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What knowledge mysticism provides?

  1. Jul 16, 2006 #1
    i read a lot recently about mysticism as means to knowledge.

    What knowledge specifically can it bring?

    Can ppl accept this "knowledge" even when its for them not reachable/verifiable, either due to the fact that majority of ppl don’t meditate, or because they cannot reach that level in mediation.

    Whats the difference between a scam person claiming arriving at knowledge by some mystic method and from "true" mystic if we have not way of comparing it, only accepting it based on emotional level of how well it fits our internal rendering of world?

    Can we have some hindu guru of mysticism meditating and returning with "knowledge" about "unknowable" just like we some scientists which advance course of knowledge?

    on what basis should we accept accounts of new "knowledge" arrived at by mystics?

    Is it objective knowledge? or subjective? (ie, is it different experience for different ppl?)

    or im a missing the point all together?
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  3. Jul 16, 2006 #2


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    For me, none. See below. Of course all of this is just my take. I claim no authority at all.

    Or because there is no such level and the mystics are deluding themselves? How would you tell?

    Indeed. In addition to outright fakes there are people who have genuinely experienced things but attributed them to wrong causes. Note that isolated personal experience of any kind is suspect; for millenia people believed on the basis of personal observation that the sun goes around the earth. With "inner" events there is no possibility of a check on personal conclusions.

    Well those of us who don't just accept scientists' authority keep probing at their subjects; see the many threads on the science board here at PF. Can't do that with the guys who come down from the mountaintop.

    If they ever produce anything that can be 1) reproducedby anybody who is willing to work at it, and 2) definitely shown to be not just some brain spasm or other physical phenomenon, then I'd be willing to take them seriously.

    I say Subjective. An important point is that not everyone who has experiences while meditating feels the "union" reported by some of our posters here. Some meditators experience a horrible, scary, world, and have various theories about it. So mystical experience isn't one definite thing but a range of things that different people experience.
  4. Jul 17, 2006 #3
    This is a very big and difficult question and I'm not qualified to answer properly. I should stress this. However, I could say a few things.

    Mystical practice (by which I mean meditation, prayer, contemplation, deep analysis of mind and matter, reading the literature, appropriate living etc) is said to be capable of bringing omniscience. What omniscience means in this context I wouldn't like to guess. It is a topic much discussed in Buddhist philosophy. However, it would include certain key pieces of knowledge.

    It would include knowing who one is, in the sense that one knows the origin of consciousness, mind and body, the origin of the universe, the facts about theism, what happens when we die, how to escape the cycle of birth and death, the illusoriness of ones individual self and much else besides. In short, it is said to be capable of leading to complete knowledge of ones own being, including specifically the certainty of immortality. The explanation for this is that as one own individual consciousness emerges from the 'Absolute' a knowledge of ones own being leads to a knowledge of the 'Absolute'. (But 'absolute' would be not exactly the right word). Of course, this will seem implausible to many people. But this is what is said, and if this relationship between our individual consciousness and the foundation of reality holds then these knowledge claims become reasonable in principle even if not very plausible.

    If mystical practice leads to truth then one would expect all mystics and meditators to share the same view (since there can only be one truth about all these things). This is what one does find. However, there are areas of difference on very deep issues. For example, some traditions speak of the one god, whereas for others gods are psychological projections, a consequence of misinterpreted meditative experience. But this is not much of a disagreement since in its most fundamental expression mysticism is not theism nor atheism.

    As to how we could test these knowledge claim there would be two methods. One would be to do the practice. Many people would not want to do this, or would at least want to be more confident they are not wasting their time before setting out on the quest. The other way is to read the literature, (which is also part of the practice), examine the claims made by the mystics and test these by reason against the known evidence. If one simply accepts the claims of others one is not a mystic but a religious follower.

    Some of what is claimed is untestable except in personal experience, but much is intrasubjectively testable. It is sometimes thought that the claims of the mystics are scientifically untestable but this is only true in a limited sense. It is perfectly possible to test many of their claims, and so far they have all checked out. Hence the 'nondual' doctrine of the mystics is the only one which predicts modern physics, having been entirely inconsistent with classical physics. A good starting point imho for testing the doctrine for a scientifically minded person may be 'dhamma theory' or the 'theory of emptiness'. This is because these are comprehensible to anyone, just like any theory of physics, and it is possible to judge their plausibility simply on the basis of reasoned analysis. These theories make clear and testable predictions.

    Selfadjoint - I know this sort of question can't be sorted out here, but I'd like to respond to your (understandable) scepticism. I was a sceptic for fifty years or so I know where you're coming from.

    I don't think you can entirely tell except empirically. However, it is perfectly possible to do a literature survey and confirm that they all say the same thing, which in itself is rather odd given their cultural, geographical and historical separation. One does not have to be an enlightened being to gain an intellectual grasp of the conceptual scheme of the mystical description of the universe.

    To a mystic personal observations of the kind you mention here are not be wholly trusted. In any case, it makes not the slightest difference to any mystic whether the sun goes around the earth or whether the moon is made of green cheese. This sort of knowledge is interesting but unimportant. The idea is to understand how and why the sun and the earth exist and in what sense they do. However, as you say, it is perfectly possible to misinterpret meditative experiences. Generally a belief in God as an objective entity is put down to misinterpreted meditative experience. But most of those who have held this view have had to be very circumspect in voicing it for fear of persecution. Even today Christian and Islamic mystics are regarded as heretics by most Christians and Muslims. Even as late as 1950 Schrodingers' publisher refused to publish 'What is Life?' because he endorses the mystics' view on God.

