusiastically doing what is noble, true, light and good in society. The block representing it was visually the most bright, the most intensely shining, the lightest in colour, like yellow-gold. The other blocks were a little darker, a little more towards brown-red, though still self-luminous. All so incredibly beautiful, so completely “filled up” with such genuine harmonious perfection; there was absolutely nothing remotely wrong or evil.
It now comes to me that that whole universe was built on perfectly pure, divine love, but when I just came out of the dream the word love did not come up, I guess because it has itself become so polluted… Though Love is no doubt the essence of the true reality, the word “love” needs thorough over-hauling, cleaning, re-conditioning before it can be used again.
I’ve never seen anything remotely as beautiful.