Natural Spirituality vs Supernaturalism

From: Will
Sent on: Wednesday, October 24, 2007 10:00 PM
You can read the entire exchange from the beginning on our Yahoo Group Website:
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Moral-Atheist/
Below: Larry responds to my recent Post and I respond to his response

LARRY RESPONDS:
Okay, Will,

 For one thing, I agree that even if paranormal abilities do exist that still doesn't imply proof of the supernatural (depending on which abilities they are). But more importantly, each person has a subjective basis for reality. Now, one might choose to use science to support that basis, but the basis itself is never science. My question is how do you personally define the distinction between healthy subjective imagery and belief in some kind of intelligent design or universal order? In other words, are you saying there's no healthy subjective imagery that can stand for the basis of reality?

 My opinion is that the mind will formulate some sort of sense of (at least) personal order just to function and survive, and that will be based in subjectivity. Subjectivity is much more basic to human consciousness than objectivity. Subjectivity comes naturally. Objectivity requires discipline and great focusing. Therefore, what is real is ultimately decided subjectively, even if objectivity is used to support the decision. Instead of minimizing subjectivity I believe we all ought to be exploring it and understanding it better--not trying to suppress or ignore it.

An existential "void" is not necessarily a healthy thing. I'm very existentialist but I don't have that void. In order to grow we have to acknowledge and own what's real to us. Being around others who belittle ideas one holds precious is not really helpful for acknowledging and owning what's real to oneself. There are reasons people hold onto supernatural belief besides mere philosophical laziness and psychological ignorance. [Granted, those two phenomena do account for a great deal of supernatural belief.] People need something very positive and inspiring to help them see how to direct their lives. Aimlessness is not very edifying. I believe many people hold onto supernaturalism because they don't know of anything more inspiring being offered.
 
So much of the world's problems originate in people losing touch with the awe and wonder and limitless opportunity they experienced as children. To me it's more important to believe in supernaturalism and retain at least some of that creative imagination and love of life than to be the kind of atheist who doesn't see anything inspiring or fascinatingly motivating in life. (I am an atheist but not that kind.) Atheists have a chance to inspire supernaturalists but mostly atheists just tear them down. Many atheists actually say they don't believe in anything at all. I think that's ridiculous and I think they're lying to themselves and others. Atheists have the wonderful opportunity of embracing their own subjectivity without needing supernaturalism, but I don't really see atheists doing that. I see them discounting their subjectivity as much as possible. The answers for healing the world are subjective, not objective.
 
You see, getting back to your question, I don't draw any line between supernaturalism and creative self-order. The two perspectives overlap psychologically. What one day may seem like "being in touch with universal order" might the next day be seen as "being in touch with oneself", and vice versa. The best way to understand subjectivity is not to nail it down and judge it, but to follow and notice wherever it goes naturally. Patterns will emerge and those patterns can be used to direct one's own growth process. Who we are is a matter of relationships BETWEEN ideas, not the ideas themselves. I know this gets into metaphilosophy but reality is ultimately a metaphilosophical issue and not merely metaphysical. You see, I believe that what ideas are made of is actually not physical at all, therefore I'm dualistic. And it's the ideas that provide meaning, wonder and realness to life, not physical things.
 
To me supernaturalism is an immature, underdeveloped, misguided attempt at creative self-order, but that's better than no creative attempt at all.
 
You mention your own experiences with out-of-body, white light and Zen enlightenment. My response to that is I believe those things are real to you and possibly they did happen in some physical way that's hard to prove, but that wouldn't necessarily imply supernaturalism. An atheist can be spiritual and have paranormal experiences. There is so much about the human mind and the human condition which we still don't know much about. That doesn't mean any of that stuff is supernatural in nature. Unknown might only mean unknown.
 
 I don't think consciousness is separate from the brain, but I also don't think consciousness is who and what we are. I am currently writing about who and what we are in my book and I think many people will be very surprised to discover who and what we really are.
 
 Ah, you speak of the analog expression of self in terms of Zen enlightenment. I do believe there is some merit in what you say there but I also think you overstate the positive nature of Zen enlightenment. If Zen offers so much enlightenment then why haven't the enlightened been enlightened enough to find ways to enlighten the rest of us? To me real enlightenment means finding ways to communicate it so that others will definitely understand it. To me real enlightenment has to be much more than just one individual's esoteric experience. It has to enlighten the entire world's human condition, not just one's own condition. To me all people are very connected so real enlightenment cannot happen unless there is real communication of real order. I'm not saying that what is perceived as a Zen experience isn't wonderful, but let's use that word "enlightenment" very carefully. There's enlightenment and then there's ENLIGHTENMENT. LOL To me enlightenment is a relative term,
just like love, reality, subjective truth, peace, identity, and health.
 
