Article

Look Ma, No Ego!

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After my initial recent correspondence with an Eckhart Tolle fan (previous post), I began a dialog with some of my close associates. We were wondering if there was any way we could come to accept new age thinking as a bridge from fundamentalism to a more rational worldview. Could authors like Tolle and Chopra be providing a sort of halfway-house between extreme religious literalism and humanism? Could they actually be helping?

The answer was a resounding no. It goes back to what Ken Wilber would term the green meme, which he defined as the expansive underlying idealism which had its origins in much of the political and faux spiritual philosophy of the 1960s. He deconstructed the green meme in Boomeritis: The idea of a spirituality based on self-effacement and the “oneness of all sentient beings” falls apart because it denies the necessity of hierarchy and competition. Both are an essential and innate part of our human genetic lineage, but are heretical to egalitarian and communitarian idealism.

Not only that, Tolle’s philosophy includes viewing relationships through a negative “addiction” paradigm. Since one of evolution’s “good tricks” is to get us to stay together long enough to raise a child, we may well find ourselves chemically addicted to our partners. This seems to be an unavoidable part of the human condition. But this reality is lost on Tolle.

Now, these are just a couple of small examples of the gross errors and misconceptions he perpetrates. I don’t know if I could stomach reading more of his work long enough to expose the rest of these kinds of fallacies. Ironically, like pretty much all new-age teachers, Tolle encourages people to feel superior to those who don’t “get it” yet. Which is suspiciously similar to what religions do to those who haven’t drunk their kool-aid. Here’s an example:

If you are consistently or at least predominantly present in your relationship, this will be the greatest challenge for your partner. They will not be able to tolerate your presence for very long and stay unconscious. If they are ready, they will walk through the door that you opened for them and join you in that state. If they are not, you will separate like oil and water. The light is too painful for someone who wants to remain in darkness.”

There’s absolutely no way this statement doesn’t involve ego and a dismissive callousness toward a relationship partner. Like every guru, spiritual teacher, or religion I’ve ever known, the new-age remains “holier than thou.” So let’s recap:

  1. The new age encourages people to deny their ego. Making a goal of eliminating the ego is contradictory. Only a person with a strong ego could hold and attempt to execute such a goal. If you could get rid of the ego for a brief instant, even the act of recognizing that you had done so would re-create a new ego. Humanism promotes healthy individualism, and the forging of cooperation through reciprocal altruism while drawing firm boundaries.
  2. The new age fosters mushy concepts of love and light in relationships. Humanism encourages people to understand themselves, their psychology and drives and discover the real reasons behind their conflicts, which are often rooted in profoundly different evolutionary priorities between men and women. (See The Red Queen by Matt Ridley.) Humanists try to make the best of their relationships, but don’t have unrealistic expectations for resolving these differences.
  3. The new age encourages shadow-denial. Humanists understand, as was famously said by William Shatner in Star Trek’s A Taste of Armageddon:
  4. “[War] is instinctive. But the instinct can be fought. We’re human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands! But we can stop it. We can admit that we’re killers…but we’re not going to kill…today. That’s all it takes! Knowing that we’re not going to kill…today!

  5. The new age promotes quick fixes. Humanism understands that we are products of our genetics, environment and brain chemistry. We don’t have unfettered free will. We may feel free in our desires, but we are not free in what we desire. To sum it up in a cliche, “wherever you go, there you are.” That includes wherever you go in your mind.

So against that background, here is round 2 of my correspondence:

Sean, we all have an opinion, all 6 billion plus of us, and I appreciate your ideas. We mature and grow, hopefully, through seeking and listening to each other and applying the lessons life brings.

When people open their mouth to express an opinion, they are convinced, of course, that they are in the right. But often, as you have observed, we need only see them in action to realize that the opposite is true. It is people’s behavior that reveals whether or not they are in the right, not the theories and wild imaginings they present to others. Although people consider truth some kind of abstraction, it is in their concrete manifestations, in their actions that they demonstrate whether they are moving closer to the truth or farther away from it. It is impossible to say what truth is, because it does not exist in and of itself. It only exists as wisdom and love, manifested in human beings. So people must stop claiming to be in the right, since there is nothing to claim. Those who possess love and wisdom have no need to say anything whatsoever, because their actions speak for them.