    Why not? Meditation does not mean giving up reasoning, quite the reverse. Don't forget that a fair number of physicists have been supporters of the mystical cosmology, and without going near a mountain top.

    Condition 1) is easily met, since the claim that everyone has access to the same knowledge is made by all mystics. A mystic is not some different kind of human being any more than is a physicist. Condition 2) is trickier, since it is not possible to show that any item of knowledge is not just a brain spasm. Indeed, it is not possible to show that there is such a thing as knowledge except in ones own experience or by inferrence from an organisms behaviour. In general the claim is that it is difficult to understand the truth not because it is so complicated but because it is so simple. As the mystically inclined mathematician Robert Kaplan remarks in his book on the history of zero in mathematics, the world may be more singular than we can think.

    It is true that ones experiences can be frightening. For example, a common experience is metaphorically represented by Indiana Jones's step out into the chasm in pursuit of the Grail. It is also true that mysticism allows of different stages on the path to knowledge, and everybody likes to speculate as to what they don't know, mystic or not. All mystics agree, however, that there is only one truth and only one mysticism.

    As for subjectivity vs. objectivity, bear in mind that the idea is to transcend the distinction between subject and object. As Schrodinger illustrates in his writings the mystical claim is that the subject-object divide is illusory. This is one of the many reasons that it was only with advent of QM that the mystical cosmology started to become consistent with that of physics.

    This discussion will probably not get far unless some specific knowledge claims are examined. Perhaps sneez could pick on something specific for discussion. Or perhaps this question should not be in philosophy.

    Last edited: Jul 17, 2006
  5. Jul 17, 2006 #4
    ok, i would encourage ppl who are proponents of mystic knowledge to put forth types of knowledge we can achieve by this technique. Even though in real life i keep my mind open on this issue in this thread i will represent the opposite camp, ie, that mystic intuitive knowledge cannot complement scientific knowledge and its use is only on individual on private level.

    further: from book "Language in Thought and Action" by S. I. Hayakawa, i will remind us that we should strive as much as we can to find/identify traces of "EXTENSIONAL" meanings in the highly "INTENTIONAL" debate. Let me define those: extensional=meaning of an utterance which it points in the extensional (physical) world. It cannot be expressed in words because it is that which the word stands for (a chair for example, or expression "this room is 20 feet long"). intentional=a meaning of a word or expression which is suggested inside one's head and have no physical existence/detection (a democracy, friendship, angels, etc). If we keep this debate only intentional we are to just restate our believes here, but if we can find some extensional things in mysticism we eventually exercise more than futile discussion and reduce amount of nonsense in our language.

    now: all my further discussion will be based on book: "why god won't go away" because its the only scientific study of brain and mystical experience and many years of compiled data on religious/mystical experience described i have read so far.

    ok, why dont you narrate your own experiences on the topics you describe mysticism has a shot at? (how do we go from personal experience to origin of universe is most interesting one for me).

    could it be, that our brain responds the same way to the conditions present during meditation? if so, sharing the same view by different classes of mystics say nothing about truth ness, but commonality. How do we establish its truth ? just because a lot of ppl practicing certain "belief" narrate it? (this condition im talking about is: brain's OAA (orientation association area. It job is to orient one in space. It renders 3d space of us, and "knows" our position in it and the outside. Meditation/other condition which can rise due to food/drink/sleep deprivation or heavy stress can induce sensory input into this area limited/or blocked giving brain no other choice but to interpret inside and outside as one => sense of oneness. Its quite complex as i read it so let me keep it as that).

    now question for science ppl: given that we can describe mystical experience completely by inner workings of brain in the relationship of sensory inputs and/or their absence, how can we rule out "mystical" dimension or higher consciousness since that has to come through brain anyway and the way it comes might be the way we described it. Meaning: can it be that we just describe/understand the mechanism of the experience but not its source? or, how to prove that brain is not separate from mind scientifically?
  6. Jul 17, 2006 #5

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    I believe that there are genuine mystical experiences [whatever that means], but I would never believe anything some silly "mystic" has to say.

    Instead I would tell them to quit chanting and get a job. :biggrin:
  7. Jul 17, 2006 #6
    Well, judging from Canute's post, I think I can get a general idea on it now.

    My opinion is that we don't know how consciousness works, we don't know how it can affect the real world we see, if there even is a distinction to be made there.

    But every fiber in my body keeps telling me that the key to understanding all this is science, or at least, predicting that which we have mentally seperated from our psyche.
    Science really is just a way of predicting everything which is not a part of our own mind.
    And while we have tried on several occasions to account for this elusive "mind" in our explorations, nobody has come close, and I'm really starting to think that we're just using the completely wrong method.

    A part of me keeps telling me that we have to take into account other things that help consciousness arise, not just the brain itself.
    The brain by itself is not consciousness, the stimuli it receives, the body and the senses seems also to be a part of it.

