To understand the anomalous we need MORE skepticism, not less

According to Jung and Pauli, things are connected in a web of meaning.
Photo by Bernardo Kastrup, hereby released into the Public Domain.
Recently, arch-skeptic Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and field-marshal of militant skepticism worldwide, wrote a surprising piece for the Scientific American. In it, Shermer relates a synchronicity that happened recently to him and his wife (both of whom I've had the recent and sincere pleasure to meet in person), in the occasion of their wedding ceremony. The synchronicity seems indeed to have been particularly disconcerting, impacting both Michael and his wife Jennifer at a deep emotional level. I'll let you read the details for yourself. The point I want to make here is this: Shermer confesses that the synchronicity – which he termed an 'anomalous event' – has shaken his skepticism to the core. Personally, I think this is unfortunate; it reflects a generalized misinterpretation of what skepticism actually means. Indeed, I think the problem with the militant skeptic movement is that it isn't skeptical enough. Like an army attempting a forward-escape when pressed into a corner, I think the solution to Shermer's dilemma is not to abandon skepticism, but to embrace it more fully, in an internally-consistent manner. Allow me to elaborate.

Jung on synchronicities

Skepticism is a general and healthy attitude of doubt. In terms of ontology and cosmology, a skeptical attitude translates into a preference for parsimony: if we can explain empirical reality with less theoretical entities, why postulate extra, unnecessary ones? Theoretical entities should be doubted unless they are necessary to make sense of things. The parody of the "flying spaghetti monster" evocatively illustrates why parsimony is preferable from a skeptical perspective. While we can't disprove the existence of the monster, we don't need to postulate it in order to make sense of the world. Another example: if you find footprints in your backyard one early morning, you could infer (a) that a burglar tried to break into your house during the night, or (b) that aliens from another dimension landed their spaceship at your neighbor's property, somehow stole his shoes, and then went for a stroll in your backyard before departing to space. Although you cannot disprove explanation (b), the reason you will certainly prefer (a) is parsimony: it only requires entities that you already know to exist (burglars). Explanation (b), on the other hand, requires postulating a number of new theoretical entities: aliens, spaceships and extra dimensions. Clearly, skeptical parsimony is a good and important guiding principle in our efforts to understand reality.

But parsimony regarding theoretical entities is not the same as parsimony regarding nature's degrees of freedom. Less theoretical entities may actually imply that nature has more degrees of freedom to operate. Let me unpack this with an example: during the seventeenth century, so-called "effluvium" theories dominated research on static electricity (see Shavinina, L. V. (2003). The International Handbook on Innovation. Oxford, UK: Elsevier Science, pp. 440-1). For centuries it had already been observed that, if a piece of amber was rubbed, it would attract chaff. Researches postulated that the rubbing dislodged a material substance, called "effluvium," which then stretched out in space mechanically connecting the amber to the chaff and, like an elastic band, pulled the chaff to the amber. The problem with this theory is that it could not account for electrostatic repulsion. So committed to their effluvium theories researchers were at the time, they couldn't even see repulsion: they would describe chaff mechanically "bouncing off" or "falling from" the amber, but not being repulsed by it (see Kuhn, T. S. (1996). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Third Edition. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, p. 117).

Photo by Bernardo Kastrup, hereby released into the Public Domain.
Precisely by postulating an extra, unnecessary theoretical entity that acted mechanically between bodies (that is, effluvium), researchers artificially constrained the degrees of freedom of nature (that is, they could not accept electrostatic repulsion, only attraction). A failure of skepticism at the level of theory led directly to misplaced skepticism at the level of empirical phenomena. So much so that researchers would even refuse to see instances of electrostatic repulsion when it was right in front of their eyes. Electrostatic repulsion was turned into an 'anomaly.'

