Proof of the divine

One of the major benefits of studying law at the most highly regarded law school in the country is that I’m surrounded by clever, thoughtful people who express themselves well. Turns out that holds true even when they’re drunk, as I saw at the Law faculty launch party a few weeks ago (the one with the $5,500 bar tab for those paying attention on Facebook).

It was there that I got into a conversation about god and belief and the meaning of life. Not surprising in a place with lots of free alcohol perhaps, but this happened during the very first drink. I was challenged about my agnosticism, and I explained that since there was no direct or indirect evidence of a divine being, I did not believe in one, and that I would continue doing so until such evidence presented itself.

The conversation moved on, but it did make me question what evidence I would find compelling. At the time, I made some glib remark about how if the stars were rearranged to say “Jarrah, I exist. Really. Signed, God” that would be a start. But I immediately thought that probably wouldn’t suffice. I could be hallucinating, for example. Or it could be an advanced alien being, playing games with me.

So what would I accept? The more I think about it, the more I’m not sure anything at all would be enough. As Arthur C. Clarke said, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, and religion is just another type of magic (where ‘magic’ is something beyond physical laws/explanation). Therefore, no matter what ‘miracle’ I witnessed (or thought I witnessed), I could never eliminate the possibility of mere alien technology posing as an interventionist god.

I suppose what might sway me would be a plausible hypothesis about the mechanism by which a divine being could be part of the universe, but that traditionally is a contradiction in terms. Of course, then it would have to be supported by evidence arising from experiments designed to test this hypothesis, and a great deal of it too.

For now, colour me sceptical.

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13 Responses to Proof of the divine

  1. Peter Ferguson says:

    I find two confusing statements in this post.

    It appears you reside in NSW. If so how can you be going to the most highly regaded Law School in Australia?

    AND

    If you are going to a Law School then how can you be surrounded by cleaver thoughtful people?

  2. Jarrah says:

    Boom tish.

    But seriously, Sydney and UNSW are at the top, followed by ANU and Melbourne. However, the Good Universities Guide says UNSW is best, and as my law faculty says:

    This is the third consecutive year the Faculty of Law, together with UNSW Australian School of Business, has achieved the top ranking in the business, law and economics cluster.

    Regardless, whichever law school is the best, it’s not in Queensland!

  3. Bas says:

    J-Man!

    These uni rankings are corporate pr horseshit, and only have relevance in the Potemkin village world of increasingly fake institutions that attract money so they can spend money on appearances (including climbing up rankings) so as to attract more money so they can buff their appearance a bit more to suck in more money, ad mal infinitum.

    Re more worthwhile dimensions of the infinite, when you write about the “mechanism” which might relate a divine being to the universe, I would say you prejudice matters. Mechanistic understandings, where by definition the author or generative essence stands outside the “mechanism”, are compatible, as with Newton, with deistic or interventionist conceptions of God, but not with conceptions which conceive the universe as – or in and as – God (eg, pantheism, panentheism).

    If we are to get beyond the limitations of the science vs faith stalemate, not to mention associated “culture wars”, some non-mechanistic conception of the divine, such as panentheism, will, it seems to me, be implied.

    “For now, colour me sceptical.”

    Let me suggest this hypothesis: Your scepticism is only something that seems subjectively to hold you apart from the divine. It is a form of theological speculation, and if, as panentheism holds, theology is not simply a human activity distinct from God but belongs to and is necessary to God, then the sceptical moment also belongs to God; indeed is a vital, indispensable, part of the freedom of humanity qua God qua world.

    The irony of the sceptical viewpoint is that it is constrained to misunderstand itself, in order to remain what it is. The cure is not, however, a leap into faith (none of the above is a call to that), but simply to be more sceptical about what scepticism is assumed to entail.

  4. Jarrah says:

    It’s true there’s probably too much importance attached to the various rankings, but I’d dispute your speculations about university budgets – obviously they don’t only spend money on superficial improvements, but also on good teachers and good facilities that deliver a better education to students, and higher quality research.

