Monday, January 16, 2012

On Reason and Faith - Use the Right Tool!!!

I came across and article this morning that got my hackles up a little: It was about an MIT professor of Atmospheric Science, Kerry Emanuel, who has declared himself a Conservative Republican, making some statements about climate change. His research has shown that there is undeniable evidence that we are being affected by climate change. He felt that, because of his political beliefs and his scientific background, he could carry some weight with his party, who have vehemently denied the existence of this phenomenon. His statements did not sway his party, but, instead, resulted in threats being made to his family by angry, fellow Republicans who disagreed with the findings of his research.

Here is a video which features him, toward the end, discussing his views, along with a number of other Republicans who support the idea that there is, indeed, a current problem caused by carbon dioxide emissions:

The problem I have with this is that Dr. Emanuel has conducted countless experiments, weighed evidence, considered options, and put his undeniable expertise on the subject through a series of empirical, logical tests to come up with his conclusions. Those who oppose his ideas do so simply because it makes them mad to think that the world might be changing and they, and all the rest of us, need to make some radical changes in our lifestyle to prevent the destruction of the planet. One argument seems, clearly, to carry more weight than the other. In fact, the non-scientific, non-logical argument actually carries no weight at all!

We have come to a point in our country where it has become OK to dismiss the evidence presented by experts in lieu of what our guts tell us. And, in fact, our political system has become based almost entirely on emotion.

Our economy is currently in ruins because we moved from making decisions based on looking at the cause and effect of growth and recession in the past, and have been trying to fix the economy based on Ayn Rand novels and the gut feeling that if the country operated like a family, the problems would be fixed. We have cast off the lessons of economic history, and instead are doing things that have failed, time and time again, in the past.

Now, I do believe there is a place in the world for both reason and faith, and I hope to tease them out in this essay.

Though I am certainly a person of only average intelligence, I probably meet the profile of the intellectual. I have multiple degrees, and have studied music, art, philosophy, psychology and education. I am an avid reader, and wear glasses. In Maoist China, this would have been sufficient enough evidence to have me killed. But this is to say that I have grown up in an environment that values reason, perhaps to a flaw. I have always been taught to support what arguments I make with evidence from multiple sources, and to be truthful to that evidence.

I believe that repeated outcomes are a very strong indicator of reality in the material world. Psychologically, I like the argument that insanity is defined by trying the same thing over and over and hoping for different results. I also believe that when multiple experts agree on something, it is worth consideration - but I am also skeptical, and like to read multiple sources, and opposing views. I am not a trained scientist, but I have read a great deal about many aspects of science, particularly physics, and within that discipline, particularly quantum physics. That being said, I do believe that there is much more evidence to support climate change than there is evidence in opposition. That is how I make my decisions.

Religiously, I also veer toward science. I have been a student of Yoga for many years, which is the basis for Hinduism and Buddhism. I do not follow the 'isms' as closely as the yoga. Yoga philosophy is, in religious terms, quite scientific. Yoga is a collection of techniques. Over a period of more than 7000 years, millions of people have successfully employed these techniques of meditation to achieve high levels of concentration, of inner peace, and of compassion toward others. Societies which have been built on these principles have served their citizenry well.

Reason also tells me that there are many paths. Within yoga, itself, there are many, many paths; but certainly many people have achieved high levels of concentration, peace and compassion through Christianity, Islam, and many other paths, both religious and not religious.

So is there a place of faith? Of course. One of the teachings of yoga talks about balance of intellect (gyana), devotion (bhakti) and action (karma.) The issue I have is when any of these three areas becomes out-of-balance, people make poor decisions. The problem is that a lot of people are out-of-balance.

Most philosophy gets, at some point, to faith. Descartes took this step right at the beginning when he said "I think therefore I am," which any good meditator would disagree with. The best example is Kierkegaard's leap of faith. In his essay on anxiety, he discusses how one makes a 'leap' from one to the other, and that they cannot exist simultaneously. I also don't agree with Kierkegaard's rigidity that the two cannot co-exist, but in general, if we think of each as a tool, generally situations call for one or the other in larger doses:

For instance, in solving climate change it will require a great deal of reason to solve this problem, but faith that we can do it will be very helpful. How about generating internal ecstasy? Well, that's more of a faith job, although reason will help us know if we are getting there and if it is helpful, and how to refine our practice. It is very true, according to multiple studies that those with great material wealth and comfort are often less happy than those who have very little, but are faithful.

People like fundamentalists of most faiths have not come to this same conclusion - that there is a time for faith and a time for reason. They try to apply their faith to the material world, where it doesn't have the same effect. Certainly it would be nice for changes in our atmosphere to go away merely by believing this, but that has never been a very effective way to solve material world problems.

The same can be said of materialists, who discount anything than can not be explained with cold, hard science.

Faith can have a huge affect of attitude in the material world: which is to say that believing that we can solve the problem of climate change through collective action makes it more possible than having an attitude that there is nothing anyone can do. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a phrase to describe faith that I like, it is "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase. " It has a nice implication that faith is about accepting, and not about denying.

So, I'm sure anyone who knows much about Yoga, Buddhism and Hinduism is thinking that the fundamental belief of all these systems of thought is that the material world is an illusion. And, yes, that is at the core of these faiths... the key word being 'faith.' The material world may be an illusion, and both Einstein and Osho have shown how people can pull at the fiber of this illusion - but the bottom line is that it is an illusion that follows predictable rules, and until someone becomes remarkable enough to step in and out of the illusion at will, we are controlled, to a great extent, by this environment. So, even if the goal is to overcome the illusion, one must treat the illusion with respect while one is a part of it.

