Tuesday, June 6, 2017

post to vedanta society on planes of existence

Many have asked: how could one reconcile the concept of planes of existence (as in etheric, astral, mental, whatever) with any of the variants of science, such as -- most extreme -- Einstein materialism?

Clearly one CANNOT reconcile concepts like astral worlds with utter debunking, in the school of Hansen, whom many have rightly complained about here. 
I do not really view that school as a branch of science, but as a branch of politics. 

Still, it is a big decision for scientists whether they believe at all in powers of the mind beyond what is seen in the normal mechanical functioning of neurons, glia and chemical flows in the brain. It is very understandable that many sincere scientists agree with the analysis of D.O. Hebb, in his important classic book, the Organization of Behavior, one of the two strands of thought which started the neural network field. (The other strand was the Von Neumann strand, quite different.)  Hebb argued that parapsychology is a beautiful example of Bayes' Law, where the probability of a theory after experience is proportional to its empirical likelihood, its fit to the data (technically pr(data|model)) multiplied by its prior likelihood. Since psychic powers are almost impossible, apriori, based on our understanding of physics, he argued that it is very unlikely in the end despite the fact (which he acknowledged freely) that it long ago passed all the standards normally used in psychology research.  That was my own view until spring of 1967, when the likelihood term became rather overwhelming and inescapable in my personal life, and I revised my views to 50-50. Once it was 50-50, I then looked further, and by 1971 or 1972 it was inescapable.  Psychic phenomena and objective reality BOTH are grounded in our minds based on experience, if we are fully sane, and not just engaging in florid fantasy and ego boosting.

But then: how could one reconcile the two of them, objective reality and the full range of experience? How to reintegrate?

The concept of planes of existence is tricky. I certainly remember, back in graduate school, respecting and resonating with yoga people exploring the planes of existence (not just with fantasy), but puzzled by what could really be going on here. 

There is a nice easy-to-read book "What Dreams May Come," somewhat better than the video version on Netflix, portraying one image of another plane of existence, not so different from many accounts of the astral plane. It is easy for people to resonate emotionally with that book, but not so easy to sort out in clear terms what it really implies if true. How to make it more completely coherent? How to get beyond the "sponge thinking" syndrome, where people believe in multiple inconsistent things with equal fervor at the same time?

In my view,  the vast bulk of serious, accurately reported experience of "other planes" and of "out of body experience" on this planet can be understood as travel not in some other physical world, but in the interior mental space of "the noosphere," the greater common mind we are part of, which some people call "Gaia" (though I do not add spurious associations to that). All brains we know of have many parts and levels of consciousness within them; as part of the noosphere, we can experience different levels and parts. The noosphere is not infinite and infallible, but RELATIVE TO US it seems that way.

How can noospheres exist in our cosmos? The explanation offered by folks like Teilhard de Chardin does not make sense in tough scientific terms, because evolution on one planet alone is not enough. But this past year, maps have become available showing the vast web of interconnection of dark matter (far more plentiful than the mundane/ordinary forms of matter understood as yet in mainstream physics) all across our cluster of galaxies. There has been plenty of time and scope for natural evolution of the whole species of noospheres. In my view, the simplest, most natural explanation (www.werbos.com/Mind_in_Time.pdf)  is that "our" experience is the experience of a hybrid lifeform, a symbiosis of a mundane component and a noospheric component. Our own local noosphere is a young child of that species, certainly not a mature or stable adult, and may or may not survive the challenges which any young child faces in nature.

What fraction, if any, of valid, nonimaginary experience of "higher planes of existence" goes beyond the region of earth?

That is a very tricky question. All of us have limits on how far we can see, and on our ability to do reality testing to make sure that it is not fantasy. Physics and mathematics themselves do offer some reality testing here, as we might expect there are some things in those areas not known yet on earth which could still be evaluated on earth. 

Earlier I mentioned Annie Besant, whose books are still there on Ghandi's bookshelves in Mumbai, and who wrote about causal, astral, mental planes, etc. She is often described as "the number two" person in Theosophy, versus Blavatsky, founder and number one. Besant's books rang true, as authentic in spirit, grounded in experience (albeit not science), and I read a few myself. But Blavatsky says a lot about planets beyond the earth which did not feel right to me. Perhaps the immature, undisciplined minds of our world impose a requirement for pubic relations and fantasy and false conviction (wishful thinking, defense mechanisms catalogued by Freudians)... and she was not alone in that. Or maybe one of the various, very different florid theories about life beyond earth is more real. It is important that none of us overestimate the range of our vision. The less we overestimate our current range of vision, the better our chances of extending that range with time and care and discipline, the kind of discipline that a true scientist also exerts.

For those of us who live near Washington DC, however, it is a serious challenge right now how to cope with what we already see. 

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