inspired by love, kept awake by coffee
I have been having an ongoing debate with my office colleague for about 5 years. Yes, I know it seems a ridiculously long time but this is what working in academic is like. I’d be bored without the ongoing debates. In fact this is how academic friendships are forged, I suspect. My OC is my second closest friend and I have the deepest respect and affection for him.
Our argument is over science vs social constructionism which more recently has spilled into a kind of mystical notion that everything is consciousness due to a profound experience of interconnectedness/nonself etc. I actually have no problem with this per se. I have had similar experiences having been a practicing Buddhist for over 30 years. I certainly agree with the principles of social construction and their methods of analysis. And I think that everything is connected both in the macro and micro worlds. And finally, I don’t pretend that my experience of ‘self’ is real however much it feels like there is a ‘me’ and however convenient I find it to negotiate the world (so I think!). Not so much because of my Buddhist learning but more because neuroscience has borne this out.
My problem is that he is very anti-science. There are good reasons for this in his academic worldview which I won’t go into, but because he has determined that ‘all is consciousness, there isn’t anything that we can call ‘real’ out there’, every time that I have a discussion that involves objectifying or qualifying something he objects on the grounds that there are no divisions, it is all illusion. It’s like sharing an office with a Zen teacher. Which is not a bad thing.
The problem is that I am not prepared to let go of the experience of reality which I live with and always return to after some self-dissolving experience, previously from LSD and in the past years from meditation. Yes, maybe my ground of being is pure energy, consciousness, space etc. and yes, that is a transforming experience, but here I am again, in my house, typing on my laptop, getting ready to go to work. If I took myself off into pure spaciousness and didn’t attend to my body I would get sick and die. There is something material going on and I still find that fascinating.
Science is not all good and the notion that all knowledge that is published in peer reviewed journals is sound is, to an academic at least, patently absurd. At best, it is knowledge endorsed by experts with a matched if not better knowledge of the subject and its methodologies than the submitting author. At worst it is a closed shop designed to maintain the status quo and keep out inconvenient irritants. This tends to happen more in journals which are not primarily scientific but who purport to be – psychology being one of the main culprits. Most people don’t really understand that statistical significance still doesn’t mean you can generalise results over a human population because a psychological study is not like Newtonian physics where given the same conditions, materials behave consistently. Extrpolating this to humankind misses out individual and contextual variations which are not quantifiable for a large minority. Anyway I don’t want to go on about that now.
I think one of the problems is that we are having a futile debate about ‘reality’. The debate is a battle over what is ‘real’ or what is ‘really going on’. OC says what’s really going on is consciousness. Materialist reductionists say what’s really going on is what we can deduce from scientific methods. My view is that both views are correct at the same time. My problem is I can’t explain how that is the case. Yet. But I do think that the concept of ‘reality’ is problematic.
Here’s a thought. If the all the humans on the planet were wiped out, where would consciousness be? If all living beings were wiped out?