We can say that ‘extraordinary knowing’ is real. When Socrates followed his Sign, or when Leon Goltsman stepped back from a bridge that shortly afterwards collapsed, or when Gopi Krishna wrote poetry in languages he did not know (see previous post), they were experiencing ‘extraordinary knowing’, knowing that in one form can appear as a strong actionable image from a source of greater than personal intelligence, to those prepared, in many senses, to listen to it. We are not really concerned yet what the source is or the sources are. The god Apollo, via his Pythia, set Socrates on the way to his knowledge of how little he knew, so the Pythia drew upon extraordinary sources of knowledge.
We should point out that this is not sub-Kierkegaardian ‘leap of faith’ because it is not a leap. The leap of faith subordinates reason to a kind of insistence. There is no insistence here. There is knowing, actual knowing in the moment. But then perhaps the ‘leap of faith’ was always overrated anyhow. Our thesis, after all, will be that Western thinking failed when it came to much of our subject matter here. Then we must shift into something else and that maybe will seem a leap. But is it a leap ‘of faith’, when you can test it? Let’s say we agree with the Greeks that a virtuous life is a happy one. Can’t we test this? Of course we can.
Virtue is central to it; a concept of virtue taught by Mantak Chia is that each organ has its psychological virtue. It would make sense that the kidneys have something to do with fear if you think about the operation of the adrenals. Healthy kidneys have something to do with courage in Chinese medicine. Courage is a virtue. That which clears the way for ‘extraordinary knowing’ (which can be tested just as the results of any other kind of knowing can be tested) could be termed cathartic virtue. Courage could be cathartic of fear.
There is an all-important political/cathartic split of the virtues — a neoplatonist doctrine. Political virtues are those of the polis, those it takes to work with the world and the fellow; cathartic virtues are those which cleanse the soul. Undoubtedly both such virtues exist, probably many virtues partake of both kinds, and they exist in nature, and I think could be scientifically shown to exist in nature.
(This enables us to put luminaries such as the excellent Alasdair MacIntyre in the position of political-only, since the idea of virtue vis-à-vis the soul is perhaps not one he would acknowledge overtly. It doesn’t suit his argument, see below for reasons.)
All of this talk of virtue is partly a question of knowledge, and kinds of knowledge. (Socrates thought virtue was nothing but a form of knowledge.) If I know your behaviour is contrary to my wishes, that is one thing. If I know it will endanger your position within the tribe, that is something else. If I know it will endanger the survival of the tribe — or would do if everyone behaved that way — that is something else. If I know from what I know of the state of my soul that yours is endangered, that is something else. If I can see into your soul, that is something else. This is the smooth curve from political to cathartic… it is neither Hume nor Kant.
All knowledge is equivalent to assumptions which require testing. Knowledge is a kind of approximation. We can assume, calculate probability and assume, and we have to act on our assumption and the worldview which this assumption implies. Even if I can see into your soul, I may disagree with someone else who also can. Thus ‘know’ in the above virtue-curve is equivalent to ‘assume’. Partly, what it means to ‘know’ something is to have it in one’s worldview as what we call a ‘working hypothesis’, which means something that we hope will hold. I have, if challenged, to be able to give my grounds, which is why we must believe in Asking Why. Among my grounds might be nonlinear insight, ‘extraordinary knowing’, but that still can and should be tested. If I predict x, x must still occur if I’m to be considered correct. Much new age channelled material is garbage. Caveat Googlor.
It is important to reason from the basis of not-knowing. There is an assumption that ‘God’ is different from ‘Zeus’ or ‘Tao’ or ‘Shiva’ — amongst some. There is an assumption that they are all the same — amongst others. The two may stand off about it and produce a variety of forms of perennialism, see for example Ferrer of whom more in future. This is one of the best uses of reason, to model the way things might be, for further testing.
How close can we get to a particular answer on the nature of the Ultimate? So far there is no consensus. There is an ongoing argument, therefore there is no answer. We are obliged to reason in terms of possibilities, likelihoods, and other forms of evidence. We are obliged to admit we do not know Ulimately, whether by extraordinary or ordinary means. We have to leave behind any question of god being a ‘properly basic belief’. There is no such thing, there is only a set of assumptions based on evidence we hope to convert into ever-closer approximations of knowledge, and a best guess about how. So we have to reason on the basis of not knowing.
People still argue about dualism. They talk in terms of ‘substance dualism’ or ‘property dualism’. Property dualism means mind and physical substance show a difference of behaviour. Substance dualism means mind and physical substance are two different substances.
