Truth here is for the growing awareness of a conscious grasp of the universe, abundant in its demonstrable creative possibilities and brimming with sources for further inquiry and study. Like any movement created by people there are elements which can be problematic in the thinking as ideas are hashed out and numbers grow, creating a soup of variegated elements that by and large is truly delicious though at times may become a tad bitter. There is a tendency here as there is in any religious or spiritual movement, particularly those unfortunately labeled “new age,” to be so open to new ideas that, as one humorous take on the previously mentioned saying declared “an open mind is great but be careful that your brain doesn’t fall out.”
I’ll attempt to refrain from going into examples as undoubtedly some of them will be pet annoyances of mine and perhaps even indicate an ignorance I have about their full articulation. Instead I want to focus on a subject that has come up recently in a recurring discussion on science and the contribution it has given to humanity above or beyond that of religion. The radical perspective, often declared with an almost gleeful caricature of itself, is that all religion is evil, a position taken by the late and great Christopher Hitchens and propagated currently by Richard Dawkins among others. I won’t get into the nuanced particulars of their thinking, as that is not what I’m after here, but I will note that such a stance is not precisely a fully accurate portrayal of their thoughts however strongly they themselves will sometimes declare it so.
When facing a world that gives religion carte blanche in avoiding criticism and shielding it from all manner of ethical judgment, there is a need for those who take the opposite position if only to show the absurdity of what is going on. At the core of this position however, lies a valid point concerning epistemic validity and the truth claims of various ideas. The shield from inquiry often attached to religions, taken on with what should be self-mockery by the scandal-plagued Catholic Church and with rueful smiles by many in the new age movement, is that of being beholden only to their own form of internal self-check, removed from a social dialogue despite their fervent desire to still then be a part of and often an influential part of that very society.
Whenever a person or movement declares an internal-only source for truth there should be an immediate query as to where the surprise is or even perhaps what flavor of kook-aid is being asked to drink. This is not to gainsay the legitimacy of intuition as there are truth-claims wholly of a private nature, one’s tastes or preferences for instance and even a privately held opinion on a personal experience which, not open to criticism, is held as a cherished emotional position useful for the power of its memory. People can believe all manner of things privately and there be little in the way of consequence or even need to know or criticize by others. It is when such beliefs effect the behavior of a person towards others in any causal sense and/or when such beliefs are promoted as being legitimate for others beside that individual, there it is that we have gone beyond intuitive sense and into the realm of science in general. As a side note I find it increasingly interesting that the age of the Internet and social media seems to be pushing us more and more towards a completely social existence, one that brings at times forcefully to light every nuance of our lives. The repercussions of this for society have likely only begun to be felt.
Back to the point at hand though, let me explain what I mean by science in general as it has to do with the central issue here. There is a difference between what I refer to as science-proper, e.g. the method of science or experimental science, and science-general which is more of a philosophical position concerning humanity’s epistemic relation to the cosmos. Science-general concerns itself with the analysis of experience and operates by the principle that all experience is capable of being understood though the particular procedure for certain knowledge may need to be created (i.e. microscopes created to see cells or the theory of gravity required to grasp that central force in the universe) and all is ultimately shareable within the nest of humanity’s shared biological ontology. In other words, knowledge is infinitely expanding and by being knowable it must be capable of being shared with others. Knowledge is a public domain.
This stance of science effectively negates both the proposition that there are elements of the universe forever outside of human understanding and that truth is only a private enterprise, essentially denying both a supernatural aspect of reality and moral subjectivism. Here we return to where we began, with the difficulties of the so-called new age movement and at times that which is found in New Thought or Unitarianism circles. I want to quickly note that this is not identical with the movements in question, only a presence some give air-space to in the attempt at being inclusive for the sake of inclusivity. In the search for enlightenment it is fairly easy to rush head-long into the farcical simply because of the emotional weight given to an increase in profundity being synonymous with a greater truth. Deepak Chopra is quite rightly famous for this, for however good some of his points very well may be, there is a tendency to display greater degrees of confusing language in an attempt at sounding wise with the result being anything but. While certainly there is a level of truth that is identified with the acceptance of it by each person, this is not the whole of nature of truth and science-general reminds us that just as we share our existence with each other, just as we realize who we are individually through the necessity of creating relationships so truth is not wholly residing within an individual, any individual and claims regarding existence must all be brought into the light of discourse and critique.
Connected thoughts to this can be found in this entry.