Science Meets Pantheism

As I wrote in my recent series on the Three Fundamental Views of Existence, the materialist/scientific view and the creator god view have very little awareness of the third view, which I’m provisionally calling the pantheistic view. Science deals with it most often in fields that deal with the mind. This is primarily because Buddhism has developed some very sophisticated ideas about the mind, and some scientists seem to feel obliged to respond to them.

I recently read an interview with Shimon Edelman, a professor of psychology who has a book out called The Happiness of Pursuit: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About the Good Life. My attention was drawn to this particular exchange.

You talk about the default human mind as constantly wandering in order to avoid the present moment, what you call “the tyranny of the here and now.” What about practices like Buddhist meditation, which aim to quiet the mind into a state of contentment?

That’s a really good question. I set out to write the book because I wanted to find out why I was restless in situations where I supposedly should have been perfectly content. You know, literally sitting on a mountaintop, seeing the countryside, I would still feel restless. And I think I found a kind of answer. To put it very bluntly, if you are successful in following the Buddhist precepts, you cease to be human. In fact, I think one can find support for this view in the Buddhist sources themselves. If you succeed to cease desiring, you are no longer human. Of course, the Buddha himself supposedly remained enmeshed with humanity to teach others. But if you do succeed in obtaining the state that you’re supposed to obtain, then you’re no longer human. And that kind of invalidates the questions because a psychology would need to be developed for understanding those kinds of minds—they are not regular human minds.

I find his answer revealing. First of all, the guy’s understanding of Buddhism is poor. Buddhism would say that the reason he feels restless sitting on a mountain top is because he hasn’t disciplined his ego, which is inherently restless. Buddhism—all true religion actually—says that there are two levels to human nature, the higher and lower. (Suzuki Roshi called it big mind and small mind.) The lower nature is the one with all the restless biological drives. Unfortunately, that’s the only side to our nature that out-and-out materialists recognize: our lower nature. The higher nature, which we don’t see much of these days, is also our better nature, and it is very much a part of what makes us human. But science can’t measure it, so it doesn’t recognize its existence. This is where science consistently fails. It oversteps its bounds by insisting on being the explainer of everything. But science and scientists are reliable only when dealing with the limited confines of the material plane. Scientists are human beings, and as human beings they have an obligation to seek out their higher natures. To do that, they have to go beyond their field. Science cannot deal with this kind of issue.

You can find the entire interview by clicking here.

I intend to write something someday about a crazy idea I have about physics—a crazy idea that I happen to think is true.

One other thing, I’m leaving Tuesday for Santa Barbara Island and staying a week. I’ll have limited access to the Internet during that time. If anybody has a comment that demands a response, I may not be able to get to it for awhile.

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4 Responses to “Science Meets Pantheism”

  1. Margaret Benbow Says:

    Shimon Edelman seems to mistakenly equate quieting the mind with dulling the mind. But I admit he brings up a couple points I too have wondered about. If a human succeeds in “ceasing to desire,” as Edelman puts it, he will suffer less, but will he also lose the ability to fully enjoy? I have also wondered if this aspect of Buddhism–refusing to put much stock in events of this earth–developed as it did because, in those days, all humans, except for the few most powerful, COULD NOT effect changes or direction or material improvement in their lives. Where (and how) they were born, there they stayed. In a practical sense, they were fortune’s fools. The only choice they had was either to crumble, or discipline themselves to respond with a brave indifference to events they could not control.

    • markbittner Says:

      As I understand it, the idea is not that you cease to enjoy. It’s that you don’t get attached to your enjoyment of whatever it is you’re enjoying. You’re able to let go of it so that you’re not bummed out when the pleasure passes.

  2. JB Says:

    It’s interesting you mention physics. Waiting to hear on that one…

    I just started a book titled “The Quantum and the Lotus: A Journey to the Frontiers where Science and Buddhism Meet” (by Mattheiu Ricards and Trinh Xuan Thuan). I primed myself for it with “Where does the Weirdness Go?: Why Quantum Mechanics is Strange, but not as Strange as You Think” (by David Lindley), “Beginner’s Mind” by Suzuki, and a biography on David Bohm who developed a very unique, holistic interpretation of the quantum theory (titled “Infinite Potential” by F. David Peat) – and who was influenced by Krishnamurti.

  3. anonymous Says:

    To study the way of the Buddha is to study your own self. To study your own self is to forget yourself. To forget yourself is to have the objective world prevail in you.
    –Master Dogen (1200-1253)

    What is no longer human about this?

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