_____, Truth is not an abstraction. There is a way of knowing what is so, and that way is science. Opinions don’t matter at all. My motto: “The quest for empirical knowledge and reason gives purpose to life. Supernaturalism, mysticism, and religion take it away. The best anyone can do is to attempt to eliminate all beliefs and subjective biases.”

Engrave it on my tombstone.

The philosophies expressed by Tolle, Chopra, et al are pure evil. You may find them beneficial, or at worst innocuous. But the comfortable lie spoonfed with a coating of truth is far worse than the obvious one. Millions have been led down the primrose path by these charlatans. Don’t let yourself be one of them.

Thank you for sharing. As for me, if you ask, science and religion are two sides to the same coin and neither is whole without the other. But then, that’s my opinion, obviously different than yours. So much for opinions. Opinions, when all is said and done, add no weight to the reality of how things work. This is what captures my attention and focus—what is SO about things. And to discover that I must get beyond my ego, no small challenge. As a matter of fact, I think it’s the only enemy I have. Know thyself, as they say of old.

Where is the evidence that religion or the new-age is SO?

Actually, the reason [getting away from the ego is] “no small challenge” is because it’s impossible. Remember all those “Dweller on the Threshold” calls? That was all about denying the ego and the shadow. Where did that get anyone? If you want to be whole, stop fighting yourself. It’s about integration, not repression. This is the whole problem with religion and the new-age. You can’t get where you want to go that way. You might as well be a cat trying to pick a fight with its tail. Tolle’s got you spinning, along with millions of other people. Spinning in circles. Wheeeeee……

Please let me fill my own page. After all, I’m the only one who is responsible to myself for choices I make, and sometimes I goof, but hey, I also learn. I will do the same for you. I have no clue what is to go on your page, none whatsoever, only you can know that. And you have no idea what I am to do. Let us go on for now and perhaps meet down the road a bit. Peace, brother.

______, There are no separate pages, there is only one reality. It’s about finding the reality, making peace with what is. That is the only lasting peace. As humans, we are all subject to the same rules: It’s about finding a method to discover evidence-based truth, and having the self-discipline to let go of everything else.

You will do what you will do, I can’t “let” you fill your own page. You are responsible for that and the consequences. I have no stake in it, having already left those methods behind. But since you approached me, not the other way around, I’m going to try to steer you in the right direction. I spent the first 30 years of my life listening to and trying to follow the ’spiritual’ approach and got nothing but confusion and ashes. Now, I’ve spent the last 13 studying the scientific and rational. It has yielded the fruit, understanding, and peace that was so lacking before. The two cannot coexist–they are mutually exclusive.

Spiritual people often try to claim they embrace science, because its efficacy is undeniable. Though they like its results, they don’t want to be bound by its rules. Convenient. Notice, however, that the scientists for the most part want nothing to do with the spirit. (Only 7% of top scientists are religious). There’s a reason for this: The spiritual approach is a giant vortex of vague, subjective, sentimental, unprovable and unaccountable poison. It is a worn-out leftover from the infancy of the human race. Daniel Dennett’s wonderful book Breaking the Spell discusses this in detail.

In this sense, resolving this question can only be looked at as a high-stakes battle for your life and ultimate self-awareness: Participate in reason and true introspection for as long as you are alive, or join the skeletal pile of the billions who have wasted their lives caught up in their vain hope for “something more.” Life is enough! Live it to the fullest! What more could anyone want?

I hope you find the shadow and ego-integration, self-acceptance, and inner peace you deserve.

