The Science Delusion by Rupert Sheldrake

Came across an interesting video today I hope everyone will take the time out to see. It is a TEDx lecture by Dr. Rupert Sheldrake on what he calls ‘The Science Delusion’. He essentially takes some of the underlying assumptions of today’s scientific pursuits and turns them into questions. In essence, he reminds us that science’s assumptions and worldview should not be exempt from scientific inquiry. He discusses 10 underlying notions of science that need to be questioned and then goes into detail about two: 1. that there are natural laws or constants and 2. that our memories and experiences are not just inside our heads but that we actually perceive external objects – basically he’s a pure epistemological realist and not an indirect realist like Locke and most who have followed. For details on his ideas, this video is a great intro and then of course we could pick up his book.

Here, however, I want to mention something that struck me as he spoke. His insights are either heavily influenced by Indian philosophy or at the least are very synchronous with Indian philosophy.

He questions weather the universe may itself have a consciousness. He says that he believes perception includes a force that reaches out to interact with the object we perceive – not just that we perceive it in our head from the bio-chemical-electrical messages of our senses.

Interestingly, Indian philosophers have said these same things for millenia. They say that there is a chidakash which the conscious space which holds the space of the universe. Basically, if this universe was born from the big bang, in what space did the big bang occur? The Indian philosopher’s answer to this for centuries has been chidakash which, again, literally means conscious space.

On the point of perception, Indian epistemologists in most Vedant traditions believe that knowledge has three forms – one is like a substance or form (gnanswarup). the second is a quality (gnanguna) and the third is a power or ability (gnanshakti). The soul is made up of a substance which is knowledge. It has the quality of knowing and it has an ability or power to know. in perception, the soul’s knowledge power reaches out and comes in contact with objects through the sense and on contact with the object, the eternal, experienced and knowledgable soul perceives the object and recognises it. That is sounds almost verbatim of what Dr. Sheldrake describes.

It is interesting that a modern and well-established academic has through research and the use of model tools come to believe the same things which ancient rishi-scientists perceived through calculation, contemplation or visions gifted by God’s grace. It is also sad that the current scientific establishment can’t even stand to let such ideas be discussed – even if it’s just an 18 minute speech on the internet. That’s right, TED actually banned Sheldrake’s speech and took it off their sight. So much for open minds, free speech and ruthless enquiry.


@CNN Belief Blog’s recent coverage

Just this morning I visited CNN’s Belief Blog to see if there were any interesting matters of faith being discussed. I was not surprised to find that recent featured blogs dealt with the recent shooting at a Sikh Gurudwara in Oak Creek, Wisc.

What I was surprised with was the discussion taking place in the comments of most of those blogs. People just going back and forth ruthlessly with personal attacks and ill-supported claims about whether or not God exists, whether or not Hindus are violent or peaceful, whether or not India is a democracy, whether or not violence is a part of religion, etc. It was sad because here’s a moment for a nation to reflect on the unfortunate incidents that occurred in Wisconsin and maybe discuss why that is wrong and can be avoided in the future and yet here is a sampling of the nation that is just taking part in more mud-slinging – mud-slinging that is done vociferously by faithful and atheists alike so if one thinks religion makes people extreme, the lack of one seems to do just the same.

But putting those emotions aside, I wanted to think about some of the points that were coming up in the blogs themselves and in some of the comments.

1. Turbans – outwards signs of a faith that causes extreme reaction because it’s personal. This article made me think once again about outward religious symbols. A person commented on this blog by saying that no sign or religious mark is really a part of a religion and does not truly signify faith:


Wearing a turban doesn’t make anyone any more Sikh than wearing a cross makes someone a Christian, carrying a rosary around makes someone a Catholic, wearing a hijab makes a woman a Muslim, wearing a beard and avoiding non-animal powered machinery makes anyone Amish…those are all earthly doo-dads and bangles and have nothing to do with religion. You can be a member of your religion without practicing any of these affectations.

