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12-05-11 - Cuke Skepticism on brain, mind, soul, reality, truth, etc, and on what people today call skepticism

SKEPTIC also sceptic, 1580s, "member of an ancient Greek school that doubted the possibility of real knowledge," from Fr. sceptique, from L. scepticus, from Gk. skeptikos (pl. Skeptikoi "the Skeptics"), lit. "inquiring, reflective," the name taken by the disciples of the Greek philosopher Pyrrho (c.360-c.270 B.C.E.), from skeptesthai "to reflect, look, view" (see scope (1)). The extended sense of "one with a doubting attitude" first recorded 1610s. The sk- spelling is an early 17c. Greek revival and is preferred in U.S.

Skeptic does not mean him who doubts, but him who investigates or researches as opposed to him who asserts and thinks that he has found. [Miguel de Unamuno, "Essays and Soliloquies," 1924]

from the Online Etymology Dictionary

Recently I put up a link to Skeptoid - Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomenae and he had a link to Deepak Chopra debating a skeptic on afterlife stuff and I found another skeptic, Michael Shermer, who wrote The Woo of Creation after debating Chopra on “Is there an Ultimate Reality?” and if yes, “Can it be accounted for by science such as mathematics, biology and physics?”.  Here is what came to mind after reading that and other related stuff which I enjoyed a lot.

Shermer wrote: I explained that I am a Materialist and a Monist. I do not believe that there is a body and a soul, there is just a body. There is no brain and mind, just brain. The mind is just a word we use to describe what the brain does. I said, “you know I’m right”

I love the way some self-described skeptics are so sure of themselves. He seems to have made up his mind and be ready to do combat. But anyway, I agree with his statement - sort of - if we say there's no body and mind, just a body. I wouldn't say brain cause it's just part of the body. That doesn't seem out of step with a lot of Buddhist teaching I've been exposed to and also with my own experience of reality.

I remember when I went back to Fort Worth for the first time, 1968 I think, after having run into the SF Zen Center and Suzuki and Katagiri and Zen. I dropped a copy of the SFZC's Wind Bell publication off at the home of my childhood spiritual teacher, Mrs. Ruby Whetmore (Wetmore?), a practitioner of William Walter's Eschatology, what I call a mind-only new thought Christian faith-healing sort of approach - influenced by Emerson and Thoreau and Hinduism and Western spiritualism. I went back to say hi to Mrs. Whetmore and she was livid, shaking the Wind Bell at me and saying with disappointment, "What's this David? Body AND mind? Body AND mind?"

"No no no," I replied, "They know that body and mind are one. That's part of the teaching."

"If they knew that body and mind were one they'd not write 'body and mind.'"

I couldn't convince her that I was involved with wise people. She was convinced I'd come under the spell of dualists. She was a monist like Mr. Shermer except her mon was mind and his was body.

I think saying there's only a body is a good starting point - only phenomena - one body - the whole universe one indivisible body. I don't think we can prove that individual bodies exist - or individual parts like brains. But I also don't think we can really prove that phenomena exists. Chopra argued that there's only consciousness and that the material world comes out of that, that when you get into the atoms and so forth that there's no substance there and then Shermer said go jump off a building and test your theory. But that doesn't do it for me. That seems like an emotional argument like saying there are no atheists in foxholes.

To me the words consciousness, awareness, mind, and even body all mean the same approached from different angles. It seems to me from my own observation that everything is just what we perceive through the senses and thought and feeling and imagination and memory and whatever all happening in time. I don't know what it all is but I think there's one thing I can say about it and that is that I'm aware of it and of a sense of self. That sounds like two things but the awareness and the sense of self seem to be the same. What I'm aware of is all subject to question, to doubt, to skepticism. But I don't doubt that I'm aware.

The Advaita teachers, Vedanta Advaita from India, like Ramana Maharshi, say that the ultimate is "I am," that awareness gets down to the feeling of "I am." The Bible has that too. It's like the name of god. Who are you? "I am that I am?" It's a fairly universal koan to ask Who am I? Ramana said that the feeling all beings have in common is "I am" and that that I am is mistakenly thought to be the individual being but that that's a delusion, that there's really only one I am. Ramana said there's only Self which I'd call Big Self to differentiate it from the small self, what I'd call the imaginary self. It's like my teacher, Shunryu Suzuki, using the term Big Mind. It's the same to me as what's indicated by the word God or god.

Spiritual teachers often speak in terms of "I am the way" and so forth. I always agree and see that "I" as including us all - and not just people. When I read Jesus saying "I am the way, the truth, and the light, and only through me can one enter the kingdom of heaven," I say right on. It's just the same as Nisargadatta saying "I am that." It's not an exclusive I. It's inclusive.

I think now of Bill Maher (whose political commentary I'm a fan of) ridiculing people who say they are Christians etc on his show, saying they believe in talking snakes and "magical thinking." - his quotes, he holds his fingers up. I think when he does that, oh there's more magical thinking. I say that skepticism and materialism and rational thinking and stuff proven by science through repeatable double blind tests can also be magical thinking. Doesn't have to be, but can be.

The way I see it, myths, stories, lore, legends, essays, memoirs, anecdotes, sutras, parables, metaphors, magick, tricks, mantras, mandalas, meditation, teachings, writings, songs, and reports from mystics, shamans, priests, witches, warlocks, housewives, poets, artists, ditchdiggers, scientists and children have given us a vast treasurehouse of wisdom of what cannot be known through reason or what we call science. Countless fingers have pointed to the inconceivable beyond belief or attachment, to a shift in identity, the product of lives repeatedly testing through direct experience, inquiry, and devotion, and reporting the good news that the door of awareness opens to the subtle, the profound, the intimate, the wondrous which cannot be explained, shown, or measured or affirmed or denied.

But I can't prove it.

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