I concluded the first part of this discussion about healing the divide between skeptic’s and idealists involved in the current TED censorship saga by asking the question, “What is the way forward?” In this second and third posts I will answer the question. The way I am suggesting is not the only way to approach the problem, but it is one that has many benefits. My take here will focus upon what those with a spiritual perspective can do, as this is the “camp” that I am with. There’s no reason why someone with a skeptical or conservative scientific mindset cannot apply my suggestions. However I suspect not many will be too keen, as their worldview typically precludes a familiarity with the kinds of introspective methods I am going to advocate as part of the solution.
Don’t take it personally
The most important thing is to not take this TED drama personally. What we are in the midst of here is a resistance to a paradigm shift that will inevitably arrive in some form during the next fifty years or so. The shift will come to fully acknowledge that the materialist dream has not only proved to be greatly faulted in its description of life and the cosmos, but that it is inherently pathological. It cannot sustain human civilisation beyond this point in time. There will be a slow shift in global consciousness, and if anything the fact that masses of people have come out in support of Sheldrake and Hancock shows that this shift is now well underway. But there is a sharp division in the modern world – which reflects the split in the modern mind. I have called this the “skeptics versus the idealists”, which is a simplistic way of making the discussion on a blog like this manageable.
Behind the conservative forces of scientific materialism lies great power and great wealth. It is inevitable that a power game will play out as those who are in control begin to see that power slipping away. This is part of what is happening in the current TED controversy.
I want to make one thing clear. There is nothing that can change the dynamic that is underway. This is why I suggest you see this as impersonal. But there are minds that are resisting what is happening – on both sides. The materialists are resisting the change because it is tearing at the foundations of their view of reality, and that is frightening. Typical of this is Stephen Pinker’s recent ridiculing of Thomas Nagel’s book Mind and Cosmos, which correctly points out that materialist science has greatly exaggerated the certainty of its case for a strictly neo-Darwininan, materialistic take on life, nature and the universe. The truth is that Pinker does not know as much as he thinks. He cannot, simply because the ways of knowing he uses – critical analysis and abstract reasoning – are self-limited in what they can perceive and understand. When such cognitive processes are not balanced with Integrated Intelligence, the mind is extremely limited in what it can perceive and understand about consciousness at its deepest, connecting levels. If my argument is correct here, it then logically follows that this point will not be intelligible to anyone who has not explored mind deeply at a first person level. So it is not necessary to take it personally when a materialist does not comprehend a deeper spiritual perception of the world.
The very act of berating anyone else’s perspective on this issue shows that the critic is still stuck in the mind and emotionally attached to the world of thought. The person’s mind still resides within the predominant ego-based level of consciousness.
Don’t fight them
My next main point is that there is no spiritual freedom in fighting the other guy, or the system. You cannot win, because the act of fighting traps you in that very system. At a deeper level of awareness there is no struggle. There is no fight to be won. The system will shift as surely as consciousness itself, as surely as the shadow of night passes upon the day.
But wait! some may plead. My whole life is about fighting these ignorant bastards! I’m not just going to sit around and be a victim, and let them walk all over me! That would be pathetic!
The truth is that a huge number of idealists are fighting from a victim consciousness. There is no law that says you have to fight anyone or anything. But there is a law of consciousness which finds that those who fight against something expand their experience of the very thing they fight against.
A higher truth is that in surrendering to the joy of being, wherever you are, you automatically begin to light the darkness around you. It is your joyfulness in the present moment that will shift humanity at the deepest level, because that shift occurs not at the personal, institutional or paradigmatic levels, but at the deepest level – the level of consciousness.
There is a price to pay for this shift. No longer will you be able to bond or find intimacy with other idealists, united in a sense of collective anger or blame at the evils of the system or the dreaded “atheists”, “Godless scientists” or “materialist zombies”. No longer will your mind be able to identify with the struggle. When the struggle is gone there will be… just this moment.
Emptiness, without struggle.
And that is why “spiritual” people keep fighting. Paradoxically, at a deeper level of awareness, the resistance to scientific materialism is actually a resistance to spirit.
So the way forward is…?
There is no going forward. That is the illusion. There is nothing to push into, just something to allow. And that is the perfection of what is.
What follows such a shift in attitude is peace, the peace that emerges from compete forgiveness of the system and all those stuck in that system. And the forgiveness for yourself for not seeing this for so very long.
A time will come when the confrontational binaries that dominate our science and education will give way to something much gentler, much more humble and much more joyful. When people hold knowledge that differs in fundamental ways, they will come together in a state of non-judgment. Only then will they be able to receive each other without violence. Only then will they be able to truly listen to each other. Their minds will be grounded in deep presence, not in attachment to ideologies and beliefs – no matter how “spiritual” they may be.
The irony is that both the idealists and the materialists believe that their view of the world exists in a state beyond belief. The materialists believe that they have left behind religious dogma to embrace a rational take on the world. The idealists believe that they have left behind both scientific materialism and religious dogma to embrace the spirit or some transcendent reality. In fact, everyone who is struggling against another does so from the world of the mind and its beliefs, not deep knowing.
With deep knowing, the awareness that another person does not understand the spirit cannot be taken personally.