Shermer, as nearly everyone else engaged in militant skepticism, seems to conflate parsimony regarding theoretical entities with parsimony regarding the degrees of freedom of nature. Proper skeptical parsimony is not about declaring things to be impossible. It has nothing to do with pruning as many degrees of freedom off reality as conceivable. After all, reality remains what it is regardless of our theoretical abstractions. Proper skeptical parsimony is about making sense of reality with as few postulated theoretical entities as possible. The very concept of 'anomaly' is a reflection of this misunderstanding of parsimony: an anomaly (if true) is simply a phenomenon that doesn't conform to our theoretical expectations. It doesn't have a different ontological status than any other phenomenon in nature, for the same reason that electrostatic repulsion doesn't have a different ontological status than electrostatic attraction. Both are entirely normal and natural.

Today, the metaphysics of materialism postulates an extraordinarily complex theoretical entity: a whole universe fundamentally outside the only carrier of reality anyone can ever know for sure, which is consciousness itself. Materialists do this for exactly the same reason that researchers earlier postulated effluvium: it seems to be a reasonable inference that explains most aspects of reality (provided that you refuse to see the anomalies, of course). The problem is that it makes an implicit and fallacious assumption: it assumes that reality cannot be made sense of without the postulated world outside consciousness. If it can, then, based on the application of proper skeptical parsimony, it is as unnecessary to postulate a world outside consciousness as it is to postulate the flying spaghetti monster. Indeed, I claim that we can explain reality on the basis of excitations of consciousness alone. This has been done in allegorical language in several of the world's metaphysical traditions. It has also been done in modern, straight-forward, logical language in my book Why Materialism Is Baloney. Summaries and overviews of my argument can be found in other recent essays in my blog, as well as in recent videos in my YouTube channel, all of which I invite you to peruse.

Now, the key point is this: precisely by succeeding in explaining reality with less theoretical entities, we realize that what materialism considers anomalous is, in fact, entirely natural. When we dropped effluvium, electrostatic repulsion also became natural. What Shermer considered a shattering anomaly can, under this more parsimonious and skeptical metaphysics, be seen as ordinary. More details in my book. And that reality is allowed to have more degrees of freedom under this view does not, in any sense whatsoever, contradict the proper application of skeptical parsimony. Much to the contrary.

In conclusion, in order to make sense of anomalies what we need is more skepticism of the proper kind: skepticism about postulated theoretical entities like the spaghetti monster and a whole universe outside consciousness (which one is more inflationary?). More skepticism of the proper kind will allow us to see that nature has more degrees of freedom to operate than we could accept to be the case before. And, as we've seen, this won't even be the first time in history that we make, and then correct, this kind of mistake. Michael Shermer has no reason to abandon skepticism. If anything, he now has an extra reason to embrace his skepticism more fully and in an internally-consistent manner.

(Comments are very welcome. But remember: if there are more than 50 comments below, you have to click on 'Load more' at the very bottom of the page to see new comments.)

Copyright © 2014 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. If anything at all can *potentially* happen, you need to be much more strict about that you claim *did* happen.

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    1. Ha, yes, not very informative. I'll save it for a later post I think! I need to ponder a bit on this.

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    2. Let me guess: you mean that we have to be skeptical not only of theoretical entities, but also of what is claimed to be empirically observed. After all, if anything at all can be observed, then we need no theory, for there is no pattern to model (patterns arise out of a contrast between what is and what is not).
      I agree.
      We need to be skeptical also of reports of observations. If someone reported to have observed a unicorn tomorrow I'd be skeptical of that too, and that would be a different manifestation of skepticism than to be skeptical of theoretical entities. I didn't address this form in the essay. I started from the premise that Michael's reported observations were accurate, and that synchronicities are widely reported phenomena on a massive scale anyway, so there is something to them. So I took that on-board and focused on skepticism about theoretical entities.

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    3. Yes, that's the kind of thing. But with the added part that the objects we experience are constructed by our consciousness in some way, according to perhaps some sort of enfolded patterning - the "snap to" experience. We experience our world in terms of mental objects, seen as external objects, in each moment. (This is why the world is always "understandable" to us.)

      So we need to be careful not only about theoretical entities (story-telling), but also the fact that the subjectively observed "pieces" are biased when they appear to us. This transparent "chunking" of our experience is also something we need to watch out for.