    NOW, to tie this in with mysticism.
    A good part of me tells me that yes, there is a possibility we can avoid immortality, or achieve it, with our minds, how? I don't know.
    But one thing keeps bugging me about mysticism that I think should be brought up, and this is a direct question to any mysticists n this forum;

    We have explained and predicted so much in regards to the external world with physics, math, biology and all the other sciences, what makes you think that somehow the mind is isolated from all this?
  8. Jul 17, 2006 #7
    Mysticism is a difficult matter. The logician Wittgenstein who later became mystical I think expressed it best when he said "Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, daruber muss man schweigen"
    "What can be said at all can be said clearly: and whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent." I think whereof one cannot speak encompasses the mystical. What one can speak of encompasses science. When one reads mystical writers one sees that there are always are always running against the boundaries of language i.e. to write or speak nonsense. There is something to what they are saying. W. is nice to read because what can be polar opposites than logic and mysticism? Read W. He is worth it.
  9. Jul 17, 2006 #8
    it seems to me we are pacing inside our own limits of thinking.

    To dismiss mystics experience as "mere" neurological activities, we would have to dismiss all brain's perceptions of the material world as well, since all perceptions exits only in our mind.

    on the other hand, mystics describe this "higher" state as beyond reason, and physical, yet these perceptions of mystics must be interpreted in rational terms in the brain, and form a specific belief about its meanings which are not part of the experience.

    we mean brain's perceptions, i would say and agree with you. But, is there a "world" of spirits/what-have-you which can be reached only through that perceptions, or is it that its only limit of our own mind describe its internal working? let see this example:
    Imagine prehistoric deer hunter whose clan is in the midst of famine. Desperate for food he hunts continuously forsaking sleep, spending great amount of time in wilderness. Even when he rests he scans horizon for signs of game, picturing in his mind the image of magnificent stag, which could feed his clan and save from starvation.
    Days pass, the hunter grows weak and hunger and fatigue, the image of stag becomes more vivid in his imagination. The vision consumes him, and his longing for a kill becomes kind of mantra. His thoughts become repetitive, his mental focus grows more narrow and intense. Soon, his mind has been swept clear of all irrelevancies, there is no room in his consciousness for anything but the longing for the stag.
    The hunter's mental focus has no spiritual component; his intention is to survive but from neurological perspective he is setting in motion the same biological chains of events triggered by the contemplative techniques of religious mystics as the strive to clear their awareness (and many times the practice of that is very austere, and ascetic).

    this is nice quote but without context for me. We may learn to speak, just like we learned language of math. This does not diminish the author's work, i just dont think it can be summarized into this saying, but i did not read it.

    what else helps consciousness arise? Consider this argument: i ask you "what is function of tongue?". you say helps your speech. i say, no, it helps me taste, someone else says no it helps you digest, and someone says it also has something to do with something more subtle as immune system. Of cause tongue has all these functions. Just as brain is multifunctional; but question is consciousness? WHat about ppl with Dissociative identity disorder, which may have multiple consciousness with no shared memories between them. They may switch personalities without knowing what person just minute ago said and felt. Does it put consciousness still in the forefront or the brain and how it manages to provide for all these different consciousness?
  10. Jul 17, 2006 #9
    The S-O distinction is illusory in physics in the sense that everything
    is objective. That isn't what is required for mysticism, where everything
    tends to be subjective.
  11. Jul 17, 2006 #10
    Whoops. A lot of other posts appeared while I was writing this reply to sneeze. I won't alter this except to reply to the last one. Mystical practice is the attempt to transcend the distinction between subject and object, and thus between subjective and objective knowledge. For exaqmple, Schrodinger writes at length on the illusoriness of the subject-object distinction, Eddington also.


    You ask some good questions. I'll try to answer some of them. Thank you for not simply jumping to conclusions about all this.

    Before beginning I should make it very clear that I am not omniscient (yet). All I can do is repeat what the authoritative literature states, adding some speculation of my own. What I mean by 'speculation' here is not guesswork about mysticism. On that topic I shall not say anything that has not been said by a revered and famous writer on the topic, be it Jesus, the Dalai Lama, Rumi, Lao Tsu or whoever, unless it's by accident. I'll also try to avoid appealing to experience (although in the end this is unavoidable), partly because I haven't a great deal to appeal to. My conclusion that the mystical doctrine is true is based for the most part on reason rather than experience. I'm trying to correct this problem but the process goes at its own speed.

    Where I speculate it is usually on the relationship between mysticism, physics, philosophy and religion. I'm no expert on any of these topics but again, if I say anything about them not said publicly by a relevant expert it will be inadvertantly. (Of course, what an expert says may not be correct, but I assume that if they say something publicly without losing their reputation then it might be true, or is not demonstrably false).

    If I could write briefly I would. My conclusion is that you have to be very knowledgeable indeed about all this to write briefly. However, for an excellent and brief discussion of the relationship between physics, logic and Buddhist doctrine I would recommend the Dalai Lama's The World in a Single Atom. (I like to think that this single atom is in fact a 'superatom', as defined in physics. This is what I mean by speculation!). It is semi-autobiographical, and this makes it a fascinating read whatever ones views. It is so simple to read that you wonder why everyone thinks the issues are so complicated, yet he’s talking about some the most complicated issues there are.

    The book has not been out long and I’m still hoping it will become a bestseller. For a book on physics it’s quite chatty. He says his interest in science was kindled when, as a young teenager, he found an old telescope belonging to one of his predecessors while exploring one of the thousand rooms of his winter palace. It is these chatty asides that makes it so remarkable a book. Who else can talk about what it was like to grow up in a thousand room palace on the roof of the world, or what it was like to be chosen (or identified) at age six, the son of a peasant farmer, as the fourteenth Dalai Lama, spiritual leader to six million people. He talks about all this just as if he was an ordinary teenageer, spending eight hours a day in silent contemplation, tutored daily by the greatest scholars in the land, then finding an old telescope in a forgotten room of his palace and beginning to wonder about science.