Sean

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Comments (32 comments)

Aaron / August 4th, 2007, 8:11 am / #1

My saving grace from the spiritual trip was that I knew a little something about evolution. My parents raised me on PBS shows, so I was able to observe the nitty gritty of nature. I always knew something didn’t jibe, even in my most spiritual days. Later, after taking a dozen or so biology classes and reading the findings of modern neuroscience I got to the point where I would look at statements like Tolle’s and just shake my head. It no longer makes any sense. It’s a pure fantasy world. It’s as if they deny that we have evolved to be exactly the way we are. Their understanding of evolution through natural selection is profoundly ignorant and selective. My only conclusion was that spirituality is an attempt to flee the human condition. As Hitchens says- we are born sick and commanded to be well. To Tolle, human nature is a sickness that needs to be transcended. Yet it seems perfectly obvious (outside the spiritual mindset) that the same forces which evolved jealousy and hatred also developed love and cooperation. It’s just natural selection. The more I read about human nature and the neuroscience behind it the more I realized that liberation spirituality is impossible. Look around. Spirituality doesn’t work. It is not liberating people. Go to a spiritualist gathering and you’ll just see hordes of people there for one primary reason- to find out why it’s not working, and what they have to do to make it work. Then, they will idolize an authority figure in order to continue finding hope that it could somehow work- “Well, I can’t be liberated, but He or She can, so there’s hope.” Just a paltry glance at gurus and leaders reveals the sad truth- they are bound tight and permanently in the bonds of their neurophysiology. Nothing transcends it because there isn’t anything else. These observations led me to a pretty strict atheism and materialism.

Aaron / August 4th, 2007, 8:13 am / #2

Oh, I almost forgot to say, great article. It’s nice to find people who have come to the same exact conclusions for the same exact reasons.

BlackSun / August 4th, 2007, 6:19 pm / #3

Hey Aaron,

Thanks for your perspective. I recently finished Marvin Minsky’s The Emotion Machine which really sheds additional light on the subject.

Not only can we not get rid of the ego, but our concept of the self needs to be completely re-examined. We have so many different programs running at all times, many not under our conscious control. It’s amazing we even hold the “single-self” model.

Minsky discusses how the brain protects itself from us being able to change it substantially. For example, we often cannot erase unwanted memories, or override our strong desire for sleep, food, or sex. If our brains had this much control, it would be dangerous to our survival. Similarly, it would not be possible to do away with the ego, since it is composed of hundred if not thousands of important self-protection programs.

Tolle and others should learn a little more about how the mind works before they tell people they need to change it.

Thanks for reading, and for your comment..

awareness / August 5th, 2007, 12:14 pm / #4

Are you really certain of what you claim so emphatically about science? At best, it can dissect reality and describe things it has observed to happen about a particular subject — it will not get you to “truth” because what is true would be the total of all, not just one subject.

The whole scientific method is based upon taking a subject matter, dissecting it, constructing tests, and from those tests, making assumptions as to the best working theory. It is quite effective for the material world, but no scientist will ever say they know the truth — just that the theory they have is the best given the evidence they see. It has worked wonderfully for the outside world, but it is not really the right way to look at consciousness and what you perceive inside.

And in fact, scientists have begun to see how meditation and other practices of awareness can actually change the brain. Those who have meditated and practiced awareness show a much higher degree of activity in the areas of the brain that indicate happiness and far less in the areas of fear. It is outside evidence, but it indicates the internal process is changing things.

This is not a new discipline. For thousands of years, yogis and spiritual adepts have known ways of going inside, meditating, and discovering what is really there. It is a subjective science. The only way you are going to know is to try and see for yourself.

I can testify that if you become meditative, you will find a greater peace and bliss inside. Happiness is not something which needs to be received from the outside in some material form — it comes from inside you. Everyone can access it.

And when you are blissful and joyful, you don’t get involved in drama or doing a lot of the things you were seeking satisfaction in. You don’t seek out fights because what is the point…you are content already.

We are the world’s most comfortable generation ever. The average person has more than the richest king could have asked for in the past. Yet are we the happiest generation? No, we are miserable. A huge number of people are on anti-depressants. When you walk down the street, you do not see a wave of blissful faces. So something has gone wrong with how we are looking at life. Science is important, but it is not the answer to inner well being. It has brought us enormous comfort, but it has not made us any happier.

