On the Primacy of Nondisprovable Hypotheses, Part IV

On the Primacy of Nondisprovable Hypotheses, Part IV February 27, 2016

Returning to the issue of partitioning DHs from NDHs. A concept similar to Gurdjieff’s Partition was proposed by Karl Popper. I have not tried to find out whether Popper knew about Gurdjieff. Perhaps their proposals were simultaneous invention, as studied by Kroeber. In any case, the two men had entirely different agendas for why they were making the proposal.

Popper was concerned with delimiting what sort of propositions can be investigated by means of the scientific method. Obviously, if a proposition could not be falsified by any conceivable fact, there is no way to decide whether it is objectively true or not. Popper’s concern was to cleanse science of futile attempts to make decisions about the undecideable. Some people (not Popper himself) go another step, to assert that NDHs are therefore unimportant, meaningless, unworthy of any sort of study, merely emotional outbursts like saying, “Ouch!” and so on, much like the fundamental assumption (itself an NDH) behind Logical Positivism.

Gurdjieff’s concern was the opposite. He saw the value in cleansing faith of DHs. As I said, much of the social dysfunctionality of churches results not from their actual doctrines, but from their belief that disprovable propositions are among such doctrines.

Usually when a person in America says, “I do not believe in God,” what he or she means is, “I reject the traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs about what the divine is like.” However, so does any person who has an adult education about religion in general. What is taught to children in Sunday School or the equivalent is not adequate for adults and is, in fact, flat wrong in many ways, because it is contradicted by established facts; that is, the doctrines of such faith have been contaminated by admixture with disprovable propositions. Gurdjieff’s goal was to have a concept of faith that is absolutely compatible with modern science, because it would not include any DHs; hence faith and science could not possibly contradict each other.

Karl Popper’s own statements seem to reveal that he was openminded in much the way that Carl Jung or John Archibald Wheeler was. He too had to hide his openness from closedminded colleagues. In an interview he let be published only posthumously, he said,

‘I don’t know whether God exists or not. … Some forms of atheism are arrogant and ignorant and should be rejected, but agnosticism—to admit that we don’t know and to search—is all right. … When I look at what I call the gift of life, I feel a gratitude which is in tune with some religious ideas of God. However, the moment I even speak of it, I am embarrassed that I may do something wrong to God in talking about God.” He objected to organised religion, saying “it tends to use the name of God in vain”, noting the danger of fanaticism because of religious conflicts: “The whole thing goes back to myths which, though they may have a kernel of truth, are untrue. Why then should the Jewish myth be true and the Indian and Egyptian myths not be true?”

To put these remarks in perspective, all four of Popper’s grandparents were Jewish. His family converted to Lutheranism to assimilate, but apparently without changing their own beliefs.

Of course, in real life, the actual reason why some people know (not merely believe) that divinity exists is that they have been engulfed for a moment and transformed by that presence. It cannot and must not last long. It is always an altered state in which the physical necessities of life would not be possible; still, a few are blessed with a long-lasting afterglow. Such a person has become what was classically called a Gnostic; the Gnostics called such an experience an Awakening. I think the reason such experiences happen is that the gods’ other primary agenda is to save our lives if they can, if we are not being impossibly stupid.

People who have never had such experiences find it hard to believe that they are possible, and have no way to comprehend what such experiences feel like. Rationalist psychologists always want to explain them away as being hallucinations. And, of course, people who have them rarely want to discuss them; other people might think they are crazy, right?

Hallucinations are by definition utterly random; they exhibit neither consistency in content relative to others nor any relationship to reality. In contrast, Awakenings happen to persons in all times and places, of all religious and ethnic backgrounds. They always exhibit consistent patterns; they make those who have them better able to deal with reality; and they have been studied and described by many philosophers and scholars.

The skeptic will reasonably insist that such subjective experiences do not constitute proof of or even evidence for the objective existence of any sort of divinity. (One unexamined assumption here is that such existence has to be what we think is objective.) That is, the skeptic insists that evidence is acceptable only if it can be perceived by every human being in the vicinity. True, that is a normal expectation in science, and it does eliminate a lot of hallucinations and wishful thinking, but it also ignores the huge differences in human abilities.

Do colors not exist, if some people are color-blind? Do sounds not exist, because some people are deaf? Do psychic talents not exist, because some people are about as psychic as a brick? Is dowsing a fantasy, just because only a minority of people can do it? (It’s fascinating that John Wheeler tried it and was good at it.) Auras, hunches, premonitions, funny feelings—these are all real experiences. Much of that can be explained in terms of how our minds actually work—without violating Ockham’s Razor.

Humans differ immensely in their capacity for what some call “spiritual discernment.” I think it’s a natural human talent, but it exhibits a bell curve distribution, like many human characteristics, and unfortunately it can be severely damaged and repressed. To insist there must be objective consensus on evidence about spiritual matters is to make people who have no usable capacity for spiritual discernment into the measurement for all the rest of humanity. That is not reasonable. There is ample evidence for the existence of the divine. It is not the sort of evidence that a devout rationalist demands, but it is also not hallucinatory. It is not reasonable to demand that evidence must be perceptible to everyone in the vicinity.

For example, one of my adult students, Mark, about age 50, recently trusted me enough to tell me this story. He had been suffering from an agonizing spinal disorder that could not be corrected surgically and that made walking almost impossible. He told me that one evening, as he was lying in bed, in too much pain to sleep, Jesus walked into his room and placed his hands on Mark’s stomach. The pain vanished. Jesus smiled at him, turned around, and walked out. Mark has walked without pain ever since. Does that prove the truth of orthodox Christianity? Not at all.

Neither the presence nor the absence of Mark’s pain was an hallucination; that fact cannot be explained away. The actual problem is our human tendency to confuse a phenomenon with our interpretation of it. I suppose Mark was visited by the Angel of Healing, traditionally called Raphael. A classical Greek who had received such a gift of healing would no doubt have conceptualized the vehicle of delivery as being Asclepius or Apollo. A Hindu would see the person as one of his or her pantheon. And so on. Can an atheist receive such healing? Sure, happens all the time—because it happens so fast that the atheist does not have time to doubt it to death, then must struggle to account for it afterward. Jung’s perception that “flying saucers” are actually “flying mandala archetypes” was quite accurate; the phenomenon is real; interpreting it as being alien spacecraft is a different issue.

Ockham’s Razor applies here. We do not need metaphysical assumptions to account for such phenomena. We will understand them better as we come to understand consciousness better. Can consciousness exist only within physical brains? Wheeler’s experiments indicated otherwise. If one begins from the Hindu NDH that consciousness is the ultimate reality, as Goswami has pointed out, then all the apparent paradoxes of physics are resolved. And as Roger Penrose argued in The Emperor’s New Mind, the Schrödinger’s Cat paradox shows that we need a new theory of physics that is as far beyond quantum mechanics as that is beyond Newtonian physics; and only then will we have a chance to begin understanding how our minds actually work. The physicists are hot on that trail; there’s exciting news these days.

You can find my books on Amazon:

A Tapestry of Witches: A History of the Craft in America, Vol. I, to the Mid-1970s.Tacoma, WA: Hierophant Wordsmith Press, 2015.

Aradia and the Books of the Sacred Marriage: A Tale of Love, Witches, and Gnostics. Tacoma, WA: Hierophant Wordsmith Press, 2016.

Hippie Commie Beatnik Witches: A Social History of the New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn. Tacoma, WA: Hierophant Wordsmith Press, 2011.

Theodyssies and Paradoxologies: Collected Poetry. Tacoma, WA: Hierophant Wordsmith Press, 2012.


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