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The Bahá’í Faith and the varieties of materialism

Gary Fuhrman et al, exchange 2001

>From gnox@vianet.ca Wed Feb 14 15:27:13 2001 From: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca> To:
<scirel@MIT.EDU> Subject: materialism (long) Date: Wed, 14 Feb 2001 08:35:57 -0500 X-
Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.00.2919.6600

Here's my complete draft, folks. If you have time to read it through, please do not be merciful in
your criticisms. I would like to end up with an essay that would at least make sense to all Baha'is
concerned with these issues. (Though of course some will disagree with my conclusions.) --
gary

The Bahá’í Faith and the varieties of materialism

============== The sixth Taraz: Knowledge is one of the wondrous gifts of God. It is
incumbent upon everyone to acquire it. Such arts and material means as are now manifest have
been achieved by virtue of His knowledge and wisdom which have been revealed in Epistles and
Tablets through His Most Exalted Pen -- a Pen out of whose treasury pearls of wisdom and
utterance and the arts and crafts of the world are brought to light. ==============

Words mean what we mean by them. In this essay i am trying to describe what "we" Baha'is and
our contemporaries mean by "materialism", with special attention to the philosophical, scientific
and religious uses. At the end i will address what the Universal House of Justice might mean by
it in recent letters concerning scholarship.

Etymologically, the word "materialism" harks back to an earlier time when "matter" was thought
of as the "stuff" or substance of which all concrete objects were made. The atomic theory was the
particular (in the strict sense) version of this, viewing the "elements" as basic building blocks of
which everything was composed. In those days, a philosophical "materialist" was someone who
believed that matter was more real than the forms it took, and definitely more real than ideas
about it, and infinitely more real than notions like "spirit" which were claimed by others to be
wholly separate from and independent of matter. This crude form of materialism is, i think, rare
among professional scientists today, though it survives in folk science.

In the abstract to his 1990 JBS article, Keven Brown indicated that "modern science" has moved
beyond this crude materialism to a view that could be considered more "spiritual":

>> The origin of matter, according to the Baha'i teachings, can be explained as a spiritual reality.
Although this view is not modern, modern science is also finding that at the most fundamental
level "permanent aspects of reality are not particular materials or structures but rather the
possible forms of structures, and the rules for their transformation" (Wilczek). <<

More current forms of "materialism" can best be explained in terms of systems theory. Broadly
speaking, a system is a whole which is composed of subsystems, and which is itself a subsystem
of more comprehensive systems. Thus the properties and behavior of a system (such as a human
organism) can be understood in terms of (a) relationships between its subsystems *and* (b) its
relationship as a whole with systems that transcend it. In this context, i think a "materialist"
would be essentially a "reductionist", i.e. someone who believes that the system and its behavior
can be explained in terms of its subsystems or components *only*, with no reference to
transcendent or higher systemic levels, which he considers less real than the more "elemental"
levels. Ken Wilber, who uses the term "holon" where i use "system", says that each holon must
"transcend and embrace" the lower levels in the holarchy. A materialist denies any kind of
transcendence.

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"Materialism" may also be used as a synonym for "naturalism", the belief that the entire holarchy
constitutes the one reality of nature, and that nothing we can meaningfully talk about transcends
nature itself. "Spirituality" is then a relative quality meaning something like "higher in the
holarchy", and is transcendent in that relative sense only. John Hick in "The Fifth Dimension"
defines the religious "dimension" by contrast with this "naturalism".

There is also a more emotive significance of "reductionist" which contributes to the current
notion of "materialism". Reductionists in this looser sense are those who "reduce" the perceived
value of a phenomenon by dismissing it as "only" or "merely" a trivial spinoff of something
more real. For instance, Scrooge is a reductionist not only when he dismissed Christmas as
sentimental humbug, but also when he tries to explain away the ghost who haunts him as a bit of
undigested food. However, the connection between this kind of reductionism and other forms of
"materialism is rather loose. Personally i think the most outrageous reductionists around today
are the creationists, who would reduce the myriad wonders of natural processes to the whimsical
potterings of some old Nobodaddy in the sky. But it would be odd to call them "materialists".
Emotive as it may be, the label "materialist" still denotes a preference for the concrete and
physical over the abstract and verbal. Those is not a germane description of those who deny the
metaphorical nature of Scripture.

By far the most popular usage of the word refers to a vague combination of selfish hedonism and
compulsive consumption -- the "crass materialism" referred to by Shoghi Effendi. The
irrelevance of "matter" to this usage is clear if we consider those who contribute most
enthusiastically to pollution and global warming. Obviously poisoning the water supply does not
reflect a commitment to "material well-being" in the literal sense, and yet polluters are exactly
the kind of people most likely to be denounced as "materialistic" for their selfish pursuit of
financial gain. When we call a money-obsessed person "materialistic", we certainly do not mean
that he loves the physical coins or bills, or even the concrete objects that might be bought with
them; these are merely symbols for the abstract wealth which is the real object of his lust.
"Making money" does not mean producing anything physical. This kind of "materialist" is more
driven to *possess* things than to engage with concrete realities through sense experience.

Returning to more philosophical usages, Steve Friberg has pointed out a positive side to
materialism: "Indeed, the Faith is very clear about material and physical progress going hand in
hand with -- indeed being necessary for -- spiritual progress. For example, the sciences that we
engage in are all material endeavors, according to `Abdu'l-Baha, and he highly commends
them.... It is simply not true, then, that the Faith condemns materialism. It doesn't."

Baha'u'llah in the 12th Glad-Tidings tells us: >>>Hold ye fast unto the cord of material means,
placing your whole trust in God, the Provider of all means. When anyone occupieth himself in a
craft or trade, such occupation itself is regarded in the estimation of God as an act of worship;
and this is naught but a token of His infinite and all-pervasive bounty.<<<

Although i doubt whether we would normally refer to gainful employment and a productive
livelihood as "materialism", let us grant Steve this point, and concede that the Baha'i point of
view acknowledges both good and bad "materialism". In science, the good "materialism" would
simply be empiricism -- the methodological grounding of verification on reproducible (not
private) observations of objective reality. To reject empiricism would be to throw out science as
we know it, and this is certainly not what our faith requires of us.

The plot thickens as we focus on the varieties of philosophical materialism and try to sort the
good from the bad. Somewhat surprisingly, the Oxford English Dictionary lists only one
definition for philosophical materialism:

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>>>The opinion that nothing exists except matter and its movements and modifications; also, in
a more limited sense, the opinion that the phenomena of consciousness and will are wholly due
to the operation of material agencies. Often applied by opponents to views that are considered
logically to lead to these conclusions, or to involve the attribution of material causes of effects
that should be referred to spiritual causes.<<<

The second half of this shows that the pejorative use of the term is not unique to Baha'i usage.
Apparently it's always been true that people are more likely to be labelled "materialistic" by their
opponents than to label *themselves* that way. It's significant that OED gives this fact as *part
of the definition*. If the term is thus contentious from the start, we can expect that people who
do label themselves "materialists" may do so as a way of taking sides in the conflict, by declaring
their opposition to a position which *they* find distasteful -- such as some form of dualism.
According to Steve, the Baha'i Faith "lacks the dualism between mind and matter typical of
modern European culture." It follows that a self-proclaimed "materialist" may be closer to Baha'i
views than to such a "typical" dualism, of which his self-labeling is an implicit rejection.

Next, let us turn to the "more limited sense" which the OED identifies as pertaining to "the
phenomena of consciousness". One of the seminal books in the field of consciousness studies
today is "The Feeling of What Happens" by neurologist Antonio Damasio (2000). Consider this
excerpt [p.323]:

>>> There is a gap between our knowledge of neural events, at molecular, cellular, and system
levels, on the one hand, and the mental image whose mechanisms of appearance we wish to
understand. There is a gap to be filled by not yet identified but presumably identifiable physical
phenomena.... The gap I have just described is one reason why, throughout this book, I maintain
two levels of description, one for the mind and one for the brain. This separation is a simple
matter of intellectual hygiene and, once again, it is not the result of dualism. By keeping separate
levels of description I am not suggesting that there are separate substances, one mental and the
other biological. I am simply recognizing the mind as a high level of biological process, which
requires and deserves its own description because of the private nature of its appearance and
because that appearance is the fundamental reality we wish to explain. On the other hand,
describing neural events with their proper vocabulary is part of the effort to understand how
those events contribute to the creation of the mind.<<<

Is this a materialistic view? And, if so, is it good or bad materialism?

A dualist who believes in "separate substances" (spirit and matter, mind and body, whatever we
call them) would immediately reject it as "materialistic". But this kind of dualism is itself
thoroughly unscientific, and possibly un-Baha'i as well. Again, Steve tells us that

>> the Faith lacks the dualism between mind and matter typical of modern European culture, a
dualism that tries often to compartmentalize and isolate the thinking consciousness from the
things it thinks about. <<

-- or in this case tries to isolate the thinking mind from the brain that it thinks *with*; i think the
difference is insignificant. Damasio explicitly rejects this dualism, but affirms the practical need
to maintain "separate levels of description" of the one reality. Thus the mind is "a high level of
biological process", and yet it is "the fundamental reality", and there is no contradiction here. If
this is materialism, surely it is a benign variety. A better name for it would be pluralism (i.e.
recognizing the validity of varying "levels of description").

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A "bad" materialist, on the other hand, would insist that only the brain is real, and the mind is
fictional or illusory. Damasio clearly says that this is not the case, and will not be the case even if
and when the "gap" is "filled" with "physical phenomena", because even if we could assemble a
*complete* physical description of the "mechanisms" underlying an experience, this description
would be utterly different from *having* the experience.

There is a parallel here to the science/religion relationship. Leaving aside the social dimension
implicit in both, we can say broadly that religious experience is exactly that, first-person
*experience*, while scientific inquiry is fundamentally third-person, grounded in objective
reality rather than experiential reality. Thus we have two levels of description, neither of which
is reducible to the other -- two eyes which, used together, allow us to see the one reality in depth.

In any case, it is not so much bad beliefs as bad "methodology" which the Universal House of
Justice has lately branded with the name of "materialism". The 8 Feb. 1998 letter from the House
to Susan Maneck referred to "methods followed in researching, understanding and writing about
historical events, and the elements of these methods which the House of Justice regards as being
influenced by materialism." The 7 April 1999 letter provides more clues to the nature of this
methodology:

>>> Although the reality of God's continuous relationship with His creation and His intervention
in human life and history are the very essence of the teachings of the Founders of the revealed
religions, dogmatic materialism today insists that even the nature of religion itself can be
adequately understood only through the use of an academic methodology designed to ignore the
truths that make religion what it is. <<<

Clearly this "materialism" has nothing to do with "matter", since we are referring to the
discipline of history, not to the hard sciences. But the issues of causation or agency which arise
in the OED definition of "materialism" are crucial. "Dogmatic materialism", in the terms used by
the House of Justice, "insists that all spiritual and moral phenomena must be understood through
the application of a scholarly apparatus devised to explore existence in a way that ignores the
issues of God's continuous relationship with His creation and His intervention in human life and
history". Standard academic methodology explains historical events by attributing their causes to
previous events, or to human decisions arrived at by natural processes in the context of those
events. I believe the House is telling us that Revelation cannot be explained by these methods to
the exclusion of transcendent (divine, supernatural) causes.

What is not entirely clear, to me at least, is whether the exclusion forbidden by the House is
explicit or implicit. If it is wrong only to *explicitly* exclude divine causation, then it would be
acceptable to document historical antecedents to Writings of Baha'u'llah, or explain His actions
in terms of human decision-making processes, as long as one did not insist that such
explanations ruled out more transcendent explanations. This would allow for the kind of
methodological pluralism demonstrated above in the work of Damasio.

On the other hand, the House may mean that any natural or non-transcendent explanation of the
life and work of Baha'u'llah *implicity excludes* transcendent explanations, and therefore Baha'i
historians should avoid any natural explanation of that life and work. There is even a third, more
extreme possibility: that the House is telling Baha'i historians that they *must explicitly deny*
any natural explanation for events related to Revelation.

As far as i know, the House has not explained by comparison, contrast or example what it means
by "materialism" in this context, or what are the practical consequences of rejecting
"materialism". Evidently this question has been left to the scholarly community itself to work
out. "The Universal House of Justice does not see itself obliged to prescribe a new scientific

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methodology for Baha'i academics"; instead, "Baha'i institutions and Baha'i scholars are called
on to exert a very great effort, of heart, mind, and will, in order to forge the new models of
scholarly activity and guidance that Baha'u'llah's work requires."

Since the present essay has been motivated in part as a contribution to this effort, i will close
with my own suggestion of how to resolve the methodological problem. We need to avoid "bad
materialism" while maintaining the scientifically necessary "good materialism". I believe the
pluralistic approach modeled above by Damasio, which maintains separate and equally valid
"levels of description" of the phenomena under investigation, is the most compatible with the
guidance offered by the Universal House of Justice:

>>>The House of Justice feels confident that, with patience, self-discipline, and unity of faith,
Baha'i academics will be able to contribute to a gradual forging of the more integrative
paradigms of scholarship for which thoughtful minds in the international community are
increasingly calling.<<<

=====================

All quotations from the Universal House of Justice above are taken from the compilation entitled
"Issues Related to the Study of the Baha'i Faith", available on Jonah Winter's website.

gnusystems }{ Pam Jackson & Gary Fuhrman }{ Manitoulin Island, Canada }{ gnox@vianet.ca
}{ http://www.vianet.ca/~gnox/index.htm }{

From: "Safa Sadeghpour" <safa@MIT.EDU>


To: <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: RE: materialism (long)
Date: Wed, 14 Feb 2001 11:57:46 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook IMO, Build 9.0.2416 (9.0.2910.0)
Importance: Normal

Dear Gary,

What a superb essay. There is an on-going discussion in another Baha'i list I am part of, one that
is much more oriented towards historians and Near Eastern scholars, but one which is dealing
with exactly the same question of materialism but in the garb of "historical reductionism." With
your permission, I think it would be excellent to submit your essay to their list, which I would be
glad to do with your permission, as I know you will receive much more of a pluralistic analysis
of your thoughts and conclusions on this question and thus, as a result, produce an even finer
work than the already excellent study you have produced.

Now, on to the subject of your essay,

One of the points you could use to argue your point against "'bad' materialism" or
epistemological materialism, that is, the belief that the only thing we can really know about the
world and, thus, should care about the world, is at the bottom (of the hierarcy of systems), is the
fact that it is pretty much impossible, except for the simplest and most stylized of situations, to
*predict* the dynamics of one level up in the hierarchy based on the dynamics of the level below
it. For instance, quantum electron density calculations, which are simple in the one and few
particle cases, became intractable when dealing with even a few atoms. Knowing about the
behavior of stock traders does not lead to predictions of the stock market except to tell you that
it's is impossible to fully predict the market. And, in the case of biology, it is well known how
extraordinarily difficult, perhaps impossible, it is to relate the dynamics of single genes, and their

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expression in the form of proteins and second-messager systems, to the dynamics of a complete
cell. One step further, neurobiologists have become painfully aware of the relative impossibility
of obtain not even mind, but even the computational dynamics of a single module of the brain,
on the basis of their understanding of single neurons. The failure to predict is perhaps the most
convincing reason for why not to fall for epistemological reductionism, even if we were to
believe, as many of our modern-age peers do, in an ontological materialism that holds that
nothing but matter and physical causality is at the core of the processes of the world, including
those that we consider subjective, such as free will and choice. This is also why I believe
Damasio is taking such a two-tiered approach to mind and brain; it has been a while in
neuroscientific circles that different groups of people have been approaching these questions
from both ends. Until recently, it was only the few of the few who were willing to look at
subjectivity while doing objective measurements.

On another front, I think there is much to be gained by looking at the relationship between
philosophical materialism, whether empirical or ontological, and psychological materialism. The
latter being the case of someone who admits there is more ways of knowing the world or more to
the world than matter, but at the same time readily admits that all he or she may be willing to
*do* in the world must be justifiable in terms of personal material benefit, either in the form of
objects or emotional experience. Is for instance a dependence on sensory perception alone
materialism (as in Abdul-Baha's reference to the cow)? Is materialism in its psychological form
just a subset of philosophical materialism?

Those are just a few questions for exploration. This is a great topic, and you are doing a great job
exploring it.

Lovingly yours, Safa

>From srfriberg@worldnet.att.net Wed Feb 14 19:11:32 2001


From: "Stephen R. Friberg" <srfriberg@worldnet.att.net>
To: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca>,
"Scirel Science and Religion List" <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: RE: materialism (long)
Date: Wed, 14 Feb 2001 09:51:00 -0800
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook IMO, Build 9.0.2416 (9.0.2911.0)
Importance: Normal

Dear Gary:

A couple of quick comments:

A good Baha'i framework for all this is found in some of `Abdu'l-Baha's comments on education
and related issues. He talks about the three levels of man. I don't remember the first level - it
may be animal - but I do remember the second level - what `Abdu'l Baha calls the physical or the
human level - the level of government, work, education, jobs, arts, etc. This corresponds very
closely to what you are calling good materialism, except that `Abdu'l Baha writes it in a broader
sense. The highest level is the spiritual level, and mankind needs to be educated at that level if
he is to realize is full potential. I'll try to get the quote for you. It is a part of a big series of
quotes on education.

