June 25, 2008

Sri Aurobindo and his colleague Mira Alfassa present a profound and compelling vision of yoga psychology

Dr. Don Salmon, a clinical psychologist and composer, received a grant from the Infinity Foundation to write a comprehensive study of yoga psychology based on the synthesis of the yoga tradition presented by 20th century Indian philosopher-sage Aurobindo Ghose. Jan Maslow, an educator and organizational consultant, has, with Dr. Salmon, given presentations, classes and workshops in the United States and India on this topic. Both have been studying yoga psychology for more than 25 years. Read more... .
INTEGRAL PSYCHOLOGYBEYOND WILBER-V Inviting Open-Minded Skepticismof the Materialist View
Don Salmon Some implications of taking integral psychology beyond "Wilber-V": Trying on the 'view from infinity'

"Consciousness is" the fundamental thing in existence — it is the energy, the motion, the movement of consciousness that creates the universe and all that is in it — not only the macrocosm but the microcosm is nothing but consciousness arranging itself. For instance, when consciousness in its movement or rather a certain stress of movement forgets itself in the action it becomes an apparently "unconscious" energy; when it forgets itself in the form it becomes the electron, the atom, the material object. In reality it is still consciousness that works in the energy and determines the form and the evolution of form. "When it wants to liberate itself, slowly, evolutionarily, out of Matter, but still in the form, it emerges as life, as animal, as [human] and it can go on evolving itself still further out of its involution and become something more than mere man..." Sri Aurobindo, Letters on Yoga, p. 237.

Without having to "believe" anything, let's see for a moment what it might be like to "try on" the yogic view.
Even among physicists and philosophers of science who believe that consciousness may not be merely an epiphenomenon of matter, most would agree with physicist Arthur Zajonc that quantum physics in itself does not tell us anything fundamental about the nature of consciousness. According to Zajonc:

Physics, chemistry, and neuroscience provide accounts for the mechanism of consciousness but say nothing about the experience of consciousness itself... Every science, if it would move beyond purely formal mathematical relationships, must incorporate qualities [i.e., subjective experience] into itself. All meaning inheres in qualities. The qualitative connects the formal treatment with experience... If our interest ultimately is consciousness, then we will require a means of investigation that is able to include the full range of conscious experience, and not merely a reduced set of variables easily amenable to quantification.

However, physicist Freeman Dyson, in speculating on the implications of some of the more startling discoveries in quantum physics, says (though there is nothing in contemporary physics that "proves" this) "[a]toms are weird stuff, behaving like active agents rather than inert substances. They make unpredictable choices between alternative possibilities according to the laws of quantum mechanics. It appears that mind, as manifested by the capacity to make choices, is to some extent inherent in every atom."
Similarly, with regard to psi, even if there were easily replicable experiments with strong effects, it wouldn't necessarily "prove" anything about the nature of consciousness. However, it might make it easier to give serious consideration to the possibility that, as Sri Aurobindo writes, "Consciousness is the fundamental thing in the universe".
If it is true that mind operates beyond the confines of the physical in ways we have previously thought to be impossible (as with telepathy and remote viewing); that mind is not the result of matter, but may act as a causal influence on the material world (as with psychokinesis); and that mind is present even in the atom (as Freeman Dyson suggests) then it is conceivable mind exists throughout the universe, and that mind or consciousness of some kind — existed "prior to" the emergence of the physical universe (logically, if not temporally).

To list just a few of the elements of the yogic vision such a view would allow for:

