Punchinello’s Chronicles

October 23, 2008

Reconciling the Spiritual with Rationalism

Filed under: The Great Adventure! — Punchinello @ 3:29 am
Tags: , , , ,

I was listening to a discussion tonight on the Coast-to-Coast network, in which there’s this problem of how to understand spirituality. On the one hand, science has no evidence or proof that such things as souls or spirits exist. On the other, countless years of human history show that independent societies and civilizations concur that some sort of univeral energy or consciousness exists.

That got me thinking about how nothing really can be proved, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. We’ve had a couple of hundred years of really stupid philosophies telling us that because we can use words to disprove everything, therefore the underlying reality doesn’t exist.

Then, to make matters worse, a few people realized that words were the problem. So a couple of other really stupid philosophies came to explain that words are just accidents. We don’t actually think about anything, and the noises we make out of our heads are all accidental.

Really stupid!

Rationalists want all things to be explained and understood through science. We should have physical evidence, repeatable experiments, and consistent theories that can make predictions. The spiritualists want us all to just guess what’s happening, or use intuition or paranormal senses. We should just feel something is true, thereby making it so.

So let’s think about aspirin. This is some really good stuff, helping mankind get through pain, headaches, and raising children. It helps us deal with exercise, and now we find out it helps with blood clotting and heart attacks. Is it a consequences of science?

Actually, no. Primitive non-scientists used to chew willow bark, noting the healing powers of that bark. Did they intuit the knowledge, or get it by osmosis? Did a god or goddess give them that information? Probably not.

Science, on the other hand, looked at what was going on, thinking there probably was some key element in the willow bark that was the cause of the healing. Using processes and analysis, we eventually were able to isolate the derivatives of salicylic acid and work out a way to manufacture what we now call aspirin.

The so-called ancients, shamans, medince people, healers, whatever their titles, they knew about this. They’d learned it through experience, handed on the information with verbal tradition, and understood that if you get a headache, chew bark. Does that mean these primitive people were more advanced than we are today?

Does technology automatically get a backseat to ancient non-technical society simply because we don’t know everything about everything? Should we just eliminate all technology and science, claiming that primitive societies are smarter than we are? Don’t be ridiculous.

Despite all this primitive knowledge and healing, life spans were a whole lot shorter back then, and people died of things like infected teeth, appendicitis, and all sorts of things. Modern medicine has done a whole lot to change all that.

The problem with science is that it first has to have an observation to work on. Something has to occur, on a regular basis, and more than one person has to make that observation. The conditions for studying the observation mean that the event should happen with some frequency. It should produce external and objective effects on the world around us.

Spiritual things are intangible, rarely leave tangible effects, and more often than not take place only a few times. Does that mean they don’t happen and don’t exist? Don’t be ridiculous.

It seems to me that the major malfunction here is that people want it only one way or only the other. Either science and rationalism explain everything in totality, or intuition and romanticism explain everything in totality. There can’t be any blend between the two.

Why not?

We already know that electricity exists, but we have no clue why it works. We can manipulate it, just as we can work with quantum physics, but we don’t know nuthin’ about the underlying details. We also know that regressing to a primitive culture is pretty pointless, despite the probability that people talked a lot more about spirit back then.

Parapsychology is still a new field of endeavor, not qualified as a legitimate science by the already-existing scientists. But then, alchemy wasn’t a real science either, until they changed the name to chemistry and developed a lot of repeatable experiments. Let’s not just wipe out all of spirituality or science. Let’s not run as fast as we can backward into the past.

Observation tells us that emotions affect our actions in powerful ways. But scientists have no clue what emotions really are. The scientists can give us pills and chemicals to mess up those emotions, but that doesn’t mean they know what the emotions are. Nor does science have any idea how a thought becomes a biochemical reaction, or how chemicals can produce thoughts.

The only reason psychology is considered legitimate is that emotions do leave some physical evidence behind. There are chemical and electrical changes, observable through PET scans and chemical tests. But are the tests explaining the emotions themselves, or only the residual changes to the body after the fact?

On the other hand, modern New Age proponents haven’t a clue why gravity works, why energy exchanges take place, and never did much to explain physical reality. It all goes into a big blob of “God made it,” or “Mother Earth manages it.”

How about we start over again from scratch. Let’s get Science back to following life, coming along after the experiences and observations to try and figure them out. Right now, too many scientists believe that they’re ahead of the experience. If they haven’t observed it, then it doesn’t exist. Or; it’s not worth studying.

Let’s put the spiritualists onto some sort of accountability routine. Instead of just glazing over and going into a trance, how about some repeatability? We’re supposed to start with experience, come up with a plausible hypothesis as to explanation, then test that hypothesis.

We don’t need a lot of people shouting that we should just believe everything without any kind of thought. Nor do we need people rejecting everything out of hand because they haven’t seen it with their very own eyes.

Come to think of it, the whole thing is exactly like liberals and conservatives arguing. Nobody even cares anymore about finding a rational common ground. I suppose if there is an organizing intelligence or force behind all of existence, the next step is to have current reality just fall apart. That’ll pretty much force us all to start from scratch. How is that good? I dunno; it’s a mystery.


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