> In the abstract to his 1990 JBS article, Keven Brown indicated that "modern
> science" has moved beyond this crude materialism to a view that could be
> considered more "spiritual":
>

6
> >> The origin of matter, according to the Baha'i teachings, can be
> explained as a spiritual reality. Although this view is not modern, modern
> science is also finding that at the most fundamental level "permanent
> aspects of reality are not particular materials or structures but rather
> the possible forms of structures, and the rules for their transformation"
> (Wilczek). <<

I would be very wary of referring to modern science as viewing things like quantum mechanics
as "spiritual". This is a non-starter, I think. Rather, what is happening is that modern physics, at
least, tends to view things through field theories (which is why the concept of ether in its modern
form is so important). Field theories, which include quantum mechanics, view things as made of
interconnecting fields spread out in space and time, very definitely much more holistic than
particles. However, from these fields, classical particle-like behavior arises and is the norm for
many, but not all, everyday behaviors. All of this is material, in the sense that it doesn't involve
consciousness, and especially spiritual awareness.

> More current forms of "materialism" can best be explained in terms of


> systems theory. Broadly speaking, a system is a whole which is composed of
> subsystems, and which is itself a subsystem of more comprehensive systems.
> Thus the properties and behavior of a system (such as a human organism) can
> be understood in terms of (a) relationships between its subsystems *and*
> (b) its relationship as a whole with systems that transcend it. In this
> context, i think a "materialist" would be essentially a "reductionist",
> i.e. someone who believes that the system and its behavior can be explained
> in terms of its subsystems or components *only*, with no reference to
> transcendent or higher systemic levels, which he considers less real than
> the more "elemental" levels.

Excellent point.

> There is also a more emotive significance of "reductionist" which


> contributes to the current notion of "materialism". Reductionists in this
> looser sense are those who "reduce" the perceived value of a phenomenon by
> dismissing it as "only" or "merely" a trivial spinoff of something more
> real. For instance, Scrooge is a reductionist not only when he dismissed
> Christmas as sentimental humbug, but also when he tries to explain away the
> ghost who haunts him as a bit of undigested food. However, the connection
> between this kind of reductionism and other forms of "materialism is rather
> loose. Personally i think the most outrageous reductionists around today
> are the creationists, who would reduce the myriad wonders of natural
> processes to the whimsical potterings of some old Nobodaddy in the sky. But
> it would be odd to call them "materialists". Emotive as it may be, the
> label "materialist" still denotes a preference for the concrete and
> physical over the abstract and verbal. Those is not a germane description
> of those who deny the metaphorical nature of Scripture.

Also, a good point.

> By far the most popular usage of the word refers to a vague combination of
> selfish hedonism and compulsive consumption -- the "crass materialism"
> referred to by Shoghi Effendi.

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Any chance you could expand this out a bit? Also, the lack of belief in God comes in here, I
think.
> Although i doubt whether we would normally refer to gainful employment and
> a productive livelihood as "materialism", let us grant Steve this point,
> and concede that the Baha'i point of view acknowledges both good and bad
> "materialism". In science, the good "materialism" would simply be
> empiricism -- the methodological grounding of verification on reproducible
> (not private) observations of objective reality. To reject empiricism would
> be to throw out science as we know it, and this is certainly not what our
> faith requires of us.

Gainful employment and all is very much materialism, perhaps the heart of it. I think that in
understanding this lies the crux of the matter, both in understanding the modern dialogue about
materialism and in understanding the Baha'i approach.

> By keeping separate levels of description


> I am not suggesting that there are separate substances, one mental and the
> other biological. I am simply recognizing the mind as a high level of
> biological process, which requires and deserves its own description because
> of the private nature of its appearance and because that appearance is the
> fundamental reality we wish to explain. On the other hand, describing
> neural events with their proper vocabulary is part of the effort to
> understand how those events contribute to the creation of the mind.<<<

This kind of materialism is essential to the sciences, as is reductionism. However, there is


"good" and "bad" reductionism. The goal in any science is to find the appropriate reductionism.
In biology, for example, talking about electrons is "bad" reductionism, whereas talking about
cells and DNA is "good" or appropriate reductionism. The same kind of thing applies to
materialism more or less across the board, I think.

> -- or in this case tries to isolate the thinking mind from the brain that
> it thinks *with*; i think the difference is insignificant. Damasio
> explicitly rejects this dualism, but affirms the practical need to maintain
> "separate levels of description" of the one reality. Thus the mind is "a
> high level of biological process", and yet it is "the fundamental reality",
> and there is no contradiction here. If this is materialism, surely it is a
> benign variety. A better name for it would be pluralism (i.e. recognizing
> the validity of varying "levels of description").

Extremely important point, I think, and widely useful.

> There is a parallel here to the science/religion relationship. Leaving


> aside the social dimension implicit in both, we can say broadly that
> religious experience is exactly that, first-person *experience*, while
> scientific inquiry is fundamentally third-person, grounded in objective
> reality rather than experiential reality. Thus we have two levels of
> description, neither of which is reducible to the other -- two eyes which,
> used together, allow us to see the one reality in depth.

Yes! This is one of the lessons of quantum mechanics: certain different ways of seeing or
measuring can be supported by even the simplest of systems, and they are, in some ways,
mutually incompatible (i.e., they interfere with each other in measurements).

8
> Clearly this "materialism" has nothing to do with "matter", since we are
> referring to the discipline of history, not to the hard sciences. But the
> issues of causation or agency which arise in the OED definition of
> "materialism" are crucial. "Dogmatic materialism", in the terms used by the
> House of Justice, "insists that all spiritual and moral phenomena must be
> understood through the application of a scholarly apparatus devised to
> explore existence in a way that ignores the issues of God's continuous
> relationship with His creation and His intervention in human life and
> history". Standard academic methodology explains historical events by
> attributing their causes to previous events, or to human decisions arrived
> at by natural processes in the context of those events. I believe the House
> is telling us that Revelation cannot be explained by these methods to the
> exclusion of transcendent (divine, supernatural) causes.

Excellent description. Extremely important, I think, is the relationship between all the kinds of
materialism that we have been talking about. How does reductionism in the physical sciences
effect societies ideologies and beliefs, this kind of thing.
> >>>The House of Justice feels confident that, with patience,
> self-discipline, and unity of faith, Baha'i academics will be able to
> contribute to a gradual forging of the more integrative paradigms of
> scholarship for which thoughtful minds in the international community are
> increasingly calling.<<<

Maybe this is our task here too.

Thanks for your contributions.

Warmly,
Steve

Materialism

Materialism signifies total reliance on the material world with little or no concern for spirituality.
It acts as a barrier between the individual and God and undermines the mental and moral fiber of
mankind.

Mankind is submerged in the sea of materialism and occupied with the affairs of the world. They
have no thought beyond earthly possessions and manifest no desire save the passions of this
fleeting, mortal existence...Although it is necessary for man to strive for material needs and
comforts, his real need is the acquisition of the bounties of God.***

The desire and preference for materialism over spirituality is a burden upon the soul. In Shoghi
Effendi's words,

Indeed, the chief reason for the evils now rampant in society is the lack of spirituality. The
materialistic civilization of our age has so much absorbed the energy and interest of mankind that
people in general no longer feel the necessity of raising themselves above the forces and
conditions of their daily material existence. There is not sufficient demand for things that we
should call spiritual to differentiate them from the needs and requirements of our physical
existence. The universal crisis affecting mankind is, therefore, essentially spiritual in its
causes...It is this condition, so sadly morbid, into which society has fallen, that religion seeks to
improve and transform.****

9
BEWUSTZIJN OF MATERIE ?

From: "David Garcia" <drgarcia99@hotmail.com>


To: scirel@MIT.EDU
Subject: RE: Leonard Mandel
Date: Thu, 15 Feb 2001 16:58:08 +1000

Hi! I wanted to quote some things from Sir Arthur Eddington (from the book <Quantum
Questions>), since these have to do with the issue of consciousness discussed in my previous
message. It also points out the real convergence of religion and science happening in the minds
of these pioneers at the forefront of science. This essay is one of the most profound statements
uniting science and religion that i've read. The introduction is by Ken Wilbur, editor of the book.

Here are a few selected sentences from the text to give you a feeling for and preview of what
Eddington is saying here.

"It is almost as though the modern conception of the physical world had deliberately left room
for the reality of spirit and consciousness."

"From this perspective we recognise a spiritual world alongside the physical world."

"If I were to try to put into words the essential truth revealed in the mystic experience, it would
be that our minds are not apart from the world..."

"Proof is an idol before whom the pure mathematician tortures himself. In physics, we are
generally content to sacrifice before the lesser shrine of Plausibility."

"For if those who hold that there must be a physical basis for everything hold that these mystical
views are nonsense, we may ask: What, then, is the physical basis of nonsense?"

"It will perhaps be said that the conclusion to be drawn from these arguments from modern
science is that religion first became possible for a reasonable scientific man about the year 1927
[which was the year of the advent of quantum physics when Werner Heisenberg developed
matrix quantum mechanics]."

"The idea of a universal Mind or Logos would be, I think, a fairly plausible inference from the
present state of scientific theory; at least it is in harmony with it."

"The materialist who is convinced that all phenomena arise from electrons and quanta and the
like controlled by mathematical formulae, must presumably hold the belief that his wife is a
rather elaborate differential equation, but he is probably tactful enough not to obtrude this
opinion in domestic life."

SIR ARTHUR [STANLEY] EDDINGTON (1882 - 1944)


Sir Arthur Eddington made important contributions to the theoretical physics of motion,
evolution, and internal constitution of stellar systems. He was one of the first theorists to grasp
fully relativity theory, of which he became a leading exponent. No mere armchair theorist,
Eddington led the famous expedition that photographed the solar eclipse which offered the first
proof of Einstein's relativity theory. For his outstanding contributions, he was knighted in 1930.

The following sections are taken from Science and the Unseen World (New York: Macmillan,
1929), New Pathways in Science (New York: Macmillan, 1935), and The Nature of the Physical

10
World (New York: Macmillan, 1929). Of all the physicists in this volume, Eddington was
probably the most eloquent writer; with Heisenberg, the accomplished philosopher; and with
Schroedinger, the most penetrating mystic. Moreover, he possessed an exquisite intellectual wit,
evidenced on almost every page of his writings ... I have divided his topics into three rough
sections, the first dealing with the shadowy limitations of physical science, the second with the
necessity to equate the reality behind the shadows with consciousness itself, and the third, his
famous defense of mysticism. (p 166)

In short, the new conception of the physical universe puts me in a position to defend religion
against a particular charge, viz., the charge of being incompatible with physical science. It is not
a general panacea against atheism. (p 169)

[Eddington gives an explanation of how physics uses a cyclical method of definition that shuts
out things that are hard for it to explain, such as human consciousness. He describes how, in
general relativity, gravitational potential is defined in terms of "intervals" that are measurable by
"scales" such as measuring sticks and clocks. Scales are graduated strips of "matter". What is
matter? Well, it's something observed by human consciousness, Mr. X., but physics cannot deal
with that. So it defines matter in terms of "mass", "momentum" and "stress". Einstein found
intimidating differential equations that tell us what this mass, momentum and stress are in terms
of "potential". What is potential? That's what we were defining here in the first place. So the
definitions go round and round, like a cat chasing its tail. This neatly locks out troublesome
elements such as the human viewer. But in doing this physics now becomes incapable of making
any statements at all about human consciousness, or anything else outside these small circles of
definition such as God.]

... That matter, in some indirect way, comes within the purview of Mr. X's mind is not a fact
of any utility for a theoretical scheme of physics.
We cannot embody it in a differential equation. It is ignored, and the physical properties of
matter and other entities are expressed by their linkages in the cycle. And you can see how by
the ingenious device of the cycle physics secures for itself a self-contained domain for study with
no loose ends projecting into the unknown. All other physical definitions have the same kind of
interlocking. Electric force is defined as something which causes motion of an electric charge;
an electric charge is something which exerts electric force. So that an electric charge is
something that exerts something that produces motion of something that exerts something that
produces ... ad infinitum.

To know what there is bout Mr. X which makes him behave in this strange way, we must look
not to a physical system of inference, but to that insight beneath the symbols which, in our own
minds, we possess. It is by this insight that we can finally reach an answer to our question:
What is Mr. X?

So long as physics, in tinkering with the familiar world, was able to retain those aspects which
appeal to the aesthetic side of our nature, it might with some show of reason make claim to cover
the whole of experience; those who claimed that there was another, religious aspect of our
existence had to fight for their claim. But now that its picture omits so much that is obviously
significant, there is no suggestion that it is the whole truth about experience. To make such a
claim would bring protest not only from the religiously minded, but from all who recognise that
Man is not merely a scientific measuring machine. (pp 173-74)

We recognise that the type of knowledge after which physics is striving is much too narrow
and specialised to constitute a complete understanding of the environment of the human spirit. A
great many aspects of our ordinary life and activity take us outside the outlook of physics.
[aethestics, art, religion,...] (p 175)

11
Whatever justification at the source we accept to vindicate the reality of the external world, it
can scarcely fail to admit on the same footing much that is outside physical science. Although
no long chains of regularised inference depend from them, we recognise that other fibres of our
being extend in directions away from sense-impressions. I am not greatly concerned to borrow
words like "existence" and "reality" to crown these other departments of the soul's interest. I
would rather put it that any raising of the question of reality in its transcendental sense (whether
the question emanates from the world of physics or not) leads us to a perspective from which we
see man not as a bundle of sensory impressions, but conscious of purpose and responsibilities to
which the external world is subordinate.

From this perspective we recognise a spiritual world alongside the physical world. Experience
-- that is to say, the self cum [with] environment -- comprises more than can be embraced in the
physical world, restricted as it is to a complex of metrical symbols. The physical world is, we
have seen, the answer to one definite and urgent problem arising in a survey of experience; no
other problem has been followed up with anything like the same precision and elaboration.
Progress toward an understanding of the non-sensory constituents of our nature is not likely to
follow similar lines and, indeed, is not animated by the same aims. If it is felt that this difference
is so wide that the phrase spiritual world is a misleading analogy, I will not insist on the term.
All I would claim is that those who in the search for truth start from consciousness as a seat of
self knowledge with interests and responsibilities not confined to the material plane are just as
much facing the hard facts of experience as those who start from consciousness as a device for
reading the indications of spectroscopes and micrometers.

What is the ultimate truth about ourselves? Various answers suggest themselves. We are a bit
of stellar matter gone wrong. We are physical machinery -- puppets that strut and talk and laugh
and die as the hand of time pulls the strings beneath. But there is one elementary inescapable
answer. We are that which asks the question. Whatever else there may be in our nature,
responsibility towards truth is one of its attributes. This side of our nature is aloof from the
scrutiny of the physicist. I do not think it is sufficiently covered by admitting a mental aspect of
our being. It has to do with conscience rather than with consciousness. Concern with truth is
one of those things which make up the spiritual nature of Man. (pp 177-78)

... Even if we could accept this inadequate substitute for consciousness as we know it [i.e., by
the scientist pointing to a nervous system with epiphenomenal consciousness], we must still
protest: "You have shown us a creature which thinks and believes; you have not shown us a
creature to whom it matters that what it thinks and believes should be true." (p 179)

Our present conception of the physical world is hollow enough to hold almost anything. I
think the reader will agree. There may indeed be a hint of ribaldry in his hearty assent. What we
are dragging to light as the basis of all phenomena is a scheme of symbols connected by
mathematical equations. That is what physical reality boils down to when probed by the
methods which a physicist can apply. A skeleton scheme of symbols proclaims its own
hollowness. IT can be -- nay it cries out to be -- filled with something that shall transform it
from skeleton into substance, from plan into execution, from symbols into and interpretation of
the symbols. And if ever the physicist solves the problem of the living body, he should no
longer be tempted to point to his result and say "That's you." He should say rather "That is the
aggregation of symbols which stands for you in my description and explanation of those of your
properties which I can observe and measure. If you claim a deeper insight into your own nature
by which you can interpret these symbols -- a more intimate knowledge of the reality which I can
only deal with by symbolism -- you can rest assured that I have no rival interpretation to
propose." The skeleton is the contribution of physics to the solution of the Problem of
Experience; from the clothing of the skeleton it stands aloof. (p 179-80)

12
Let us now consider our answer to the question whether the nature of reality is material or
spiritual or a combination of both. ...

I will first ask another question. Is the ocean composed of water or of waves or of both? ...
Similarly, I assert that the nature of all reality is spiritual, not material nor a dualism of matter
and spirit. The hypothesis that its nature can be, to any degree, material does not enter into my
reckoning, because as we now understand matter, the putting together of the adjective "material"
and the noun "nature" does not make any sense.