    For some reason or other the British had sent his immediate predecessor an expensive motor car which as a teenager His Holiness also found interesting. To deliver this it had been necessary to take it apart and transport it in small pieces by mule train through the treacherous passes of Northern India, across the plains of Tibet and high into the foothills of the Himalayas. Here the pieces were carefully re-assembled and formally presented to the Thirteenth Dalai Lama, who must have been a little bemused. Even many years later, in the 1950’s, while the present Dalai Lama was growing up, there were no roads in Tibet and the nearest thing to a machine was an ox. The British are a strange bunch.

    Anyway, on to your questions.

    Fine. I thought I had done that, but I can be more specific if you want.

    That's excellent. I'll take the same approach in the opposite direction.

    I recognise that you're aiming at rigour but if we do this we will kill the discussion. You will have begun by assuming that what is outside of our consciousness is more objectively real than what is inside it. But Jesus is clear on this. The Gospel of Thomas records him as stating, 'The kingdom of Heaven is within' and warning us not to seek it 'Lo! here or Lo! there'.

    I do agree with you, though, that we need to start by looking at what mysticism says about physics, logic, metaphysics and so on before trying to delve too far into into our own psychology, and also that we need to be careful in how we use our words and be sure we all mean the same thing by them, as best we can.

    I think I know what you mean. I'd be happy to relate how I discovered mysticism and ended up a proto-Buddhist if this seems a good way to kick off the discussion.

    Yes, this is one of the many things that most people find ridiculous about mystical knowledge. Few people consider it even possible to look through the telescope let alone see anything. Perhaps this question would also be a good place to start. We could look at the Tao Teh Ching in which Lao Tsu (or whoever it was, the authorship is uncertain but irrelevant) writes that 'knowing the ancient beginnings is the essence of Tao'.

    I'm not sure what you mean here. My usual assumption is that two identical brain states would correlate to two identical states of psychological consciousness. The state of consciousness underlying these psychological states, which is not brain-dependent, is said by esoteric philosophers to be identical in any and all cases.

    But this is where the linguistic problems start creeping in. This underlying consciousness is not consciousness as we usually define or conceive of it. Indeed, it is said to be inconceivable. Many Buddhist masters have gone on record as saying that consciousness does not exist. Yet they say all sentient beings have 'Buddha-nature'. Such apparent contradictions are caused by the clunkiness of the words we are forced to use.

    Basically, according to the mystics nihilism is not true but it is incorrect to state that there is something fundamental, and certainly incorrect to characterise it as anything like our everyday concept or experience of consciousness. (Unless, of course, we are a fully realised or enlightenened being, a 'buddha', in which case it is our everyday state).

    (A note. I'm not making personal claims here. I'm not saying 'I know that we all have this Buddha-nature', whatever it is. I happen to believe that we do, but so what.)

    This seems a fair point. But it would hardly explain why the doctrine of the mystics is so close to the truth that nobody has yet been able to falsify it. Remember that the mystics were claiming that what physicists call 'naive realism' is false some millenia prior to the invention of physicists.

    It's not a very satisfactory method I agree, but it's the one I use for trying to establish the truth of the theories of physics and philosophy. I've never been near a two-slits experiment or a cloud chamber, but as all physicists seem to agree about the raw data that their experiments produce I'm happy to believe their reports. Of course, this is not the way to know anything much, since even my theory that physicists generally know that they are talking about (when talking about physics) may be false. This is why mystical practice is not about constructing theories.

    Perhaps the first thing to establish would be what the mystical doctrine is and only then worry about how to verify or falsify it in an absolute sense. This was my initial approach.

    This is interesting, I may even get the book. If this is true it would be consistent with the mystical view of consciousness. I'd be interested to read some more extracts.

    Let's avoid 'givens' if we can. Nobody has shown that this given is plausible let alone true.

    Yes, this is pretty much what the mystics say about our everyday state of consciousness, and it is by studying our own consiousness that we discover it's source. To discover it's source is to 'die before our death'. (I.e. realises that the individual 'self' that lives and dies is a mental construct and that we are immortal. Scrodinger puts this carefully as: 'There is no loss of personal existence to deplore. Nor will there ever be.')

    This need not concern us too much here. The important distinction here is not between the psychological and the physical, but between the psychophysical and the phenomenal. Of course, the mind-brain relationship is an important topic, but the knowledge we are discussing is not of a psychophysical nature according to the mystics.

    Hope some of that makes sense. It's your thread sneeze, so I'll follow your lead on where to go next.

    Btw. I was wondering what people here would think about the idea of having a Mysticism category. At the moment Metaphysics seems the best place, but it does not really belong here anymore than it really belongs in physics. What do you think? I might ask the powers that be if anyone thinks it would be a good idea.