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  2. Sadly, Shermer himself is anomalous in the world of materialists. His co-religionists are not the least bit skeptical when it comes to non-material explanations of any phenomena, even ones they have themselves experienced. These are the same people who deny the fact of their own consciousness ot thoughts. Those folks will never get it. The ones we need to work for are the ones who don't really have much affection for the traditional faith cultures, but don't really buy the whole "meat computer" hypothesis either. And those people are numerous and looking..

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    1. I agree that we should focus on the silent majority, not the militant crowd. Yet, you reach the silent majority by engaging the militants...

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    2. When are you going to debate some of these folks Bernardo? I'd pay to see you go at Dennett, Rosenburg, or any of these guys.

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    3. I'd love to, especially Sam Harris (which would be a more productive exchange, I think). Only depends on them... but I hear they aren't eager to do it :)

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    4. Yeah, Sam got it about half right in Waking Up. He seems to be more open-minded than the others but still won't take the last (largest) step. But there is still hope for him...

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    5. I think Sam Harris is definitely worth trying to get into a discussion. He's a smart, thoughtful guy and seems genuinely interested in exploring 'the nature of things' rather than simply pushing a position.

      Bernardo's 'dialogues' he did a while back were very good, I think. Having that format with people of other viewpoints would be fruitful - i.e. taking the attitude that we are "exploring a subject together" rather than having an argument. Dialogue in the Bohm sense perhaps?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bohm_Dialogue

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    6. I'm thinking of reviving Inception Dialogues. What has always discouraged me is that the videos get only a fraction of the views of anything else I do (although the dialogues, unlike my other videos, are also downloaded on iTunes...)

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    7. Well, they are not obviously locatable really. You need to push them a bit more - advertise them on the main page, put posts here, include a transcript along with the file. I found them excellent, and given that they were option and free-form somewhat, it was genuinely an exchange of views, rather than the usual polemical approach.

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    8. I have been tweeting them since yesterday, and Deepak retweeted a couple... let's see if it resonates this time! :) BTW, inspired by your suggestion, I just publicly invited Harris via Twitter, also retweeted by Deepak and several other people.

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    9. It'd be interesting to get to the bottom of this "chunking" experience. I guess it develops gradually from childhood, so not something we can actually observe. Well - that's not strictly true - if you go into an art gallery you'll find you can get yourself to see a picture as just shapes and lines and blotches, then have it "snap into" being about something. It's harder to do this deliberately with the contents of a room, say.

      But of course, it's hard to delve into this, because you are exploring and investigating the structure of experience through... the structure of experience!

      Another problem is that it is suggestive of a "raw experience" and an "interpreted experience". To experience something is to understand it, to have made an interpretation without realising you've done so. I'm not sure how this sits with our idealist approach. In dreams, we just have the "mental objects" and that's that.

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    10. Note: That was meant to be a response to your "I agree" in the previous message!

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    11. Yes, I follow you, perhaps more than you think. This is extraordinarily subtle and difficult territory. I briefly touched on it in 'Dreamed up Reality,' where I speculated that perception was conditioned on some form of a priori conceivability of the object perceived (which links to an a priori interpretation).

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    12. It's leads to "ropes and snakes", I suppose. Not read your other book. Would you recommend it? ;-)

      Perhaps we are returning to Platonic/Jungian forms as a basic "structure" enfolded into consciousness; patterns that are "activated", snapped-into, unfolded as mental objects in our awareness.

      For instance, if there is an object partially obscured - say, a partial curve - I will "see' the whole circle. If I spot a partial view of a car, I will 'see' the whole car. I actually always experience a complete world before me and around me, even though I don't really.

      (e.g. A wall of identical portraits of a beautiful woman, but one has a handlebar moustache. I will experience the portraits as identical and beautiful until at some point I see the moustache. I won't be aware that my perception was 'incomplete' until that moment. In this sense, we more 'have thoughts about' our environment than really perceive it, perhaps.)

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    13. Lots of resonances with what I discuss in the book... uncanny :) Including references to Plato and Jung.

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    14. Well, it's not a stretch. If archetypical perceptual patterns are enfolded into consciousness, it's not much more of a stretch than larger aspects of the world being enfolded, and the 'physical laws' being enfolded patterns of interaction - including time as an organising principle, and space. Etc.