    The rankings I linked to include a governmental judgement about which university is most deserving of money from the Learning and Teaching Performance Fund, as well as surveys of alumni. Personally, I find those more convincing than the Times Higher Education Supplement or SHJT, which are probably what you’re thinking of as PR horseshit.

    Regarding your comments about god, I don’t really understand (not for the first time!). I googled panentheism, and it appears to be untestable, either empirically or logically, and thus is incapable of convincing me. And I don’t have any desire to reconcile science and faith, I have no problem with a stalemate.

    With your second-last paragraph, I must have misunderstood, because it looks like you are saying that because all-is-in-god, my scepticism about god is evidence for god. That can’t be right, so what did you really mean?

    And I don’t get your point about scepticism in the last paragraph. It’s fair enough to be sceptical about grounds for scepticism, but scepticism doesn’t mean giving equal weight to all doubts. I can’t be sure god doesn’t exist (and yes, there are assumptions built into the word ‘exist’ as well), just as I can’t be sure about anything. But I can be more sure about some things (my own existence, yours, an observable and conceivable and explainable universe) than I can be about any divine being, so I choose to believe in me, you, and everything else I have evidence for (or can deduce).

  5. Bas says:

    Thanks for your response, Jarrah.

    Now…

    “obviously they don’t only spend money on superficial improvements, but also on good teachers and good facilities that deliver a better education to students, and higher quality research.”

    There is nothing “obvious” about this. More scepticism, por favor! True, every year there are lots of fresh students who are not yet intellectually castrated. There are also good teachers who survive in the system and a few new ones get through; but mostly those who succeed do so by being what the education system, and its petty keepers, want. This is mostly an increasingly vicious circle where governments, students, alumni, and uni management are less and less capable of conceiving, let alone aiming for, let alone having the guts to try to achieve, the good. Mediocrity rules. They can reward each other with pats on the back for doing “high quality research” (with impeccable randomisation, double blind safeguards or whatever you want), and they can, as it were, “deliver a better education” (in fact good education is never “delivered”), and barely suspect that their ideas are largely banal, lifeless, life-avoiding, cowardly, and, all in all, thoughtless.

    “I googled panentheism, and it appears to be untestable, either empirically or logically, and thus is incapable of convincing me.”

    I’m not sure that when it comes to a difficult philosophical, theological, spiritual and existential concept developed under various names and argued over for some 2500 years in the western tradition, that asking google will suffice. Not, anyway, if “pondering the human condition” is an interest.

    As for the (lightning) judgment “and thus is incapable of convincing me”, I hear the sounds of a habitual sorting machine operating. Would it be fair to reconstruct the reasoning this way: “I am a sceptic, for only scientifically (empirically, logically) testable truth claims can convince me; idea x does not appear to fall within the realm of the testable; therefore I need not bother much with it”?

    The problem here is that the panentheistic concept is being held up to, and found wanting in relation to, a concept of truth (the logically-empirically testable) which is too narrow to do it justice. But to make this point does not imply any lack of interest in the logical and empirical. The implication, as I see it, of such a conception of the Absolute as we get with panentheism, is rather that such truth testing activities are reframed as to their significance.

    The individual and collective search for the truth – through critical and sceptical habits of thought – ideally goes together with the gaining of more autonomy and more profound insight into ourselves and our world. These emerge now as part of the process that brings ourselves and the world to a higher reality. Why? Scepticism, testing, etc, are the instanciation of a transcendence of ignorance and heteronomy. These latter are states in which we, relatively speaking, are not ourselves, are not flourishing, are relatively unfree, unthoughtful, dominated by externalities, etc. Thought and action which transcends those previous states simply is a becoming more ourselves, more what WE REALLY ARE.

    To be more ourselves may thus be conceived as a goal (an ought) given in what we truly are. This coincidence of being, purpose and the good, and with it of knowledge and the traditional objects of faith, is a conception which breaks though late modern, secular, scientific self-understandings and self-misunderstandings.

