skepticism

‘On “Spirituality” and “Metaphysics”’ (Video Transcript & Expansion)

LOGOS II (SoundCloud / YouTube)


“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”

—Aristotle

~

Here is my second video transcript and expansion (VT&E), this time on the use of the phrases “spirituality” and “metaphysics,” and regarding phraseology in talking about the “inner life” more generally. (THIS is the video, part two of the LOGOS series of videos that I am slowly (but surely) putting online.)

crowley

Aleister Crowley. (Source unknown.)

So, “once more unto the breech…”:

“So, today I kind of wanted to talk about… spirituality. You know: what does that mean? You know, what annoys me is that… I dunno… I guess I think of myself as [something of a] spiritual person. No—I definitely think of myself as a spiritual person, but, I don’t feel the need to define  what that means, exactly… because I feel like “spirituality” is kind of, in and of itself, a bit of a nebulous phrase. Kind of like the word “art,” for instance, you know? Like, if you talk about art to somebody they’re gonna know, like, what you’re talking about. [I mean] it’s art. They’d know what art is. But, when you really ask them to get into the nitty gritty and define it, it becomes… it becomes kind of vague, doesn’t it? And, so, I think spirituality, like art,  is similar in this way. I think because especially it’s something that’s kind of, not necessarily fundamental… but… well, perhaps fundamental to human experience—it’s hard to define. What annoys me is that you have people… [Well] you know, when you hear the word “spirituality” nowadays you might think of, you know, what a lot of people are touting as spirituality, which is kind of a—a “spirituality”—which is kind of a New Agey agglomeration of ideas… I guess that kind of were imported from eastern philosophies [maybe] mixed with paganism and whatever else someone’s focused on. It’s… usually “woo-woo.” You know that phrase? Michael Shermer uses it a lot: “woo-woo.” It’s bullshit… And I’m not necessarily saying that all of it’s bullshit. I don’t think we completely understand the nature of these things. But, a lot of people who say that they’re “spiritual” kind of dive head in—or, you know, head first—into a lot of BS, without really taking the time to really (sic) think about what that means, or what the word “spirituality” means, and what they’re really practicing and thinking about. Like… I’m not saying that I completely deny the possibility that maybe, you know, there’s such a thing or there’s something in the body that’s analogous to [say] chakras, but when you say you’re a spiritual person and therefore you believe in chakras or crystal healing or whatever… it’s (sic) not really [representative of] what spirituality is. I mean, if I were (sic) an artist, or if I said that I was an artist—rather—and I just said, “Well, I like Dalí, I like Picasso, I like Rembrandt—so that makes me an artist!” … that sounds… that doesn’t [really] make you an artist. That’s really doesn’t (sic)… really isn’t what it means to be an artist… if you like a particular thing, or you pursue a particular thing, even. Art, again, is kind of one of those nebulous phrases. And, in any case, I think that the word “spirituality” has just been co-opted by, I guess, the New Age community to mean something that it really doesn’t. And I think that’s problematic, because spirituality is such a beautiful thing. I mean, to me—I don’t really like to define it—but, it’s something, like I said, that, in a way, is fundamental to the human experience. It’s an experience of something greater. And you don’t really… need to go much beyond that, you know, [or] really say what that “greater” thing is. Sometimes there is an experience—I would almost say like a transcendental experience—of the wholeness of the world and one’s place in it, and I would say that that’s spiritual in some sense. But, of course, you have all these phrases that, you know, you get mixed in there: You say, “OK, that’s a mystical experience… it’s [a] transcendental experience, an ecstatic experience, a religious experience…” But, then again, ecstasy and religion and mysticism are not necessarily spirituality… Now, another phrase that gets co-opted like this is “metaphysics.” You know, you have people who say, you know, they’re into “metaphysics”—so [of course] that means they subscribe to Spirit Science, or whatever that page is. But, I mean, “metaphysics” is a much broader term that kind of refers to a discipline in philosophy. And, when I think of metaphysics—at least—I think of, you know, the work of various philosophers: You know, I think of Spinoza’s metaphysics, or Hegel’s metaphysics, or something of that nature. I don’t think of levitation from yogis and shit like that. Even though the word “metaphysics” literally means “beyond physics,” it’s not the same as—again, here’s another phrase—”supernatural,” [or] what’s supernatural. “Supernatural” is not necessarily “metaphysical.” There’s overlap among these phrases: “mysticism,” “religion,” “philosophy,” “metaphysics,” “spirituality,” “transcendental experience.” These words and phrases—there’s overlap—but, we should be careful not to say they mean something that they don’t, or, rather, that they mean something specific when they’re really meant to be more broad than the way we talk about them in normal discourse… Because, I was actually having, I guess, a kind of debate here on YouTube, on a video—I can’t remember what it was—but I was talking to, you know, one of these hardcore atheist types, who’s like, you know, “fuck religion,” and all that. But, you know, I was saying, you know, “even if you’re not religious, spirituality can be important to you.” And, certainly, I’ve met a lot of people who would say that: [that] they’re spiritual but not necessarily religious. But, this guy just kind of wanted to, you know, bust my balls over this and insist that spirituality doesn’t exist.  In the same way that he thought [that] religion was a lie, [that] religion was bullshit, he’s like, “spirituality is bullshit.” That’s like saying art is bullshit. I mean, what is there to be bullshit about it? It can’t be bullshit, because it’s just not… it’s not something that’s trying to be true or untrue, it’s just experiential, and in some ways it’s intuitive… isn’t it? I dunno. But, I think we should be careful when we conflate these phrases or say that,”this is this,” or, “this is that.” There is overlap. That doesn’t mean that one is the same thing as the other…”