But I agree with you that much of what is “spiritual” is vague and confusing. True spirituality, however, is not about any belief — it is about meditation, going deeper inside yourself, raising your energies and then you just know. You can’t get there just through belief because belief by definition is holding a lie to be true — something you have heard, something you have read, not something you have known. At most it can point the way that others have gone there and you can too — but you will have to experience it for yourself to know.

BlackSun / August 5th, 2007, 4:03 pm / #5

Awareness,

First, let me applaud your choice of handle. I think “awareness’ is a good replacement for the term “spirituality.”

Are you really certain of what you claim so emphatically about science? At best, it can dissect reality and describe things it has observed to happen about a particular subject — it will not get you to “truth” because what is true would be the total of all, not just one subject.

Science defines an ever expanding realm of knowledge (previous post). The fact that it can’t answer every question about the universe right now doesn’t reduce its efficacy.

it is not really the right way to look at consciousness and what you perceive inside.

Since consciousness arises from neurochemical activity and creates blood flow which can be observed using fMRI technology, science would seem to be the only way of definitively analyzing it. Having said that, consciousness is our subjective perception of thousands of processes which combine to generate our subjective sense of ’self,’ which is largely an illusion.

And in fact, scientists have begun to see how meditation and other practices of awareness can actually change the brain. Those who have meditated and practiced awareness show a much higher degree of activity in the areas of the brain that indicate happiness and far less in the areas of fear. It is outside evidence, but it indicates the internal process is changing things.

Yes, clearly meditation changes the brain. So does any type of learning or experience. The source of the feelings of peace and oneness people feel when they are meditating is the reduced activity in the OAA. You can read more about it in this article. Now, Andrew Newberg and others try to use this observable change in brain function to claim they are accessing some alternative spiritual reality–the “absolute unitary being.” But they have never come forward with any evidence other than the meditators’ interior subjective experiences. Which leads us back to studying the physical brain phenomenon. (The other claims, not being scientific, cannot be rigorously investigated.)

We are the world’s most comfortable generation ever. The average person has more than the richest king could have asked for in the past. Yet are we the happiest generation? No, we are miserable. A huge number of people are on anti-depressants. When you walk down the street, you do not see a wave of blissful faces. So something has gone wrong with how we are looking at life. Science is important, but it is not the answer to inner well being. It has brought us enormous comfort, but it has not made us any happier.

I think this line of argument is highly flawed. First, this is anecdotal. I don’t think you could empirically verify that people are less happy now than at other times in history. On the contrary, up until 150 years ago, people used to live nasty, brutish and short lives. Life expectancy was 37. People worked 12-16 hours a day, then often died of what are now easily treatable diseases.

Further, material goods never promised happiness. Maybe ad campaigns have associated goods with happiness. But these claims should be taken with the same skepticism as religious claims or other propaganda. Who actually believes that some brand of clothing or car will make you happy or get you laid? Of course they won’t by themselves. But try to be really happy if you are sick, starving and have no shelter. The products can help you fulfill the lower rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy so you can concentrate on self-actualization. Whether or not you use the opportunity for that is up to you. Laying the blame for people’s ennui at the feet of science is a cop out.

But I agree with you that much of what is “spiritual” is vague and confusing. True spirituality, however, is not about any belief — it is about meditation, going deeper inside yourself, raising your energies and then you just know.

Thanks. And I agree with you that meditation can be helpful, as long as it’s kept in context that you are accessing a physical experience located wholly inside your skull. People need to be careful about generalizing knowledge gained in this subjective manner. They should hold their insights from meditation to the same levels of scrutiny they would other knowledge. Intuition is not somehow privileged because we feel it strongly.

JLG / August 6th, 2007, 1:24 pm / #6

I’d like to ask, is it possible to conceive a secular spirituality? I mean, outside of the belief in the supernatural. I remember Carl Sagan,speaking once about that kind of spirituality. But I think not much has been written about it.