I may not have answered your questions as directly as you wanted, but in my own way here I've tried to help you understand where I'm coming from. Hmmm, maybe when I finish my book I should send you a copy and you can send me a copy of yours dealing with reality and metaphysics. I mean that. I do find you very interesting. And I sincerely want to know what you find inspiring/motivatin g and how you decide what's subjectively real.

 In friendship,
 
 Larry

WILL RESPONDS:
Larry,
Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
<<<My question is how do you personally define the distinction between healthy subjective imagery and belief in some kind of intelligent design or universal order?>>>
A god, intelligent design, universal order are all external to the person.  But the real work that must be done is internal - inside your own mind.  I think people create these external beliefs in order to avoid the hard work of self-transformation .  It is burdensome to realize that you and you alone are ultimately responsible for your state of mind; your happiness.  It is easier to believe that some external agency will "save" you.  This is especially true of those starting out on the journey as they may feel like they are lost in the forest without a compass or guide.
Praying to a deity to save you is escapism. Using archetypal imagery to communicate with your unconscious is transformational.
<<<In other words, are you saying there's no healthy subjective imagery that can stand for the basis of reality?>>>
Subjective imagery that requires or supports the belief in supernatural forces is wrong and unhealthy.  Supernaturalism is nihilistic - it pushes away the (real) world.  It is the real world, the real self, that you must become intimately acquainted with in order to become a dynamic person.
A couple of weeks ago I had a dream.  In the dream I was standing at the edge of a lake.  It suddenly occurred to me that I might be able to walk on its surface.  I carefully stepped onto the surface of the lake. I was doing it! I was walking on water!  But just then the entire enterprise fell into doubt in my mind and I began to sink.  I had sunk up to my ankles when I thought "If you believe you can do it, you can!"  I summoned up the belief and I was once more able to walk on water.
This dream is in the language of the subjective and unconscious.  What I take from it is that you can accomplish great things if you believe in yourself.  It would be entirely good if I were to use this imagery in meditation to bolster my self-confidence.  In this image I would be communicating with my unconscious in the only language it knows - symbol and metaphor.
But if from this dream I took the lesson that I could transcend nature and actually walk on water or that someone in the past had done such a thing, then this would be an extremely unfortunate interpretation of the dream.
<<<Subjectivity is much more basic to human consciousness than objectivity.>>>
It is better connected to the unconscious.
<<<Objectivity requires discipline and great focusing. >>>
So does subjectivity.   Your internal subjective environment  (instinct, motivation, emotion, implicit attitudes)  like a garden, requires careful  cultivation over years.  This can only happen through introspection and experiences.  Through introspection we can learn what we fear.  Experiences are the tools we can use to alleviate those fears and learn about ourselves.  But this requires integrity and courage.  The integrity to be honest about what our fears are and the courage to face those fears.
Many people I meet became atheists because of a deeply felt sense of personal integrity; a deeply felt sense of right and wrong.  How different this is from the conventional wisdom that views atheists as untrustworthy! 
<<<Instead of minimizing subjectivity I believe we all ought to be exploring it and understanding it better--not trying to suppress or ignore it.>>>
That is exactly my intention.  The choice between the subjective and objective is a false choice. We can have both in abundance.  A dynamic synthesis of the two.
Their is good reasoning and bad reasoning.  But there is also good emoting and bad emoting.  Good intuitions and bad intuitions.  The subjective establishes the validity of the objective and the objective establishes the validity of the subjective.  You must constantly struggle to justify the two modes - to make them agree.  This is done through creative philosophies and through a creative reordering of the garden.  The objective and subjective are co-emergent.  The two together provide a three dimensional vision of reality - either of them alone, one-dimensional.
<<<I believe many people hold onto supernaturalism because they don't know of anything more inspiring being offered.>>
This is one of the motivations behind the book I am writing.  To explain how a naturalistic vision of spirituality can be more compelling and personally enriching than the supernatural version.
<<<To me it's more important to believe in supernaturalism and retain at least some of that creative imagination and love of life than to be the kind of atheist who doesn't see anything inspiring or fascinatingly motivating in life.>>>
To me, the atheists devotion to truth in the face of cultural opposition is heroic.  Everybody in this group are heroes.  But my message to atheists is:  your journey did not end when you declared yourself an atheist.  There are still more opportunities for even greater heroism.