  1. The so-called "laws" or regularities of nature — rather than having arisen purely by chance, could be seen as a purposeful means for creating stability in the material universe in order to allow for the orderly manifestation of a previously unmanifest consciousness into a world of form. What we've called "chance" may come to be seen as a suprarational action of an intelligence greater than mind; which manifests in matter as an interaction between apparent regularities or "laws" of nature and apparently "chance" circumstances; which manifests in animals as instinct; in contemporary humans as intuition; and which may one day manifest in its fullness as a "supramental" consciousness.
    As a corollary to this, from the yogic view, it seems our understanding of the laws of nature would have to change. But this doesn't necessarily mean the "overthrow" of several centuries of science, potentially plunging" us into a new dark age — as many skeptics/debunkers fear. The "laws of nature" that have been developed in regard to the physical or material universe may come to be seen as a special case: that is, under certain conditions — i.e., when consciousness is essentially "asleep" (or "hidden", or almost entirely "involved"), matter acts in one way. As consciousness "evolves" or starts to wake up, and as the physical matter associated with that consciousness (or more accurately, manifesting — or itself a reflection of — that consciousness) becomes more complex, the laws change, becoming more plastic, more variable, less subject to the confines of material space and time. It seems that a more sophisticated and less physical-bound science would not necessarily have any great difficulty providing an integration of the behavior of matter when the consciousness associated with it is asleep (which corresponds to our current "laws of nature") and the behavior of matter when the consciousness associated with it is more awakened (which might correlate with a future, broader understanding of the laws/habits/patterns of nature"). (The book, Irreducible Mind, by Edward Kelly, has an excellent description of Frederick Myer's evolutionary theory of consciousness which relates quite directly to this issue of "laws" of nature).
  2. Evolution might be seen to have the "purpose" perhaps the playful purpose — of expressing that initially unmanifest or hidden consciousness in increasingly complex forms (this would make sense of "emergent" phenomena such as life and mind)
  3. Our individual lives might be seen to have a "purpose" — perhaps the awakening to an awareness that who we truly are is a particular focus of the hidden Consciousness, and then a conscious opening to the force (shakti) behind the evolutionary process, choosing to allow it to transform us — physically, emotionally and mentally — that a still fuller expression of the unmanifest consciousness may manifest in and through us.
  4. Our aspirations and ideals might be seen — not simply as complex forms of adaptation for the sake of survival — but as reflections of a subliminal awareness of a capacity to express a greater consciousness beyond the mind (supramental).
  5. Conversely, our greed, hatred, and ignorance might be understood — not as an expression of our fundamental nature — but as the expression of a stage of evolution in which large portions of our consciousness are still largely hidden or asleep, leading us to misperceive others as separate, competing "selves" rather than as infinitely varied expressions of One causal consciousness.
  6. Society itself might be understood to be a vehicle for the collective expression of a greater consciousness. As with the individual, even the greatest apparent evil in society might be understood as the inevitable expression of the individuals within that society who are as yet unawakened to their true nature, ignorantly taking themselves to be separate and competing entities rather than evolving, collective expression of the greater consciousness.

In our book on yoga psychology, Jan and I attempted to carry out the experiment of "trying on" the full yogic version of the above possibilities — what we call "the view from infinity" — that is, simply seeing what it would be like to see things. everything through a yogic lens. We attempt to draw out the implications this view may have for the understanding of cosmology, biological evolution, psychology, as well as personal and social transformation. Our experiment is based largely on the work of Sri Aurobindo and his colleague Mira Alfassa, who we believe present a profound and compelling vision of yoga psychology, one that is truly "post-metaphysical" in the sense of being beyond intellectual speculation, yet subject to contemplative, intersubjective, empirical validation. We believe that their work may one day serve to help us come to terms with the implications of parapsychology, and ultimately, with the implications of a view which "sees" the entire world, every aspect of our experience, emerging out of, existing within, and constituted of an infinite Consciousness.
And now, in full, the Honorton quote with which I began this essay:
I believe in science, and I am confident that a science that can boldly contemplate the origin of the universe, the nature of physical reality 10-33 seconds after the Big Bang, anthropic principles, quantum nonlocality, and parallel universes, can come to terms with the implications of parapsychological findings--whatever they may turn out to be. There is no danger for science in honestly confronting these issues; it can only be enriched by doing so. But there is a danger for science in encouraging self-appointed protectors who engage in polemical campaigns that distort and misrepresent serious research efforts. Such campaigns are not only counterproductive, they threaten to corrupt the spirit and function of science and raise doubts about its credibility. The distorted history, logical contradictions, and factual omissions exhibited in the arguments of the three critics [Ray Hyman, James Alcock and James Randi] represent neither scholarly criticism nor skepticism, but rather counteradvocacy masquerading as skepticism. True skepticism involves the suspension of belief, not disbelief. In this context, we would do well to recall the words of the great nineteenth century naturalist and skeptic, Thomas Huxley: "Sit down before fact like a little child, be prepared to give up every preconceived notion, follow humbly to wherever and to whatever abysses nature leads or you shall learn nothing."Charles Honorton, from his essay, "Rhetoric Over Substance: The Impoverished State of Skepticism"
[1] Physicist Ulrich Mohrhoff has a wonderful online journal dealing with non-physical phenomena in relation to scientific thought, at

No comments:

Post a Comment