Faith is vastly important, and I pity the person who has no faith, and wish that I could have a better balance of less logic and more faith in my own life.

So, how does faith tug at the fiber of the material world? Certainly denial is not an effective way. I have tried at times during my life to wish something away, and it has never worked. There are some studies that talk about attitude and its affect on outcome. I read somewhere sometime ago that people who enter into a task with a positive attitude typically have around an 80-90% success rate. People who enter in with a poor attitude have a much lower success rate.

There have been experiments conducted with random number generators, and advanced mediators can affect the randomness of the generators. With these same random number generators, large groups of people contemplating the same thing, such as the reading of the verdict in the OJ Simpson trial, 911, and such events, have created measurable changes in the randomness of the numbers generated.

There is also an idea that is popular called "The Law of Attraction." This gained widespread attention when the movie "The Secret" came out. According to this idea, like energy attracts like energy. "The Secret" applied this toward material things, saying that sending out desire for certain objects or money would yield such. I think this may be somewhat likely, but not very consistent. It does, however, work on a more energetic level, and physicists like Amit Goswami talk about it happening in terms of attracting people with like ideas to yourself. This seems to carry some weight in relationships of people I have observed. I have known people who seem to attract the same, often in a negative sense, person to themselves over and over, and then, after doing some real internal work, suddenly are having much better relationships.

This is a song called "The Silence of a Candle" by the group Oregon. There is something about it that moves me. I have analyzed it, and there is no 'material' reason I should find it more beautiful than any of a million other songs, but I do. This moves away from the realm of reason and moves into the realm of faith:

I can only think that there is something about the passion with which the song was written and the energy with which the song is performed that moves me so much. It is something beyond which I can understand, rationally.

Yoga is all about creating energy, and it is a basic tenant of Yoga that surrounding yourself with people of high energy to help generate your own energy, in addition to movement and meditation practices of Yoga.

Most folk wisdom, and Yoga is included, looks at the brain as the organ of reason, and the heart as the organ of faith and devotion. There are scientists at The HeartMath Institute who are doing some amazing research about the heart. They have found that the heart has it's own neural system, and that when the heart and brain are properly attuned, people function better, emotionally and physically. They have created an inexpensive device to help people synchronize, or entrain, these organs. It is fascinating, and I would suggest reading about some of their work. Their is a great book called "The HeartMath Solution" that gives a great overview.

The debate has come to be popular lately as to whether science is real or not, largely because many rigid-thinking faithful are unwilling to bend their faith to accept new findings of science. It is interesting that many fundamentalist religions, and religions that are deeply organized, have fought the findings of science, whether it is if the sun or the earth is the center of the universe, or climate change. More flexible thinkers were able to change their thoughts around to accept new 'realities.'

This is an odd dilemma we find ourselves in today. There are many who flatly deny 'science' because they feel it contradicts books like The Bible. Others have denied faith because books like The Bible did not allow for the new findings of science. Many have been able to see science and faith as different elements, and do not see them as contradictory. Still others have found that when combining reason and faith, the findings of science and books, like The Bible, can be found to work together.

We find that the belief in science and faith has drawn political lines: Many Republicans deny science, and many Democrats deny religion, except in social aspects. I think this just shows more how we are out of balance as a species than how politically divided we are. I would further question the legitimacy of some of this 'faith,' as it seems to come from the brain, and not the heart, and seems to be accompanied by the emotion of hatred, which, I don't believe, has anything to do with true faith. I think these people are just justifying their rigid thinking, lack of intelligence, and emotions over which they really have no good control.

I like to think of reason and faith like tools, each with its own use. Like it would be stupid to try to drive a nail with a screwdriver, using faith to analyze problems of science, like climate change, is ridiculous. We would not use a hammer to twist in a screw, and likewise, people who have tried to find infinite happiness in the world through reason alone have never been successful. There is a need for more than one tool in a tool belt, and there is need for more than one tool as we navigate our lives.

This can be employed in questions of theology, as well: No one has yet ever proven the existence of God with arguments of reason. It takes faith to come to that understanding. Whether there is or is not a God, and what that God is like is purely faith-based. However, we try to employ faith to answer questions, such as 'why did God allow this war to happen?' Well, God had nothing to do with it. Wars are acts of man, and are often based on religious disputes. We have the tool of reason to help us get out of wars. God gave us the tools of faith, reason and action, and gave us free will to employ them wisely. All problems can be created and also solved with these tools.

I have been around some remarkable people, of many faiths, who exude a feeling of enlightenment that is beyond any description. These people tend to be intelligent as well as faithful, and have no capacity for hatred. In India, these people are known as Saints, and they are the leaders of the 'religion.' Hinduism and Yoga are, in general, not organized, and people go to gurus rather than churches, and learn from those enlightened souls directly, instead of from books and other teachers. These Saints exist everywhere, but in Christianity, they are normally denied until after they die. I wish in the west we had more of a tradition of being around enlightened souls, instead of angry souls.

One Saint who lives in my town in Sai Maa. Here is an example of real faith:

And an example from The West, Father Bede Griffiths:

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