Valhar2000 / August 6th, 2007, 4:57 pm / #7

Secular spirituality is possible, as I understand the term. It would simply involve not following an organized religion nor attempting to justify political and social measures with spirituality. Desist and new-agers (maybe) could do it.

Pedantry aside, the idea put forth by Carl Sagan and others, I do not very well understand. It seems to be to be a juxtaposition of contradictory concepts, but then, as I say, I don’t really understand what these people mean.

Perhaps it refers simply the the ability of feeling happy and content, and having people or things to care about and be cared for by; although I would hardly call that spirituality myself.

BlackSun / August 7th, 2007, 4:03 pm / #8

JLG and Valhar2000, Ann Druyan has written on secular spirituality.

Here’s a good article by her.

William Prophet / August 8th, 2007, 10:34 am / #9

Sean,

Loved your eulogy:

“The quest for empirical knowledge and reason gives purpose to life. Supernaturalism, mysticism, and religion take it away. The best anyone can do is to attempt to eliminate all beliefs and subjective biases.” -Sean Prophet

Reminds me of my favorite quote by Rene Anselmo, which can be found at the following link (first and last paragraph pasted below):

http://www.space.com/news/space_news_100-1.html

“Truth and technology will triumph over bullshit and bureaucracy.” That oft-repeated quote by Rene Anselmo was both motto and battle cry for PanAmSat, the commercial satellite services company he founded in 1982. With extraordinary vision, an in-your-face style and the determination to do whatever it took to gain a foothold in the satellite business, Anselmo almost single handedly shattered Intelsat’s global monopoly on satellite communication services.

He shoved his way into the gentlemanly, bureaucratic and slow-moving satellite industry and was innovative and relentless in his efforts to force political change. He took out full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal such as one that was an open letter to U.S. President Ronald Reagan urging him to open up the satellite telecommunications market. With the help of a cartoonist identified on the PanAmSat’s Web site as Neal Walker, Anselmo made the company’s mascot, a cartoon dog named Spot, infamous. He took out paid advertisements featuring irreverent Spot urinating on the leg of some politician to whom Anselmo wanted to send a message. The cartoons worked and brought national attention to Anselmo’s fight to break Intelsat’s monopoly. The chain-smoking Anselmo died of lung cancer at the age of 65 just two days before the company’s initial public offering. His legacy was an entire industry — one he created almost single-handedly.”

Spot (taking care of business) and that quote were painted on the nosecones of the rockets encapsulating his satellites, for the whole world to see, till he died. I have one old t-shirt with that picture and motto on it, and plan on getting it framed one day to hang over my desk. You guys are role models!

Thanks for your tireless effort & take care,
Bill

nanook / August 8th, 2007, 11:22 pm / #10

@black sun, i agree with what you say about tolle, though i have not studied him. for sure his fans are such folks, as they are not painfully missing categorical distinctions, which attracts all sorts of irrational narcists of different memes.

but i found this example to be misunderstood/misinterpreted in your context.

“If you are consistently or at least predominantly present in your relationship, this will be the greatest challenge for your partner. They will not be able to tolerate your presence for very long and stay unconscious. If they are ready, they will walk through the door that you opened for them and join you in that state. If they are not, you will separate like oil and water. The light is too painful for someone who wants to remain in darkness.”

he is talking about a door to _presence_, not a door to his poor incomplete views about presence. as krisnamurti explains, such views do not exist IN presence. an no brain acists IN presence. “precence” is just the point where your focus should have its “gravitational home”.

i dont think he is creating too much pressure, against people who don’t buy his views as “all you need”. he doesn’t have to. he has a fixed audience that loves what he represents.

it confuses me, how you can buy into wilbers theories about boomeritis while seemingly rejecting his view about how science and spirituality CAN go along, independently and uncontradicted. and about how “purpose” is an issue of spirituality, which includes the seeking for truth as one possible and typolocal archetype among many.