Both these positions are undoubtedly correct, although you will find few defending the second these days, but more — there are better positions that are not even defined yet. Undoubtedly there is ‘substance dualism’ in that there is a separate mind-substance. If OBE and NDE veridical evidence increases, this may be increasingly proven, that is, revealed as a likely approximation of the facts which we can add to our assumptions and worldviews. Those two substances also have different properties; maybe at ISSSEEM they will find a way to measure all this. But also, these ‘two substances’ are not in fact necessarily ultimately different substances! They can be different states of the same substance, and this indeed is the point of view of any mystical tradition. Steam and ice have different properties.
The work that has been done on demonstrating the existence of ch’i goes in another direction. There are many forms and states of ch’i, but working on my ch’i kung, I clearly am often working on something which takes into account both mind and body but is neither, lying between — the ‘soul vehicle’, platonists would call it. Therefore even the vitiated ‘substance dualism’, which is really monism, has now become more-than-dualist since there are many levels and furthermore we do not ‘know’ how many. People who make it their business to count, from Buddhists to Kabbalists, find many shadings. The evidence is their mental-spiritual process; this is assumption-knowledge built into their worldviews. If evidence can accrue for points of view congenial to spirituality, people who have observed these levels and shadings retain a head start. It looks as if mystical spiritual philosophy has simply been ahead. It doesn’t ‘know everything’, but it supplies major keys to what has not been generally known, things we can see about.
So we end up with a funny situation. Philosophy is split at the moment between those who see the importance of the non-physical and those who don’t, but it is not really a split any more, in that those who don’t see the importance of the non-physical are winning, in academia, often including religious academia. There is still all this talk about ‘dualism vs. physicalism’, neither of which is likely to be correct. It’s an odd place to be for our culture. ‘Religious epistemology’ is a set of philosophies about everything that interests me, yet somehow the idea of evidence is not included in it. At least not now. It must have been removed, around the time people began to believe that evidence for religious (and therefore for spiritual) questions could not exist. They were completely wrong.
They were as wrong at the time as they are now. This was a major split in the culture. At just the moment religious epistemology was rejecting evidentiality, Rudolf Steiner was arguing for a ‘spiritual science’, coming at the crest of the wave in whose less foamy bluer parts we find Goethe. At the time, what Steiner did looked very much like a side-avenue to mainstream philosophy; with hindsight, it is obvious that mainstream philosophy pursued a side-avenue to much the same extent, or to a greater extent. That latter side-avenue is paved with ridicule of spirituality on no evidence, and somehow religious epistemology went for the same décor.
The recognition of this will come in time, I’m sure. A lot of philosophy has been trying to point out that philosophy hasn’t worked — Quine on epistemology, MacIntyre on Ethics, have been saying that things have been tried and they haven’t succeeded. All this follows exactly the process which philosophy was always supposed to be about. What do we know, extraordinarily or otherwise? A big stocktake. Eventually we will be left with a series of proven statements that show a possibly spiritual nature of reality, in an evolving understanding, and a series of traditions for getting in touch with that spirituality, providing knowing of it by less ordinary means, also evolving, all of which will go further than the consensus view. But the consensus view will include perspectives that recognise the reality of the non-physical.
Alasdair MacIntyre’s ‘Disquieting Suggestion’, that every statement about ethics since the enlightenment talks in terms whose basis (virtue and the Good) has been forgotten, actually applies to metaphysics as well. All the attempts to abolish metaphysical statements and show them meaningless assume a worldview similar to the one which abolishes virtue. That worldview didn’t hold very long.
It may not possible to build a theory of spiritual truth falsifiably from the get-go. We only get things to test in the form of bud-offs from philosophies which work mythically or dialectically. We must proceed carefully in testing them. But there was no leap of faith, there was simply evidence, and there remains simply evidence. Actually it was the enlightenment that took the leap of faith if any movement did.
We should not miss that some of the most important aspects of spiritual “seeing” may not be immediately testable. Testability is more important than cause and effect thinking. For example, Spengler’s approach to the Decline of the West can be regarded as having plenty of substance given events since, although not complete rectitude. Anyone who ignores that method of knowing when it produces genuinely predictive results is not understanding the full range of human experience and knowing. Usually that misunderstanding is fear-based, so it would be interesting to ask, under the cover of setting boldly out for the new, what the enlightenment engineers were really afraid of. Maybe they were justified in their fear after all! Just because spiritual reality can be shown to exist, can we say that knowledge of it always produces the good in human beings? Manifestly not. To know differently, they perhaps thought, might be safer. But in the end falsehood is not safe. So we must dare again.