<<<I don't draw any line between supernaturalism and creative self-order. The two perspectives overlap psychologically.>>>
I disagree. They are like night an day.  I believe that a natural spirituality requires integrity, courage and genuine psychological change.  A supernatural spirituality requires none of these things.  The former embraces the world (objectively and subjectively) the latter pushes the world away.
<<<The best way to understand subjectivity is not to nail it down and judge it, but to follow and notice wherever it goes naturally.>>>
What if it naturally leads to the Twin Towers?  Beliefs have consequences for the believer.  If you believe that you have a soul, then you have in a very fundamental way defined your relationship to the Universe. All your thoughts and actions will in some way be influenced by this perceived relationship.  we make value judgments concerning people's subjective states all the time.
I think what you are really objecting to is the perception that objectivity is necessarily dismissive of and damaging to subjective experience.  This is not the case.  Objectivity informs the subjective even as the subjective informs the objective. They are co-emergent.
<<<To me supernaturalism is an immature, underdeveloped, misguided attempt at creative self-order, but that's better than no creative attempt at all.>>>
I am not against the idea of the lame having a crutch - if they realize that it is a crutch and are working toward standing on their own two feet.
Some crutches cause less dependence than others.  Deism is better than theism and believing that you cannot die because you exist in an infinite number of parallel universes is better than Deism.
If all strains of the supernatural virus were benign there would probably be little motivation for creating a group like this, but that is not the case.  There are deadly strains out there that threaten to destroy the world.  Even benign strains can mutate into something threatening.  For example, up until 20 years ago the evangelical movement in this country was mostly apolitical. Then it mutated and infiltrated the political process.  How many more people have contracted AIDS in Africa because our religious-infected government spends money in Africa on abstinence preaching instead of condoms?  Beliefs have consequences.
<<<You mention your own experiences with out-of-body, white light and Zen enlightenment. My response to that is I believe those things are real to you and possibly they did happen in some physical way that's hard to prove, but that wouldn't necessarily imply supernaturalism. An atheist can be spiritual and have paranormal experiences.>>>
The point is that I do not interpret any of these experiences as being supernatural, but I still find them meaningful for what they can teach me about the nature of the mind. They are also meaningful because of the changes they have wrought in my personality.
<<<I do believe there is some merit in what you say there but I also think you overstate the positive nature of Zen enlightenment.>>>
I can only speak to my own personal experience.  Attaining enlightenment was the single most important event of my life.  It heralded a wholesale change in my personality that has persisted to this day.  I would not be half the person I am today without that experience.
If I could induce that experience in others on demand, I would quickly become the richest person on the planet.
There are two parts to this question of enlightenment. 
The first is enlightenment as a psychological therapy. Although I have developed a theoretical model of what enlightenment is and why it exists, I still have many unanswered questions:
1. Is there something about my particular personality type that made me susceptible to this experience?
2. If so what is it?
3. How prevalent is this personality type in the general population?
4. What is the success rate among Zen practitioners?
5. If enlightenment could be induced would the effects always be 100% positive?
6. What are the possible side-effects if any?
7. Are there cultural differences that provide for reduced or pronounced susceptibility?
8. How long lasting are the effects.
9. How would you measure the effects?
10. How can you test for the psychodynamic change that is enlightenment?
11. Are there measurable cognitive changes that come with enlightenment?

The second is enlightenment as a psychological model and theory.  I define enlightenment as a psychodynamic change with definable characteristics and affects.
I believe that understanding what enlightenment is and why it exists is the key to understanding the human condition. i.e  supernaturalism, existential angst, contra-causal free will etc. 
It explains the disconnect between how we experience reality and how we think about it.  It explains the human penchant for duality and why we feel that the objective and the subjective contradict each other.
<<<let's use that word "enlightenment" very carefully>>>
For now we are stuck with it.  Because I am precisely defining enlightenment in psychological terms, I could call it anything. I keep the word enlightenment in order to give recognition to the Zen tradition and to communicate the idea that this psychological change is not something totally new that I just discovered.  It was discovered thousands of years ago.

Warm regards,

Will

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