    These conclusions can and should be doubted and questioned, but the doubting and questioning may also be folded back into, be a part of, be a progressive motor of and realisation of, the vision of being that is doubted and questioned.

    So this is not an invitation to discard our criteria for distinguishing truth from falsity or fantasy. We can, for instance, conceivably accumulate empirical evidence for panentheistic conceptions. Cross cultural reports on meditative states, for example. However, assessing these reports as to their ontological significance requires a level of competence in meditation and kindred practices in the inquirer themselves that most empirical scientists simply lack.

    The same goes for the criteria of logic. If being logical is understood broadly in terms of holding oneself to the ideals of rational argumentation, coherence, greater explanatory reach, and parsimony of key concepts, then panentheism is arguably a viable contender for a better theory of our human condition than most others.

    None of this is visible if we stand complacently on the grounds of a culturally highly authoritative scientism which is all the more self-blinded in that it can congratulate itself upon its own scepticism.

    “And I don’t have any desire to reconcile science and faith, I have no problem with a stalemate.”

    Perhaps you should reconsider the subtitle of your blog.

  6. Jarrah says:

    I knew “delivered” would be an issue. Perhaps education is gained? Experienced? Whatever. I will have to bow to your far greater knowledge of the inner workings of universities and academia on this one, though I still think it’s highly unlikely that it’s solely a case of “attract money so they can spend money on appearances”. Let’s take this up again in another post, when I will contend that making unis compete for students (instead of money) would be an improvement. But on to the main topic.

    I was being straightforward about my ignorance of the term ‘panentheism’ (originally I thought it was a typo), and wanted to let you know where I stood. I could have veiled my ignorance by saying “As far as I understand it…” instead, but that would be to pretend to more knowledge than I do have. Here is the link to what I found out about panentheism. If you think it’s unsatisfactory, improve it – that’s what Wikipedia is all about.

    “I hear the sounds of a habitual sorting machine operating. “I am a sceptic, for only scientifically (empirically, logically) testable truth claims can convince me; idea x does not appear to fall within the realm of the testable; therefore I need not bother much with it”?”

    Absolutely correct. I have limited time and resources, and I have to make judgements as to the value of finding things out. Or would you prefer me to ponder the concept for 2,500 years before getting back to you? Remember the subject of this post – what would I accept as proof of the divine. Therefore anything that will not take me down a path of understanding what could do that, is not worth my time. That’s not to say I’m uninterested in the various kinds of theism, only that the study of panentheism does not fit my current needs.

    “The problem here is that the panentheistic concept is being held up to, and found wanting in relation to, a concept of truth (the logically-empirically testable) which is too narrow to do it justice.”

    That’s a valid argument. But I know of no better way of determining truth. What do you suggest is a better, broader way?

    “We can, for instance, conceivably accumulate empirical evidence for panentheistic conceptions. Cross cultural reports on meditative states, for example.”

    I strongly disagree. Analysing meditative states will tell us things about the workings of the human brain, genetics, chaotic processes and emergent behaviour, and perhaps shed some light on cultural influences on cognition. I don’t believe it can tell us anything about, let alone provide empirical evidence for, a divine being.

    “then panentheism is arguably a viable contender for a better theory of our human condition than most others.”

    Again I disagree. But if you want to make the argument, go ahead.

    “None of this is visible if we stand complacently on the grounds of a culturally highly authoritative scientism which is all the more self-blinded in that it can congratulate itself upon its own scepticism.”

    Throughout your comment, and indeed elsewhere you have expressed your views, is an underlying unpleasant current. Here you sneer at something you believe is falsely believing in its superiority, oblivious to how your own arguments assume you are somehow free of ideological or methodological traps. You feel that other teachers’ ideas are “banal, lifeless, life-avoiding, cowardly, and, all in all, thoughtless”, and presumably that yours are not. You seem to think that I am wrapped in a ‘scientism’ cocoon, some limited-horizon, limited-thought, narrow and mediocre way of thinking. It’s insulting and hurtful. And what a conceit!

    “Perhaps you should reconsider the subtitle of your blog.”