I think Dal4cats has a point. The mark itself cannot always speak for one’s true, internalized faith. People who are not as religious, who do not truly believe or truly act according to one’s beliefs may still wear outward religious marks. However, that does not mean those symbols cannot stand for someone’s faith (though it may be imperfect and still in formation). Just think about the battle that a Sikh who wears a turban goes through internally. Every time he wraps on that piece of cloth, every time he looks in the mirror, every time he sees someone else’s eyes stare, when he’s called names or “randomly” chosen for a security check, he goes through a reaffirmation battle of remaining faithful to his faith. How can that not signify some level of faith? And just because you are Sikh and don’t wear a turban doesn’t mean that you have a true faith that does not need external show – you can simply be afraid of the tests that external sign will place you in or that constant reminder of who you are. So let’s not attack the use of symbols because they can and cannot mean something and we really can’t be the judge since we can’t truly test the faith of anyone else.

What we should be addressing is why we should or should not accept people’s public and personal representations of who they are. In particular, I want to address those people who believe that for all of us to get along and accept each other it is necessary to ban such external religious symbols – the French surely fall into this category with their laws against public exhibition of faith but so do some of the people who are quoted in the above linked blog and their commenters. My point is this: if you only accept a uniform and cleansed image of people in society and relegate things that make them unique or form their individual or subgroup identity into their personal homes or other spheres, are you really accepting those individuals? Or are you just forcing them to limit themselves to socially accepted, sterilized personalities? I think the answer is clear that if you really are a heterogeneous, pluralistic society you would allow for individual expression – only limiting it when it impedes on another’s expression or safety.

We live in a country where there was a successful movement to allow men and women in the armed forces to be open about their sexuality; this week there are people celebrating that the U.S. Army has its first homosexual General. We tolerate and in some ways even support transgender and homosexual parades with the most outrageous displays because we believe it is a part of their right to live as they wish and express their sexuality. Wear a Boston Red Sox jersey and no cop in New York will give you a ticket and no one will question your right to support any team you want. Cut your hair in outrageous fashion, wear clothes how you want, and tattoo your body wherever and however you please, but please do not wear your religion on your shoulder, head, or around your neck. That seems funny doesn’t it? To Turban or not is a not a debate that should be alive today. No one wearing a turban should feel compelled to change. The debate should not exist because it should be a settled debate, in this country at the very least, that we accept individuals entirely – not with their religion relegated as a private embarrassment.

2. Violence in Religion – I don’t think there is anyone who should claim that their religion does not sanction violence. Any follower of a religion which believes in justice or self-defense will find permissible violence in their faith (and those who do not have a religion find permissible violence in their justice systems).  The problem really is with religions that accept violence to a greater degree and allow it to be committed outside causes of justice and defense. When violence becomes an accepted tool for submission and conversion or when a religion preaches beliefs that strongly propagate an expanded role for violence, the religion can be said to be a violent religion.

That is a general point I think everyone should remember. Now a lot of the name-calling and bad-mouthing that goes around confuses me because I feel there are a number of underlying questions that are not yet answered. I hope someone can help me with these: How much do the people doing the arguing really not about the other religion and its practitioners? So many YouTube videos and articles are quotes to support claims, but are YouTube and articles of any kind (academic or journalistic) accurate and/or complete representations of the truth? There is a whole discussion about how objective or truthful media is in that previous question. What is an extremist? Is there a percentile definition of “fringe group” or “extremist”? Can a religion be judged by incidental actions of its practitioners? If yes, any practitioners, some practitioners, loyal practitioners, official members? What is more valuable in judging a faith – the direct reading of scripture or the currently accepted interpretation of the scripture? I feel that anyone who is going to on about which religion is peace loving and which is not should first squarely address these questions. It would really clear the air and allow for real conversation as opposed to the mud-slinging that originates from false-pride, hatred, and ignorance.

Well, now there’s some food for thought. If you want to read about outward expression of religion in India, check out a blog I wrote a while back: Mumbai’s Religiously Oppressive School Uniforms.

Mumbai’s Religiously Oppresive School Uniforms

During a recent visit to India’s greatest city, Mumbai, I had the chance to speak to a few Swaminarayan devotees in an area commonly referred to as “Proper Mumbai”. In the course of conversation I came to learn that their elementary-school-aged children were being harassed by a teacher because they wore their tilak-chandalo* to schools. They were being hit over the head and ridiculed among other things. Once, during an exam, a teacher even walked over to take a swipe at a kids forehead hoping to smudge or spread the mark of his faith. I was appauled that teachers in such a supposedly civilized city and at a respectable private school would act in such a way.