    Last edited: Jul 17, 2006
  12. Jul 17, 2006 #11
    interesting reply, let me get to it
    what we mean by extensional/intentional is concerned to language mainly, but yes that assumption is made and i think its valid one. We can argue lifetime about appearance of angles without conclusion. We cannot argue much longer than minutes about appearance of a chair. In terms of language, sentence with no extensional words have no meaning [except in our own mind]. When forming ideas in here my aim was to try to use words that have some or replaceable extensional meaning.

    if mind is linear, well-posed, and continuous. (im sorry for the jargon from math). Mind as i read it works (or brain in producing it rather) is far away from continuous. Our experience is assembled from peaces of images, sounds and other sensory perceptions/memories of them all processed in different part of the brain. Then presented as continuous. Basically, two exact same stimuli will not be processed the same (in creating its meaning).

    what "close to the truth" you have in mind which has not been falsified? Still, me saying that speed of light is actually 300,000m/s millennia ago does not make me right without knowing how why and being able to show it. (common argument of religious ppl that their scripture says this and that which was confirmed by science. The keyword here is confirmed! this means science has to confirm it before its valid. Just as science rejected and you agree with it, that south of equator is hell and water dropping over the edge of earth). Let us assume science does not exists nor its methods and thinking. Can we have this discussion? I cannot imagine that we could, we would be separated by our “credibility” measure based on age, status, social position as its proved by history. If you disagree, describe it.

    about knowledge: i have knowledge and understanding why and how radiation passing through medium is reduced in intensity by certain relationship. My question is, what knowledge mystics have that would resemble mine in this example in its definitiveness?
    The more concrete the better, if you want im gonna post the exact relationship if you need. (you can cite sources, that’s fine)

    the fact that when i speak about dog and pointing at it while you are standing next to me, we cannot have misunderstanding on what i mean by DOG and which one in particular i have in MIND. This much goes for science, and this is why its for me the way to establish truth about something. Slit experiment is easy to perform with water, but thats not the point, science is not its findings , the power of it is in it methods and way of thinking. Science is you standing next to me (or I can take you see the dog, or describe where the dog is and you can go see for urself).

    we cannot do it as i explained earlier with the extensional stuff. The way we define it determines if its falsifiable at all. Since mystics in general insist on its beyond-physicality, we cannot talk definitions of it , because we will reduce ourselves into confused beings talking high-level abstraction without a trace of reality. Imagine we embark on quest to define friendship but insist on rigorous 'scientific' definition/understanding as we demand from ourselves here. We will never have it, do you see it why?

    the book received many average review on amazon because ppl refused the author his own point of view in the last 2 chapters on the findings he presents very well in scientific manner all the way before. He says, that mystics just might be right, which is his opinion and he is entitled to it. Many ppl say, "oh, i think he is wrong, blabla.....". This does not diminish the research that went into it and presentation of it. Is highly readable.

    i read your replies as whole, and keep them in mind even though i did not mention all the points here, i will think bout it more......

    i would like to know now:
    why do you think mystic 'knowledge' is objective?

    is not interpretation of mystical experience bounded by experience of physical world? further , one must make assumptions interpreting it since experience does not provide us with nothing more than stimuli.

    Does not cultural/social circumstance play role in interpreting it? how come science is the same irrelevant of these things?

    What would you say to the fact that similar experience to mystic one might be drug induced? Does it make experience less meaningful or same importance. Can it be that the drug users might get the same effect in terms of chemistry but interpret it differently based on their immediate internal states?

    Describe the best you can you think mysticism can assist science at its efforts.
  13. Jul 17, 2006 #12
    I don't want to argue about this so can we forget about the intensional-extensional duality? You asked about mystical knowledge. You cannot expect to get a sensible answer if you dictate the rules the answer must obey such that the correct answer will disobey them. I'll try to answer your questions as best I can, but it's difficult enough to put it into words already without also having to think about an additional set of rules. I'm not saying that your explanation of that issue is wrong, just that it will sidetrack the whole discussion if we worry about it. It is irrelevant as yet anyway, so let's wait till it crops up.

    If you are right to confuse mind and consciousness in this way then there is no such thing as mystical knowledge. In this case why are you asking about it?

    Not sure what you mean here. My remark was that the mystical doctrine has not been falsified. This would go for any prediction it makes for other areas of specialist knowledge, i.e. physics, metaphysics, evolutionary biology and so forth.

    If these are the rules of knowing then I don't know what the speed of light is so can't know what you're talking about.

    Are you asking a question in this thread or answering it?

    I have no idea what this means. Are you suggesting that before the invention of science, by which I presume you mean natural philosophy, not earlier sciences, people were unable to discuss these issues? This seems to be what you've written but hopefully it's not what you meant.

    This knowledge of yours is useful no doubt, but rather trivial from a mystical perspective. I have answered this question earlier but I could give another example. Do you know of the 'background-dependence' problem in quantum cosmology? I'll post a bit of Brian Greene if you don't. This problem is predictable from the nondual cosmological doctrine of the mystics, most obviously from that of Mahayana Buddhism. What I mean by 'predictable' is that if this problem did not exist the doctrine would be false. Same goes for naive realism, as I've mentioned before.

    But please don't make me jump through hoops all the time. Whether you and I agree about the truth of Buddhist doctrine is completely irrelevant to this discussion. You asked a question, I'm trying to give you an answer. You don't have to believe it if you don't want to.

    No. I don't see why at all. Is this issue relevant?

    This is a tricky issue. I did not say it was objective because 'objective' has various meanings. I said that mystical knowledge transcends the subjective-objective distinction, in that there are two or three ways of looking at this issue. In a way it is subjective, in a way it is objective, in a way it is neither and in a way both. To unpick this muddle would take a long time, so it's probably best to ignore it for the moment and move on.