Interpreting the term material (or more strictly, physical) in the broadest sense as that with
which we can become acquainted through sensory experience of the external world, we
recognise now that it corresponds to the waves, not to the water of the ocean of reality. My
answer does not deny the existence of the physical, any more than the answer that the ocean is
made of water denies the existence of ocean waves; only we do not get down to the intrinsic
nature of things that way. Like the symbolic world of physics, a wave is a conception which is
hollow enough to hold almost anything; we can have waves of water, of air, of aether, and (in
quantum theory) waves of probability. So, after physics has shown us the waves, we have still to
determine the content of the waves by some other avenue of knowledge. If you will understand
that the spiritual aspect of experience is to the physical aspect in the same kind of relation as the
water to the wave form, I can leave you to draw up your own answer to the question propounded
at the beginning of this section and so avoid any verbal misunderstanding. What is more
important, you will see how easily the two aspects of experience now dovetail together, not
contesting each other's place. It is almost as though the modern conception of the physical world
had deliberately left room for the reality of spirit and consciousness. (p 181)

The mind as a central receiving station reads the dots and dashes of the incoming nerve-
signals. By frequent repetition of their call-signals the various transmitting stations of the
outside world become familiar. We begin to feel quite a homely acquaintance with 2LO and
5XX. But a broadcasting station is not like its call-signal; there is no commensurality in their
nature. So too the chairs and tables around us which broadcast to us incessantly those signals
which affect our sight and touch cannot in their nature be like unto the signals or to the
sensations which the signals awake at the end of their journey. (p 182)

In comparing the certainty of things spiritual and things temporal, let us not forget this: mind
is the first and most direct thing in our experience; all else is remote inference. (p 183)

... If I were to try to put into words the essential truth revealed in the mystic experience, it
would be that our minds are not apart from the world, and the feelings that we have of gladness
and melancholy and our yet deeper feelings are not of ourselves alone, but are glimpses of a
reality transcending the narrow limits of our particular consciousness -- that the harmony and
beauty of the face of Nature is, at root, one with the gladness that transfigures the face of man.
We try to express much the same truth when we say that the physical entities are only an extract
of pointer readings and beneath them is a nature continuous with our own. But I do not willingly
put it into words or subject it to introspection. We have seen how in the physical world the
meaning is greatly changed when we contemplate it as surveyed from without instead of, as it
essentially must be, from within. By introspection we drag out the truth for external survey, but
in the mystical feeling the truth is apprehended from within and is, as it should be, a part of
ourselves. (p 192)

May I elaborate this objection to introspection? We have two kinds of knowledge which I call
symbolic knowledge and intimate knowledge I do not know whether it would be correct to say
that reasoning is only applicable to symbolic knowledge, but the more customary forms of

13
reasoning have been developed for symbolic knowledge only. The intimate knowledge will not
submit to codification and analysis, or, rather, when we attempt to analyse it the intimacy is lost
and it is replaced by symbolism.

For an illustration let us consider Humour. I suppose that humour can be analysed to some
extent and the essential ingredients of the different kinds of with classified. "suppose that we are
offered an alleged joke. We subject it to scientific analysis as we would a chemical salt of
doubtful nature, and perhaps after careful consideration of all its aspects we are able to confirm
that it really and truly is a joke. Logically, I suppose, our next procedure would be to laugh. But
it may certainly be predicted that as the result of this scrutiny we shall have lost all inclination
we may ever have had to laugh at it. It simply does not do to expose the inner workings of a
joke. The classification concerns a symbolic knowledge of humour which preserves all the
characteristics of a joke except its laughableness. The real appreciation must come
spontaneously, not introspectively. I think this is a not unfair analogy for our mystical feeling
for Nature, and I would venture even to apply it to our mystical experience of God. There are
some to whom the sense of a divine presence irradiating the soul is one of the most obvious
things of experience. In their view, a man without this sense is to be regarded as we regard a
man without a sense of humour. The absence is a kind of mental deficiency. We may try to
analyse the experience as we analyse humour, and construct a theology, or it may be an atheistic
philosophy, which shall put into scientific form what is to be inferred about it. But let us not
forget that the theology is symbolic knowledge, whereas the experience is intimate knowledge.
And as laughter cannot be compelled by the scientific exposition of the structure of a joke, so a
philosophic discussion of the attributes of God (or an impersonal substitute) is likely to miss the
intimate response of the spirit which is the central point of the religious experience.. (pp 192 -
93) [Like dead-hearted Californians always talking about love without actually experiencing it,
or art and music critics analysing art and music and completely missing what it's really all about]

We are the music-makers


And we are the dreamers of dreams
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams;
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.

I have sometimes been asked whether science cannot now furnish an argument which ought to
convince any reasonable atheist. I could no more ram religious conviction into an atheist than I
could ram a joke into the Scotchman [who has no sense of humor, who might be able to analyze
jokes in a "scientific" way, but who is quite unable to see the point of a joke].
The only hope of "converting" the latter is that through contact with merry-minded companions
he may being to realise that he is missing something in life which is worth attaining. Probably in
the recesses of his solemn mind there exists inhibited the seed of humour, awaiting an awakening
by such an impulse. The same advice would seem to apply to the propagation of religion; it has,
I believe, the merit of being entirely orthodox advice.

We cannot pretend to offer proofs. Proof is an idol before whom the pure mathematician
tortures himself. In physics, we are generally content to sacrifice before the lesser shrine of
Plausibility. ... Religious conviction is often described in somewhat analogous terms as a
surrender; it is not to be enforced by argument on those who do not feel its claim in their own
nature. (pp 199-200)

14
Is it merely a well-meaning kind of nonsense for a physicist to affirm this necessity for an
outlook beyond physics? It is worse nonsense to deny it. Or, as that ardent relativist the Red
Queen puts it, "You call that nonsense, but I've heard nonsense compared with which that would
be as sensible as a dictionary."

For if those who hold that there must be a physical basis for everything hold that these
mystical views are nonsense, we may ask: What, then, is the physical basis of nonsense? The
"problem of nonsense" touches the scientist more nearly than any other moral problem. He may
regard the distinction of good and evil as too remote to bother about. But the distinction of sense
and nonsense, of valid and invalid reasoning, must be accepted at the beginning of every
scientific inquiry. Therefore, it may well be chosen for examination as a test case.

If the brain contains a physical basis for the nonsense which it thinks, this must be some kind
of configuration of the entities of physics -- not precisely a chemical secretion, but not
essentially different from that kind of product. It is as though when my brain says 7 times 8 are
56 its machinery is manufacturing sugar, but when it says 7 times 8 are 65 the machinery has
gone wrong and produced chalk. But who says the machinery has gone wrong? As a physical
machine, the brain has acted according to the unbreakable laws of physics; so why stigmatise its
action? This discrimination of chemical products as good or evil has no parallel in chemistry.
We cannot assimilate laws of thought to natural laws; they are laws which ought to be obeyed,
not laws which must be obeyed; the physicist must accept laws of thought before he accepts
natural law. "Ought" takes us outside chemistry and physics. It concerns something which
wants or esteems sugar, not chalk, sense, not nonsense. A physical machine cannot esteem or
want anything; whatever is fed into it it will chew up according to the laws of its physical
machinery. That which in the physical world shadows the nonsense in the mind affords no
ground for its condemnation. In a world of aether and electrons, we might perhaps encounter
nonsense; we could not encounter damned nonsense.

And so my own concern lest I should have been talking nonsense ends in persuading me that I
have to reckon with something that could not possibly be found in the physical world. (pp 201-2)

It will perhaps be said that the conclusion to be drawn from these arguments from modern
science is that religion first became possible for a reasonable scientific man about the year 1927.
If we must consider that tiresome person, the consistently reasonable man, we may point out that
not merely religion but most of the ordinary aspects of life first became possible for him in that
year. Certain common activities (e.g. falling in love) are, I fancy, still forbidden him. If our
expectation should prove well founded that 1927 has seen the final overthrow of strict causality
by Heisenberg, Bohr, Born, and others, the year will certainly rank as one of the greatest epochs
in the development of scientific philosophy. ...

The conflict [between science and religion] will not be averted unless both sides confine
themselves to their proper domain, and a discussion which enables us to reach a better
understanding as to the boundary should be a contribution towards a state of peace. There is still
plenty of opportunity for frontier difficulties ... (p 204)

... Scientific discovery is like the fitting together of the pieces of a great jigsaw puzzle; a
revolution of science does not mean that the pieces already arrange and interlocked have to be
dispersed; it means that in fitting on fresh pieces we have had to revise our impression of what
the puzzle-picture is going to be like. One day you ask the scientist how he is getting on; he
replies, "Finely. I have very nearly finished this piece of blue sky." Another day you ask how
the sky is progressing and are told, "I have added a lot more, but it was sea, not sky; there's a
boat floating on top of it." Perhaps next time it will have turned out to be a parasol upside down,
but our friend is still enthusiastically delighted with the progress he is making. The scientist has

15
his guesses as to how the finished picture will work out; he depends largely on these in his
search for other pieces to fit, but his guesses are modified from time to time by unexpected
developments as the fitting proceeds. These revolutions of thought as to the final picture do not
cause the scientist to lose faith in his handiwork, for he is aware that the completed portion is
growing steadily. Those who look over his shoulder and use the present partially developed
picture for purposes outside science, do so at their own risk. (p 205)

... The idea of a universal Mind or Logos would be, I think, a fairly plausible inference from
the present state of scientific theory; at least it is in harmony with it. But if so, all that our
inquiry justifies us in asserting is a purely colourless pantheism. Science cannot tell whether the
world-spirit is good or evil, and its halting argument for the existence of a God might equally
well be turned into an argument for the existence of a Devil.

I think that this is an example of the limitation of physical schemes that has troubled us before
... If physics cannot determine which way up its own world ought to be regarded, there is not
much hope of guidance from it as to ethical orientation. We trust to some inward sense of fitness
when we orient the physical world with the future on top, and, likewise, we must trust to some
inner monitor when we orient the spiritual world with the good on top. (p 206)

... The materialist who is convinced that all phenomena arise from electrons and quanta and
the like controlled by mathematical formulae, must presumably hold the belief that his wife is a
rather elaborate differential equation, but he is probably tactful enough not to obtrude this
opinion in domestic life. If this kind of scientific dissection is felt to be inadequate and
irrelevant in ordinary personal relationships, it is surely out of place in the most personal
relationship of all -- that of the human soul to a divine spirit.

From: "Stephen R. Friberg" <srfriberg@worldnet.att.net>


Date: Thu, 15 Feb 2001

Dear Gary:

I had mentioned that there were quotes from `Abdu'l-Baha relating to education in the context of
materialism. Here is one of them (Some Answered Question, p. 235-236):

Man is in the highest degree of materiality, and at the beginning of spirituality--that is to say, he
is the end of imperfection and the beginning of perfection. ... Then if the divine power in man,
which is his essential perfection, overcomes the satanic power, which is absolute imperfection,
he becomes the most excellent among the creatures; but if the satanic power overcomes the
divine power, he becomes the lowest of the creatures.

The same passage has an absolutely fascinating take on idolatry - the worship of the "lowest
existences." Does it apply to what might be called ideological materialism, the reductionist creed
that `Abdu'l Baha ridicules in his "lets learn from the cow" comments?

At the same time we see man worshiping a stone, a clod of earth or a tree. How vile he is, in that
his object of worship should be the lowest existence-- that is, a stone or clay, without spirit; a
mountain, a forest or a tree. What shame is greater for man than to worship the lowest
existences?

The other passage I wanted to mention is about the three kinds of education (I had gotten it
slightly wrong). The three kinds, all neccessary, are material, human, and spiritual:

16
But education is of three kinds: material, human and spiritual. Material education is concerned
with the progress and development of the body, through gaining its sustenance, its material
comfort and ease. This education is common to animals and man.

Human education signifies civilization and progress-- that is to say, government, administration,
charitable works, trades, arts and handicrafts, sciences, great inventions and discoveries and
elaborate institutions, which are the activities essential to man as distinguished from the animal.

Divine education is that of the Kingdom of God: it consists in acquiring divine perfections, and
this is true education; for in this state man becomes the focus of divine blessings, the
manifestation of the words, "Let Us make man in Our image, and after Our likeness." This is the
goal of the world of humanity.

We need all three kinds of education:

Now we need an educator who will be at the same time a material, human and spiritual educator,
and whose authority will be effective in all conditions. So if anyone should say, "I possess
perfect comprehension and intelligence, and I have no need of such an educator," he would be
denying that which is clear and evident, as though a child should say, "I have no need of
education; I will act according to my reason and intelligence, and so I shall attain the perfections
of existence"; or as though the blind should say, "I am in no need of sight, because many other
blind people exist without difficulty."

-- `Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 8

Very compellingly, and very straightforwardly, `Abdu'l Baha makes the case for the unity of the
material, human, and spiritual dimensions of life through the need for education about all three
realms.

Warmly yours, Stephen R. Friberg

>From gnox@vianet.ca Fri Feb 16 02:07:13 2001 From: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca> To:
<scirel@MIT.EDU> Subject: Re: materialism Date: Thu, 15 Feb 2001 19:56:05 -0500 X-Mailer:
Microsoft Outlook Express 5.00.2919.6600

Dear Steve,

Thanks very much for the SAQ selections. I'll see if there's a way i can work them in to the
discussion on materialism.

Your final comment struck me as a little strange though:

>>Very compellingly, and very straightforwardly, `Abdu'l Baha makes the case for the unity of
the material, human, and spiritual dimensions of life through the need for education about all
three realms.<<

What seems strange is to say that "`Abdu'l Baha makes the case for the unity" when his whole
method is to *distinguish* between those dimensions. He presents a classification, into mutually
exclusive categories, and then says that all three of them need attention. I'd call that
"moderation" or perhaps "comprehensiveness".

Unity, on the other hand, seems to decribe more fittingly the model that people like Damasio are
developing, where the emphasis is on how integrated and inseparable are body, brain, cognition,

17
emotion and intention. (And, some would add, the spirit, though others would resist that
complication -- they consider it a "non-starter", as you mentioned in the context of physics.) For
this line of investigation, even to draw distinctions among these dimensions can be misleading,
because it disguises their integration -- their unity.

Come to think of it, the need for "an educator" is also an idea that's not well supported by what
we know of human learning. (Nobody who studies children's acquisition of language, for
instance, believes that teaching plays any significant role in the process.) -- Unless this
"educator" is at least partially innate ... i wonder if the Baha'i writings support this idea?

Anyway, it's pretty universally understood now that the one person *essentially* involved in the
learning process is *the learner*. Applications of this principle are visible everywhere, not least
in the "training institute" courses being developed around the Baha'i world these days, such as
the Ruhi. So if we want to read `Abdu'l Baha as saying currently relevant things about education,
we have to take some of those things metaphorically.

gary

From: "Stephen R. Friberg" <srfriberg@worldnet.att.net>


To: "Scirel Science and Religion List" <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: RE: materialism
Date: Fri, 16 Feb 2001 06:49:49 -0800
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook IMO, Build 9.0.2416 (9.0.2911.0)
Importance: Normal

Dear Gary:

I wrote:

> >>Very compellingly, and very straightforwardly,


> `Abdu'l Baha makes the case for the unity of
> the material, human, and spiritual dimensions
> of life through the need for education about
> all three realms.<<

You wrote:

> What seems strange is to say that "`Abdu'l Baha makes the case for the
> unity" when his whole method is to *distinguish* between those dimensions.
> He presents a classification, into mutually exclusive categories, and then
> says that all three of them need attention. I'd call that "moderation" or
> perhaps "comprehensiveness".

I see nothing strange about classifying things into categories. All the sciences, nay, even the
mind itself, uses classification. I make distinctions in my life between eating (the material),
reading (the human), and prayer and service (the spiritual) and find that it does me no great
damage. Indeed, I find the emphasis on the spiritual and the distinction between it and the
material and the human to be very useful.

It is a mistake, however, to see them as mutually exclusive categories.

Let me give an example: the image that Baha'is often use is the body. I can certainly distinguish
between the head, my stomach, and my legs. The fact that I distinguish between them doesn't

18
severe them from each other or in any way destroy their unity. But, it does come in very handy
when I need to put a band-aid on. If the scratch is on Danny-kun's legs, (Danny-kun is my
youngest), it doesn't help to put it on his tummy. But just the same, I know if he has a sore
tummy, he is not going to be able to read very easily or run around.

> Come to think of it, the need for "an educator" is also an idea that's not
> well supported by what we know of human learning. (Nobody who studies
> children's acquisition of language, for instance, believes that teaching
> plays any significant role in the process.) -- Unless this "educator" is at
> least partially innate ... i wonder if the Baha'i writings support this
> idea?

All the evidence I've seen suggests quite the opposite, and both public, private and academic
sentiment here in California supports the opposing point of view.

You might read Steven Pinker's book about language acquisition (a topic that some good friends
of mine - Baha'is in Japan - are expert on). He will explain Chomsky's point of view that
language acquisition depends on innate ability, but couple that with all the evidence that noone
learns language in isolation. It is a strongly social phenomena, i.e., there must be educators. My
two young children are learning English - it is a process very strongly dependent on educators.
Since I come from a multi-lingual family and have spent eleven years in Japan, I can tell you
story after story supporting the need for an educator.

> Anyway, it's pretty universally understood now that the one person
> *essentially* involved in the learning process is *the learner*.
> Applications of this principle are visible everywhere, not least in the
> "training institute" courses being developed around the Baha'i world these
> days, such as the Ruhi. So if we want to read `Abdu'l Baha as saying
> currently relevant things about education, we have to take some of those
> things metaphorically.

There is no doubt that in cooking, the eater is also "essentially involved". But, this doesn't
reduce or eliminate the role of the cook. If anything, it explains and enhances it.

Yes, since Dewey one hundred years ago, there has been an emphasis on the learner as an
integral part of the process. Without a doubt, that is true. But there is widespread agreement that
children need teachers and classes and instruction (the opposite - no classes, no teachers, no
instruction - is too horrible to contemplate).
Perhaps I don't catch your drift ....

Warmly,
Steve Friberg

From: "Safa Sadeghpour" <safa@MIT.EDU>


To: <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: RE: materialism
Date: Fri, 16 Feb 2001 10:57:17 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook IMO, Build 9.0.2416 (9.0.2910.0)
Importance: Normal

Dear Gary and Stephen,

19
[ >>Very compellingly, and very straightforwardly,
[ `Abdu'l Baha makes the case for the unity of
[ the material, human, and spiritual dimensions
[ of life through the need for education about
[ all three realms.<<
[
[ What seems strange is to say that "`Abdu'l Baha makes the case for the
[ unity" when his whole method is to *distinguish* between those dimensions.
[ He presents a classification, into mutually exclusive categories, and then
[ says that all three of them need attention. I'd call that "moderation" or
[ perhaps "comprehensiveness".
[

"Unity" has manifold meanings, many meanings of which are unrelated to each other. I suggest
that we be careful when using such broad terms, and read such words in the context of the
sentences, when we are the audience, and qualify them whenever possible, when we are the
authors. For instance, in this discussion the word unity is being used in at least three different
forms, namely, "unity of education," "unity of existence," and "unity of scientific approaches."
While Abdul-Baha talks about the importance of pursuing the first, he never says that material,
human, and spiritual education are all essentially the same or that they we should not
*distinguish* them, which would be the equivalent of believing in a monism, or a "unity of
existence" as it applies to varieties of educational methods. Quite the opposite, if they are all
three necessary then there is an implicit request in Abdul-Baha's passage that they each deserve
to be studied in their own right.

