Why did I write this book?
(An improved and updated version of this essay has appeared in my book Brief Peeks Beyond. The version below is kept for legacy purposes.)
|Author copies of my book Why Materialism Is Baloney.|
A thoughtful review of my upcoming book Why Materialism Is Baloney has been written by Tom Bunzel and published recently on Collective Evolution. One statement in his review caught my attention because it addresses a question I struggled with a lot while writing. Bunzel says: 'The “problem” with this marvelous book is that those among us who most need to confront its wisdom won’t have the openness to do so. And those with the openness to do so may not really require these explanations.'
Bunzel hit the nail on the head, in the sense that this is the question I was faced with when the book was just an idea. It is fair to expect that many materialists are so entrenched in their position that my book won't change anything for them. That said, I still hold onto the belief that many other materialists are open to sound argumentation and that the book may have some value for them. This alone, in my mind, justified writing it. Now, the part of Bunzel's statement that I want to explore further is this: he suggests that the book may not add much to people who are already inclined to a non-materialist cosmology. I meditated long about this point and became convinced that it's not true. Here is why.
There are two types of knowing: intellectual and experiential. The first is an indirect form of knowing that entails conceptual models in our heads. The second is a form of direct, intuitive knowing by experiencing the truth of what is known. Only experiential knowing has transformative impact. In spirituality circles, people refer to this form of knowing as 'knowing with the body,' or 'kinesthetic knowing.' Philosophy, on the other hand, is about intellectual knowing. It's based on conceptual models that point to truths, not on a direct experience of these truths. In other words, philosophy can help you convince yourself intellectually that e.g. mind is only one, or that the subject is not separate from the object. Yet, every time you look at a tree you will still see a tree out there, separate from you. Every time you look at another person you will still see a person out there, separate from you. As a work of philosophy, my book is about intellectual – not experiential – knowing. So how can it improve one's life? Why does it count?
It counts because we live in a largely rationalist society where the intellect has gained enormous power. When we make choices in our lives, even trivial ones, people around ask us "why did you do it?" When we hold an opinion about something, people around ask us "why do you think so"? These questions are requests for intellectual justifications for our choices and opinions. They implicitly assume that no choice or opinion is valid without such intellectual underpinnings. Society's pressure in this regard is so dominating and ubiquitous that we often require such justifications from ourselves. Even if our intuition or experience screams that a certain choice or point-of-view is the correct one, we do not find peace until we can attach a reasonable intellectual story to it. Many of us do not give ourselves permission to embrace a point-of-view that resonates with our intuitions and experiences unless and until that point-of-view can be couched and mirrored by an intellectual explanation.
The intuition and inner experience of many people today are taking them away from the madness of materialism. Neo-advaita, Buddhism, Non-Duality, Mysticism in its many forms, meditation, psychedelics, and many other paths to the direct experience of truth are playing an enormously positive role in waking people up from the trance of a materialist society. Yet, many of these people live according to a schizophrenic cosmology. A break arises between their direct spiritual experience and what their intellects can accomodate and justify. On the one hand, they experience a reality of pure consciousness and no separation. On the other hand, they know that a well-placed knock to the head ends consciousness quite effectively. How come? How can reality behave as though materialism were true, while our spiritual experiences inform us otherwise? We become split.
And here is the key point: I believe that a person in such a split condition does not give herself the freedom to truly embrace a direct experience of the truth. Deep inside, we hold ourselves back, because the intellect stays conflicted and in doubt. Unless and until we can find a place in the intellect for the truth that is directly experienced, I believe we do not let ourselves go. Unless and until we can make intellectual sense of the fact that e.g. the brain seems to generate consciousness, we do not allow ourselves to truly embrace, unreservedly, a non-materialist cosmology.
This is the role I believe the book can play. It can aid experiential knowing by couching it in reasonable, skeptical, empirically-substantiated intellectual knowing. In itself it won't be as transformative as a direct experience of truth, but it will help one open up to such a direct experience without the reservations that could otherwise block one's progress. As such, I ultimately disagree with Bunzel's suggestion that the book is unnecessary for those already open to a non-materialist cosmology. I believe it will give these people intellectual permission to truly embrace what their intuitions and experiences are already telling them is true.