    See what I mean? Just because I can accept humanity has contradictions like science and faith and don’t seek to bring them under one metaphysical umbrella, in your eyes I am not pondering the human condition.

    “Perhaps you should reconsider the subtitle of your blog.”

    How about this:
    Pondering the human condition from the perspective of an agnostic semi-educated Australian whiteish 30-something male sci-fi nerd from a moderate libertarian paradigm with particular emphasis on NSW, Australian and US politics and economics and law, generally sourced from stories in the mainstream media, with some personal observations and deductions and a smattering of didactic essays and polemical tirades.

    Nah, I think I’ll leave it as it is.

  7. Bas says:

    Concerning being hurtful, let me say honestly that I am sorry. Sorry too that such hurt is probably inevitable since ideas matter to people, are caught up with attitudes towards the world, to other people, and to self, and to find fault with ideas is, for the most part, “unpleasant” for the one whose ideas are faulted, or at least assumed to be faulted, by the other.

    Also, I am trying to speak about something that is not an object of which we might have empirical or logical “proof”, but rather a way of seeing and experiencing which I know very imperfectly, and of which you apparently have little conscious experience. In this darkness it is perhaps unsurprising if elbows sometimes end up in eyes.

    Anyway, given that you felt insulted, I thank you for responding in a reasoned way.

    That said, your hurt perhaps leads you to overstate the case. I think I was energetically criticising rather than sneering. To speak of “sneering” and “conceit” is to attribute a motive of self-aggrandisement to what is rather motivated, if I know myself here, by a sense of disappointment and occasional outrage at the state of universities in this country.

    As for the charge of being “oblivious to how your own arguments assume you are somehow free of ideological or methodological traps”, I’m not sure how you could extract this from my arguments. Perhaps you can look back at all the implicit and explicit ways I acknowledge that what I am saying can – indeed should – be doubted.

    “You feel that [[many]] other teachers’ ideas are “banal, lifeless, life-avoiding, cowardly, and, all in all, thoughtless”, and presumably that yours are not. [[I try.]] You seem to think that I am wrapped in a ’scientism’ cocoon, some limited-horizon, limited-thought, narrow and mediocre way of thinking.” No, that too overstates the case, especially since it doesn’t give you credit for your openness to discussion, and insistence on reasoning things out for yourself, which I certainly do give you credit for and which is obvious from this blog. However, mediocrity of thought is pretty much a constant for all of us outside of the realms we have seriously attended to, and I reserve my claim to challenge it in others to the extent that I challenge it in myself. Certain perspectives are extremely limited in certain vital areas, and there is nothing to be done about it but try to transcend those limits.

    “I don’t believe it [[meditative states]] can tell us anything about, let alone provide empirical evidence for, a divine being.” The quick case for panentheism I have given has tried to show how we might consider this question differently. God, on this view, is not so much “a divine being”, but something like the divinity of being. Reports on meditative states provide cross-cultural evidence that highly trained minds (which is to say, autonomous minds, capable of long concentration and being determined by their own will), very frequently experience the unity of self and word, in and through or before their difference. They testify to Borges’s beautiful lines: “Time is a river which sweeps me along, but I am the river; it is a tiger which destroys me, but I am the tiger; it is a fire which consumes me, but I am the fire.” When put together with philosophical accounts which make a strong case for an underlying Unity of being (underlying the difference, for example, between the logical and the empirical), those reported experiences seem to me to merit careful consideration.

    Here is a recent short interview with Ken Wilber which takes this up:

    http://www.salon.com/mwt/feature/2008/04/28/ken_wilber/index.html

    But first check out this clip which gives a feel for what might be involved in becoming scientifically competent to evaluate the significance of meditative states:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFFMtq5g8N4&hl=ru

  8. Peg says:

    I love this exchange of views, and congratulate you both for trying to explore your different ways of being, of seeing, without allowing differences in experience (and reading) to cut you off from each other. Being older and wiser (they don’t necessarily follow of course), I really appreciate both the challenges made by Jarrah and the responses made by Bas, both challenging me to think /read more about the issues you discuss. Thank you.