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    15. Just grabbed it on Amazon Kindle. A scan read reveals, yeah, we're pretty much in sync on much of this. Will look forward to a more leisurely read when I get the chance.

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    16. George, we devote a good part of Chapter 4 of our yoga psychology book to the construction of experience, beginning from early childhood. I've posted a short selection over at the forum; maybe at some point I'll have time to post more.

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    17. Great Don, thanks. Current area of research is that "pattern-snapping effect" and its implications, and the influence of reverse-programming it on experience, so everything on that line is good.

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    18. Don, I have nothing against you plugging your book/material here more directly and explicitly (e.g. a URL)

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    19. Boy, Bob is going to be SO sorry you said this. Bob, be prepared to be inundated by more reading material!

      This is not at all organized the way I would like. Each of these 3 sites has essays I've written at various times, some deal directly with challenging materialism, others offer alternative views, some are very cautious and don't challenge materialism but give clues. As far as an 'organized' site - our current site (which is not yet submitted to the search engines and will not have video and music until the spring), it superficially may seem like it's within the current paradigm, but if you read carefully, - particularly the page on the "core" - you'll see it fits quite well with a non dualist (or even an idealist!) view. www.remember-to-breathe.org

      Ok here's 3 sites with more "academic" essays:


      7.
      http://www.ipi.org.in/blogs/?cat=41 This is a blog I still keep up with, though it's been some months since I posted. The whole site is GREAT - it's part of an effort by a psychiatrist friend in India who has traveled to various psych departments around India trying to convince them to incorporate yogic methods into their science. he's had much success!

      http://www.infinityfoundation.com/mandala/inner_sci_essays_frameset.htm These essays are from around 2000-2001, when I first received a grant to write the book on yoga psychology. "What If We Took Indian Psychology Seriously" is by far the best, if you only have time to look at one. There's a great essay by Arthur Zajonc on the limitations of quantitative methodologies in physics and other areas of science, on the same page.

      http://www.integralworld.net/readingroom.html#DS Here I've posted several long excerpts from our yoga psych book, mostly ones not too directly challenging materialism but again, providing clues. Some GREAT research on intelligence in animals (even amoeba!) and plants.


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  3. Funny how the vast numbers of reported experiences of "anomalous" phenomena are categorically written off by so-called "skeptics" but then suddenly become worthy of consideration when the skeptic experiences the phenomenon himself.

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    1. Yes. Even funnier how much historical precedence there is for all this, yet we can't seem to be able to step back and contemplate the situation with clarity...

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    2. paradigm blinders in action.

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    3. Exactly, preconceptions are blinders for perceptions, that is why almost all " scientists" refuse to accept the reality of anomalies and in this case I am referring to the autonomous, amorphous objects that can be observed by anyone in our atmosphere and many people even refuse to look for them. The classical Cardinals attitude.

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  4. As usual you write like a laser beam. If nothing else, anyone who has contemplated otherwise but has learned something from this piece, can no longer pretend to believe that science has antiquated philosophy.

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  5. There are two kinds of truth: the truth that lights the way and the truth that warms the heart. The first of these is science, and the second is art. Neither is independent of the other or more important than the other. Without art science would be as useless as a pair of high forceps in the hands of a plumber. Without science art would become a crude mess of folklore and emotional quackery. The truth of art keeps science from becoming inhuman, and the truth of science keeps art from becoming ridiculous.
    -- Raymond Chandler

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  6. I still consider that idealists confuse perception and perceived object: perception is mental, but we have no reason to suppose that the perceived object is mental, and it has nothing to do with parsimony, because consciousness is to be conscious of another thing, ie, intentionality, not of consciousness itself.

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    1. See this:
      http://youtu.be/uArSolZX19U
      If this doesn't make it clear for you, then let's agree to disagree.

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    2. I don't see how you use intentionality to disprove Idealism. Intentionality and Awareness are too intertwined, IMO, to make the distinction you're trying to utilize.