Of course, I soon discovered that the reason for such rash actions was that the school, like many private secular schools in Mumbai, has a uniform code which prohibits students from wearing any religious symbols in public. Meaning if you’re a Christian you can’t have your cross on the outside of your shirt, if you’re a Sikh you can’t have your hair tied up in a pagh or bun, if you’re a Muslim you can’t wear a hat or headscarf. In essence, you should cleanse yourself of your faith’s marks before entering school. I was a bit stunned to say the least. As I tried to understand the policy and my reaction my mind focused on the following thoughts:

1. What is the purpose of a school uniform? I’ve always heard it’s to assure an environment focused on learning. It stops the genders from peacocking themselves to each other with unspoken contests about who has the coolest, most expensive, or most revealing clothes. It stops people from wearing gang symbols that lead to battles on school grounds. So maybe this policy was also meant to make sure that there were no fights in school over student’s religions. I can see how one might wish to do that. But the fact is, I’ve yet to come across any epidemic of fights caused by religious hatred in Mumbai’s schools – including those without such policies. Is it really necessary to make religious symbols the equivalent of gang signs in private schools? And isn’t taking the idea of uniformity to such an extreme of erasing any traces of personal identity just another form of zealotry (albeit nonreligous)? This position makes even less sense when one considers that institutions that value discipline alot more that elementary schools, institutions like the military in which discipline is the difference between life and death, don’t ban such benign marks like the tilak chandalo. Members of the BAPS fellowship are well aware of the example of Prakash Mehta – a satsangi who was supported by a military court in wearing his tilak-chandalo while serving in the Ameican Army. Interestingly the school’s policy only applies to students. I asked a man who teaches at the school where those kids studied what he would do if Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, came to visit his school. He said, of course Mr. Singh would be allowed to wear his turban. The rules are only for kids. Why is that? If religious symbols are so potent and distracting, why shouldn’t anyone who enters the school grounds be stripped of their religious identity as well? On the one hand, we accept as a fact of life, if not with pride, that our nation’s Prime Minister is a conspicuous Sikh and on the other hand we insist our children should not have to deal with conspicuous faith. That doesn’t sound like good policy; it sounds like hypocrisy.

2. There is also the question of what such a policy teaches children about faith. It is hard not to see such policies as overt efforts to promote the lack of faith in children. Schools are institutions of learning. They hold a place of respect and honour in our communities. When schools ban religion from their compounds, they essentially send a message the religion is not a thing welcome in respectable and honourable society. They implicitly teach children to be ashamed of their faith and practice it only in hiding away from the public eye. Some people may just call this secularism, but I disagree. This flavour of secularism, as practiced in nations like France, has lot led to more and more segregation and hostility. On the other hand, I grew up in a secular nation, in America, and I wore my tilak chandalo proudly and was often encouraged by my Caucasian Christian peers to do so. So this isn’t just a secular effort to bring peace and goodwill; it’s a dangerous policy because…

3. It means the school is not serving it’s purpose – to educate the future citizens of the world; it shows that the school is failing at one of its main missions – to prepare these children for the “real world”. The communities these child citizens and future leaders live in will certainly be pluralistic societies. They will see and interact with Prime Ministers who are overtly Sikhs and businessmen who are conspicuously Muslim. They will be dealing with people from different cultures from around the globe and if they can’t learn to tolerate each other, understand each other, and cooperate with each other, you will have created just a new order of extremists.

The long and short of it is this. There is a trend in private education in Mumbai that is working against the religious freedom that true secularism includes; there is a rising tide trying to relegate religion to shameful recesses away from society. And something must be done. People with means and minds should be talking about this policy in a real open debate and working to expunge this policy. And for people without means but with minds: they should use their hearts and minds to make powerful decisions like changing schools and enrolling their children in their fellowship’s version of Sunday school or bal mandal to assure that while receiving a “world-class education” their children are not falling prey to the false-secularist who wish to wash them of their moral and spiritual values.

*the tilak-chandalo is a religious mark applied by Swaminarayan devotees ont heir forehead. It consists of a large U made from sandalwood paste with a filled red circle in the center made from vermillion.