Or, when you are referring below to Damasio's model below you do not mean either "unity of
education" or "unity of existence" but rather you are explaining how converging and diverging
evidence from a diversity of scientific approaches is better able to elucidate the internal workings
of a complex system than the use of one approach, alone and unassisted. All the statements that
you and Stephen have made in this regard strike me as true, but they are speaking about quite
different dimensions on the issues of human nature. It is possible for instance to believe that the
brain and mind are one, and that both subjective, emotional, and intentional approaches are valid
approaches to their study. It is possible, on the other hand, to believe they are separate, but that
only lab experiments, and never subjective introspection, can tell us anything worth knowing
about either. It is then yet another thing when we are told, regardless of what we believe our
intellectual capacity to be !
*made of*, or *how it should be approached scientifically*, that we must, nonetheless, educate
in this and that way. There can be unities or disunities in each area, but they can also be
relatively independent of each other. It muddles the issue to not make their respective meanings
and distinctions clear.

[ Unity, on the other hand, seems to decribe more fittingly the model that
[ people like Damasio are developing, where the emphasis is on how
[ integrated
[ and inseparable are body, brain, cognition, emotion and intention. (And,
[ some would add, the spirit, though others would resist that
[ complication --
[ they consider it a "non-starter", as you mentioned in the context of
[ physics.) For this line of investigation, even to draw distinctions among
[ these dimensions can be misleading, because it disguises their
[ integration -- their unity.
[
[ Come to think of it, the need for "an educator" is also an idea that's not

20
[ well supported by what we know of human learning. (Nobody who studies
[ children's acquisition of language, for instance, believes that teaching
[ plays any significant role in the process.) -- Unless this
[ "educator" is at
[ least partially innate ... i wonder if the Baha'i writings support this
[ idea?
[

Just because a certain level of *spoken* language proficiency can be attained independent of a
teacher that does not mean that an outside educator is not necessary to learn its script (otherwise,
why are there so many cultures that never spontaneousl y developed a script?), to perfect even its
spoken forms (how many world-class speakers never had a literary education?), or develop any
of the full and seemingly endless range of one's material, cultural, and spiritual potentialities.
Ask anyone who has had a coach if she has gained any benefit. Compare a group of children
educated by the finest violin-player and another group left to their own devices. How many
teams have won championships without a coach? Compare two civilizations, one blessed by
Divine Revelation, the other not. Vast differences appear before our eyes when we compare
those who have had the benefit of an educator and those who haven't.

Lovingly yours,
Safa

[ Anyway, it's pretty universally understood now that the one person
[ *essentially* involved in the learning process is *the learner*.
[ Applications of this principle are visible everywhere, not least in the
[ "training institute" courses being developed around the Baha'i world these
[ days, such as the Ruhi. So if we want to read `Abdu'l Baha as saying
[ currently relevant things about education, we have to take some of those
[ things metaphorically.
[

>From gnox@vianet.ca Sat Feb 17 14:10:55 2001


From: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca>
To: "Scirel Science and Religion List" <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: Re: materialism
Date: Sat, 17 Feb 2001 08:08:10 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.00.2919.6600

Dear Steve,

>>I see nothing strange about classifying things into categories.<<

Neither do i. What struck me as strange is your description of a classification process as "making


the case for unity". One makes a case for unity by showing that apparently separate things are
*integrated* in their nature, or emphasizing what a group of different things have *in common*.
This isn't what Abdu'l-Baha is doing in the passage you quoted. In fact he is saying that we need
to pay attention to three different levels of education *because* they are different. That's all i
meant.

>>It is a mistake, however, to see them as mutually exclusive categories.<<

Does not Abdu'l-Baha *define* those categories by contrast with one another? I don't see what's
mistaken about that. If they were *not* mutually exclusive, we wouldn't need all three of them --

21
one of them would do, because of its unity with the "others".

>>You might read Steven Pinker's book about language acquisition <<

Here's what Pinker says in "The Language Instinct" (1994, p.39-40):

>>> First, let us do away with the folklore that parents teach their children language. No one
supposes that parents provide explicit grammar lessons, of course, but many parents (and some
child psychologists who should know better) think that mothers provide children with implicit
lessons. These lessons take the form of a special speech variety called Motherese ... intensive
sessions of conversational give-and-take, with repetitive drills and simplified grammar.... The
belief that motherese is essential to language development is part of the same mentality that
sends yuppies to "learning centers" to buy little mittens with bull's-eyes to help their babies find
their hands sooner.... Children deserve most of the credit for the language they acquire. In fact,
we can show that they know things that they could not have been taught. <<<

Of Pinker you said that

>>He will explain Chomsky's point of view that language acquisition depends on innate ability,
but couple that with all the evidence that noone learns language in isolation.<<

Of course. The language faculty must be triggered, and adults do *model* language use for
children, even though they rarely do so consciously, and it's not helpful when they do. But
Chomsky's (and Pinker's) whole point is that children normally learn things that their models do
not *teach* them, and often learn things that their models do not even know. The most
compelling examples are children who invent complete creole languages with only crude pidgin
languages as models, and children who learn to use sign language skillfully even though nobody
around them models the skills that they develop.

>> It is a strongly social phenomena, i.e., there must be educators. <<

True only if "educator" means nothing more than "other people". Which i don't think is what
Abdu'l-Baha had in mind. :-)

>> My two young children are learning English - it is a process very strongly dependent on
educators. Since I come from a multi-lingual family and have spent eleven years in Japan, I can
tell you story after story supporting the need for an educator. <<

No one questions that educators are needed for a *second* language. So presumably the
auxiliary language that Baha'u'llah calls for will need a conscious education process in order to
be implemented. But that doesn't seem to be what Abdu'l-Baha was referring to in the passage
we're discussing.

>>Yes, since Dewey one hundred years ago, there has been an emphasis on the learner as an
integral part of the process. Without a doubt, that is true. But there is widespread agreement that
children need teachers and classes and instruction ... <<

To learn what? That's the question. Certainly not to learn a first language. To learn the finer
points of cultural conventions, including usage and writing conventions, yes (after all, i was an
English teacher for 25 years! :-) -- but when it comes to the human basics, including the basics of
morality, the role of teachers and formal education is much more ambiguous. And it seems to me

22
that the "transmission" model, where the teacher "has" the knowledge and "imparts" it to the
student, is of very little use in explaining how people learn, or indeed in helping them learn.
Come to think of it, the problem with that model is that it's materialistic! It envisions knowledge
as stuff that can be moved from place to place or person to person. It isn't. Knowledge, like
meaning, is something people *do*. We learn by doing.

gary

}in the byways of high improvidence that's what makes lifework leaving and the world's a cell
for citters to cit in. [Finnegans Wake 12]{

gnusystems }{ Pam Jackson & Gary Fuhrman }{ Manitoulin Island, Canada }{ gnox@vianet.ca
}{ http://www.vianet.ca/~gnox/index.htm }{

>From gnox@vianet.ca Sat Feb 17 17:32:38 2001


From: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca>
To: <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: Re: materialism
Date: Sat, 17 Feb 2001 09:29:59 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.00.2919.6600

Dear Safa,

I responded to Steve's message before seeing that you had already made several of the points i
was trying to make. Oh well.

One thing i'd like to follow up in your message:

>>Compare two civilizations, one blessed by Divine Revelation, the other not. Vast differences
appear before our eyes when we compare those who have had the benefit of an educator and
those who haven't.<<

Lately i've been reading about shamanic cultures (i.e. those in which the shaman plays a key role
in spiritual life, which for them includes things like health, etc.) Would those be examples of
"civilizations not blessed by Divine Revelation"? -- If necessary, i'll explain a bit more about
what a shaman is, and how this kind of "religion" is different from "revelation"-based religions.
In any case i'd like to know what kind of "civilizations" you have in mind.

My question would be: On what basis can we compare these "two civilizations"? Do you think
there is a way of eliminating cultural bias from the comparison? Is there any way of doing it that
is fair (not to mention scientific)?

And even if we can apply a fairly objective measure of "the benefit" you speak of, can we really
demonstrate that these things are benefits "of an educator" rather than effects of other factors that
distinguish the one "civilization" from the other?

Sorry if this is awkwardly put, i'm no anthropologist! But the historical experience of aboriginal
peoples in many parts of the world, including the one i live in, makes me skeptical about claims
to superior civilization coming from those who think they have God or revelation on their side.

By the way, this is another instance where Abdu'l-Baha, if he were with us today, would use very
different language from that preserved in the English translations of his writings. (For starters, he
wouldn't refer to Native people as "savages"!)

23
gary

}in the byways of high improvidence that's what makes lifework leaving and the world's a cell
for citters to cit in. [Finnegans Wake 12]{

gnusystems }{ Pam Jackson & Gary Fuhrman }{ Manitoulin Island, Canada }{ gnox@vianet.ca
}{ http://www.vianet.ca/~gnox/index.htm }{

>From gnox@vianet.ca Sat Feb 17 17:16:03 2001


From: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca>
To: <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: Re: emanation, perfection and other abstrusities and the nature of consciousness
Date: Sat, 17 Feb 2001 10:01:30 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.00.2919.6600

Welcome, Kathy, and thanks for the comments on "Contact". Both you and Roxanne have
confirmed my own impression that the film and the Sagan novel, far from attacking religion,
affirm the common basis of both science and religion in something that we can only call "faith".

>>I highly recommend a book by neurobiologist Antonio Damasio "The Feeling of What
Happens".<<

Me too. In fact a quote from that book played a major role in the essay on "materialism" i posted
here a few days ago. The next draft of that essay will have some *radical* changes, but i'm
keeping Damasio. :-)

gary

}in the byways of high improvidence that's what makes lifework leaving and the world's a cell
for citters to cit in. [Finnegans Wake 12]{

gnusystems }{ Pam Jackson & Gary Fuhrman }{ Manitoulin Island, Canada }{ gnox@vianet.ca
}{ http://www.vianet.ca/~gnox/index.htm }{

>From srfriberg@worldnet.att.net Sat Feb 17 19:10:06 2001


From: "Stephen R. Friberg" <srfriberg@worldnet.att.net>
To: "Scirel Science and Religion List" <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: Education
Date: Sat, 17 Feb 2001 10:03:52 -0800
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook IMO, Build 9.0.2416 (9.0.2911.0)
Importance: Normal

Dear Gary:

I am still trying to understand what you are saying about unity, classification, difference,
education, etc. Would it be correct to say that you have thought these things through and have
your own take on them?

The issue that I brought up is `Abdu'l-Baha's classification of education into "material,"


"human," and "spiritual." As I understand you, you think that making distinctions be- tween
them is not making the case for unity.

24
One makes a case for unity by showing that apparently separate things are *integrated* in their
nature, or emphasizing what a group of different things have *in common*. This isn't what
Abdu'l-Baha is doing in the passage you quoted.

This brings up an interesting question, perhaps one with some important implications. What are
the various relationships between unity and diversity?

In particular, are there more means to show unity than the two you describe above (integration,
having something in common)?

Surely there are more. For example, the Baha'i image of unity is the body: my legs, arms, head,
mouth, stomach, etc., all have different functions and are distinct (albeit it with different
relationships with each other - the mouth has a connection to the brain and the stomach). But all
are unified because they belong to the same entity, my body. This is unity through being a part
of a greater whole. And certainly, one way the three modes of education - material, human, and
spiritual - that `Abdu'l-Baha talks about are unified because all are concerned with the same
entity - the person.

About education: you seem be to saying several things.

You seem to be saying that an integral part of education is the desire and will of the student to
learn, but also that the student has an innate ability to learn. I think that these are widely
accepted, so perhaps we can consider these points uncontroversial.

In particular, you are saying that children have an innate ability to learn language and will learn
it automatically - they don't need to be taught.

Here is where some "garden tending" is needed: from WHAT does the child learn? The answer
is that the child learns from his surroundings and those whom he has access too. She can even
invent a new language, but only if she has others to invent it with.

In otherwords, the child learns from her parents, her peers, TV, radio, pets, the weather, etc. She
learns the language her parents and peers speak, etc. If the parents are educated and use big
words, the child will learn those too, etc.

The point is, I think, that learning "happens," whether the parents or people surrounding the child
make a conscious effort or not. What do we want to call this kind of learning? Is it distinct and
different than "education," some- times thought to be the formal aspect of the learning process?

My own perspective is while it is useful to distinguish between the formal and informal
processes of learning, they are all equally important parts of person's education. And this is the
perspective I understand the Baha'i writings to be taking towards education.

More specifically, I see the Baha'i writings as stipulating that all three kinds education - material,
human, and spiritual - must needs take place and that it is the responsibility of the community,
yes, to help in the process, but that it is the primarily the respons- ibility of the parents to make
sure it happens.

It is further a responsibility of Bahais to engage in service and teaching, the education that we
extend to our family and children, informally and formally, needs be extended to all of the
people in the world - thus, the "educator" as an attribute of God.

25
If we differ in our views, it might be nice to home in the differences, 'cause I suspect it might be
quite enlightening.

By the way, an important (and excellent) compilation on Baha'i education, maybe a little hard to
get, has been made available by the National Baha'i Education Task Force of the National
Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of the United States. It is called: "Foundations for a Spiritual
Education"" and is the basis of the Core Curriculum Program in the United States.

Warmly, Stephen R. Friberg

In fact he > is saying that we need to pay attention to three different levels of > education
*because* they are different. That's all i meant. > > >>It is a mistake, however, to see them as
mutually exclusive categories.<< > > Does not Abdu'l-Baha *define* those categories by
contrast with one > another? I don't see what's mistaken about that. If they were *not* >
mutually exclusive, we wouldn't need all three of them -- one of them would > do, because of its
unity with the "others". > > >>You might read Steven Pinker's book about language acquisition
<< > > Here's what Pinker says in "The Language Instinct" (1994, p.39-40): > > >>> First, let us
do away with the folklore that parents teach their > children language. No one supposes that
parents provide explicit grammar > lessons, of course, but many parents (and some child
psychologists who > should know better) think that mothers provide children with implicit >
lessons. These lessons take the form of a special speech variety called > Motherese ... intensive
sessions of conversational give-and-take, with > repetitive drills and simplified grammar.... The
belief that motherese is > essential to language development is part of the same mentality that
sends > yuppies to "learning centers" to buy little mittens with bull's-eyes to > help their babies
find their hands sooner.... Children deserve most of the > credit for the language they acquire. In
fact, we can show that they know > things that they could not have been taught. <<< > > Of
Pinker you said that > > >>He will explain Chomsky's point of view that language acquisition
depends > on innate ability, but couple that with all the evidence that noone learns > language in
isolation.<< > > Of course. The language faculty must be triggered, and adults do *model* >
language use for children, even though they rarely do so consciously, and > it's not helpful when
they do. But Chomsky's (and Pinker's) whole point is > that children normally learn things that
their models do not *teach* them, > and often learn things that their models do not even know.
The most > compelling examples are children who invent complete creole languages with > only
crude pidgin languages as models, and children who learn to use sign > language skillfully even
though nobody around them models the skills that > they develop. > > >> It is a strongly social
phenomena, i.e., there must be educators. << > > True only if "educator" means nothing more
than "other people". Which i > don't think is what Abdu'l-Baha had in mind. :-) > > >> My two
young children are learning English - it is a process very > strongly dependent on educators.
Since I come from a multi-lingual family > and have spent eleven years in Japan, I can tell you
story after story > supporting the need for an educator. << > > No one questions that educators
are needed for a *second* language. So > presumably the auxiliary language that Baha'u'llah
calls for will need a > conscious education process in order to be implemented. But that doesn't >
seem to be what Abdu'l-Baha was referring to in the passage we're > discussing. > > >>Yes,
since Dewey one hundred years ago, there has been an emphasis on the > learner as an integral
part of the process. Without a doubt, that is true. > But there is > widespread agreement that
children need teachers and classes and > instruction ... << > > To learn what? That's the question.
Certainly not to learn a first > language. To learn the finer points of cultural conventions,
including > usage and writing conventions, yes (after all, i was an English teacher for > 25 years!
:-) -- but when it comes to the human basics, including the > basics of morality, the role of
teachers and formal education is much more > ambiguous. And it seems to me that the
"transmission" model, where the > teacher "has" the knowledge and "imparts" it to the student, is
of very > little use in explaining how people learn, or indeed in helping them learn. > Come to
think of it, the problem with that model is that it's > materialistic! It envisions knowledge as stuff

26
that can be moved from place > to place or person to person. It isn't. Knowledge, like meaning, is
> something people *do*. We learn by doing. > > gary > > }in the byways of high
improvidence that's what makes lifework leaving and > the world's a cell for citters to cit in.
[Finnegans Wake 12]{ > > gnusystems }{ Pam Jackson & Gary Fuhrman }{ Manitoulin Island,
Canada > }{ gnox@vianet.ca }{ http://www.vianet.ca/~gnox/index.htm }{ > > > > >

>From safa@coolarchive.com Sun Feb 18 00:24:09 2001


From: "Safa Sadeghpour" <safa@coolarchive.com>
To: <scirel@mit.edu>
Subject: RE: materialism
Date: Sat, 17 Feb 2001 18:14:07 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook IMO, Build 9.0.2416 (9.0.2910.0)
Importance: Normal

Dear Gary,

The point regarding the two civilizations was to stress the need of an external educator. It was
just one example of many --- the violin players needing a teacher, the astonishing speaker who
needs a literary education, or the basketball team needing a coach were the others. Of course, it
is difficult to argue empirically for the social need of religion *because* it is hard to do
experiments were you two groups relatively similar to each other, and one is giving religion and
other is not. But to observe a child fiddling horribly with a violin and who becomes
extraordinary after years of formal training, a child who becomes part of a team through the
sacrifices of a coach, or the great speakers who shine forth with the eloquence of their learning,
are common experience. If you like, feel free to disregard the point about civilizations, as you
accept the point of the need of an educator.

