Beyond Belief: Logic and Reality

In the belief conversation, I have extolled the gift of reason, stressed the importance of examining the evidence of God’s action in our lives and made a case for employing logic as the basis for formulating belief.  Is my western bias showing? 

Western thought is heavily influenced by Greek philosophy.  We prize Aristotelian logic and put a premium on logical consistency.  Proving something is true is equivalent to proving its opposite is false.  Something and its opposite cannot be simultaneously true.  While this logic is intellectually satisfying, and makes us feel like we know something with certainty, it might leave much of reality in the dark.  For all our technological achievements and advancement of scientific knowledge, we moderns may actually be less in touch with reality than ancient thinkers.  

Before Greek thought percolated and permeated the western world, how did the ancients understand reality, and what did they believe?  Early believers in the God of Abraham understood God to be so unlike man, or anything that man could conceive, that a cornerstone of their theology was man doesn’t know and can’t know God.  They understood reality to exist in the tension between polar opposites that are simultaneously true.  The nature of God is at once transcendent (otherworldly) and immanent (present at every moment).  God champions justice and at the same time gives mercy.  God is concealed (eludes direct observation) and also intervenes (touches us directly).  This balanced thinking describes Jewish theology to this day.  

The Jewish tradition also sees the reality of human nature as held in the tension between polar opposites.  Man can be obedient to God’s will but also sins.  Man lives in faith and in fear.  God gives man collective responsibility (covenants with groups of people) and individual responsibility.  Don’t we see this pull to opposite extremes in religious life today?  I know a deeply spiritual man who feels fervently convicted of the righteousness of one extreme in the homosexual clergy debate.  As deeply as he knows he is right, I know he is wrong.  I respect his piety and his sincerity, and I have no doubt that God is pulling him to his belief just as I know God is pulling me to mine.  I don’t think God is playing games with us, though.  I think he is leading us to deeper truths that exist on both sides of the matter.  I think he is drawing us into tension to reveal a complex reality that lies outside the simple circle of Aristotelian if-I’m-right-then-you’re-wrong logic. 

Polarity is essential to our understanding of the very nature of existence.  Light has no meaning without darkness.  Order is meaningless without chaos.  How could we appreciate goodness if there were no evil?  Even our scientific understanding of physical reality invokes opposites.  Light simultaneously exhibits the nature of particles and waves. 

Perhaps we can find hope in this reality of opposites.  Sin in all its horror precipitates the glory of being redeemed.  Maybe suffering exists to reveal the miracle of healing. 

Join the conversation.  What polar opposites do you believe are simultaneously true?

Copyright 2011 Stephanie Walker All rights reserved.  Visit www.AcrossTraditions.com.

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11 thoughts on “Beyond Belief: Logic and Reality

  1. Both contemporary Physics and Vedic Science have resolved the apparent contradictions we observe in the phenomenal world and in the spiritual world. Reality is different at different levels. The laws of nature are completely consistent at each level, but each level has its own reality and its own rules and its own logic. The laws of classical physics, the physics of Newton culminating with the physics of Einstein, make no sense, do not function at all, at the level of subatomic reality. Subatomic reality requires a completely different set of laws and concepts and even a completely different mathematical description.

    Most recently physics has reasoned and experimentally verified that level of reality at which all of the laws and forces of nature are unified. The description of the unified field is identical to the description of pure consciousness found in the Vedas.

    The Vedas also include the recognition that “Richo Akshare,” “Knowledge is structured in consciousness.” Reality is different at different levels of consciousness. The reality experienced in the waking state is different from reality in the sleep state, is different from reality in the dream state, is different from reality in the transcendent state, and so on.

    One characteristic that we inherit from being created in the image of God is that our awareness can extend throughout all of these levels. Thus we come to notice differences, seeming contradictions, in the structure of the universe. Discomfort only arises when our direct personal experience does not match up with the results of our cognitive processing. This discomfort is the temporary condition that is resolved by developing into full human beings. Fully developed human beings are often described as enlightened people.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Allen. You always have something extremely thoughtful to say. Question for you. You know how many religious traditions have a fundamentalist branch–see tthings as black-and-white, there is only one answer, whoever disagrees is wrong, etc.? I’m wondering if that strain exists in the Vedic tradition. Anyway, thanks for commenting!

    • The Vedic tradition isn’t really a religious tradition. It’s a knowledge tradition. It’s not unlike what we now call science. Verification is required in order for someone’s testimony to be accepted, and the verification has to be on the direct personal experience of other qualified investigators.

      That said, there are differences in how the knowledge is expressed and there are differences in how the absolute is perceived. This issue is not generally understood as a problem because of the Vedic understanding that knowledge is structured in consciousness. (Richo Akshare is the Sanscrit phrase) The reason there are multiple expressions of the Veda, the four primary Vedas, Rig-Veda, Yajur-Veda, Sama-Veda, Atharva-Veda, is that each experience of pure consciousness takes place at the junction point between one particular human nervous system, the experiencer, and the unmanifest field of pure consciousness which is completely undifferentiated.