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    3. Technically, materialism holds that the perceived object is 'mental' in that we don't actually reach out and touch the object, rather, the substance of our experience is brain wave activity. According to materialism, the self, memory and perception is all brain activity - that is mental. Regarding your second point . . . we can model our subjective experience as 'aware of x' - - where the contents of x are in constant motion and change. "Awareness" is what persists and can be located throughout all the countless x's of the day. We can make the claim "I am aware", and I don't need an x to make that claim. Re intentionality . . . Do we really choose x, do we really choose our thoughts - - or - - or is what we call choosing thoughts just another thought we think we chose? HeHeHe

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    4. AFAIK there are no good materialist explanations for intentionality. See the neuroscientist Tallis commenting on this:

      http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publications/what-neuroscience-cannot-tell-us-about-ourselves

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    5. I did not say I was a materialist; just seems to be a confusion in idealism.

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    6. Consciousness can *only* be conscious of itself, surely. What it is that "changes the shape of consciousness" - or does consciousness change it's own shape - can be speculated upon. However, it can never be known. Only consciousness can be known. Everything outwith that is "connective story-telling".

      Aside: It's amusing when people are amazed that the universe is intelligible to our mind, isn't it incredible! Well, not really - because we never experience "the universe" - we only experience our minds! If something did exist externally which for some reason could not be accommodated by the nature of mind, then it would not make an impression on it, it would never appear in consciousness.

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    7. Hey Juan, what is the basis for your definition of consciousness as consciousness of a thing, not consciousness itself?

      You might want to look up Robert Forman's articles on pure consciousness, where he disputes the idea that consciousness is limited to intentionality. The entirety of the Indian spiritual tradition is a testimony to individuals working with far more intensity and tenacity than most of what nowadays goes in the name of science to explore consciousness, and is in agreement regarding the self-luminosity of pure consciousness. If you want a more modern presentation, look on line for Franklin Merrill Wolff's essays on "consciousness without an object".

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    8. Even if there were only sense to speak of consciousness as being conscious OF something, to say that this 'something' needs to be an excitation from outside consciousness only postpones the problem: what excites whatever process outside consciousness excites consciousness? At some point, you have to grant that nature 'excites itself,' be it through irreducible laws of physics operating on matter-outside-consciousness, or through consciousness itself. My contention is that the latter is sufficient, more parsimonious, and more consistent with empirical evidence. To say that consciousness 'excites itself' so to produce the variety of subjective experiences requires no more complexity than to say that the membranes of M-theory excite themselves to produce matter. In fact, it requires a lot less complexity.

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    9. Is it not better to avoid even saying that "consciousness excites itself", and instead go for something even broader, such as "consciousness takes on the shape of experience". Then you get away from cause completely, which is good since 'nothing can be said about it' really.

      (Sure, I recognise that my own 'decisions' or 'Will' seems to affect the content of consciousness, but even that seems like an experience of consciousness taking on a shape, or me taking on a shape.)

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    10. Materialists can't invoke the Laws of Physics without becoming Platonists, since natural laws don't make anything happen:

      http://www.natureinstitute.org/txt/st/mqual/ch03.htm

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    11. George, yes. The situation is entirely analogous to quantum field theory: supposedly a quantum meta-field, when excited, produces everything that exists. Therefore, when not excited, the quantum meta-field itself doesn't exist... it only contains the potential for existence. Similarly, consciousness, without experience, is the potential for experience.

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    12. Good comparison. Except perhaps saying "not exist" is always tricky, but then the whole idea of "nothing" vs "empty" is really a language issue?

      Awareness without shape is still awareness, it is "nothing" rather than "empty". (Empty would be, a three-dimensional space with no objects in it. Nothing is, not even the three-dimensional space.)

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    13. I rely on common sense: I am conscious of an apple, but I'm not the apple and there is no reason to suppose that the apple is mental, for example.

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    14. I rely on common sense: I am conscious of an apple that exists outside my head and is itself really concrete, red, tasty, and aromatic (all of which are qualities of experience). I thus grant that the apple I experience, including all its qualities, really exist outside my head; is really red; is really tasty; and really smells good. Ergo, I am a monistic idealist.