But, of course, Abdul-Baha himself uses historical arguments to present arguments for the social
benefits of religion.

Lovingly yours, Safa

PS: There are differences between the beliefs of Shaman's and those of world religions but that is
a completely different topic.

[ -----Original Message----- [ From: gnusystems [mailto:gnox@vianet.ca] [ Sent: Saturday,


February 17, 2001 9:30 AM [ To: scirel@MIT.EDU [ Subject: Re: materialism [ [ [ Dear Safa, [
[ I responded to Steve's message before seeing that you had already made [ several of the points i
was trying to make. Oh well. [ [ One thing i'd like to follow up in your message: [ [ >>Compare
two civilizations, one blessed by Divine Revelation, the other [ not. Vast differences appear
before our eyes when we compare [ those who have [ had the benefit of an educator and those
who haven't.<< [ [ Lately i've been reading about shamanic cultures (i.e. those in which the [
shaman plays a key role in spiritual life, which for them includes things [ like health, etc.)
Would those be examples of "civilizations not blessed [ by Divine Revelation"? -- If necessary,
i'll explain a bit more [ about what [ a shaman is, and how this kind of "religion" is different from
[ "revelation"-based religions. In any case i'd like to know what kind of [ "civilizations" you have
in mind. [ [ My question would be: On what basis can we compare these "two [ civilizations"?
Do you think there is a way of eliminating cultural bias [ from the comparison? Is there any way
of doing it that is fair (not to [ mention scientific)? [ [ And even if we can apply a fairly objective
measure of "the benefit" you [ speak of, can we really demonstrate that these things are benefits
"of an [ educator" rather than effects of other factors that distinguish the one [ "civilization" from
the other? [ [ Sorry if this is awkwardly put, i'm no anthropologist! But the historical [
experience of aboriginal peoples in many parts of the world, including the [ one i live in, makes

27
me skeptical about claims to superior civilization [ coming from those who think they have God
or revelation on their side. [ [ By the way, this is another instance where Abdu'l-Baha, if he were
with us [ today, would use very different language from that preserved in [ the English [
translations of his writings. (For starters, he wouldn't refer to Native [ people as "savages"!) [ [
gary [ [ }in the byways of high improvidence that's what makes lifework leaving and [ the
world's a cell for citters to cit in. [Finnegans Wake 12]{ [ [ gnusystems }{ Pam Jackson & Gary
Fuhrman }{ Manitoulin Island, Canada [ }{ gnox@vianet.ca }{
http://www.vianet.ca/~gnox/index.htm }{ [ [ [

From: "Safa Sadeghpour" <safa@coolarchive.com>


To: <scirel@mit.edu>
Subject: RE: emanation, perfection and other abstrusities and the nature of consciousness
Date: Sat, 17 Feb 2001 18:16:06 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook IMO, Build 9.0.2416 (9.0.2910.0)
Importance: Normal

Dear Gary,

I like Damasio as well, but you must bear in mind he is just a neuroscientist. There is statements
that he makes which are derived from his science, such as his studies in language using fMRIs,
and others derived from his personally philosophy, such as his disagreements with Descartes.
While as a Baha'i I read avidly from the first, the second I take with a massive grain of sand.

Lovingly yours, Safa

From: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca>


To: "Stephen R. Friberg" <srfriberg@worldnet.att.net>,
"Scirel Science and Religion List" <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: Re: Education
Date: Sat, 17 Feb 2001 21:36:20 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.00.2919.6600

Dear Steve,

>>This brings up an interesting question, perhaps one with some important implications. What
are the various relationships between unity and diversity?<<

Broad question, but here goes ...

Unity is characteristic of organisms, of systems, things that act and move as *units*.

Let's look at the human race. (What could be more Baha'i than that? :-) It is unified biologically
as a species, just as the various parts of the body are unified biologically by being parts of a
single organism. It is unified in that we all inhabit a single planet. And so forth. It is diverse in
that different people are, well, different. :-)

Now, if i wanted to point out its unity, i would focus on those aspects of humanity that we all
have in common, such as most of our genetic code. I wouldn't start out by saying "There are
three kinds of humans ..." `Abdu'l-Baha in the quote you brought us is explaining the *diversity*
of "education". He is of course doing that in the service of unity, or rather unification, but that's
not what he's focussing on. And rightly so, because diversity is important! As Roszak says in
one of my thousand taglines, "Diversity is the health of ecosystems."

28
Bateson says at one point "Resemblance is older than difference." One thing that evolution and
development do have in common is that both involve *differentiation*. So someone, i think
Thomas Berry, says that diversity seems to be the goal of the universe, if it has one.

Not sure if that's the kind of thing you were asking for, but let's see how that flies before i go any
further.

>>The point is, I think, that learning "happens," whether the parents or people surrounding the
child make a conscious effort or not. What do we want to call this kind of learning? Is it distinct
and different than "education," some- times thought to be the formal aspect of the learning
process? <<

Learning is the basic process. The "formal aspect" i would call schooling. What's left then for
"education"? To me it's not a synonym for learning, because learning is what the organism itself
does, while education involves some external *control* of the learning environment. My point
has been that you can have learning without education -- and as i can testify from my years in the
public school system, you can have education without learning!

This whole discussion arose out of the prevalence in the Writings of the metaphor of
Manifestation as Educator or Teacher. According to the traditional model, the teacher's role is to
control the learning process and guide it toward the outcome that the teacher wants. But learning
does not require external control, and we now know that some of the most vital things we learn --
such as our native language -- happen without such control. What learning requires is an
environment in which the learner can actively *do* things (talk, play, observe examplars and
imitate them, interact, investigate, etc.). Control of this environment can be (and has been) used
to *prevent* learning. The ulama of Baha'u'llah's time (of every time, i suppose) are examples, as
He frequently points out.

Hence my suggestion that if we wish to apply this metaphor wisely, we should at least try
conceiving of the Educator in a non-traditional way, e.g. as the investigative faculty itself, which
is innate in the learner, or perhaps as the provider of a safe and encouraging environment for
investigation -- not as the one in control of what the learner learns, or (worse) the one who
*imparts* learning to the student, like somebody pumping fuel into a tank.

I realize there are some sharks in the theological waters hereabouts ... but i'm ignoring them for
now.

>>If we differ in our views, it might be nice to home in the differences, 'cause I suspect it might
be quite enlightening.<<

I agree. And this is definitely a learning process. Would you call it "education"? I wouldn't.
Well, maybe i would, once i understand what the word means to you. :-)

gary

>From safa@MIT.EDU Sun Feb 18 11:53:40 2001


From: "Safa Sadeghpour" <safa@MIT.EDU>
To: <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: RE: emanation, perfection and other abstrusities
Date: Sun, 18 Feb 2001 05:52:12 -0500
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29
[ -----Original Message-----
[ From: gnusystems [mailto:gnox@vianet.ca]
[ Sent: Thursday, February 15, 2001 9:35 AM
[ To: Safa Sadeghpour; scirel@MIT.EDU
[ Subject: Re: emanation, perfection and other abstrusities
[
[
[ Dear Safa,
[
[ There seems to be an infinite bounty of interesting questions before us --
[ maybe more than we can handle! :-) One of them is the nature of
[ "detachment".
[
[ >>Detachment strike me as a word that connotes emotional aloofness for the
[ sake of achieving goals that would be impossible to achieve for one in the
[ shackles of emotional attachments and drives.<<
[
[ My intuition is that detachment engages *different* emotions than
[ attachment. I don't think we are ever separated from the emotional
[ component of our psyche (at least not while we're conscious and healthy).
[ Aloofness is itself an emotion -- or perhaps a feeling, in
[ Damasio's usage.

Dear Gary,

It depends completely on how you use the word "emotions." If your operational definition of an
emotion is its ability to bring a change in blood flow in the brain (almost the only way Damasio
and any other neuroscientist have access to the human brain), then I would agree with you. If
however what I define as "aloofness" is the ability to control one's emotional states, then it may
be instead observed as the ability to change the flow of blood to limbic areas of the brain (which
are eminently involved in emotional cognition) at will. In that sense, aloofness, as I define it, or
psychological "detachment," in my reading, are not emotions per se, but rather represent the
ability to perform meta-emotional processing. It is the difference between seeing the brain as a
deterministic emotional engine, which responds to events with knee-jerk emotions, to one where
it has conscious free will in its ability to exist in different emotional states. One may nonetheless
experience emotions!
during psychological detachment, but in its purest form any such emotions can be made to
change if desired. Detachment, then, is not necessarily the lack of emotions (how would we
know if we were experiencing the lack of emotions anyways? we even have names for the
emotions that characterize the lack of emotions), but rather the ability to break their deterministic
"shackles." Detachment is a process and a state.

[ (In that usage emotions are whole-body phenomena rather than brain
[ functions and are *prior* to consciousness; feelings are the brain's
[ responses to emotions.) And intuitively, "aloofness" doesn't quite capture
[ it for me. The basic emotion of *surprise* is part of it too -- there's a
[ feeling of alertness, of expecting the unexpected but neither fearing nor
[ hoping for it. But it's very hard to put feelings into words. The language
[ just wasn't designed for that! :-)
[
[ >>Even the term 'heart' is a synonym, at least in my mind, for a certain
[ kind of operation that would be impossible without our higher cognitive
[ faculties. <<

30
[
[ I think this would be a good question for Baha'i neurologists to
[ investigate (if there are any) -- What exactly are the brain
[ functions that
[ we experience as "heart"? (Or the Arabic term thus translated ... is it
[ fu'ad?)

The comparison that has traditionally made with "heart" has been to relate it to the subconscious
or the unconscious mind to it. There are certainly Baha'i neurologists, psychiatrists, and I believe
even neurosurgeons. These are questions that have tremendous potentials in terms of
illuminating answers (not just for Baha'is but for the world! --- look at the interest in Damasio's
book), and I agree with you in saying that they need to be explored.

Lovingly yours,

Safa

[
[ gary
[
[ }Precious things lead one astray. [Laotse]{
[
[ gnusystems }{ Pam Jackson & Gary Fuhrman }{ Manitoulin Island, Canada
[ }{ gnox@vianet.ca }{ http://www.vianet.ca/~gnox/index.htm }{
[
[
[

>From gnox@vianet.ca Sun Feb 18 14:31:27 2001


From: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca>
To: <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: Re: materialism
Date: Sun, 18 Feb 2001 07:42:07 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.00.2919.6600

Dear Safa,

>> If you like, feel free to disregard the point about civilizations, as you accept the point of the
need of an educator. <<

I don't feel entirely free to disregard it, as it is a motif in the Writings. It's a hermeneutical
question -- how do we interpret such statements as that in the sixth Taraz which i used as
inscription to the materialism essay:

>>>Such arts and material means as are now manifest have been achieved by virtue of His
knowledge and wisdom which have been revealed in Epistles and Tablets through His Most
Exalted Pen--a Pen out of whose treasury pearls of wisdom and utterance and the arts and crafts
of the world are brought to light.<<<

A literal reading would have all the arts and crafts in the world being derived from the Writings
of Baha'u'llah. My suggestion is that we need a better interpretation of this in order to reconcile it

31
with what we know through scientific inquiry about learning and the development of cultures.
And an alternative reading of the "Educator" metaphor is needed for the same reason.

>>PS: There are differences between the beliefs of Shaman's and those of world religions but
that is a completely different topic.<<

But it's such an interesting one! :-) Specifically, i wonder whether we are to tacitly include
shamanic religion when we express the Baha'i principle that all religions are founded on the one
spiritual reality, i.e. all are creations of God. Or would it be wiser to restrict the reference to the
Abrahamic religions, as Baha'u'llah did in practice (though not in theory, as per Abdu'l-Baha's
interpretations). And of course one of the essential differences is that in shamanic religion the
role of Educator, or what we call Manifestation of God, is much more widely distributed than in
the standard Baha'i model. Some researchers even claim that the shaman as specialist is a
relatively recent development, that in the earliest forms of religion everyone was a shaman, more
or less.

I do think this is related to scientific questions, though perhaps distantly. :-)

gary

}The other side of the globe is but the home of our correspondent. [Thoreau]{

gnusystems }{ Pam Jackson & Gary Fuhrman }{ Manitoulin Island, Canada }{ gnox@vianet.ca
}{ http://www.vianet.ca/~gnox/index.htm }{

>From gnox@vianet.ca Sun Feb 18 14:21:07 2001


From: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca>
To: <scirel@mit.edu>
Subject: Re: emanation, perfection and other abstrusities and the nature of consciousness
Date: Sun, 18 Feb 2001 08:02:38 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.00.2919.6600

Dear Safa,

>>I like Damasio as well, but you must bear in mind he is just a neuroscientist.<<

That sounds awfully reductive! Damasio is just a neuroscientist -- Steve Friberg is just an
engineering physicist -- i'm just a retired English teacher. Where will it all end? Baha'u'llah is
just a political risoner? -- Sorry, just pulling your leg a bit.

I guess my real point is that philosophy, in the sense you're talking about here, is something we
all do, and the only difference between us is where we draw our ideas from. It seems to me that
the only philosophers who are making any progress in recent decades are those paying some
attention to the scientific data coming in from studies of the brain and models analogous to it.
Damasio has neither more nor less authority than professional academic philosophers, in my
opinion. I don't think of philosophy as a specialized field.

>> There is statements that he makes which are derived from his science, such as his studies in
language using fMRIs, and others derived from his personally philosophy, such as his
disagreements with Descartes. While as a Baha'i I read avidly from the first, the second I take
with a massive grain of sand.<<

32
I also take his reports of lab work with a grain of salt (i think that's the idiom you meant?). If i
can't understand where the information comes from, how it was generated, then i don't feel free
to incorporate it into my own "philosophy" or Theory of Everything. I think scientists have a
responsibility to explain their discoveries in language which is accessible to the intelligent non-
specialist. And when i have taken the time to struggle through some jargon-laden research report,
i have rarely found that it was worth the trouble, as the content was no more significant than the
content of books in plain English like Damasio's.

gary

}The other side of the globe is but the home of our correspondent. [Thoreau]{

gnusystems }{ Pam Jackson & Gary Fuhrman }{ Manitoulin Island, Canada }{ gnox@vianet.ca
}{ http://www.vianet.ca/~gnox/index.htm }{

>From srfriberg@worldnet.att.net Sun Feb 18 21:39:33 2001


From: "Stephen R. Friberg" <srfriberg@worldnet.att.net>
To: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca>,
"Scirel Science and Religion List" <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: RE: Education
Date: Sun, 18 Feb 2001 12:03:48 -0800
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook IMO, Build 9.0.2416 (9.0.2911.0)
Importance: Normal

Dear Gary:

About unity, you wrote: "unity is a characteristic of organisms, of systems, things that act and
move as *units*"

For completeness, I am adding several other definitions from the dictionary:

1.The state or quality of being one; singleness. 2.The state or quality of being in accord;
harmony. 3.a. The combination or arrangement of parts into a whole; unification. b. A
combination or union thus formed. 4.Singleness or constancy of purpose or action; continuity:
In an army you need unity of purpose (Emmeline Pankhurst). 5.a. An ordering of all elements in
a work of art or literature so that each contributes to a unified aesthetic effect. b. The effect thus
produced. 6.Mathematics. a. The number 1. b. See identity element. Unity implies agreement and
collaboration among interdependent, usually varied components: Reli- gion . . . calls for the
integration of lands and peoples in harmonious unity (Vine Deloria, Jr.).

About `Abdu'l-Baha's quote to the effect that education has material, human, and spiritual
components, you say

[he] is explaining the *diversity* of "education". He is of course doing that in the service of
unity, or rather unification, but that's not what he's focusing on. And rightly so, because
diversity is important!"

My reading of it is that he is saying that education can be thought of as being of three kinds (i.e.,
a diversity), but that all are necessary for the development of human potential. Focusing on just
one or two at the expense of a third is dangerous and "disunifying", if you will.

33
Thus, for whatever the reasons might be, there is very little spiritual education these days. The
result is an imbalance both in the individual human psyche and our collective ability to solve
pressing human and social problems.

In terms of "hits" on the various definitions of unity from above, this reading hits squarely on
your definition and dictionary defn. 1 (the individual or society as a unit); defn. 2 (accord,
harmony), 3a (unification), 3b (union), 4 (singleness of purpose) and the comment afterwards
(agreement and collaboration among interdependent, usually varied components). Defns. 5 and
6 aren't appropriate.

This is a perfect score (a score of unity?). It is interesting to note that diversity is built into
almost all the definitions of unity as an intrinsic part. There is nothing to unify without diversity
(didn't Lao-tzu have some interesting things to say about this?). So, definitely, diversity is there.

About the definition of education: I hope you forgive me for again going to the dictionary.
There it says:

1. The act or process of educating or being educated. 2. The knowledge or skill obtained or
developed by a learning process. 3. A program of instruction of a specified kind or level: driver
education; a college education. 4. The field of study that is concerned with the pedagogy of
teaching and learning. 5. An instructive or enlightening experience: Her work in the inner city
was a real education.