      The four pre-eminent Vedas are referred to as shruti which is often translated as “heard” or “witnessed.” This is the part of Vedic literature that has been reported by the rishis as their direct personal experience at the most refined level of the phenomenal universe. The Vedas are the sonic forms, the vibrations, of the infinite unmanifest field of pure consciousness as it exists just at the point where it moves from utter silence into manifestation.

      This corresponds to level of the universe Physics describes as the point at which the unified vacuum state begins to exhibit wave fluctuations that eventually differentiate into the four forces: gravity, electromagnetic, strong, and weak nuclear interactions.

      There are many many many belief systems, schools of thought, and religions derived from the Vedic tradition and I’m sure adherents of those hold their beliefs to be complete and unique. Holding some flavor of the truth in such a way is a precious protection of the qualities of the heart. Such a conviction is a comforting shield against fear.

      • The point that it is a knowledge tradition rather than a religious trdition makes total sense to me. I do use “tradition” rather loosely, to include schools of thought, e.g. the scientific tradition. The understanding that knowledge is structured in consciousness is important, I think. I’ve come across some interesting research at Harvard exploring models of consciousness in the context of perspective. I haven’t followed it closely, but it would seem to have imlications for spiritual belief. I’ll find a link if you’re interested! Thanks for hanging in there with me, Allen.

  3. Pingback: Flying Spagetti Monster Back in the News | Across Traditions Blog

  4. I’d like to know more about the research at Harvard you mention.

    I’ve thought about a metaphor that is used to describe how it is that pure undifferentiated consciousness manifests in so many different forms. When one examines a rose on the gross sensory level, one finds diversity. There is the softness and color of the petals, the hardness of the stem, the tender green leaves, the sharpness of the thorns,,,, And yet on a more fundamental level, all of these characteristics are nothing but different manifestations of the same colorless sap.

    I am finding our conversation to be both delightful and very helpful in advancing my understanding. You are providing the kind of service Socrates provided our Western Civilization. You are asking all the important questions. Those questions draw forth very enjoyable insights.

    I would like to know more about you.

  5. I’m enjoying it, too, Allen. Thanks for making it a conversation vs. a one-way missive into the ether! I’ll have to hunt down the research–can’t remember if I linked to it from The Edge or Huffpost. The premise, as I recall it, was that the model for perspective is relatively simple compared to traditional models for consciousness, and the new work was modeling consciousness based on perspective constructs. Neurologists were intrigued because it was a more “elegant” solution. The Vedic tradition would make for an interesting juxtoposition!

    Please feel welcome to visit my website to see what I’m working on at present. The blog’s purpose is to support my book project, and although I’m extremely interested in philosophical aspects of belief, the thrust of the work is reaching people in a hurting place and giving them some hope for healing. If you poke around, I’d like to get your opinion on something.

    Thanks again!
    S

    • I’d very much like to visit your website. Perhaps you would e-mail me a link to it at allen@wisdomguild.com. Do I need a login and stuff? I too work in the recovery field. I’ve just been asked to help an organization here in NH set up and maintain a blog for certified recovery coaches. (I’m one)

      • Hey, Allen. The website is simply http://www.AcrossTraditions.com, and no login needed. (There’s a button that links to the website on the top right margin of the blog home page, too.) I don’t actually work in the recovery field, but it intrigues me and I have done some research, 12 Step in particular. I am really enjoying the Linkedin Addiction Professionals group, and you have great comments there, too! I’ve got my training wheels on. Can you tell? (Be honest.)

        Here is the question on which I would appreciate your brutal honesty (and that goes for anyone else in the cybersphere reading this): how would the interfaith, trans-tradition healing message resonate with people actively engaged in working the steps? I seem to get a genuinely positive reception from many (mostly those in recovery and to a lesser extent those working the steps and some professionals), but some addiction professionals brush me off as “too religious” or not authentic because I’m not telling a story of addiction. I’m working on a broader story, one where I’m convinced many in search of healing would benefit from 12 Step wisdom and directness. I’m less clear on how much 12-Steppers benefit. I’ve got a blind spot here on what is turning some professionals off, and I would REALLY value your observations about why.

  6. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-graziano/the-spirit-constructed-in_b_855160.html
    “This realization that consciousness is a perception is counterintuitive. We think of consciousness as something ghostly that inhabits an object. But according to this neuro-social theory, consciousness is a perception that is attributed to something. Like beauty, consciousness is in the eye of the beholder. Our brains actively paint consciousness onto ourselves and onto the objects around us.

    “The implications for spiritual belief are rather startling. In this theory, the spirit world is the complex, richly detailed universe of social perception, the perception of mind. We not only perceive consciousness in ourselves and in others, but we perceive it in the objects and spaces around us. Spiritualism is a fundamental mode of perception by which humans relate to the world. In this view, spiritualism is not an incorrect theory; not a misapplication of rational thought; not pseudoscience.”

  7. Pingback: Conditions for Forgiveness | Across Traditions Blog

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