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    15. No, that's realism; common sense is realistic, but common sense has its limits and can not tell us what is the nature of reality.

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    16. No, Juan. I suspect you don't know what materialism really means. Materialism states that color, flavor, melody, all exist solely inside your head, since all qualities of experience are supposedly created by your brain. It entails that the reality outside your head has no color, taste, etc., but only abstract relationships of quantity. The apple you experience exists only inside your head, according to materialism. There is something related to the apple outside your head, but it isn't red; it doesn't feel solid; it has no taste, etc. As a matter of fact, ALL REALITY you experience, and all its qualities, is -- supposedly -- a creation of your brain within your skull. There is nothing intuitive about materialism; only people's MISINTERPRETATION of it is intuitive. As it turns out, people mistakenly attribute to materialism the intuitiveness of idealism: that the reality you experience is outside your head (though fully inside consciousness), that it really has color, flavor, etc.

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    17. >There is something related to the apple outside your head, but it isn't red; it doesn't feel solid; it has no taste, etc. As a matter of fact, ALL REALITY you experience, and all its qualities, is -- supposedly -- a creation of your brain within your skull.

      Does materialism say this or does current scientific theory say this? This is one of those instances where I find the overlap between the two confusing.

      >There is nothing intuitive about materialism; only people's MISINTERPRETATION of it is intuitive.

      great line.

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    18. Yes, that's how I picture it.

      An unstructured "place" in which arise structured experiential "spaces" in which arises experiential "content".

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  7. How, where and why did you meet Shermer and his wife, Bernardo, and what transpired? I'm intrigued ;-)

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    1. At Deepak's "Sages and Scientists 2014" event outside LA, last August. It was very friendly. :-) We also had a panel together (kind of "believers versus skeptics" thing, although I resist this characterization, as you know). But the main clash I had was with Leonard Mlodinow. Michael didn't really try to counter what I was saying, perhaps because I was taking an explicitly skeptic stand and it might have confused him. :-)

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    2. If you have time, would you feel like sharing a bit about that clash? He seemed quite clueless and unwilling to open his mind in his printed dialogues with Deepak; i'd be interested to hear what it was like talking to him in person.

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    3. I've been told it will be on YouTube at some point! I emailed the Chopra Foundation (the organizers) about this last week. It certainly was recorded.

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    4. Oh, I'd love to see that. If and when you become aware of the link to it, please post it: I'd hate to miss the recording.

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    5. Will publish the links as soon as I have them!

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  8. Oh (tease on the way) and I'm glad to see you're now saying that people aren't "skeptical" enough instead of (though it was cute) people aren't "skeptic" enough.

    Actually, I kind of miss it...

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  9. This is also being discussed over at Skeptiko, where my take was that Shermer's experience wouldn't have been one that would have convinced me about the validity of the paranormal, even though I actually very much lean to its existence. I think we've all experienced apparent synchronicities, and whilst they're fascinating, one can never seem to completely eliminate the possibility that it's just coincidence and one's propensity to notice it.

    If I personally had, let's say, an OBE where I gathered previously unknown information that I was subsequently able to verify, then that would be much stronger evidence for me. But even then, I know a tiny part of me would be avoiding making a 100% commitment: maybe somewhere, somehow, I might have been exposed to the information. I don't know quite why, but it seems my constitutional proclivity to retain a degree of scepticism when it comes to my own experience: I can sometimes be more convinced by others' experiences. Go figure.

    I agree that it's humorous and ironic to find that Shermer's world can be rocked by the kind of anecdotal evidence that he's been trashing for years. I understand he's not, apparently, pleasing all of his followers over at the JREF forum, some of whom probably think he's going over to the dark side: ah, such schadenfreude! ;-)

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    1. Indeed Michael's experience, from the outside, doesn't seem so Earth-shattering... I'd call it interesting and intriguing. But there is much stronger, more amazing stuff out there, in terms of syncronicities and other things. Yet, when something like Michael's experience happens to YOU, I can imagine the subjective impact can be great.

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    2. Yes, I agree that there are more remarkable synchronicities. And like I said, I quite often feel more convinced by others' experiences than by my own (albeit that I found Shermer's anecdote inconclusive).

