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2014 mystery mystics limits of science for acs


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Greenberg 2014 Lecture to ACS on the limits of scientific understanding; resonance between science and spirituality

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2014 mystery mystics limits of science for acs

  1. 1. Mystics, Mysteries, and the Limits of Scientific Understanding Tuesday, November 25, 2014 Comments for the American Chemical Society Knoxville, Tennessee Buehler Hall room 472 7:00 PM November 25, 2014 April 29 SUNDAY TVUUC DIALOGUE 10:05 Neil Greenberg Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology University of Tennessee, Knoxville 104/10/18 Mystics in Science
  2. 2. 204/10/18 Mystics in Science My discipline (neuroethology) as a scientist requires the best possible good faith investigation of the causes and consequences of phenomena – my focus was on a behavioral pattern. BUT, how far to go in the chain of causation? … Looking as deeply as possible into the underpinnings of science – that is the credibility of data, the bases on which we are satisfied in the truth of a belief is justified –we are brought to the shared cognitive architecture of spirituality
  3. 3. 304/10/18 Mystery & Mystics in Science THIS EVENING we are pursuing RESONANCES between the two great traditions –SPIRITUAL and SCIENTIFIC— EACH emphasizing a different part of the cognitive processes that give us confidence in the “truth” of a belief Both mysticism and science center on practices intended to nurture those processes and validate the experiences or awareness they may lead to...
  4. 4. 404/10/18 Mystics in Science Like our chosen culture, this talk will raise more questions than it may answer (The Parable of the Balloon of Knowing) We can know and/or we can realize (The Parable of the French Philosophers – existential phenomenology) We must create our own connections to “own” the insight We want to go beyond mere discourse, but my only resources are WORDS
  5. 5. As far they refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality. But with respect words, as with numbers,
  6. 6. 604/10/18 Mystics in Science There is a strong current of METAPHYSICS in our inquiry, so I’ll begin with the first line of ARISTOTLE’s treatise, “on metaphysics” (c. 350 BC)
  7. 7. “ALL MEN by NATURE DESIRE TO KNOW” 04/10/18 Mystics in Science 7 BUT – how “good does our KNOWLEDGE need to be? •Absolutely TRUE! Or •GOOD ENOUGH to meet our biological needs Motivational systems are energized by STRESS. They are designed as though it is better to have TOO MUCH than TOO LITTLE! This is an issue for OPTIMALITY ANALYSIS: costs versus benefits
  8. 8. 804/10/18 Mystics in Science BUT ADAPTIVE ACQUISITION of KNOWLEDGE – like any human motive— respects the Aristotelian “golden mean.” In biology from development to ecology to evolution to physiology : “nothing in excess”
  9. 9. “nothing in excess” is one of the two great mottos found at the Sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi. The other motto is equally important to us: Gnôthi seautón (Know thyself) To be an effective, competitive organism, we would be wise to follow this advice... Because... the ancient ruins of the sanctuary of Apollo at Delphi. is spread out over the southern slopes of Mount Parnassos, beneath the Phaidriad rocks.
  10. 10. We see the world not as it is, But as we are . . .
  11. 11. We see the world not as it is, But as we are . . .
  12. 12. We see the world not as it is, But as we are . . .
  13. 13. 1304/10/18 Mystics in Science MYSTICISM is the pursuit of communion with, identification with, or conscious awareness of an ultimate Reality, Divinity, spiritual Truth, or God through direct experience, intuition, instinct or insight. DIGGING DEEPLY into their cognitive substrate, the methods are different only in their relative emphasis from those of SCIENCE Some (but probably not most) scientists confront mystery at levels of intimacy that engenders deep knowledge that can only be accessed through intuition.