~

SOME CLARIFICATIONS AND CORRECTIONS:

  • Spirit Science is the clickbait Facebook handle of The Spirit Science, a website to which no subscription is required in order to access its content.
  • My contention with chakras does not so much boil down to whether they exist or not (I think that, like many things of this nature, they work better as psychological tools, and really I doubt that there will ever be any real, tangible evidence for the existence of something very analogous to them within the body), but rather how they represent the credulity of those who delve into popular/trendy “spirituality.” (i.e. New Age eclecticism, gullibility, and ill-defined/wishy-washy/feel-good superstition loaded with “deep” buzzwords.) In short, I’m using them as an example here.
  • The analogy I made with art and artists is admittedly a bad one. I think that my point still stands, however.
  • Michael Shermer is the founder of The Skeptics Society, and editor-in-chief of its magazine, Skeptic. While I think that his use of the term “woo” (or “woo-woo”) is often sensible—and, for the purposes of the video/transcript, useful—he is a bit hard-line for my liking, standing in line with the more uncompromising “scientific/hard-evidence-based-everything” philosophy types. (I’m hesitant to throw this phrase around—as New Age folks themselves often abuse it—but “scientism” comes to mind.)

This video was done impromptu, so if I’m lacking good articulation in either the video or this transcription, I ask you to be forgiving.

~

Hierophant with occultic regalia. (Source unknown.)

Hierophant with occultic regalia. (Source unknown.)

I think of myself as a philosophically eclectic person. By that I mean that there are fundamental ideas that come from, say, existentialism, that I hold as sensible, while—at the same time—I also subscribe (to another degree) to something like (or parts of) pragmatism, and/or evidentialism, and/or Hegelianism, and/or Nietzschean affirmation, and so forth. There are concepts put forward by Schopenhauer, Kant, Hume, Marcus Aurelius, Plato, Zeno of Citium, Epicurus, Sartre, Aristotle, Wittgenstein, Camus, Kierkegaard, Diogenes, Lyotard, etc., etc., that I agree with. And I don’t find conflict between these numerous ideas—they are not mutually exclusive, and the philosophers in question are never completely (on all points possible) opposed—and neither do I find conflict in the ideas (those that I accept) that come from, say, religious philosophy, in particular. To name some sources: Aleister Crowley (Thelema, Western esotericism), Laozi (Taoism), Jesus (Christianity), Confucius (Confucianism, Chinese philosophy), Buddha (Buddhism), Nagarjuna (Mahayana Buddhism), Augustine (Christianity), Adi Shankara (Vedantic Hinduism), Dogen (Zen Buddhism, Japanese Buddhism), Tilopa (Vajrayana Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhism), Hermes Trismegistus (Hermeticism, Western esotericism), yada yada.

I make a point of distinguishing those ideas which I accept, so as to show that someone can entertain an idea without taking it as an irrevocable fact. I take this dichotomy from Aristotle, particularly his saying, “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” All day long I juggle with ideas: I test them out, try them on for size, and if they don’t “work” I leave them as they are. I may pick them up later. I may not. But the point here is that ideas are, generally speaking, provisional. That’s not to say there’s no “truth” to an idea one accepts, but that implicit in accepting an idea there is a usefulness to that acceptance. The idea becomes a tool. Thus, philosophies, religions, paradigms, worldviews—whatever—become tools for personal use; most readily, it often seems, to organize the contents of consciousness or patterns observed in the world or, in the case of spiritually-, existentially-, or mystically-directed paradigms, to foster the acquisition of a proposed “Absolute,” or “Ultimate,” etc.