      Maybe that's because I know myself better than others, and am aware of my capacity for self-deception. I'm not so aware of others' capacity and may be more charitably inclined. I've certainly met people who seem breathtakingly ingenuous, with little artifice about them. Maybe Shermer doesn't impress much in that regard because of his prior track record? That doesn't mean his experience wasn't more than coincidence, but all sorts of factors colour one's evaluations even if they aren't entirely sound.

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    3. Michael I had a similar thought when I read Shermer's post. It may have simply been the straw that broke the camel's back. Or simply the story he chose to tell to publicly test the waters of a more open-minded position. Or most speculative of all, that it is a sign he will be one of those ideologues who goes from one rabid position to the equally rabid but polar opposite position. We have seen this leftists to rightests. Born again ministers to rabid atheists. etc..

      Bob

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  10. Carl Jung coined the term 'synchronicity',  "The simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection".

    Synchronicities often have to do with future events, almost a "warning" or clue of a future event in your life. The mechanism is not well understood but assumes a part of you outside time and space is trying to send the you here a message. This understanding also fits well with the idea that we are here for a larger purpose beyond our limited physical lives. 

    Perception of a synchronicity requires that you pay attention to coincidences in your life. Because synchronicities are not the usual cause and effect phenomena we experience here, they can be difficult to percieve accurately. A person unaware of synchronicities in their life are like someone going through life with blinders on unaware of clues that could better guide them. 

    However,  a person with a well practiced sense of intution is sensitive to their synchronicities and can act on that percieved information. Most of us fall somewhere between the blinded person and the fully intuitive person in our ability to percieve syncronicities. To become better at perceiving syncronicities conscious practice helps. 

    One way to do this is to consciously practice seeing events in your life from a third person perspective,  like watching a movie. When you watch a murder drama you more easily see the clues given in the movie as to who the killer might be at the end,  compared to the characters in the movie who don't see the clues until it's too late. This kind of practice, self reflection, and personal testing of syncronicities can become almost a sixth sense. Some become very good at this kind of precognition.

    However, this kind of ESP has its risks too. Misperception and emotional interference by our ego can lead to false perceptions. Therefore, great humility and ego detachment must also be learned so we don't mispercieve the information of the synchronicity. Finally, you must decide if you want this additional information in your life and the different choices you might make. 

    I for one, have chosen not to practice understanding my synchronicities. I see them like others but don't want to know what's coming. I enjoy the spontaneity of living in the present. For me, having more information about my journey here tends to spoil the story like someone telling you the end of a movie before you experience it, and reduces the quality of my experiences. I want full immersion in my journey. I also think I came here to have these experiences. I don't need the crutch of precognition to have them, even if it's avaliable. 

    It seems obvious that we would want more information in our journey through life, but are you better off knowing more about your future or not? Only you can decide that. No matter your choice, synchronicities seem an unavoidable part of all of our lives. What we do with them, if anything, is up to us.

    http://youtu.be/nQf30IS9vPo

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    1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQf30IS9vPo

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    2. I think we give the name "synchronicity" to coincidences we notice that seem to have meaning for us. Whether or not they're functionally significant is a different matter. I mean, did Jung's Scarab have such significance? Well, I suppose if noticing synchronous events causes us to make choices we wouldn't otherwise have made, they could be functionally significant, but whether or not there was any "intended" outcome, it's difficult to say.

      I've experienced synchronicities, but I can't say that any of them have caused me to make useful choices. I've just noted them at the time, and forgotten most of them.

      A number of things that have happened to me that have had great significance aren't like that. For instance, about 15 years ago, a co-worker just happened to mention a particular online course, which I glanced at the prospectus for. It seemed moderately interesting and relevant, and was very affordable on my allocated training budget, so I thought I'd give it a whiz, but without any great expectations: after all, I had to spend my training budget on something, and because of the low cost to students, I wasn't risking much.