  14. 14. 1404/10/18 Mystics in Science (“to be ONE with the TRUTH you seek”) (but we might ask, “IS TRUTH a DIRECTION, like TRUE NORTH, rather than a goal to be obtained?) We have to think about WHAT WE “KNOW”, how we come to know it, and what circumstances confer CONFIDENCE in its validity – here is where I find the level of organization provided by NEUROSCIENCE most useful
  15. 15. AN ASIDE on ART & ORGANISM the American Chemical Society Knoxville, Tennessee Buehler Hall room 472 7:00 PM November 25, 2014 The intimacy and intensity of the artist’s exploration of phenomena in the world (in conjunction with one’s own deepest “self”) leads to a sense of “oneness” with what is being explored. The goal has transmuted into “becoming one with the truth you seek” – a kind of co-dependence.1504/10/18 Mystics in Science
  16. 16. 1604/10/18 Mystics in Science MYSTICS are individuals who have confronted MYSTERY and experienced an ineffable transformation in consciousness However these transformative experiences come about, they work through a living organism and deeper insight into their causes and consequences may be, at least in part, attained through the biology of consciousness and cognition. Whatever other unknown and possibly unknowable forces may be in play we are drawn to the search. St Francis of Assisi St Thersa
  17. 17. "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.“ --Albert Einstein
  18. 18. “As the wise test gold by burning, cutting and rubbing it (on a piece of touchstone), so are you to accept my words after examining them and not merely out of regard for me.” -Buddha "In what concerns divine things, belief is not fitting. Only certainty will do.“ – Simone Weil
  19. 19. 1904/10/18 Mystics in Science CONSCIOUSNESS occurs at the intersection of the being and its environment The NATURAL HISTORY of this attribute of behavior must accommodate DEVELOPMENT, ECOLOGY, EVOLUTION, and PHYSIOLOGY
  20. 20. 2004/10/18 Mystics in Science SCIENCE BEGINS and ENDS in MYSTERY
  21. 21. 2104/10/18 Mystics in Science “ENDS in MYSTERY” ?? Your first response might well be “NO!” –science solves problems, get answers, establishes reliable knowledge.
  22. 22. 2204/10/18 Mystics in Science AND THAT IS ALL TRUE as far as it goes … but it only goes so far … in our world, whether we’re looking an sub-atomic or grand cosmic phenomena, each “peak” of understanding reveals a further horizon
  23. 23. SOURCES OF DISSONANCE between MYSTICISM and SCIENCE • Epistemology. what is truth and how can it be known? Science says truths could be tested and verified through empirical experiments, religion requires that spiritual truths be accepted on blind faith • Ontology. What is the nature of being? Religion says that ultimately, the nature of reality was spiritual, and nothing else could exist. Science took a materialist position, arguing that everything could be reduced to, and explained by, the interactions of independently existing atoms and the physical forces which acted on them. 04/10/18 Mystics in Science 23
  24. 24. I believe a normal curve is a reasonable starting point for conceptualizing more or less confidence and a cause or consequence CAUSES CONSEQUENCES 04/10/18 Mystics in Science 24
  25. 25. 04/10/18 Mystics in Science 25
  26. 26. I could argue that for any PERCEPT in REAL TIME, apparent VERACITY occurs at the point where dissonance between CORRESPONDENCE and COHERENCE is minimized and RESONANCE is maximized 04/10/18 Mystics in Science 26
  27. 27. Experience 04/10/18 Mystics in Science 27 UNCONSCIOUS convergence happens constantly as the mind seeks to reconcile the modest stress of modest novelty with ongoing experience.
  28. 28. Experience 04/10/18 Mystics in Science 28 BUT CONSCIOUS AWARNESS could happen suddenly: AHA! ... with an intensity commensurate with the level of stress being resolved.
  29. 29. THE CREATIVE SELFTHE CREATIVE SELF inspiration theoryinspiration theory Joan:Joan: . . . you must not talk to. . . you must not talk to me about my about my voices. Robert:Robert: How do you mean?How do you mean? Voices?Voices? Joan:Joan: Ihearvoices telling meIhearvoices telling me what to do. They come fromwhat to do. They come from God.God. Robert:Robert: They come from yourThey come from your imagination!imagination! Joan:Joan: Of courseOf course. That is how the. That is how the messages of God come to us.messages of God come to us.