    There you go again. Slow down a bit. If what you say here is true then mystical knowledge is impossible. You can't ask what it is at the same time as denying its existence.

    No assumptions are required. It would be absurd for someone to claim to know the truth about something because they have deduced it from an assumption, or have a particular interpretation of their experiences. Mystical practice is empirical first and last. Philosophising about these things is perfectly possible and useful (although the Sufis generally advise against it) but certain knowledge cannot be acquired simply by philosophising, and obviously not from making assumptions. We might arrive at a correct result from an assumption but even if we do it will not be certain knowledge as sought by meditative practioners.

    Undoubtedly, and the less one knows of mysticism the more this will be true. However, ultimately no interpretion is required. Mystical knowledge (a phrase I don't like at all but will go along with) is precisely knowledge that is immediate, acquired in umediated experience and so in no need of interpretation. In its purest form mystical knowledge is derived from Being not from thinking.

    If I understand you correctly I would say it is because scientific truths are not very important. For example, if you had a choice between knowing how to unify the four fundamental forces and knowing what will happen after your death which would choose? I doubt you'd hesitate for more than a moment.

    I feel some drugs can be helpful in some circumstances. However, it is also a dangerous way of going about things. Usually if mind-altering drugs are used for this purpose it is as part of some carefully arranged and fairly occasional ceremony. In general their use is not recommended, but there are many people who say they have found the weed useful at the start. However, most give it up at a certain point since it becomes unhelpful later on. It seems that that some drugs can help break down habitual barriers, as Aldous Huxley argued, but whether they can do more than this I couldn't say.

    I think this is quite possible. In fact I almost said this above. But I don't know.

    My belief is that mysticism is the missing ingredient required by physics in order to overcome its various metaphysical problems. I also believe that in the end physicists themselves will recognise that without reconciling itself with mysticism quantum mechanics will remain incomprehensible. The Dalai Lama says much the same in the book I mentioned earlier.

    Last edited: Jul 17, 2006
  14. Jul 17, 2006 #13
    It seems to me that the most fundamental issue here is whether or not the consciousness exists.
    If somehow mysticists can transcend the objective/subjective dilemma, then it seems to me that this is also a physical event.

    However, if the subjective/objective problem is only created in the mind, that is, we are all physical and our qualia and consciousness are physical, then maybe everything is physical to begin with, but if mysticists deny this and say everything is mental, then it seems that everything about the external world and consciousness can be seen on some higher level where the body no longer seperates itself from the world at all.

    This is actually what I have been thinking for quite a while, that consciousness doesn't really exist as some single entity, it is rather a collection of emergent properties stemming from the physical entities.
    However what this leads to is that, if everything is indeed physical, then everything is also subjective and mental, which means the distinction we make between these two is simply some lower functioning level in our brains.

    So maybe, we cannot solve this with physics, because this is a problem we have created in our minds, but rather, we must evolve our brains and bodies into something that can comprehend that we are indeed not detached or seperate from reality at all, but rather so attached that we can't see the difference.
  15. Jul 17, 2006 #14
    Some of that I find interesting, in that it is has a flavour of the mystical view but is sort of back to front. Bear in mind that according the mystics our mental world is no more or less illusory than our physical world.

    But when you say we are so attached to reality that we can't see quite what it is this is something like what is said the be the case. This point relates to what Eric England has being saying elsewhere about the Absolute. Certainly the issue of self-reference is important here, and this would also connect to Darius's point about the boundaries of language and Wittgenstein.
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2006
  16. Jul 17, 2006 #15
    i must apologize for my incoherence of the last post, plz i assure im not defensive even though i may sound like that, take it as my limitation to express myself.....

    i will start with the least relevant thing for this thread, but greatly important for discussion:
    Friendship, is purely contextual word. There is no definition of friendship other than relationship between 2 ppl. The word may shift meaning based on context. The same goes for democracy, there is not such a thing as democracy except of democratical practices (acting certain way as society). This goes for all concepts which do not extend to physical world.
    SO what i meant when you said 'lets define mysticism and worry about falsifying it later' that we cannot define it apart from certain practices which can be extended into physical world. Give it a thought, but lets not worry about it here.

    certainly i meant it as guiding lines, i have no idea how those guidelines will be followed. But on the other hand let me give you example of dialog which this could turn into. Lets say you are Buddhist and im Christian. I will cite bible here and you will narrate stories of Buddha and other mystics. This discussion is futile and imbecile trying to convince each other of our truths (even though it may not be your goal as mystic , but mine as Christian who is convinced of his rightness). SO even if mystic experience is beyond objective, talking about it we must be able to justify it in some other way i would think that "oh, mysticism is right because it extends beyond what we can describe and talk about"....does not make sense to you either, does it?

    Maybe i missed it but could you tell me the results of this mystic doctrines? Meaning: tell me, yes/no mystics confirm life after death and describe it. Say yes/no mystic say there is no god and how they say it. what other results does it bring if you have knowledge of those?