  9. Jarrah says:

    “I am trying to speak about something that is not an object of which we might have empirical or logical “proof”, but rather a way of seeing and experiencing”

    Therein lies the problem. I had a very specific question put to me – why did I not believe in god (meaning Yahweh) – and I had a specific answer, which sparked off a critical self-examination of my answer, where I discovered that my framework for comprehension was very limiting (narrow, if you like), so limiting that in fact I would find it practically impossible to believe in the Christian god or any similar being. This, as you would be aware, is not a source of angst for me. My framework is a powerful and refined tool, and satisfies a great deal of my intellectual needs.

    Of course there are questions it can’t say much about. But I truly believe no other framework can either. In our discussion the other day, you implied that because of the mechanistic/reductionist/logical/empirical paradigm’s focus on the specific and observable, it can’t answer the “big questions” about life’s meaning and so forth. However, I feel that a ‘broader’ paradigm can’t do any better, because its diffuse approach necessarily detracts from truth-determination. If we seek reliable knowledge, then untestable intuitions, fuzzy categories and vague descriptions will not bring us any closer. In fact, they obscure truth behind an interpretation of the world that is so broad as to render itself meaningless.

    Let me use a metaphor from quantum mechanics (of which I have but a simplistic grasp).

    Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle states that certain physical quantities, like position and momentum, cannot both have precise values at the same time. The narrower the probability distribution for one, the wider it is for the other.

    Think of a tennis ball thrown through the air. You want to know its position and direction. If you take a photo, you can precisely locate its position at that time, but it will tell you nothing about its direction. If you want to know its direction, say by taking a video, that necessarily involves allowing the ball to travel and thus making its position much less precise – in a 3-dimensional representation of four dimensions, it would look like a tube of tennis ball instead of a point in space.

    Thus the mechanistic viewpoint has inherent, insurmountable limits. Yet what viewpoint will garner greater understanding? One that talks about how the tennis ball is in god, or that it experiences the unity of self and word, in and through or before their difference? In the attempt to tackle the big, hard questions, it loses any power to give any answers at all.

    Better to accept the limits and concentrate on what is knowable.

    “God, on this view, is not so much “a divine being”, but something like the divinity of being.”

    That strikes me as being very close to defining god out of existence (no pun intended).

    Why is god so necessary? I see zero need to incorporate such a concept into my understanding of the human condition (except as a curiosity of human minds and society, with attendant important implications for behaviour).

  10. Jarrah says:

    “Reports on meditative states provide cross-cultural evidence that highly trained minds (which is to say, autonomous minds, capable of long concentration and being determined by their own will), very frequently experience the unity of self and word, in and through or before their difference.”

    It is only evidence for a Unity of being if you’re uncritically willing to accept one particular interpretation of the reported experiences. It’s confirmation bias. Why is it not evidence of the truism that each human’s mind is not wildly dissimilar to another, and thus certain states of mind will crop up amongst many people? Why is it not (further) evidence that humans can modify their moods through certain physical and mental actions? Etc.

    Lots of things could theoretically be evidence for lots of other things. What we should look for is convergent evidence. Even then it only adjusts the probability something is true – nothing is certain. But some things are more likely than others, because the former have a great deal of convergent evidence for them (like quantum mechanics) and others don’t (like psychic powers).

  11. Janita says:

    I found the whole discussion very interesting! And though I warmly sympathise with the humane aspects of your spiritual enterprise, Bas, and though I’d never heard the term panentheism before and so am speaking from ignorance, I have to confess that my own views are closer to Jarrah’s. Except that I’d call myself an atheist rather than an agnostic.

    It’s a coincidence that I am presently conducting an ongoing discussion with a Catholic friend — someone I’m very fond of and find generally simpatico — and after her last email have come to the conclusion that (as the scientists attest) we make up our minds for reasons that lie way below consciousness and then use our rational faculty to justify the opinion to ourselves and others. I have to include myself in that assessment, though of course I see myself as open to any logically convincing argument.