      It turned out the course was extremely engaging, and not long after I'd finished it, an opening arose for extra tutors to deliver it. I applied with success, and that led to a decade of delivering it and related courses (which were actually well paid for tutors). Crucially, I was able to do that from home at times convenient for me. As it turned out, because of certain health issues that developed around that time, it was the only kind of job I could have done. I really enjoyed the work: better than any other I'd ever done, and it kept me going until other unplanned-for events provided me with unexpected windfalls.

      Thinking back, now and then in my life, events that didn't involve remarkable synchronicities have turned out to be pivotal. As a result, I've never been completely down on my luck and always managed to make ends meet, and at present, in retirement, I'm financially secure and comfortable.

      Are there quiet currents in our lives which hardly ever seem significant at the time that are actual causal influences? Synchronicities that we can only ever wonder about after the fact? Are the synchronicities that seem remarkable actually not so significant?

      I can remember one occasion on which I consulted the I Ching about whether or not I should pursue a particular relationship with a woman. My interpretation of the response led to me not doing so, something I had later cause to regret. And on another occasion, a particular coincidence that seemed notable at the time led me to pursue something, feeling the outcome would be a slam dunk, when it was anything but. Making conscious decisions based on things like that has rarely if ever seemed to work out as hoped for. It's nearly always been the little, hardly noticed choices that have proved to be pivotal.

      I'll bet that Shermer and most of us can, on reflection, pinpoint choices like that. We may not have given them a second thought, whether they led to what we think of as good or bad fortune (I guess we've all made bad choices that in due course we're thankful for because they taught us needed lessons). Our lives may be perfused by dimly-perceived synchronicity. The focus on the seemingly weird and wonderful, the pursuit of paranormal experiences, could be more of a hindrance than a help, and that's one reason I don't myself pursue them. Ordinary-seeming life could actually be more extraordinary than we realise.

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  11. Most, if not all, so called skeptics are really true believers in the iron cage dogmas of scientific materialism which is now the world-dominant ideology/paradigm in which we now all trapped, including ALL of the usual suspects that promote back-to-the-past old time "traditional" entirely exoteric religiosity.
    This reference provides a useful overview of the baneful limitations of the ideology/paradigm of scientism.
    www.aboutadidam.org/lesser_alternatives/scientific_materialism/index.html
    Please also check out this essay and website:
    http://spiralledlight.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/4068
    This remarkable essay on Quantum Reality and the hunter-gatherer scape-goating nature of all point of view philosophy and "theology"
    www.dabase.org/Reality_Itself_Is_Not_In_The_Middle.htm
    These two essays on the cultural consequences of the universal scape-goat "game"
    www.beezone.com/AdiDa/Aletheon/ontranscendingtheinsubordinatemind.html
    www.beezone.com/AdiDa/Aletheon/there_is_a_way_EDIT.html

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  12. Shermer's piece finishes hopefully with this paragraph: "The emotional interpretations of such anomalous events grant them significance regardless of their causal account. And if we are to take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind and remain agnostic when the evidence is indecisive or the riddle unsolved, we should not shut the doors of perception when they may be opened to us to marvel in the mysterious."

    So I would ask him, does he indeed take seriously the scientific credo to keep an open mind? Is he skeptical enough about normal science to be honestly open to the vast possibilities of the deeper nature of reality, which is still mostly hidden to us? Is he skeptical enough about who can be trusted as an authority for dispensing truths, even about skepticism? Somehow I am skeptical that he has been moved to do more than glance out the window, let alone leave open the door of the safe and comfortable "militant skeptic" niche where he resides.

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  13. Let me mention that even when parsimony is very useful for "explaining" many things in a reductionist approach it has intrinsic limitations in the sense stated mathematically by the Godel's incompleteness theorems. Any ideal, formal, finite description of a relatively complex model is intrinsically incomplete: there are going to be always properties of the given model that can not be described by the formal description. Reality can be argued to be the richest of all models, so any "description" of it by "language" will be intrinsically incomplete, this implies that parsimony is intrinsically flawed as is the dream of some theoreticians of building a "theory of everything", the reductionist mentality lead to complacency and out of hand dismissal of new phenomena that may be disguised at first sight as explainable, we are seeing that flawed mentality everywhere, this post is just another example of that.

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