So, in the realm of ideas, some may have more veracity than others, but, in any case, there is a usefulness there. People tend to get lost in ideas. I am no exception. But there’s also got to be the ability to “pull back from the brink,” as they say, and say to oneself, “wait a minute, does that really make sense? Is there any way in which that could be sensible? If so, how?” In the pursuit of that which is mysterious, skepticism is not only helpful, but essential. I should mention that, along these lines, I admire the motto of Aleister Crowley’s magickal order, the A∴A∴ (a Thelemic organization): “The method of science, the aim of religion.”

What a beautiful and challenging aim it is! And what an excellent method! (Though some have questioned the Thelemic tradition’s commitment to empirical scientific fact, as a religion (or magickal/occult system, or religious philosophy, etc. (Thelema is, in this way, like Buddhism, hard to pin down) its adherents often retain a kind of robust skepticism and pragmatic sensibility that I haven’t encountered among other groups. But this may merely be a personal, and superficial, impression, anyway, as people differ in their beliefs so much on an individual level.)

Anyway, I’m going off topic.

My point is ultimately this: “Spirituality” is a word both as meaningful and beautiful, and yet undefinable, as “art.” By using the phrase to signify something superficial, we devalue it. We are taking that broad, amorphous realm which embodies the sense of awe, reverence, beauty, wonder, and sacredness that human beings have for all the grandeur and minutia of the world, and bringing it down to the level of a commodity. When we begin to have “spiritual supply stores” selling candles and doo-dads, or when we deem talismans, crystals, and bottles of “fairy dust” to be spiritual, we damn something that is at the very core of the human experience.

Similarly, “metaphysics” represents perhaps the most wondrous and penetrative branch of human thought. Metaphysics is at the very core of philosophy (some would say epistemology, but that’s beside the point), and is the attempt by conscious beings to tap into the untold center of themselves and their world. It is a noble goal, and one that is bastardized by thoughtless associations with illogical balderdash. So, I propose we separate the words “spirituality” and “metaphysics” from “superstition,” “supernatural,” “paranormal,” and so forth. I say that serious “seekers” ought to understand both the overlap and the differences, the divide between genuine philosophy and the commercialization of watered down religious traditions, imported from far-away lands or semi-secretive orders at the behest of materialistic Westerners looking for some zest in life beyond the confines Netflix, Starbucks, iPhones, and People magazine. But this has all been said before, in one way or another, hasn’t it? And many times! In the end, bickering and bitching, saying and proclaiming get us nowhere.

Despite my love of writing, I will be the first to say that words will always ill-represent their ultimate, underlying reality, and direct experience—that mysterious conduit of all spirituality—remains in the silence. As that long dead mystic said, “Of all the Magical and Mystical Virtues, of all the Graces of the Soul, of all the Attainments of the Spirit, none has been so misunderstood, even when at all apprehended, as Silence.” It is astride our experiences that we build our knowledge, and we best do so with as much honesty and evidence as possible. One needn’t abandon reason in order to attain the heights of spiritual fulfillment, or be credulous to do the work of the mystics. Well, what is that work? I myself don’t really rightly know, but, in any case, why not approach our truest happiness and greatest potentials with an eye for the truth and a mind that entertains, without accepting?


» Check out the LOGOS! podcast on Soundcloud and the video series version on YouTube.

logos

Briefly Defending Everything in the Universe (… And an Open Invitation to Debate)

It was in the corner this whole time! (Source unknown.)

It’s about time! (Source unknown.)

So I just put away a pretty potent drink and I feel brazen enough to respond to an ornery YouTuber (and they often are ornery) who seems to have mischaracterized Taoism. Not that I’m a defender of the little faiths, or a Karen Armstrong or Joseph Campbell or Alan Watts, or a New Age burnout wired on superficial impressions of Eastern religions—attempting to find a way out of my cosmopolitan existential crisis. Though I suppose many of us who contend with the ridiculous realms of the inner life maintain a kind of respect for the Armstrongs and Campbells and Wattses of the world, and so we get tired of the idiot impressions of profound spiritualities. I get a bit irked, anyway.

As a preface, I don’t consider myself a Taoist. I do, however, appreciate, entertain, and even accept some [philosophical] Taoist ideas. Taoism is part of a big hodge-podge of many philosophies, religions, and spiritual worldviews that I fit into my nice little eclectic, skeptic, ever-evolving sense of reality.