    Like Jarrah, I’m really unable to comprehend what God means when conceived as something containing the universe. I think I get the pantheistic idea that God is co-extensive with the universe, but can’t see what extra it adds to our understanding of Life, the Universe and Everything. And, like Jarrah, I have trouble coming up with a “proof” of God’s existence that I’d find convincing, since the existence of a supernatural being seems to me to entail logical conundrums (conundra?), null hypotheses and a repellent ethical notion. (The repellent ethical notion is the idea that there is a “purpose” to life beyond that which we construct for ourselves.) I also find God aesthetically — dramatically — unappealing. I felt the same way about Superman and all other forms of magical escapes from the constraints of the material universe.

    Now, I know that I’m not grappling with the ideas you’ve suggested in your answer to Jarrah. The bald truth is that I don’t really understand them. I can’t grasp what they mean. I’m lost. Do you have any way of reaching across the abyss to people who have a very literal cast of mind?

  12. Bas says:

    Let us imagine two people who, with the participation of others, are trying to discuss basic human questions across divides of age, of character, of professional specialisation, of ideology. The problem is not only that they start off with different conceptions about some x under discussion, but also that they disagree about what would count as knowledge rationally bearing on that x. Further, as revealed by the irruptive emotions, the problem is that those distinct means of knowing are deeply bound up with their characters, and with the perhaps largely unconscious reasons they have for committing themselves to those, rather than other, means of knowing.

    Suppose nonetheless that both also have a commitment to trying to understand each other, and are willing to attempt to transcend the obstacles that keep presenting themselves. So, how should they think about the clash between their distinct ideas about what counts as worthwhile knowledge? Let me have a go, acknowledging in advance that this will appear one-sided.

    In terms of professional specialisation, we face a clash between would-be explanatory sciences, and interpretative ones (between, in this case let us say, economics and philosophical anthropology).

    The way this clash appears to the person given to rigorous causal explanations is as between hard-headed people oriented to verifiable or falsifiable knowledge (where we can at least be relatively sure of what we conclude and can make responsible policy on that basis), and those who, unaccountably and regrettably, spend their time on speculative, abstract, intuitive, and methodologically lax “ponderings about the human condition” (to borrow a phrase). The clash, then, is between the verifiable and the vague. Being conscious of opportunity costs the economist prefers not to waste much time on speculative enterprises concerning “big questions” (God, for example). They know in advance these will prove fruitless; which is to say, fruitless measured in terms of a desire for empirically verifiable answers.

    From the side of the interpretative sciences, the clash appears rather as a division within human knowledge which is interesting in itself. In principle it ought to be understood, to begin with, in historical and cultural terms. This already is a big, an immense, ask. But given that cultures invariably interpret themselves through ideas about truth immediately referring to, or historically deriving from, religious conceptions, the question about the source of the present clash about truth will quickly have us trying to understand God-images themselves in their culturo-historical development.

    More radically, we will find ourselves turning the issue around. It is not just that attempting to understand the history of the present rather frustrating clash over truth-oriented thought ought to lead us to consider culturally specific God-images and their scientific offspring/competitors; it is also that our own attempt to historically, culturally and religiously contextualise truth-oriented discourse is itself an exercise in seeking the truth which implicitly seeks to break free of any context (for truth does not want to be limited). We will be led, then, into strictly philosophical discussions about truth and the attempt to speak truthfully about it. More radically still (but I fear I will lose the economists here), the philosophical anthropologist may try to clarify this imbroglio concerning the evaluation of different kinds of truth-oriented discourse by appeal to a higher-order concept of truth itself, but one conceived now as something like a semi-independent and yet “eternally” orienting ideality whose multi-stranded history is bound up with the history of struggles for human self-understanding, emancipation, and ultimate purpose. A divine concept, in short, which does not exclude or downplay, but rather reframes, what scientific investigations into the truth of things are actually on about.

