Einstein and Tagore Discuss Metaphysics

By my read of this conversation, Tagore is presenting the classical Idealism approach whereas Einstein tracks with scientific objectivity. This is a great, short dialogue from here.

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TAGORE: You have been busy, hunting down with mathematics, the two ancient entities, time and space, while I have been lecturing in this country on the eternal world of man, the universe of reality.

EINSTEIN: Do you believe in the divine isolated from the world?

TAGORE: Not isolated. The infinite personality of man comprehends the universe. There cannot be anything that cannot be subsumed by the human personality, and this proves that the truth of the universe is human truth. Continue reading

Book Review: 20 Cases Suggestive of Reincarnation by Dr. Ian Stevenson (University of Virginia)

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I found this book to be problematic. Let me explain:

On the one hand, I’m quite convinced that something anomalous was going on in at least a few of these cases. I also admire the sincerity, professionalism, scientific approach, and documentation of the author. He continually assesses the possibility of fraud as well as the opportunities for the case studies to have gained information through conventional (non-paranormal) means. In short, this is an erudite, convincing, systemic, and scientific approach to these matters. It is also highly convincing of something unusual taking place.

Where I stumble, though, is the implicit metaphysics in play by the author in his conclusions. While I agree in the indications of non-normal events, I simply cannot subscribe to the metaphysics of those that pursue these cases. In talking (as he does) about re-incarnation, mediums, possession, etc., the author falls into the metaphysics of the 19th century spiritualists. Namely, that there is some type of Cartesian world where souls inhabit bodies until they depart. Then, these souls might show up again in another body or at a seance. To me, that worldview (while common in the West) seems rife with philosophical inconsistencies and poorly conceived presuppositions. Continue reading

Reality Theater in our Minds

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This distinction between phenomenon and noumenon is basically the same as the distinction between appearance and reality. The phenomenal and the noumenal are two aspects of The Real, viz., the aspect which appears to us when we perceive it, and the aspect that is actually really real. The physicists, for example, tell us that even though the chair appears to be impenetrable and solid, in fact it is made up of molecules and atoms which are themselves made almost entirely of empty space. So the way a thing appears to our senses may not be, at least according to physics, the same as the way the thing really actually is. The phenomenal aspect of a thing may be entirely different than the noumenal thing, the thing as it really truly is. Continue reading

From Philosophy: Scientific Materialism “Almost Certainly False”

From John Horgan in Scientific American

When it comes to science, ours is a paradoxical era. On the one hand, prominent physicists proclaim that they are solving the riddle of reality and hence finally displacing religious myths of creation. That is the chest-thumping message of books such as The Grand Design by physicists Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow and A Universe from Nothing by Lawrence Krauss. A corollary of this triumphal view is that science will inevitably solve all other mysteries as well.

On the other hand, science’s limits have never been more glaringly apparent. In their desperation for a “theory of everything”—which unifies quantum mechanics and relativity and explains the origin and structure of our cosmos—physicists have embraced pseudo-scientific speculation such as multi-universe theories and the anthropic principle (which says that the universe must be as we observe it to be because otherwise we wouldn’t be here to observe it). Fields such as neuroscience, evolutionary psychology and behavioral genetics and complexity have fallen far short of their hype. Continue reading

What is it Like to be a Bat?

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Thomas Nagel (BA: Cornell, BPhil Oxford, PhD Harvard) and Professor of Philosophy at NYU asks a very simple question in this landmark (and readable essay) on Consciousness.

Nagel’s difficulty is essentially this: he believes that there are some experiences which are completely beyond human understanding.

We might, he argues, imagine an approximation of what it might be like if we were bats. It is possible to imagine being nearsighted, eating bugs, hanging upside-down in an attic, and perhaps even flapping our arms to fly. But this is just what it is like for US to be a bat… not what it is like for a BAT to be a bat. Continue reading