    Dear canute, those are only rules of knowledge i know. To explain better; lets take my statement "there is 5th force in the universe, ie life force'. IT holds everything together and cause all the change. It unites and predates all 4 forces known to us. Is this knowledge ? I did not tell you how strong, how to measure it or detect it. I did not tell you how to describe it in relation to other 4. On this forum it would be called speculation at best. But what if 50 yrs from now, scientists somehow came to realize that life as the 5th force that unites the all of them. They learn how to describe it in math terms and etc.... Can we say that i today had knowledge of the future or that i was right all together? (my opinion is no, but you may be of different opinion, can you justify it) I hope, its easy to see what my concern is here with mysticism. I do better understand what you say that its beyond this description, but i have unintentional mental block to think about it in contradictions. Feel free to explain it to me some other way.
    i was trying to say the above

    im amateur thinker, ill be glad you to school me over wrong logic/inference or opinion. But yes thats what i meant. Without objectivity, we cannot exchange only opinions with possibility with both of us being wrong most of the times. We may agree on things which appear similar to us given our environments (Aristotle’s view held for 2000 yrs for example). We may accept it as truth, but is it? how would we know?
    i dont know bout it. ill be glad to hear bout it. Tell me if it possibly served as source for scientific enquiry into this phenomena.

    sorry, its in my way of thinking no intentions to make it harder...

    There you go again. Slow down a bit. If what you say here is true then mystical knowledge is impossible. You can't ask what it is at the same time as denying its existence.

    no interpretation of the experiences? i think i dont understood you, feel free to any length explanation of this. (if you r willing)

    dont let my inability to see your thinking so far discourage you. I know how it may feel, i been on the other side (i was very religious , very very very very, beyond what you would wanna know), and i was "convincing" other ppl trying to see the "deep" truths i had for them feeling frustrated that they were blind and dump in my view. (i dont mean to diminish what mysticism has to offer)

    mind expanding on that?

    while physics tries to reduce everything, there are attempts to deal with emergent properties and dealing with interconnectedness of things in mathematical way. Do you think if we develop ways of rigorous ways to deal with these things we may shed light on how these 'beyond" worlds work?

    take care
  17. Jul 17, 2006 #16
    Hi Canute,
    If you are interested in the East and its philosophy, the best place to go is the German Orientalists. These are the only people that have really understood the spirit of the East and we sadly no longer have such rigorous scholarship. Anyway, I respect the Dalai Lama as a monk, but as an intellect No!No! No!, not even regarding Buddhism! I think people like him are the ones that make oriental philosophy into some kind of mystical new age hocus pocus. Here is something by a great Orientalist" New prejudices have been aroused against the noble philosophies of the Vedanta, Samkhya and Yoga which it will take many years to remove. Why not take the authoritative texts of these systems, many of which have been translated into English and German, and place their essential doctrines in a clearand intelligible from before the philosophic public of Europe. There is no mystery about that philosophy or about the Mahatmas who are versed in it. There is nothing esoteric in their teaching, all is open to those who are properly qualified and trustworthy. Their Upanishads and Darsanas can be studied exactly like the philosophies of Plato and Descartes-nay, even better, because every one of their tenets has been put down in their Sutras very clearly by their philosophers far more so than by Plato or Hegel. It is difficult, therefore, not to get angry if one sees the elevated views of these ancient philosophers dragged down to the level of cloudy hallucinations, and rendered absurd by being mixed up with vulgar trickeries." If you want to know about Eastern mysticism, go to the older German Orientalists, no one understands it quite like they do!
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2006
  18. Jul 18, 2006 #17
    I'm barely scratching the surface of this in my mind right now, but I'll try.
    My theory is that consciousness is not just one single entity that emerges in the brain regardless, that is, we need for instance stimuli, a body, and an external world, for consciousness to arise.
    I read that babies can't differentiate color or depth of field properly when they are small, and this sort of helps me think that consciousness and it's qualia is molded as we experience more and more as infants.

    What would happen if a baby with NO senses would be born? Would it even be conscious? In my opinion the answer is no. (Although I do agree that this is the heart of the problem.)

    Well, in my theory it seems like, we must indeed use physics and math to explain everything, but we need to expand our minds to be able to see HOW we can explain it.

    It's an evolution thing, and just like apes are not smart enough to figure out thermodynamics, we are not yet evolved enough to figure out everything regarding the universe.

    Of course this is treading on thing ice, but it seems to me that if noone has solved it yet, and we're currently failing pretty much to do so, with everything else we've figured out, then maybe we just aren't looking at it the right way.
    Or we are incapable of looking at it the right way.

    Either way, it seems odd to me that mysticists and physicists are so divided, a person with true interest in the world would surely dig into both, before judging the other.

    I think if they united, then maybe we could take the next step together, or, as has been the case before, we have to wait for nature to evolve us into whatever we will be next.

    Treading on REALLY thin ice here, but I had to say it.
  19. Jul 18, 2006 #18
    That's ok. Talking by email is fraught with difficulties. One typo and a whole paragraph turns to mush.

    Why do you make an exception for concepts relating to physical objects?

    What I meant was let's see what mysticism actually is before starting to argue about whether there is any truth in it.

    Mysticism is not about arguing with other people. It is about finding out the truth. We cannot know something is true because someone told us it is true, and certainly not if they browbeat us into adopting their view. No amount of talking will give you any 'mystical knowledge' in the sense we are discussing it here. Btw., as far as I'm concerned Jesus and Buddha taught the same doctrine.

    It's not a question of justifying it. It's a question of understanding what it is. I'll try to meet objections but I can't justify anything. That's for you to do.

    Briefly, the mystics say there is a part of us that is not annihilated on our death. However, this should not be thought of as 'life after death'. The purpose of the practice is to escape life and death entirely, thus achieving liberation from suffering. (For 'suffering' read impermance, dissatisfaction etc., not just extreme forms of it.)