  30. 30. Thomas Alva EdisonThomas Alva Edison Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine perGenius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration.cent perspiration. THE CREATIVE SELF perspiration theory
  31. 31. THE GREAT TENSIONS of the human mind and spirit THAT WORK TOGETHER are often viewed as alternative perspectives or “ways of knowing,” The balance of their respective influences can tip the civilized world as we know it: “Historian Charles Freeman points out that in Europe, ‘Christian thought...often gave irrationality the status of a universal ‘truth’ to the exclusion of those truths to be found through reason. So the uneducated was preferred to the educated, and the miracle to the operation of natural laws.’” (p184) EVEN TODAY, New Scientist magazine can speak of “Reality Wars” and the “End of the Enlightenment” (8 Oct 2005); and Esquire magazine speaks of “Idiot America,” where “gut feelings” are elevated above those of reason. (Nov 2005) essential tensions
  32. 32. Experience 04/10/18 Mystics in Science 32 SPIRITUAL QUEST: The “mysterium tremendum et fascinans” (mystery that repels and fascinates, gateway to a transformative experience of the “wholly other”)
  33. 33. Experience 04/10/18 Mystics in Science 33 Most vividly manifest in extreme or dysfunctional situations
  34. 34. “There are moments, and it is only a matter of five or six seconds, when you feel the presence of the eternal harmony ... a terrible thing is the frightful clearness with which it manifests itself, and the rapture with which it fills you. Dostoyevski Experience 04/10/18 Mystics in Science 34
  35. 35. “the boundaries of my body dissolved, I felt one with everything” --Jill BolteTaylor Left temporal lobe stimulation creates a “sense of self” … when the left temporal lobe is stimulated but the right temporal lobe is quiet, the sensation is that of A sensed presence that is not you. God in the Brain 3504/10/18 Mystics in Science
  36. 36. • We have all had EXTRAORDINARY EXPERIENCES which were either included in our world view or rejected as illusions, sensory error, dreams ... • BUT DOSTOYEVSKI’s and JILL TAYLOR’s brain-dysfunction-based experience had so much in common with experiences of MYSTICS that it seemed back in the game: accessible to neuroscience. • Developmental, ecological, evolutionary, and physiological phenomena all contribute to a complete analysis ... But there are more depending on one’s level of analysis... 04/10/18 Mystics in Science 36
  37. 37. 3704/10/18 Mystics in Science Describe behavioral experience Development of experience Ecology of experience Evolution of experience Physiology of experience
  38. 38. 3804/10/18 Mystics in Science AMONGST the persistent BIOLOGICAL TRAITS we express is the pursuit, expression, and desire to understand further knowledge of nature and ourselves . SPEAKING OF BIOLOGY
  39. 39. 3904/10/18 Mystics in Science But to use knowledge to meet an adaptive NEED, we seek confidence in its VERACITY The “reality-testing “mechanisms of our brains confer credibility: Do new percepts or ideas meet the tests of CORRESPONDENCE and COHERENCE ??
  40. 40. 4004/10/18 Mystics in Science HIDDEN (“occult”) causes MOTIVATED, DRIVEN by “need- to-know” -- native curiosity and exploratory instinct ... energized by stress-evoking mismatches of mental and environmental worlds relative STRESS is evoked by the urgency of need-to-know (and the apparent PROXIMITY of the solution: “feeling of knowing” and “tip-of-the-tongue phenomena”)
  41. 41. MYSTERY PROSTHESES: how far can we EXTEND our senses: subatomic, cosmic ... 04/10/18 Mystics in Science 41 IN OUR PURSUIT OF MYSTERIES and their solutions, CAN WE GO BEYOND our competence as organisms? What about COGNITIVE competence? information processing?
