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Monday, June 6, 2011

On Not Knowing

 Space: it's big and it's out there. But what's in here?

Recently a good friend of mine, Simon Buckland (see his blog here), sent me a link to an interesting TED talk by neuroscientist David Eagleman. He makes a case for "possibilianism", which is a philosophy of "not knowing" - admitting that there is so much in the universe that we do not know at this time in the development of science (which is where he is coming from). From this not knowing the joy and wonder of the world, cosmos and life can be appreciated in its fullness. 

It was actually something of a synchronicity that Simon shared this, as I had been thinking of writing a post about not knowing before I got sidetracked with other things these last two weeks. In the workshop I attended in Beijing a few weeks ago - with mystic Leonard Jacobson - he talked about the power and beauty of not knowing. But are Eagleman andJ acobson talking about the same thing. The answer is "Yes, but only a bit." Let me explain.

Eagleman's possibilianism is the next step beyond scientism - a hard core belief in the methods of reductionist science - and is much preferable to it, in my opinion. The idea of not knowing is indeed very powerful. However Eagleman's understanding is delimited by the fact that at a personal level he is not making an inner journey of any depth. Many of his insights are relatively simple, the kinds of things most primary school kids think of - for example that there are so many religious perspectives and gods that religion obviously cannot be taken literally. This is obviously true. 

Yet there are some "certainties" that Eagleman claims that are untrue, and unfortunately these fundamental presuppositions of Eagelman's are central to the understanding of the human experience. The most telling of these is his belief that "we are our brains", which is incorrect. Even at a scientific level this claim is problematic - we have to dismiss all the insights of mystical traditions and the scientific evidence into the extended mind and psi experience to maintain the view. And Eagleman does just that, saying there is no evidence for ESP. This is an inexcusable bit of ignorance/denial for a neuroscientist. There is definitely enough evidence from parapsychology to say that there is a solid possibility that various psi experiences and capacities are real (check out Dean Radin's site, for example). A true "possibilian" would acknowledge that. Of course the real "evidence" for ESP, clairvoyance etc. does not come from analysing data, but through first person experience, and this is part of the reason why Eagleman gets it wrong. I can say this with certainty having done a great deal of inner work myself.

One of the reasons why many scientists, academics and others don't make that inner journey is because it requires not knowing at a much deeper level than what Eagleman is prepared to admit. In fact it requires the dismantling of ego - surrender (at least in part) - and this is actually quite frightening and often very painful because it requires allowing the hurt parts of the psyche to find expression. Thus the control of ego remains in place for most of today's knowledge gurus, and the capacity for deeper perception is retarded.

Another problem for Eagleman is that he does not realise that there are direct inner perceptions that reveal deeper truths, and they emerge from a release of cultural knowledge, an unlearning. Thus he is wrong to say that all "religious" views are culturally based. Undoubtedly culture still influences the way we interpret the deeper knowings, and how we communicate them via language. But the influence of culture and prior learning is minimised or almost negligible in the actual moments of perception; in perfect presence they cease to function.

Interestingly the first book I ever wrote when I was 26 - a little self-deluded tome called the Freedom of Dynamic Consciousness - basically mirrors what Eagleman says. I came from a philosophical position and argued that being unattached to knowing was better than the fundamentalism of mainstream religion and science. I hadn't made much of an inner journey at that time My awareness now is much deeper, including, ironically, my awareness of the importance of not knowing.

In short, it's good Eagleman moves into the unknown - that is a tiny step towards loosening the strings of ego. But his understanding is still delimited by his worldview and the ways of knowing it legitimates (and forbids). And by the grip of the ego/mind.

It is certainly true that not knowing is very powerful. In deep, silent presence not knowing (via the mind) is the prime way of knowing - in something of a seeming contradiction. Each moment just unfolds. It is the "knowing" of the mind that occludes that deeper "not knowing".

I have to admit seeing this talk by Eagelman and the huge audience he garners does make me slightly sad. I have met and worked with the most amazing people who know so much more about this than Eagleman does - Leonard Jacobson is just one of them. But they don't get a voice on any stage, let alone the world stage. The dominant paradigms just don't allow it. And the truth is that much of their understanding is too far off the map to make sense to most scientists and academics anyway.

That's one of the reasons why I started this blog, and called it "22Cplus". It's about long term perspectives of the future - into the 22nd century and beyond. Trish MacGreggor left a comment on a previous post last week that it might take another 200 years for science to fully acknowledge the existence of the soul. That may well be true.

But who knows?

Here's the TED talk by Eagleman.



1 comment:

  1. As you say, the tragedy is that Eagleman really doesn't know, on a much deeper level than he acknowledges. It's interesting how he starts off with the mind-blowing vastness of the cosmos, but doesn't go on to draw the corresponding link that mystics make to the littleness and insignificance of the human ego. He remains pretty much stuck in ego all the way.