For you:

Learning is the basic process. The 'formal aspect' i would call schooling. What's left then for
'education? To me it's not a synonym for learning, because learning is what the organism itself
does, while education involves some external *control* of the learning environment. My point
has been that you can have learning without education -- and as i can testify from my years in the
public school system, you can have education without learning!"

Referring again to the dictionary definition, we can see that education enjoys a very wide
definition, encompassing the processes of teaching and learning (defn. 1), the end result of
learning (defn. 2), schooling (defn. 3), the study of teaching and learning (defn. 4), and important
learning experiences (defn. 5).

So education, and by extension what is meant by the Educator, already has a much broader
definition than what you call the traditional model below. (I come from a family of educators
going back more than seventy years, and we, as well as a broad educated segment of the public,
never thought of the model that you talk about as being the current one, although it could be the
traditional one of several centuries ago.)

> This whole discussion arose out of the prevalence in the Writings of the > metaphor of
Manifestation as Educator or Teacher. According to the > traditional model, the teacher's role is
to control the learning process > and guide it toward the outcome that the teacher wants. But
learning does > not require external control, and we now know that some of the most vital >
things we learn -- such as our native language -- happen without such > control. What learning
requires is an environment in which the learner can > actively *do* things (talk, play, observe
examplars and imitate them, > interact, investigate, etc.). Control of this environment can be (and
has > been) used to *prevent* learning. The ulama of Baha'u'llah's time (of every > time, i
suppose) are examples, as He frequently points out. > > Hence my suggestion that if we wish to
apply this metaphor wisely, we > should at least try conceiving of the Educator in a non-
traditional way, > e.g. as the investigative faculty itself, which is innate in the learner, > or

34
perhaps as the provider of a safe and encouraging environment for > investigation -- not as the
one in control of what the learner learns, or > (worse) the one who *imparts* learning to the
student, like somebody > pumping fuel into a tank.

Much of this, as I point out above, is already implied by what the word education means. And
much of this is already a long accepted part of pedagogical theory (even to the point where it
sometimes accepted blindly and without thinking). The modern debates on education, I submit,
start with a triple heritage: various aspects of traditional liberal education (exposure to great
literature, teaching to think for one self, providing a learning environment, access to books, arts,
a stimulating environment, opportunity) and our experience with pedagogy (teaching language,
math, business, and livlihood skills), and religious education (teaching of prayers, morals, ethics,
purpose of life).

Perhaps this discussion can pick up when Sandy Fotos, a Baha'i from Japan with a strong
practical and academic background in pedagogy (where she has an international reputation)
comes on line in several weeks.

Warmly, Steve

>From srfriberg@worldnet.att.net Mon Feb 19 06:26:05 2001


From: "Stephen R. Friberg" <srfriberg@worldnet.att.net>
To: "Safa Sadeghpour" <safa@MIT.EDU>, <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: RE: emanation, perfection and other abstrusities
Date: Sun, 18 Feb 2001 20:51:26 -0800
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook IMO, Build 9.0.2416 (9.0.2911.0)
Importance: Normal

Dear Safa:

I'm very intrigued by your commments on detachment as an ability to control one's emotions
rather than being controlled by them.

I see us, paralleling `Abdu'l-Baha (and others), as having an animal component and the
possibility of a spiritual component. My guess is that many aspects of our social life are indeed
based on behavior developed through evolutionary development, much as the sociobiologists
would have it. But, my understanding of such things as spiritual education, detachment, etc., is
that our responsibility as human beings is to escape being *controlled* by those processes - the
fight or flee reflex, for example, should not override our common sense.

Damasio's emotions are to be found located in distinct processes in various parts of the brain,
suggesting that they are not yet aspects of an integrated mind - the unbreakable entity postulated
by `Abdu'l-Baha (and others, to be sure). Is detachment one of these integrated processes and
thus something not isolatable and locatable in a specific section of the brain?

Warmly yours, Steve Friberg

> It depends completely on how you use the word "emotions." If your operational definition > of
an emotion is its ability to bring a change in blood flow in the brain (almost the > only way
Damasio and any other neuroscientist have access to the human brain), then I > would agree with
you. If however what I define as "aloofness" is the ability to control > one's emotional states,
then it may be instead observed as the ability to change the flow > of blood to limbic areas of the
brain (which are eminently involved in emotional > cognition) at will. In that sense, aloofness, as
I define it, or psychological > "detachment," in my reading, are not emotions per se, but rather

35
represent the ability to > perform meta-emotional processing. It is the difference between seeing
the brain as a > deterministic emotional engine, which responds to events with knee-jerk
emotions, to one > where it has conscious free will in its ability to exist in different emotional
states. > One may nonetheless experience emotions!

> during psychological detachment, but in its purest form any such emotions can be made to >
change if desired. Detachment, then, is not necessarily the lack of emotions (how would > we
know if we were experiencing the lack of emotions anyways? we even have names for the >
emotions that characterize the lack of emotions), but rather the ability to break their >
deterministic "shackles." Detachment is a process and a state. >> The comparison that has
traditionally made with "heart" has been to relate it to the > subconscious or the unconscious
mind to it. There are certainly Baha'i neurologists, > psychiatrists, and I believe even
neurosurgeons. These are questions that have tremendous > potentials in terms of illuminating
answers (not just for Baha'is but for the world! --- > look at the interest in Damasio's book), and I
agree with you in saying that they need to > be explored.

>From srfriberg@worldnet.att.net Mon Feb 19 19:05:51 2001


From: "Stephen R. Friberg" <srfriberg@worldnet.att.net>
To: "Scirel Science and Religion List" <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: RE: Education
Date: Mon, 19 Feb 2001 08:51:09 -0800
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook IMO, Build 9.0.2416 (9.0.2911.0)
Importance: Normal

Dear Gary:

> I'm happy that you agree that the Divine Educator is not properly conceived > as an authority
external to the learner, nor education in terms of > institutions.

Actually, I wouldn't put it this way at all. I know that "authority" is a bad word to many and it
describes certain very dogmatic traditions of the type associated with "spare the rod and spoil the
child" type methods of schooling. However, authority can also means grasp of what needs to be
taught and how to effectively teach it, i.e., professionalism, care, and a knowledge of what leads
to higher things and what leads to lower things.

I certainly believe that Baha'u'llah's words have authority. At least for me, they do.

My intent was to say that education has many aspects, many many layers: it involves learning,
teaching, the effect of the peers, formal education curriculum, informal teaching in the family
and in a community, the whole array of materials like encycolopedias, textbooks, etc., developed
to inform and educate people. All of these things are, in my opinion, factored into the meaning
of the Divine Educator.

Central to the Writings about education, I think, is the theme of education as a process revealing
man's potential:

Man is the supreme Talisman. Lack of a proper education hath, however, deprived him of that
which he doth inherently possess. Through a word proceeding out of the mouth of God he was
called into being; by one word more he was guided to recognize the Source of his education; by
yet another word his station and destiny were safeguarded.

36
The Great Being saith: Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can,
alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom. -- Baha'u'llah,
Gleanings from the Writings of Baha'u'llah, p. 259 - 269

This seems to entail that we - us - not just the state, or other people - take an active role and
responsibility for educating our children and the world.

>> However, in light of this, i wonder how you can make a generalization like this. "Thus, for
whatever the reasons might be, there is very little spiritual education these days.<<

I think that, overwhelmingly, the case is that there is very little spiritual education these days. I
can give you example after example illustrating the reasons why I think that to be the case.

For example, religious education in public schools is not allowed in many, many countries
around the world, the United States, Japan, China, France, and Russia just being a few
representative examples. Regardless of how you read issues of religious freedom, the result is
that "mention of God hath [not] been made," and many moral and ethical issues, often thought to
be entangled with sectarian religion, are not addressed. In my family's experience, this is an
overwhelming concern of parents and educators in both Japan and the United States. Be- cause
of the collapse of religion - very complete in many, many countries (the US is an exception, but
still the numbers of students attending Sunday school is low) - the concept of spiritual education
is often simply missing.

I think the litany of problems is widely familiar and I need not go into it in any detail - the media
mainly provide escapist entertainment with strong components of violence and titillation, etc.,
etc. I am not trying to say that there are not bright spots or that there are not communities around
the world doing good things, but I don't think that I am going out on a limb to say that the
environment that we have created in education emphasizes things like rote learning for jobs,
passing tests to get into colleges and universities that lead to good jobs, attempts at warehousing
students, etc., etc. If you disagree with this now widely-familiar litany, by all means say so.

Even the religious education that many people around the world get is narrow, antiquated, and
very sectarian.

There are real problems here. Overall, I would say that our education system, if and when it
does work, aims at material and human education, but almost never spiritual. There are very real
historical reasons for this - the close coupling of school systems with national aims, etc.

> I also wonder whether the consensus about this is as > established as you say here: > > >>So
education, and by extension what is meant by the > Educator, already has a much broader
definition than > what you call the traditional model below. (I come > from a family of
educators going back more than seventy > years, and we, as well as a broad educated segment >
of the public, never thought of the model that you > talk about as being the current one, although
it > could be the traditional one of several centuries > ago.) <<

Good point. My experience with teachers and educators is that most, although not all, understand
this. In Japan, a country pre-occupied with its education system, these issues are widely
understood. Generally speaking, while people - especially teachers - understand these things,
overwhelming problems of access to resources and other social and community issues (politics,
etc.) override concerns and determine what happens. The result is that teaching as people know
how, except in very well- to-do communities, gets short shrift.

37
> It wasn't several centuries ago that Dewey issued his challenge to the > transmission model of
education; and Paolo Friere saw a need to challenge > that model even more recently (he called it
the "banking" model). Even if > the learner-centered model prevails in the North America, this
may not be > true elsewhere.

It certainly once prevailed in Japan, although it now seems to be failing under multiple pressures.
The liberal model combined with the professional model is dominant in American universities,
and attracts students from all around the world. But, generally, there seems to be an
unwillingness to devote resources to education and even in North America, the model is not
guaranteed to persevere.

> In her excellent book "Peripheral Visions", Mary Catherine Bateson > describes her
experiences teaching at the University of Tehran. To "teach" > her class about cultural
differences regarding the interaction between > mothers and children, she brought some mother-
child pairs into the > classroom so the students could observe their behavior and interact with >
them. The university administrators did not consider this "teaching" at > all, and the students
found it difficult to adjust to the new experience of > learning by methods other than
transmission (lecture).

These are due to religious/political isssues of the type that override the education process. My
feeling is that if we understand what education truly entails, then we better understand who
Baha'u'llah is and how he wishes to shape society. And we do this in large part by contrasting
his teachings with both what happens in various societies around the world and with people's
concerns.

Warmly, Steve

>From gnox@vianet.ca Tue Feb 20 16:39:16 2001


From: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca>
To: <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: materialism and information explosion
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2001 09:47:09 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.00.2919.6600

I've just been reading Nader Saiedi's new book "Logos and Civilization", and in the first chapter
he equates "materialist" methodology with "historical reductionism", relating it to causative
explanations, pretty much the same way i did in the draft on materialism posted here last week.
So i guess there's nothing new about *that* idea, anyway. :-)

I'd also like to copy here part of a message from another list because it touches on so many of the
issues we've been discussing here, in a way that integrates them. A few questions follow.

================= What I see as the major problem with the exponential expansion of
human knowledge is that it outstrips our cultural capacity to integrate all the new information
into a coherent world view. Joseph Campbell taught that human cultures depend on the
transformation of myths through time. Human cultures that fail to retain an integrated mythology
fail to satisfy us......we feel isolated and "future shocked". I agree with E. O. Wilson that this is
an important issue that science should deal with. Wilson has called for consilience of human
knowledge from physics to biology to sociology to art and religion. I think it is possible for
education to provide the members of our society with a coherent view of the unity of nature and
the various ways that have been found to explore human existence. A major problem that we
face is specialization. Our culture rewards the best specialists in every field of human endeavor.

38
What would happen if we put more emphasis on rewarding the generalists who are able to
integrate human experience across disciplinary boundaries?

I like the idea that our culture has a need to pursue the classical tasks of the philosopher. I am
greatly impressed by philosophers like Dan Dennett who are willing and able to look over the
shoulders of hyper-specialized scientists and make sense of broad swaths of the human
condition. I'd go as far as to say that government funded research labs with more than a dozen
members should be required to hire a philosopher, a journalist or an artist. Wilson makes the
case that there is no aspect of human experience that must remain outside of the concerns of
science, so there is also the inverse task of getting scientists to engage with the elements of our
culture that science has traditionally avoided. China tried sending scientists into the steel mills
and rice paddies. I would not go to that extreme, but programs that send scientists into
government, journalism, and other segments of society are useful. =====================

Most of this makes a lot of sense to me -- especially the importance of the "information
explosion" problem. It's a problem that does not seem to be acknowledged in our Writings; at
least, i've done my best to look for references to it, using as much interpretive latitude as i dared,
and come up empty. (And i don't think it helps to deny that this is a *spiritual* problem.) So this
is one of the things that makes me wonder what is meant by the claim that the prescription for all
the current ills of mankind can be found in the Writings.

My questions re the quote above: Where does religion fit in this picture? Or, alternatively, where
does this picture fit in religion, specifically in the Baha'i Faith?

Of course, if the quote doesn't make sense to you, then the questions won't either. :-)

gary

}All the charictures in the drame! [Finnegans Wake 302]{

gnusystems }{ Pam Jackson & Gary Fuhrman }{ Manitoulin Island, Canada }{ gnox@vianet.ca
}{ http://www.vianet.ca/~gnox/index.htm }{

>From srfriberg@worldnet.att.net Tue Feb 20 21:08:22 2001


From: "Stephen R. Friberg" <srfriberg@worldnet.att.net>
To: <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: RE: materialism and information explosion
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2001 11:52:32 -0800
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook IMO, Build 9.0.2416 (9.0.2911.0)
Importance: Normal

Dear Gary:

You quote:

> What I see as the major problem with the exponential expansion of > human knowledge is that
it outstrips our cultural capacity to > integrate all the new information into a coherent world
view. Joseph > Campbell taught that human cultures depend on the transformation of > myths
through time. Human cultures that fail to retain an integrated > mythology fail to satisfy
us......we feel isolated and "future > shocked".

The view from Silicon Valley, one of the epicenters of the human knowledge explosion,
certainly acknowledges the dislocations that human knowledge (or more correctly, the

39
technological and procedural changes that flow from the application of this human knowledge)
have brought about.

But, we see it as opportunity, rather than a problem. The opportunities are very real - the
liberation of women from a life of drudgery, the education of everyone in the planet, a shared
communication system so that everyone has ready and easy access to knowledge and
information, indeed, even power. The list is endless (but then, this is California).

As a Baha'i, I would go further still. It is this information explosion and the rise of the
internet/information economies (and the corresponding technological advances) that are the
driving material and human forces behind the emergence of a new world order - it is part and
parcel of the Revelation of God. God's will is not confined, as some would have it, to the
Teaching's of Baha'u'llah. Rather the Teachings of Baha'u'llah are God's will given verbal form
that reflect, anticipate, and serve as a guide to the enormous transformations taking place on the
planet - the instruction booklet, if you will - for the changes taking place.

A note about mythology: the reliance of mankind on mythological viewpoints - viewpoints that
are in many cases identical to or indistinguishable from superstition and ignorance - is some-
thing that drives many, many people to despair. There is a widespread - and growing -
consensus that we have to severe our need for mythologies. Nothing less than the harmonious
interaction of the peoples of the world, in my opinion, depends on eliminating the fractious and
dividing mythologies of ancient creeds. A central viewpoint of the Faith is that there is a need
for a universal - not particular - religion that unites everybody in a vision of the future (not a
mythology of the past).

> Most of this makes a lot of sense to me -- especially the > importance of the "information
explosion" problem. It's a > problem that does not seem to be acknowledged in our Writings; >
at least, I've done my best to look for references to it, > using as much interpretive latitude as i
dared, and come up > empty. (And i don't think it helps to deny that this is a > *spiritual*
problem.) So this is one of the things that > makes me wonder what is meant by the claim that
the > prescription for all the current ills of mankind can > be found in the Writings.

My understanding of the Writings is quite different than yours. The Writings are totally infused
with this theme, indeed, it is the central topic of the concept of progressive revelation. `Abdu'l-
Baha's many talks in his swings through Europe and the United States are all about this theme, as
are the plans of the Guardian to structure the Baha'i community so as to play its proper role in
the radical changes of the world: the rolling up of the old world order and the unrolling of the
new.

The Baha'i Writings, to a degree much above that of any other source I know of, anticipate and
describe these changes, point out their direction, and describe the opportunities we have: nothing
less than the achievement of the long prophecies maturity of the human race.

> My questions re the quote above: Where does religion fit in > this picture? Or, alternatively,
where does this picture fit > in religion, specifically in the Baha'i Faith?

Religion, much more than any other institution we know of, is the integrator, the bringer together
of diverse knowledges for the use and benefit of everybody. Its appeal is to all and all can
benefit. Thus, it has everywhere been the bringer of knowledge - both secular and spiritual - the
arts, literature, and indeed, the metaphysical and emotional framework that has provided for
organized and harmonious human life.

40
Now, recently, that has not been the case. It is national forms of organization that have taken
over the role of religion, often not doing it very well, but in some case, setting new and higher
standards.

This brings up a quandary: if we talk about the Baha'i Faith as a religion, we categorizes it along
with various sectarian efforts. And certainly, Baha'is can act that way. But, it is, much as the
religions of the past have been, much much more than that. One of the fruits of the information
explosion is that we now know what religions have achieved.