    Do you know you are conscious? Yes? In this case you have knowledge you cannot demonstrate. You cannot define knowledge as what can be demonstrated since then there is no such thing as certain knowledge. Indeed, it is impossible to demonstrate that we know anything at all. All we can do is behave as if we do.

    So, nobody could have the sort of discussion we are having here before natural philsophy was invented? How would you explain the vast body of literature on the topic that pre-dates this event?

    It won't. But I feel that before making all these objections to mysticism you ought to try and be more clear as to what it is to which you are objecting.

    Last edited: Jul 18, 2006
  20. Jul 18, 2006 #19
    Hi Darius

    All the relevant literature from the western traditions of Gnosticism, Essenism, Theosophy and so forth are now easily availble, as is a staggering volume of texts from Buddhism, Taoism, Sufism, Orthodox Christianty and so forth, so I don't really agree with you here about the Germans. But I agree they provide one good route into the topic.

    I suspect you have not read him.

    Now I know you haven't.

    Fortunately this has been done.

    I think I know what you mean, but it would be profoundly innacurate to say there is nothing esoteric in their teaching. I do agree, however, that these teachings can be studied as philosophical texts just like those of Descartes and so forth.

    This seems to me to be a self-contradictory statement. Are you suggesting that the Buddha, Lao Tsu, Chuang Tsu, Hongzhi et al understood less about their own teachings than did the older German orientalists who later studied their writings? This seems an odd idea.

    Also, we should not forget that the West has a healthy if largely clandestine mystical tradition dating back to pre-Christian times. Despite centuries of trying the Church has failed to stamp it out.

    Last edited: Jul 18, 2006
  21. Jul 18, 2006 #20
    because physical objects do not have ambiguity in describing them. If u remember the dog example. A chair has little ambiguity in it. Angel has all the ambiguity it can get in trying to describe it. (we can abstract very highly but then we do not talk about angels anymore or soon wont be).

    I did not try to imply i want to argue or that it is about arguing. I wanted to say, that without a ground to stand on (something where we can both verify truth ness of the report given ) we will, or we will just present our opinions holding them as true and if we are polite just hear what the other side has to say. And your opinion about Buddha and jesus is example of that. Im agree with you, and will raise you that all the prophets/teachers/mystics from all branches teach the same thing. But neither of us is right, are we? why is my opinion right? i fail to see that. (i still really believe that in real life. I do have more to that argument which i will not post here, but upon serious scrutiny i would not be able to ‘defend’ it very much i have a feeling)

    i concur here, that might be the best way to start ...[I guess here we mean just collect all the experiences and see what emerges?]

    2 answers here:
    1. i know im conscious because i saw dead ppl which i can claim do not respond way conscious person does. Some ppl claim everything is conscious to some degree. Do you think its knowledge? I firmly hold that knowledge is that which can be confirmed/demonstrated and/or reason derived(reason not based on desires, that I call wishful thinking) if nothing else is available.
    So Aristotle had knowledge based on reasoning! That knowledge proved to be wrong, but still at his time it was knowledge.
    2. we know nothing with absolute certainty. Physics model and describe what we observe. It does not mean thats how it is. i would agree with that.
    Can you state your point on this one?

    We could present our opinions on the matter but no conclusion could be drawn objectively (i would limits this particular objectivity into physical things, however, what we see today as physical such as lightning, centuries ago was in domain of unapproachable and highly beyond physical. I have hard time not seeing this limitation in our discussion). If there were conclusions, there were based on our mutual agreement on things, not on the true essence of the thing discussed.
    The vast literature were philosophical opinions. One example comes to me perfect to this is: al-ghazali and Averroes writing books in reply to each other. (incoherence of the philosophers and the reply was 'incoherence of the incoherence). But i see difficulty on this particular topic of objectivity. This does not mean that we are hopeless in scientific approach to it, just as kepler's law was incomplete and on something wrong all together, copernicus expanded, and newton derived the whole thing, followed by einstein, and maybe later on by quantum.......

    Anyway, i think we are far off from what i was interested in.
    so question: is mysticism evolving in its methods and aims or not?

    what is main/ultimate goal of mysticism?

    do you think mystics are more 'complete' humans? in other words, if some ppl never had mystic experience nor are they interested they somehow missed their purpose/humanity/spirituality?

    which brings me to, do you belief that humans have purpose, or natural tendency to explore mystic experience?

    can someone apply mystic 'recommendations' such as get rid of ego, without having mystic experience?

    if you have time i would like more than yes/no answers. Your belief is fine, if you want to narrate Buddhist one or other is fine too.

    how do you justify/explain the irrationality of mystics by placing consciousness before existence?
    mystical philosophical systems stress the integration of opposites (the yin and yang), in hope of bridging the gulf between existence and non-existence, and of all other opposites, whether conceptualizations or concretes (physical "things"). However, this is irrational. Existence is all there is, and non-existence is not another kind of something;" it is nothing. It is existence, and not consciousness, that is the starting point of knowledge. Religions, by assuming consciousness as the primary, start off with an irrational, contradictory premise: Consciousness presupposes the existence of an entity, and consciousness, properly understood, is a property of that entity.

    By placing consciousness rather than existence as the primary fact from which we derive all our knowledge, is fundamentally irrational.
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