On a response video titled RE: Taoism is Bullshitrebutting a video in which the hardline atheist narrator calls out Taoism as just another load of crap in line with Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, etc.the uploader makes some very good points. In particular, he makes a distinction between skepticism and atheism, terms which are used interchangeably by many people nowadays. Sadly, the nuances of these views are lost to know-it-alls who have the entire universe figured out.

Anyway, the uploader’s straightforward and, I would argue, very reasonable rebuttal seems incomprehensible to one commenter, who states:

“Taoism is bullshit, it’s worshipping (sic) a dead pig’s head and the moon, it’s dualistic and calls itself the oneness, it calls itself simple, but it’s hard to remember, understand, just do, can’t be explained, it doesn’t make sense, it’s not simple, nor is it natural and if you think it is you’re mentally retarded. Taoism with its uplifting music is negative, and it’s unknowable that the Tao exists or not, however its existence is possible, Lao Tsu’s probably making it up.”
Here is my response:

“Taoism utilizes duality as a way of appreciating non-duality (“oneness”, as you call it). Hence the symbol of taijitu (“yin yang”), representing the interpenetration of opposites. (Dark can only be known in relation to light, good in relation to evil, etc. Thus they exist by virtue of their relationship with their opposites.)Hard to remember and understand? Taoism is incredibly straightforward: Try to live your life in accordance with the way that things are, and the nature of the universe. Be natural. Don’t fight life–go with it. Understand the inter-connectivity of everything. Lose yourself in the way that things are, and become free.I’m not sure what music you’re speaking of. Yes, religious Taoism (daojiao) has ritual music. But we’re talking about philosophical Taoism (daojia) here.

Yes, of course it’s unknowable whether or not the Tao exists. The Tao is a priori knowledge, conception, and characteristic. The Tao comes before being and non-being. The Tao is not something to be known. It is merely a principle, symbolized by all that is or ever will be. It is merely the way that things are, and the constancy of this self-evident fact. The Tao is the most subtle universalism you can imagine. It is self-evident by the fact that things simply are the way they are. It is not a thing nor a non-thing.

Lao Tsu was not “making anything up”. He discovered an eternal, self-evident principle, one that has been echoed by philosophers and mystics for centuries. What Lao Tsu called the Tao, Heraclitus called the Logos. The Hermeticists and Thelemites call it the All or the Absolute, or refer to it (in the Kabbalistic manner) as Kether (the totality of all things or the ultimate thing). Buddhists call it sunyata (emptiness), or thathata  (sic) (suchness). It is nothing more than the way that things are.”

Now, I would love nothing more than if you metaphysically-minded folks would mosey on over and debate me on this topic. So few people get down to the nitty gritty introspective bits of Eastern religionsrather summing it up as something along the lines of “yeah, man, quantum fields fluctuating in the 11th dimension make the being of non-being really, like (inhale), mystical and shit, and that’s the beauty of the Tarot man, only $22.95 for this healing crystal shaped like Buddha’s dick. Whoa.”

First off please, please don’t take this as arrogance. I’m not here to smell my own farts. (Well, maybe a little.) In fact, I’m writing about this specifically because I don’t have enough people openly debate me on my views. (It gets lonely here behind a screen, and having founded several blogs with no followers whatsoever. (Advertising through pity now…) It’s almost like I’m talking to myself…)
No. I want someone to rigorously and unapologetically smash my opinion to bits. And then shit on it. Unless you agree with me. I always appreciate commonality. I don’t know, man… Either way, please, please utilize the comments section!
To conclude, this is one particular problem that arises when discussing things of the inner lifespirituality, philosophy, and so forth: semiotics. We wouldn’t have any of the above without people getting lost in the terminology, the phraseology, the meanings and symbols and connotations. Many of these profound ideas are inferential, but even more so they are experiential. “Tao,” “dharma,” “sunyata,” and all that are not merely spiritually-loaded ideals, or dogmatized woo woo. They mean nothing if they are not apprehended as experiences.
Just my two cents. Two cents from my kitchen table on a Monday. My glass is empty. Now I’m off to take a nap.
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P.S.
I apologize if the spacing in this article is terrible. I don’t have the patience or wherewithal to deal with WordPress plugins and all that bullshit. It seems I’ll need a PhD in particle physics if I want to make these blog posts look half way decent. Pakistanis need not worry about missing the gorgeous view.
Also, the YouTube account with which I replied is no longer active. That was a sort of “bullshitting” account. Try not to get salty about some of my abrasive punditry, or some of my former views.