Deepening the problem
There are multiple levels to this current TED censure impasse, and this is what we should keep in mind before putting emotional energy into it.
All of us are embedded in this historical moment in time, skeptic and idealist alike. However, as I describe the historical context of the problem, I am going to focus upon an idealised hardcore skeptic, because scientific materialism is still dominant in the hard sciences, and those behind the censorship of the TED videos hold a similar worldview.
The first level is the personal level. This is the one you deal with face to face or online. It may seem as if the other person’s opinions and thoughts are their own, but the lower levels of the systems underpin the way they see the world, use their minds and think in general. In terms of skepticism, this level is influenced by the ego’s refusal to surrender power to deeper psychological and spiritual forces. This is perfectly understandable. The ego is simply trying to protect itself from two things. The first is the prospect of death, which is how the surrender process appears to it (although it is not strictly death, but metamorphosis). The second thing is avoiding the deep emotional pain trapped within the body and psyche. The surrender process requires that one relax and feel all that is within. This can be a very difficult and terrifying experience. Trust is a key issue here. But why should anyone trust in such a spiritual process given the massive history of death, suffering, and violence on this planet? Each person has to find the answer to that question within himself or herself. Most people are not ready to cross that line, but more will be in time.
Next there are specific institutions and their culture. For example, if a person works for a university, there are generally domains of inquiry that are effectively forbidden for all of teachers, researchers and students. Spiritual and intuitive ways of knowing are rarely permitted. A lecture isn’t going to begin a lecture with “This morning I had a vision where the spirit of the Tibetan antelope spoke to me and clarified the nature of historical relationship between the Tibetans and the Han Chinese.”
What can and can’t be said in an educational institution will vary from faculty to faculty, subject to subject, institution to institution. I teach in a Masters of Foresight programme, and people there tend to be very liberal and progressive. I actually used the TED censorship issue in my last class as a subject matter to explore ways of mapping the future. Most students were sympathetic to the speakers. I know other universities are also exploring spirituality in various ways. La Trobe University here in Melbourne has a popular spirituality in literature class run by David Tacey. Tacey is Associate Professor and Reader in Arts. He teaches literature, spirituality and Jungian psychology. His book The Spirituality Revolution outlines the programme and his belief that many of today’s students are crying out for spirituality in education.
Despite the fact that there are more programmes like this getting around, few of us have been exposed to them. This brings us to the next level of the problem. This is the paradigmatic. As Sheldrake has so often pointed out, the mechanistic paradigm insists that the universe is a great machine and that – to quote Dean Radin – we are machines made of meat. This paradigm is still very strong in biology, neuroscience and cognitive psychology. It remains very influential across many branches of science and academic disciplines.
Beyond the paradigmatic we have a cultural and civilizational thrust. Anglo culture in particular has developed a very detached approach to science.
This is not the case in all western cultures. As Bruno Bettleheim reports in Freud and Man’s Soul, the Germans developed an empirical science similar to that which dominates in Anglo civilization. But they also developed a softer science which more readily incorporates the intuitive and spiritual dimensions of human experience.
Then we have to realise that science has not always been practiced the way it is currently. Before the industrial revolution the entire idea of the “scientist” did not exists as it does today. The idea of the detached, aloof individual in a white lab coat began to take hold after the 1850s, at the same time that experimentation really took hold in the hard sciences. The fathers of modern science like Newton, Galileo and Copernicus were very religious individuals. Put in perspective, the modern idea of the scientists is barely 150 years old.
Further, there has always been a very strong mystical and spiritual thrust in Western society. The Romantic Movement which flourished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was a recent expression of this. This Romantic thrust existed alongside the more “left-brained”, intellectual side of the west. But the scientific enlightenment eventually became the dominant culture, and this same culture now heavily influences the way our education systems teach us to think and feel.
Even the ancient Greeks, often anachronistically depicted as rational reductionists, had a strong metaphysical component to their society in the six centuries before Christ. Ancient Greek philosophy became more “atomistic” over time, but the mystical aspects of their culture always remained strong. This even extended to Aristotle and Socrates.
And then of course we should remember that all other non-western cultures have had strong spiritual and mystical histories. African, Russian, South American and indigenous cultures have been no exception. The Chinese and Indian civilisations have produced some of the greatest spiritual thought on the planet. Sadly, it is increasingly becoming pushed aside by western mechanistic science, especially in China.
But even beyond these civilisational and historical perspectives, there has been a much longer-term evolution of consciousness. This has been referred to by innumerable thinkers, philosophers and mystics across many cultures – Teilhard de Chardin, Meister Eckhart and Rabindranath Tagore; and more modern mystics and philosophers like Ken Wilber, David Hawkins and Leonard Jacobson. My sense is that there is a movement towards an integration of consciousness which transcends the rational mind in its state of separation from the world. This is not the same thing as biological evolution, because as far as I’m aware it cannot be traced to any physical process in our genetics, nor natural selection. Of course the two are related at some level, as they are both part of the greater expression of mind and intention.
Given all this, why should we judge a person who finds himself embedded within a civilisational and conscious evolution which valorises the material world and separation? Why should we condemn those unable to see out of the system that they have been placed into? Regardless of what we see and perceive, whether we are skeptics or idealists, we are all limited by our level of awareness; and all our awareness is limited.