  42. 42. MYSTERY Our BIOLOGICAL NEED to KNOW is more-or-less DEVELOPMENTALLY urgent, more-or-less ECOLOGIALLY facilitated, more-or-less EVOLUTIONARILY adaptive, and more-or-less PHYSIOLOGICALLY enabled depending on our homeostatic needs 04/10/18 Mystics in Science 42
  43. 43. MYSTERY Our BIOLOGICAL NEED to KNOW is more-or-less DEVELOPMENTALLY urgent, more-or-less ECOLOGIALLY facilitated, more-or-less EVOLUTIONARILY adaptive, and more-or-less PHYSIOLOGICALLY enabled depending on our homeostatic needs 04/10/18 Mystics in Science 43
  44. 44. DEVELOPMENT: The “mystic in the crib” The infant’s world in lockstep with brain maturation, is one of wondrous, often transformative discovery BUT CURIOSITY declines as we enter reproductive phase. it is no longer “worth” the time and effort unless the environment changes ADULTS: to act spontaneously and be creative takes expensive effort: “Learn the rules, then you can forget them !”
  45. 45. 4504/10/18 Mystics in Science WE are the heirs of 2500 generations of ancestors who have persevered in the face of savage struggles against the elements, disease, despair, and our competitors
  46. 46. 4604/10/18 Mystics in Science TRANSCEND: to go beyond – we pursue modest examples of transcendance from infancy SPIRITUAL: referring to immaterial reality; not obviously connected to physical attributes of environment RELIGIOUS: – re-ligare : “re” (to restore) & “ligare” (ligature, tie, bond.) MYSTICAL: referring to mystery -- experiences or observations without confident connections to well known phenomena (OCCULT = “hidden”)
  47. 47. For example, we would first seek an objective description of an extraordinary experience such as a : “MYSTICAL EXPERIENCE” 1. Ineffable: defies expression, cannot be described in words. 2. Noetic: gives insight and knowledge into deep truths. 3. Transient: Brief and cannot be accurately remembered, though easily recognized if it recurs. 4. Passivity: facilitated by preparation, but once begun it seems out of one’s control as if controlled by a superior power William James 1918 (issue is personal enlightenment) 4704/10/18 Mystics in Science
  48. 48. For example, we would first seek an objective description of an extraordinary experience such as a : “EMPIRICAL EXPERIENCE” we pursue THE BEST EVIDENCE WE CAN GATHER Using the cognitive reality-testing mechanisms of CORRESPONDENCE and COHERENCE And then “TELL THE BEST STORY WE CAN WITH THE EVIDENCE AVAILABLE” (issue is transparency and public acceptance) 4804/10/18 Mystics in Science
  49. 49. 4904/10/18 Mystics in Science HIDDEN (“occult”) causes DRIVEN by “need-to-know” -- native curiosity and exploratory instinct ENERGIZED by urgency of need- to-know (and the “feeling of knowing” and “tip-of-the- tongue phenomena”)
  50. 50. 04/10/18 Mystics in Science 50 NEW PERCEPTS Are derived from the creation of connections… •Between the brain and the world (to which we are connected by imperfect senses) or •Between different parts of the brain (which act upon each other imperfectly) •NEW PERCEPTS ALWAYS involve more or less DISSONANCE—deviation from a set point, a “comfort zone” •CONNECTIONS depend on preceding and anticipated percepts which all together determine one’s paradigm—world view, changes in which always involve more-or-less stress (recalls the dynamic tension between “freedom” and “safety” – the relative COSTS and BENEFITS of VALIDITY, or VERACITY )
  51. 51. 04/10/18 Mystics in Science 51 TRANSFORMATIVE-- More-or-less stressful CORRESPONDENCE (is it real) COHERENCE (does it fit) MINIMAL EFFORT – model confirmed & enlarged
  52. 52. "Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning, and under every deep a lower deep opens" --Ralph Waldo Emerson 04/10/18 Mystics in Science 52