I have come curiously close to the end, down
Beneath my self-indulgent pitiful hole,
Defeated, I concede and
I may find comfort here
I may find peace within the emptiness
It’s calling me…
Our World is a duality.
Is that a true statement?
From the days of Ancient Greece and Plato’s Forms, our culture has assumed the dual nature of the world. A world of physical reality paired with, subservient to, or in opposition to a divine world. The realm of ‘perfect forms’ for Plato, Heaven and Hell for followers of Judeo-Christian mythology, of Brahman for many of the sects of Hinduism, and Nirvana for Buddhists. I could go on, but you get the point.
Over the Centuries, philosophers have presented a variety of monist theories of existence. But I would contend that they (generally) either contain the dualist world view within them, or avoid it all together by dismissing the physical world itself. The one major exception being the various permutations of Scientific Materialism (or Naturalism). To the Scientific Materialist, that which cannot be proven under the rules of science must be discarded as “…nonexistent, unknowable, or not inherently different from natural phenomena or hypotheses.”(link). While I commend this ideal, in actual, practical experience I find that most people that hold this view disregard the second and third options and immediately latch onto the first.
One issue that I have yet to see dealt with effectively is Consciousness. For dualists, it is quite easy: our consciousness/awareness is spirit. When we die, our soul rises to heaven (or descends to hell), or it is reborn based upon its total karmic balance sheet, etc. The Scientific Materialists will say there is no soul and your body gets eaten by worms. Okay, but what about awareness?
In some extreme variations, Materialism has gone so far as to “…exclude the use of mentalistic vocabulary (“believes”, “thinks”) in philosophy of mind. “(link). I don’t much care how they justify it. If a philosophical argument runs contrary to my personal experience of the world, it does not cut it for me.
So I went to my local source: my honey. He is a pretty die hard scientific materialist, and he does tend to fall into the habit of dis-belief, so I suspected he would be fairly typical of the entire belief set. So I ask him about consciousness: what it is, where it comes from and how we conceive of death itself; I was quite surprised to find that he is, in fact, a dualist. His assumption has always been that our awareness comes from something other than our physical brain. And then later he tells me of fears he has of death: he has imagined alternate dimensions where our consciousness returns once it is no longer tethered to this plain, or an eternal awareness as our body decomposes around us. We’ll see how he feels about these ideas and fears now that he has had the opportunity to take them out and observe them in the light of day.
So herein I come to a question. This one is for all of the Atheists in the crowd (and anyone else that wants to play).
What do you think consciousness is? What happens at death? Do you see any of the world as dual, and if not, how have you reconciled yourself to monism?
Tomorrow, I will be considering what I will term Organic Monism.
(Originally Posted September 11, 2006)