    The philosophical anthropologist does not expect that answers to these inquiries could have the kind of truth status available to statements about empirical events or states. But let the economist note that we started off with a common interest in mutual understanding, and it now seems, at least from the philosophical anthropologist’s perspective which the economist is hopefully trying to grasp, that the “big questions” are not to be written off as unanswerable. The big questions are buried within the much smaller ones – in this case, inside the small issue of why two people who have different ideas about truth do indeed have these different ideas and why it is difficult for them to understand each others’ arguments.

    To say that another way: starting with the desire for mutual understanding we are forced into a meta-level discussion about conceptions of truth, and this discussion, to be informative, can’t actually hold itself apart from discussion of the history of religion, different God-images, etc; and these topics are reluctantly forced upon the one oriented to explanatory science simply in order to try to work out what his interlocutor is on about and why he holds to the apparently obscure views he does. That, at any rate, would be the logic of my claim here.

    In principle the source of these differences in perspective could also be developed at the level of “character” , “ideology” and “age”, where similar claims could be advanced about the need (simply to sustain an advance towards mutual understanding), for the discussion to take on arguments about unconscious motives; about how the unconscious itself is to be conceptualised; about how ideologies work, etc. And here too it will not surprise if the philosophical anthropologist will try to show that the “unconscious”, “ideology”, and so forth, can’t be accurately thought about without taking on many an “abstract” and apparently “speculative” concept. After all, there has been fair warning that panentheism is an all embracing idea.

    Alert, the economist will instantly sense a trap in the above argumentation! They are being edged into tackling areas they have not spent much time on, and which, moreover, they don’t think are worth the time to understand. For they know already without having to investigate – for axiomatic or dogmatic reasons, depending how one sees things – that when it comes to the big questions “a ‘broader’ paradigm can’t do any better”.

    One possibility in response to the foregoing, if I am allowed a bit more second guessing, would be for the economist to repeat some version of their “verifiable” vs. “vague” argument. Correlative to this they might consign the above argumentation to the categories of the incomprehensible and/or the meaningless. But if they do so, are they not declaring that if they have to try to understand debates about panentheism and Lord knows what else so as to understand why these two people are having such trouble understanding each other, then they would prefer not to try?

    This seems to me a legitimate choice, and I will not complain or feel insulted that it perhaps suggests that my ideas are worthless and I am wasting my life! Promise :-).

    Another option would be to try to give an account, oriented to logically and empirically “provable” statements, which has a better prospect of explaining the present intersubjective encounter and its emotions and misunderstandings. I have my doubts about the plausibility of such an enterprise, but we will see.

    However, if this alternative account is not forthcoming, I think we will have to conclude that complex micro human relations of this order, and not simply the “big questions”, fall beyond the sphere of competence of the paradigm oriented to scientific “proof”. Will the economist want to say, then, that knowledge about human relations that happen – as so often – to be mediated by conflicting ideas about truth, is also not worth pursuing?

    Speaking personally, the reason I think any of this has a chance of advancing, even if by fits and starts and with long delays, is that you are not simply an economist and I am not simply a philosophical anthropologist. There is a speculative, “pondering” aspect of you, and a respecter of empirical verifiability in me. I also think there are major, in fact momentous, political issues at stake in these types of discussions, and that history will keep forcing them upon us all. (I believe, for example, that nothing short of fundamental spiritual revolution will give humanity a chance of seeing out the next few hundred years in even slightly civilised form. This will involve getting beyond the present stalemate between science and spirituality, or it will likely involve dying out).

    That doesn’t answer most of the questions you raised, but it may help to reframe them – which for me is the condition of trying to answer them.

  13. Bas says:

    Janita!

    You ask some searching questions! Let me recommend the site of my friend and Hegel scholar Bob Wallace, who has a standpoint on these matters from which I have learned much. If you read some of the shorter pieces in the Manifesto, Writings and Blog sections, you will get a good sense of the panentheism idea (although I don’t think Bob actually addresses that concept explicitly, and I have my differences from his general position).

    I would be really interested to know what you think, and whether any of your questions get “reframed”.

    http://www.robertmwallace.com/Site/Welcome.html

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