Warmly, Steve

>From owner@sociologist.com Wed Feb 21 00:41:01 2001


X-Sender: mfoster@mail.qni.com
X-Mailer: QUALCOMM Windows Eudora Version 4.3.1
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2001 17:26:12 -0600
To: scirel@MIT.EDU
From: "Mark A. Foster" <owner@sociologist.com>
Subject: Re: materialism and information explosion

Gary,

At 09:47 a.m. 2/20/01 -0500, you wrote:


> >>I've just been reading Nader Saiedi's new book "Logos and Civilization", and in the first
chapter he equates "materialist" methodology with "historical reductionism", relating it to
causative explanations, pretty much the same way i did in the draft on materialism posted here
last week. So i guess there's nothing new about *that* idea, anyway. :)<<

I think it is important to distinguish between several terms:

1. Philosophical naturalism: This is the view that only the natural world is real. (To sociologists
and other social scientists, "naturalism" has an entirely different meaning from "positivism,"
which is discussed below. However, I am here using naturalism with its more common
philosophical meaning.)

2. Materialism: This is the view that non-natural phenomena (thought, spirit, etc.) are a product
of material forces. For instance, Lenin argued that the human spirit was produced by the brain.
(Materialism is actually more open to the existence of spiritual substances than is metaphysical
naturalism.)

3. Methodological naturalism: The view that the proper object of scientific investigation is the
natural world. Methodological naturalism does not itself posit that there is no spiritual world -
though many proponents of methodological naturalism (i.e., most physical and biological
scientists) are also metaphysical naturalists - but that science can only treat natural conditions. In
sociology, this view is called positivism (or, more recently, neo-positivism) - in which social
phenomena are regarded as natural and explicable in terms of the methodologies of the physical
and biological sciences. Methodological naturalism, or positivism, is now generally regarded as
naive by sociologists - just as classical behaviorism (a positivistic theory) has been deprecated by
much of mainstream psychology.

4. Methodological empiricism: This epistemology, as I would express it, represents a synthesis


between methodological naturalism and humanism. It is a telescoping of methodological
naturalism to incorporate human motivations, subjective interpretations, and other factors not
directly accessible through naturalistic means.

41
In my view, both forms of naturalism are severely limited in focus. Their definitions of either the
universe (philosophical naturalism) or of the scientific method (methodological naturalism) are
unnecessarily restrictive.

Furthermore, methodological naturalism will frequently lead researchers to adopt a posture of


philosophical naturalism - even though the two are not necessarily connected. Dawkins, for
instance, is frequently quoted (accurately) as having bragged that evolution has allowed him to
be a fulfilled atheist.

In my view, philosophical materialism is a more appropriate philosophy of science than is


philosophical naturalism; and methodological empiricism is a more useful scientific
epistemology than is methodological naturalism.

As 'Abdu'l-Baha said to Dr. Forel, the mind comprehends the abstract (intellectual realities) by
the aid of the concrete (material realities); and it is the job of scientists to study concrete
phenomena - not the world of spirit or divine purpose (which is the function of religion).
Likewise, the methodology of empiricism acknowledges that emotions and values, not just
material objects, can be studied with the scientific method.

Cordially, Mark A. Foster, PhD, Assoc. Prof. of Sociology


Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, KS
Portal to My 12 Domains & 8 Sites: http://MarkFoster.net
My Toll-Free Pager #: 1-888-365-0000 extension 70251

>From gnox@vianet.ca Wed Feb 21 05:01:19 2001


From: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca>
To: <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: Re: materialism and information explosion
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2001 21:13:43 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.00.2919.6600

Dear Steve,

>>The view from Silicon Valley, one of the epicenters of the human knowledge explosion,
certainly acknowledges the dislocations that human knowledge (or more correctly, the
technological and procedural changes that flow from the application of this human knowledge)
have brought about. But, we see it as opportunity, rather than a problem.<<

Reading this, i can't help thinking that your overtly Silicon Valley-centric vision of "knowledge"
has blocked your view of the problem. The problem is not new technology, or new knowledge,
or procedural changes of any sort. The problem is the sheer *volume* of information which
concerned and alert people today have to somehow sort and integrate. The typical response is
either to slot oneself into ever narrower specialties, or wrap oneself in a cocoon of entertainment
as a defence against the ever-growing "threat" of potential interaction. Even in entertainment
itself we can see the pattern reflected: 25 years ago one had a choice of 12 TV channels, tops.
Now many have a choice of hundreds. Is it just as easy to pick the right one? Now think of TV
itself as a technology for *avoiding* relevant information, and you get an inkling of the
explosion of relevant information going on *outside* the box.

Sorry, but i think Silicon Valley is just as far out on the fringes of the real information explosion
as the rest of us are. :-)

42
>> The opportunities are very real - the liberation of women from a life of drudgery, the
education of everyone in the planet, a shared communication system so that everyone has ready
and easy access to knowledge and information, indeed, even power. <<

Again, you're talking about social and technological advances, not about the information
environment of which that technology is the vehicle. "Ready and easy access to knowledge" was
a utopian dream in an information-poor age such as the 19th century -- but like many utopian
dreams, it has turned into a nightmare in the process of coming true.

>> Rather the Teachings of Baha'u'llah are God's will given verbal form that reflect, anticipate,
and serve as a guide to the enormous transformations taking place on the planet - the instruction
booklet, if you will - for the changes taking place.<<

The people of the 21st Century hear advertising claims like this all the time. The few who
haven't tuned them out altogether will naturally say "Show me!" Are we ready to do that? In a
sound bite if necessary? (That's the question i call myself to account with each day.)

>>A note about mythology: the reliance of mankind on mythological viewpoints - viewpoints
that are in many cases identical to or indistinguishable from superstition and ignorance - is
something that drives many, many people to despair. There is a widespread - and growing -
consensus that we have to severe our need for mythologies. Nothing less than the harmonious
interaction of the peoples of the world, in my opinion, depends on eliminating the fractious and
dividing mythologies of ancient creeds. A central viewpoint of the Faith is that there is a need
for a universal - not particular - religion that unites everybody in a vision of the future (not a
mythology of the past). <<

If so, the Faith is in full accord with Joseph Campbell on this point. But this accord is disguised
by your claim that we need to "sever(?) our need for mythologies." Myth is just another term for
the kind of unifying vision you are talking about here, and dispensing with it would be the same
as dispensing with religion, or language. This in itself illustrates the problem with the
information explosion. We find what appears to be two different theories on what mankind
needs, but through dialogue, we often discover that the difference is nothing but names. And just
as often, we discover that two sources using the same names differ enormously in the real
guidance they offer. We could easily spend our lives in these investigations -- for it's not just
junk information that is exploding, some of it is genuine spiritual material. :-) With due respect
to your incorrigible optimism, i don't think you can just wave all this away.

>>My understanding of the Writings is quite different than yours. The Writings are totally
infused with this theme [the "information explosion" problem], indeed, it is the central topic of
the concept of progressive revelation.<<

Well -- show me. I've been reading PUP on and off lately, as well as Secret of Divine
Civilization, and i see no reference whatever to an information explosion problem, in those
words or any others. Just one quote will suffice. But remember, we're looking for something
more specific than "radical changes of the world".

>> The Baha'i Writings, to a degree much above that of any other source I know of, anticipate
and describe these changes, point out their direction, and describe the opportunities we have:
nothing less than the achievement of the long prophecies maturity of the human race. <<

While we're at it, i would also like to see the "anticipations" of other specific "changes", such as
the threats to the carrying capacity of the earth, the imminent global water shortage, global
warming, domination of economic decision-making by transnational corporations, the ethical

43
challenges of genetic engineering. Any of those that you come across will help ... some of them
are admittedly not as spiritual in nature as the information explosion, but i thought we were
affirming the *unity* of material, human and spiritual here.

>> This brings up a quandary: if we talk about the Baha'i Faith as a religion, we categorizes it
along with various sectarian efforts. And certainly, Baha'is can act that way. But, it is, much as
the religions of the past have been, much much more than that. <<

An excellent point, i think.

>> One of the fruits of the information explosion is that we now know what religions have
achieved. <<

I would say that the information explosion has made it *more difficult* to "know what religions
have achieved" -- because there is exponentially more knowledge competing for our attention
than ever before. And that's the problem.

gary

}Resemblance is older than difference. [G. Bateson]{

gnusystems }{ Pam Jackson & Gary Fuhrman }{ Manitoulin Island, Canada }{ gnox@vianet.ca
}{ http://www.vianet.ca/~gnox/index.htm }{

>From gnox@vianet.ca Wed Feb 21 05:48:53 2001


From: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca>
To: <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Cc: "Afaf Stevens" <astevens@gis.net>
Subject: The Valley of Unlearning
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2001 21:51:41 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.00.2919.6600

Dear friends, i exchanged a couple of messages offlist with Afaf Stevens, and asked whether he
intended them to be offlist or did that accidentally. Today he replied:

Dear Gary, I apologize I am almost technologically illiterate so please go ahead and forward the
message to all participants if you think it is worth it. I apologize again I am involved in too
many things at this point and feel unable to participate in an appropriate intellectual and
scientific way in this worthwhile discourse but I do hope I will have more time in near future to
participate in a better fashion.

============

So here's the message he had sent me, and then my reply. Not everybody may see this as science-
related, but, well, them's the breaks. :-)

Dear Gary, Since I studied the Seven Valleys, Four Valleys and tried to internalize the process of
the Book of Certitude as well, I feel I went through the search process similar to what the
Muslim Sufis require from the seeker of the truth and have understood many mystical
dimensions and abstruse aspects of the reality otherwise I would not be able to do so. What I
believe now in regard of the understanding faculty is that: It is the power that incorporate and
utilizes the faculty of intellect, faculty of meditation, and faculty of memory, intuition and the
faculty of Affect and that is man's unique capacity to love including the love for Truth or Reality

44
of things. After synthesizing the out come of all these faculties, contemplating upon them; this
including going through the process of the true seeker of the truth that requires "unlearing what
we have learned, assuming we know nothing and ready to learn what needs to be learned, being
detached from our thoughts and assumptions", then and only then we will hear the heavenly
birds singing upon the tree of truth and understand the reality of things will be disclosed to our
inner eyes and we comprehend their essence and purpose of creation.

==================

Dear Alaf,

>>Since I studied the Seven Valleys, Four Valleys and tried to internalize the process of the
Book of Certitude as well, I feel I went through the search process similar to what the Muslim
Sufis require from the seeker of the truth and have understood many mystical dimensions and
abstruse aspects of the reality otherwise I would not be able to do so.<<

My question is: how can we be sure that when we talk about this "process" and these
"dimensions", we are talking about the same thing? You have your private experience of reading
these texts, and of exploring the mystical dimensions of reality, and i have mine. How do we
match up the Revealed words with these experiences? That's private too, isn't it?

I think your reference to the importance of "unlearning" is very important. And i can see that
point being made in the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, Lao Tzu and other classics. Now the
question arises: Is Baha'u'llah repeating this age-old wisdom in new words? Or is He telling us
something new? If it's something new, we should be able to say how it's different from the
ancient mystical wisdom. If on the other hand Baha'u'llah is pointing us to a truth that lies at the
end of *unlearning*, then i can't claim to have learned anything from Him!

>>I apologize I have no time now to quote from the Writings of Baha'u'lla'h and Abdul'-Baha'
but when I have more time I will share with you some of the relevant quotations.<<

I have the Writings all about me already. But it's only when we discuss the various implications
we draw from them that their depth appears. Repeating them in the absence of any process that
reveals new meaning in them only serves to reinforce our prejudices. We all have a lot of
unlearning to do still.

gary

}Resemblance is older than difference. [G. Bateson]{

gnusystems }{ Pam Jackson & Gary Fuhrman }{ Manitoulin Island, Canada }{ gnox@vianet.ca
}{ http://www.vianet.ca/~gnox/index.htm }{

>From gnox@vianet.ca Wed Feb 21 04:54:08 2001


From: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca>
To: <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: detachment and conscience
Date: Tue, 20 Feb 2001 22:36:36 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.00.2919.6600

The discussion of "detachment" brought to mind the following passage from Antonio Damasio
(whom i quoted in my "materialism" draft):

45
>>> Among this remarkable collection of abilities allowed by extended consciousness, two in
particular deserve to be highlighted: first, the ability to rise above the dictates of advantage and
disadvantage imposed by survival-related dispositions and, second, the critical detection of
discords that leads to a search for truth and a desire to build norms and ideals for behavior and
for the analyses of facts. These two abilities are not only my best candidates for the pinnacle of
human distinctiveness, but they are also those which permit the truly human function that is so
perfectly captured by the single word *conscience*. [p.230] <<<

I note that "rising above the dictates of advantage and disadvantage imposed by survival-related
dispositions" sounds a lot like the idea of "detachment" being developed on this list -- and that
the "two abilities" of which Damasio speaks seem very close to the two meanings of the Baha'i
term "justice".

gary

}Resemblance is older than difference. [G. Bateson]{

gnusystems }{ Pam Jackson & Gary Fuhrman }{ Manitoulin Island, Canada }{ gnox@vianet.ca
}{ http://www.vianet.ca/~gnox/index.htm }{

>From gnox@vianet.ca Wed Feb 21 17:07:54 2001


From: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca>
To: <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: Re: materialism and information explosion
Date: Wed, 21 Feb 2001 10:30:25 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.00.2919.6600

Dear Mark,

Good to see you here!! And thanks very much for your terminological clarifications.

>>1. Philosophical naturalism: This is the view that only the natural world is real. (To
sociologists and other social scientists, "naturalism" has an entirely different meaning from
"positivism," which is discussed below. However, I am here using naturalism with its more
common philosophical meaning.) <<

My draft deals with naturalism as one form of the loosely defined (but widely used) term
"materialism". But in order to make use of the definition above, we need a clear idea of what is
"natural" and what isn't. (e.g. Is mind natural? Is intention natural? Is religious experience
natural? Is revelation natural? etc. etc.) Rather than venture into this labyrinth of interdependent
definitions, i think it might be wiser to leave the ontological questions alone and stick to
methodology.

>>2. Materialism: This is the view that non-natural phenomena (thought, spirit, etc.) are a
product of material forces. For instance, Lenin argued that the human spirit was produced by the
brain. (Materialism is actually more open to the existence of spiritual substances than is
metaphysical naturalism.) <<

Thank you for this! I have never before heard of such a usage of "materialism" or seen any
definition like this in any dictionary. (Probably due to my complete ignorance of both Marxism
and sociology. :-) So this is brand new for me.

46
>> 3. Methodological naturalism: ... In sociology, this view is called positivism (or, more
recently, neo-positivism) - in which social phenomena are regarded as natural and explicable in
terms of the methodologies of the physical and biological sciences. Methodological naturalism,
or positivism, is now generally regarded as naive by sociologists - just as classical behaviorism
(a positivistic theory) has been deprecated by much of mainstream psychology. <<

Not surprising, as i can't imagine how sociologists could actually use "the methodologies of the
physical and biological sciences" to investigate social phenomena! But this idea, is one of those
covered in my draft as a species of "materialism".

>> 4. Methodological empiricism: This epistemology, as I would express it, represents a


synthesis between methodological naturalism and humanism. It is a telescoping of
methodological naturalism to incorporate human motivations, subjective interpretations, and
other factors not directly accessible through naturalistic means. <<

I take it "empiricism" in sociology does not limit its domain to *sensory* experience as the
"harder" sciences do. - ?

>> In my view, philosophical materialism is a more appropriate philosophy of science than is


philosophical naturalism; and methodological empiricism is a more useful scientific
epistemology than is methodological naturalism. <<

I think this is an example of the phenomenon i mentioned to Steve, that names conceal both
unity and diversity, and it's not easy to figure out which of them is being concealed in any
specific case.

>>As 'Abdu'l-Baha said to Dr. Forel, the mind comprehends the abstract (intellectual realities)
by the aid of the concrete (material realities); and it is the job of scientists to study concrete
phenomena - not the world of spirit or divine purpose (which is the function of religion).
Likewise, the methodology of empiricism acknowledges that emotions and values, not just
material objects, can be studied with the scientific method. <<

So in this view, emotions and values are concrete phenomena and are not spiritual. Have i got
that right?

Thanks for this, and it will have an impact on the next draft of my little essay. (By the way, have
you seen the first draft? If you haven't, don't bother -- the next will be much better. :-)

gary

}So, how idlers' wind turning pages on pages, as innocens with anaclete play popeye antipop, the
leaves of the living in the boke of the deeds, annals of themselves timing the cycles of events
grand and national, bring fassilwise to pass how. [Finnegans Wake 13]{

gnusystems }{ Pam Jackson & Gary Fuhrman }{ Manitoulin Island, Canada }{ gnox@vianet.ca
}{ http://www.vianet.ca/~gnox/index.htm }{

>From owner@sociologist.com Thu Feb 22 10:03:56 2001


X-Sender: mfoster@pop5.jccc.net
X-Mailer: QUALCOMM Windows Eudora Version 4.3.1
Date: Thu, 22 Feb 2001 02:44:33 -0600
To: scirel@MIT.EDU
From: "Mark A. Foster" <owner@sociologist.com>

47
Subject: Re: materialism and information explosion

Hi, Gary,

At 10:30 a.m. 2/21/01 -0500, you wrote:


>>Good to see you here!! And thanks very much for your terminological clarifications.<<

Thanks, and you're welcome.

>>My draft deals with naturalism as one form of the loosely defined (but widely used) term
"materialism". But in order to make use of the definition above, we need a clear idea of what is
"natural" and what isn't. (e.g. Is mind natural? Is
intention natural? Is religious experience natural? Is revelation natural? etc.<<

From the standpoint of philosophical (or metaphysical) naturalism, yes; and from the
perspective of methodological naturalism, thought (mind) should be studied as a purely
biological process - discounting intentionality.

In fact, Husserl's phenomenology, by focusing on intentionality, was one of the first


philosophical movements to directly confront positivism (methodological naturalism). Sartre's
existentialism did much the same thing.

With respect to Revelation, those writers who have tried to explain Muhammad's abstracted state
as epilepsy could probably be described as either philosophical or methodological naturalists
(perhaps both).

>>Thank you for this! I have never before heard of such a usage of "materialism" or seen any
definition like this in any dictionary. (Probably due to my complete ignorance of both Marxism
and sociology. :-) So this is brand new for me.<<

Regrettably, many writers confuse materialism with epistemological naturalism (fairly common);
and others conflate philosophical materialism with methodological materialism. Marx was a
materialist in both senses. However, it is possible to be a Marxist in the methodological sense but
not in the philosophical (ontological) sense. The reverse would probably be unlikely.

>>Not surprising, as i can't imagine how sociologists could actually use "the methodologies of
the physical and biological sciences" to investigate social phenomena! But this idea, is one of
those covered in my draft as a species of
"materialism".<<

The founder of sociology, Auguste Comte, also coined the term "positivism" (methodological
naturalism). He originally designated sociology as "social physics" because of his desire that
sociology utilize the same methodologies employed by Newtonian physics. Positivistic
sociologists (now usually called neopositivists) tend to focus on the direct measurement of social
behavior through classical (laboratory) experiments.

>>I take it "empiricism" in sociology does not limit its domain to *sensory" experience as the
"harder" sciences do. - ?<<

No, empirical and sensory would, to me, be approximately the same. I would, however, make a
distinction between sensory experience and material measurement. For instance, if I am
measuring people's attitudes (through survey research), that is not exactly material measurement

48
(i.e., not a measurement of overt behavior). However, it is still based on empirical (sensory)
observation.

>>I think this is an example of the phenomenon i mentioned to Steve, that names conceal both
unity and diversity, and it's not easy to figure out which of them is being concealed in any
specific case.<<

As I have said before (when this list was on egroups), I do not think it is appropriate for
scientists, as scientists, to deal with non-empirical ("spiritual") issues. The term I have used for
empiricism is methodological agnosticism - and I am using the term agnosticism with much the
same meaning as it was employed by T.H. Huxley in his essays, "Agnosticism" and
"Agnosticism and Christianity."

>>So in this view, emotions and values are concrete phenomena and are not spiritual. Have i got
that right?<<

I would say that, to the extent to which they can be empirically measured, they are concrete.
Measurement might be by survey research, through galvanic skin response, or through an
analysis of brain wave activity.

>>By the way, have you seen the first draft?<<

I have been in hibernation. ;-) However, I look forward to reading the next draft.

Mark A. Foster, PhD, Assoc. Prof. of Sociology


Johnson County Community College (Kansas)
My 12 Domains & 8 Sites: http://MarkFoster.net
Toll-Free Pager #: 1-888-365-0000 ext. 70251

From: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca>


To: <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: Re: materialism and information explosion
Date: Fri, 23 Feb 2001 14:05:30 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.00.2919.6600

Dear Mark,

>>Positivistic sociologists (now usually called neopositivists) tend to focus on the direct
measurement of social behavior through classical (laboratory) experiments.<<

They must have very large laboratories! Or else study very small societies. (Or does "social" here
mean "interpersonal"?)

>> For instance, if I am measuring people's attitudes (through survey research), that is not
exactly material measurement (i.e., not a measurement of overt behavior). However, it is still
based on empirical (sensory) observation. <<

It is? I don't see how, except in the sense that the subjects perceive the survey material through
the media of their senses. But that can't be what you mean, otherwise *all* research would be
"based on empirical observation", and the category would be useless because it didn't exclude
anything.

49
>> As I have said before (when this list was on egroups), I do not think it is appropriate for
scientists, as scientists, to deal with non-empirical ("spiritual") issues.<<

This would exclude all neurological studies of consciousness, since the main agenda of this
research is to correlate first-person experience with third-person (empirically-tested) descriptions
of biological phenomena. I don't believe that this research is inappropriate, though some die-hard
philosophers do.

gary

Date: Fri, 23 Feb 2001 22:53:26 -0600


To: scirel@MIT.EDU
From: "Mark A. Foster" <owner@sociologist.com>
Subject: Re: materialism and information explosion

Gary,

At 02:05 p.m. 2/23/01 -0500, you wrote:


> >>They must have very large laboratories! Or else study very small societies. (Or does "social"
here mean "interpersonal"?)<<

lol. Some sociologists specialize in microsociological phenomena (small groups). They are
usually either Iowa school symbolic interactionists, behavioral sociologists (micro-exchange
theory), or from the "personality and social structure" school. In other words, they are
sociological social psychologists. (Social psychology exists in both sociology and psychology.
However, these two social psychologies have little in common.)

> >>It is? I don't see how, except in the sense that the subjects perceive the survey material
through the media of their senses. But that can't be what you mean, otherwise *all* research
would be "based on empirical observation", and the category would be useless because it didn't
exclude anything.<<

Well, the term empirical literally means "experience." Survey research allows sociologists to
extend sensory experience to include intersubjective phenomena. However, since emotion and
intellect are not, strictly speaking, material, methodological naturalism (positivism) would not be
an appropriate epistemology.

None of this is to say that sociologists reject methodological naturalism (in it proper place in the
physical and biological sciences). Most of us just to not feel that it is an appropriate methodology
for the "human" or social sciences. Positivists, on the other hand, do not make a distinction
between any of the sciences. For that reason, positivism is frequently criticized as reductionistic.

> >>This would exclude all neurological studies of consciousness, since the main agenda of this
research is to correlate first-person experience with third-person (empirically-tested) descriptions
of biological phenomena. I don't believe that this research is inappropriate, though some die-hard
philosophers do.<<

I do think that phenomenological accounts can be useful. We use them sometimes in sociology.

Mark A. Foster, PhD, Assoc. Prof. of Sociology


Johnson County Community College (Kansas)
My 12 Domains & 8 Sites: http://MarkFoster.net
Toll-Free Pager #: 1-888-365-0000 ext. 70251

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>From srfriberg@worldnet.att.net Sun Feb 25 20:11:29 2001
From: "Stephen R. Friberg" <srfriberg@worldnet.att.net>
To: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca>, <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: RE: materialism and information explosion
Date: Sun, 25 Feb 2001 11:14:36 -0800
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook IMO, Build 9.0.2416 (9.0.2911.0)
Importance: Normal

Dear Gary:

You bring up a cluster of themes - the information explosion, information overload, the need for
a unifying vision (as opposed to a mythology). You also talk about the need to understand how
issues such "as the threats to the carrying capacity of the earth, the imminent global water
shortage, global warming, domination of economic decision-making by transnational
corporations, the ethical challenges of genetic engineering" are addressed in the Baha'i Writings.

This is an extremely important set of issues, and indeed, lies at the heart of the emerging
understanding of what Baha'i scholarship entails. So, it is with great pleasure that I address these
themes.

Briefly, my view is that the information explosion brings us untold opportunities: we are at the
very beginnings of an emerging global civilization and the information explo- sion is one of the
main engines of that emerging global civilization.

It is part of a continuous drama of information technology that started with writing thousands of
years ago, continued with the invention of printing by the Chinese and its adaption by the rest of
the world 1000 to five hundred years ago, accelerated recently with the development of
telephony and mass-communications technologies, and now has reached a new plateau with the
development of computer and internet technologies. Along with the infor- mation explosion has
come expansion of knowledge in every imagineable area through the efforts of scientists,
researchers, historians, literary thinkers, etc., - a huge, varied, and every changing kaleidoscope
of various forms of study is now a reality.

A downside of the information explosion is what is often called information overload, or the
information glut. This is not the only downside, however. A more important down- side is what
is called the "digital divide": the problem caused by the lack of access to computers, internet, and
therefore information, and the lack of knowledge about using modern information technology.
People on the wrong side of the information divide are unable to take advantage of information
and are thus falling further and further behind.

.................

One of the things that we as Baha'is should be doing, and we should be doing it much more, is
mastering the information technologies and learning how to apply it to beneficial ends.

A central part of the process of mastering information and putting it to use is something that is
done in scholarship. One of the reasons we should be doing scholarship, in my opinion, is so we
can acquire and master these information processing skills. In the following, let me try to
describe how one might try to use these information processing skills to address the questions
you raise.

.......................

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One of the many questions that you asked and which you said you weren't able to find the
answers for in the Writings was the question of what we should do for global warning. Lets go
through the exercise of setting up a template that would allow us to find answers to the question
of problems created by global warming as addressed in the Writings.

Lets make a good question first. How about "What do the Baha'i Writings tell us about the
problem of global warming?"

First, we need to ask: are the Writings likely to directly answer questions of problems created by
global warming, or are they more likely to indirectly answer the questions? My guess is the
latter, although I certainly wouldn't rule out the possibility that there are comments about the
problem or about issues related to the problem in the Writings.

Assuming that we agree to spend some time consulting books or people knowledgeable about
questions about the environ- ment as is it is addressed in the Baha'i writings so as to look for
comments on issues related to global warming, we can jump directly to what looks to be our
main task: we need try to figure out what the Faith says indirectly about the question.

Then, what are the important and relevant principles in the Faith that apply to the questions
raised by global warming problems. To answer this, we might look at articles and books on
environmental issues from a Baha'i perspective, look directly in the writings for comments on
the environment, or consult compilations of the writings related to the environment. For
example, I would immediately consult good Baha'i Web sites, as they are likely to yield useful
information.

I think we might find the following principles in the Faith:

1. the interrelatedness of all things (i.e., the environment, the economy, spiritual principles,
governing) with implications that the problem has to be solved by unified, harmonious action.

2. the need for scientific study and the need to abide by the best and most reliable answers that
science can provide

3. the avoidance of politics. The issues should not be politicized.

4. the need for global decision making. The countries of the world need to work together to
solve the problem.

5. the need for individual and local action. People on an individual basis and a local basis might
decide to take action.

etc., etc.

An underlying principle to all of the principles written above is the concept of global unity.
Environmental problems do not respect borders and affect all together. Thus, they often lie in a
category where progress requires global cooperation, itself an end that requires a much more fair
and just distribution of global resources, etc. In other words, the global warming problem is
precisely the type of issue that, if you will, the Faith was structured to provide a framework for -
a material, human, and spiritual framework - in order for the problem to be addressed.

None of these things can be addressed by myth, even an all- embracing one. If by chance, that
myth were to somehow have features of global collaboration, etc., that would be of some

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assistance. Rather, what is needed is a real, broadly-based, international, practical, inclusive,
serious, growing, progressive, broad, and deep perspective that is grounded on sound
perspectives and works to release the potential of broad- based international cooperation that is
essential if solutions to problems like global warming are to be made forthcoming. And the
Baha'i Faith offers that in a very real, graspable, and well-defined way. It is much, much better
than myth, something highly susceptible to manipulation, ignorance, etc.

......................

This letter is getting overly long, and I have only started to touch on the extremely important
themes you bring up. So, let me end by saying that the kinds of study of issues that we describe
in outline form here in response to your remarks are not only at the foundation of an exciting and
dynamic form of Baha'i scholarship that is now starting to gain increasing momentum, but are
examples both of the opportunities that the information explosion provides us and an outline of
how to cut through information overload.

.................

Some advertisements are in order: several efforts in their early stages are underway that you
might want to know about. One is the revitalization of the Association for Baha'i Studies in
North America. Last years conference at Toronto was highly successful with a huge attendance
and many, many well-educated and dynamic youth looking for a way to make contributions.
Regional ABS conferences are also happening - we are having one at Berkeley on April 6th to
8th - as well as efforts in groups like ABS Science and Religion SIG (our sponsor).

Another very exciting effort, now being moved to the launch pad, is a program called BASIC
(Baha'i Academic and Scholarship Integration Curriculum or something similar). This is a
program using the Internet and Baha'is with capabilities in various different fields to enable
students encountering questions like the ones you raise to be able to access experts who can
provide knowledge about the way it can be viewed from an Baha'i approach and help to guide
students to write papers and theses for course credit in universities. The resulting work will be
made available as a way of providing additional materials - very much a resource base that
allows the type of thing that I have described above to be done more easily - as well as other
opportunities.

Warmly, Steve Friberg

Warmly, Steve

>From gnox@vianet.ca Mon Feb 26 17:13:13 2001


From: "gnusystems" <gnox@vianet.ca>
To: <scirel@MIT.EDU>
Subject: Re: materialism and information explosion
Date: Mon, 26 Feb 2001 10:26:28 -0500
X-Mailer: Microsoft Outlook Express 5.00.2919.6600

Dear Steve,

>> You bring up a cluster of themes - the information explosion, information overload, the need
for a unifying vision (as opposed to a mythology). <<

Well, you ignored my usage of "myth", which i think is the prevailing one in the humanities and
social sciences: mythic ideas are experiential and integrative as opposed to factual ideas, which

53
are third-person, analytical and reductive. You are using the older, dismissive idea of "myth" as
referring to obsolete explanatory notions and as opposed to "truth". In more contemporary terms,
myth and fact are two very different forms of truth. This may seem a semantic quibble, but i
think it is important if we wish to communicate across disciplines and belief systems.

>>One of the things that we as Baha'is should be doing, and we should be doing it much more, is
mastering the information technologies and learning how to apply it to beneficial ends.<<

But the problem -- again, fragmentation of attention -- is global. Your solution is fine and indeed
necessary for Baha'is, but doesn't really offer the kind of global solution which (according to our
"Divine Physician" myth) the Baha'i Faith offers to *all humanity* -- and offers uniquely.

>>First, we need to ask: are the Writings likely to directly answer questions of problems created
by global warming, or are they more likely to indirectly answer the questions? My guess is the
latter, although I certainly wouldn't rule out the possibility that there are comments about the
problem or about issues related to the problem in the Writings.<<

I would agree with you, but i would also point out that this approach could be applied just as
well to the Qur'an, the Bible etc. One does not solve the information-explosion problem by
choosing (a priori) a certain source and looking for the solution there, i.e. by ignoring other
sources. Or rather, you *can* solve the problem that way, but you can't claim that your solution
is in any sense unique, nor can you attribute the solution to the body of information you have
chosen to bestow your attention upon. The solution *is* that selective bestowal of attention.

>>Then, what are the important and relevant principles in the Faith that apply to the questions
raised by global warming problems....

1. the interrelatedness of all things (i.e., the environment, the economy, spiritual principles,
governing) with implications that the problem has to be solved by unified, harmonious action.

2. the need for scientific study and the need to abide by the best and most reliable answers that
science can provide

3. the avoidance of politics. The issues should not be politicized.

4. the need for global decision making. The countries of the world need to work together to
solve the problem.

5. the need for individual and local action. People on an individual basis and a local basis might
decide to take action.

etc., etc.

An underlying principle to all of the principles written above is the concept of global unity. <<

These are all fine and useful Baha'i principles that can be applied to the issue. But not one of
them is exclusively Baha'i. I thought we were testing the claim that the Baha'i Writings offer a
*unique* "prescription" for the ills of the world -- one which is divine in origin, whereas all
others are man-made. Yet it seems that whenever we look for anything specific in the
prescription, every item we come up with is one that is widely distributed beyond the Baha'i
community and Writings.

54
We are not testing the claim that the Baha'i Writings are *sufficient* for a successful spiritual
orientation toward the world -- i think that is evident to anyone who has read them. We are
testing the claim that those Writings are *necessary* for a successful spiritual orientation. And
until i see better evidence for that claim, i am reluctant to make it, lest i inoculate my audience
against all the manifest benefits that *can* be found in the Writings.

I certainly believe that the Baha'i Faith *is* unique, but its uniqueness is not to be found in its
"prescription" for current global problems.

But all my comments here are misdirected if the purpose of your message was a kind of
"deepening", i.e. it was directed to us Baha'is for internal use and not as anything that we can
legitimately "proclaim." If i've misread the context of this discussion, please accept my apology,
because i do think you've furnished us with some excellent deepening material!

>> Rather, what is needed is a real, broadly-based, international, practical, inclusive, serious,
growing, progressive, broad, and deep perspective that is grounded on sound perspectives and
works to release the potential of broad- based international cooperation that is essential if
solutions to problems like global warming are to be made forthcoming. <<

People like Thomas Berry and Joseph Campbell argue -- and i think they are right -- that no
"perspective" can have the necessary depth and motivational quality if it ignores the mythic
dimension. In a sense, the mythic dimension *is* depth. I do think the Baha'i Faith offers that
mythic dimension, but not uniquely; and all claims to uniqueness tend to "flatten" that dimension
rather than contribute to it.

>>Another very exciting effort, now being moved to the launch pad, is a program called BASIC
(Baha'i Academic and Scholarship Integration Curriculum or something similar). This is a
program using the Internet and Baha'is with capabilities in various different fields to enable
students encountering questions like the ones you raise to be able to access experts who can
provide knowledge about the way it can be viewed from an Baha'i approach and help to guide
students to write papers and theses for course credit in universities. <<

I'm certainly no expert in anything, but if you can use people to help with the organization and
writing skills (as opposed to content), i'm willing (and i think able) to help out in that respect.
How can i offer my services?

gary

}The cranic head on him, caster of his reasons, peer yuthner in yondmist. Whooth? [Finnegans
Wake 7]{

gnusystems }{ Pam Jackson & Gary Fuhrman }{ Manitoulin Island, Canada }{ gnox@vianet.ca
}{ http://www.vianet.ca/~gnox/index.htm }{

55