John B. / August 13th, 2007, 12:36 pm / #11

Sean, great article and I agreed with nearly everything (as you might have guessed). The one thing the stuck wrong was references to “religion and new-age”. New age IS a religion. It’s like when people say “drugs and alcohol”. One is legal (or widely accepted) one is not.

If all religious people would spend a third of their time in study reading books from REAL science, they would quickly come to the place that Aaron (comments 1 & 2) found himself. It’s all about education. This is why the battles across our nation about teaching evolution in school are so important to our future.

Julie Cochrane / August 20th, 2007, 2:37 pm / #12

I love your site. I couldn’t help comparing you with Nathaniel Branden, who had to find his own way out of Ayn Rand’s personal demons (figurative!) that she (inadvertently) pasted into her philosophy.

Don’t get me wrong, Rand’s *overall* commitment to objective reality, science, and a rational approach to life were terrific and important. It’s just that somewhere in the details where she went from those simple principles to guru of objectivism she got caught up in her personal psychological “issues” and quirks. People ended up trying to take everything she said, did, or even wrote in fiction as divine writ and missed the forest sorting through the pine needles on the ground.

Anyway, you remind me of him.

I appreciate your hard-core reality. I don’t know if I personally could live that way, but it’s laudable that living with that philosophy works for you. I’m not sure I agree with you that all religious belief/practice is necessarily evil.

I’m Wiccan. It’s the only religion I know that doesn’t insist that you believe in anything (belief isn’t the point). That’s an oversimplification. I’m just being up front about who *I* am.

I hadn’t really looked at CUTs theology and practices until this morning. I’m still trying to get my head around how someone could take some individually similar beliefs and wrap them into a package so destructive to everyone involved.

Personally, I find belief/practice to be a comfort that I don’t know is true, don’t know if it isn’t, but it’s a framework for thinking about the world that I find personally useful.

You’ve given me a lot to think about. Most mature-ish Wiccans, like me (40), recognize melodrama as extremely destructive to individual practitioners and everyone in the same group with them.

We try to discourage it. If your dog is sick, it’s because he just ate that whole stick of butter, not because the girl your ex-boyfriend is dating is “sending you negative energy.” If you’re sick, go to the doctor. If you’re sick and it’s a full moon or one of our holidays, stay home. You may not try to “send bad dreams” to Suzie Q. You are not under “psychic attack” from Suzie Q.

My rule of thumb is that the whole point of religion (or, in your case, lack of it) is to help you be a better person than if you were on some other path. If it’s not helping you be a better person, you’re doing it wrong.

(”Better person,” in this case, defined by the Wiccan Rede, which in practice works amounts to about that same idea as the Christians’ Golden Rule. Playing well with others, pretty much.)

Reading some of the CUT experience has reminded me of how destructive belief can be for some people.

On the other side of that coin, atheism, agnosticism, and other philosophical positions can be destructive for some people, too.

It’s a thorny conundrum.

Food for thought for my week. Thanks.

Harry / August 20th, 2007, 3:05 pm / #13

Why does everyone make this experiance so hard to take!

Its just a ride, relax and enjoy.

BlackSun / August 20th, 2007, 3:06 pm / #14

Julie Cochrane,

I couldn’t help comparing you with Nathaniel Branden

That’s one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received. Thank you!

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t Wicca at its core basically a humanistic nature religion? If so, then it’s materialist and not supernatural. I’d say if you can worship nature, you’re doing pretty well. Wicca is basically a non-theist religion like Buddhism, right? And its gods and goddesses are primarily archetypal? Perhaps my ignorance is showing here :-)

Anyway, as long as the Wiccan religion doesn’t deny science, and is used selectively as ritual rather than trying to preach a total metaphysical solution, I don’t see the problem.

Julie Cochrane / August 20th, 2007, 5:59 pm / #15

We Wiccans don’t have any percentage in denying whatever it is science may discover about the universe.

We do believe in reincarnation, but usually as a matter of process, not destination. In metaphysical terms, we’re not trying to get anywhere, we’re just enjoying the ride. :-)

We do believe in karma, but in the sense that what goes around comes around. We call it the threefold law and say what you do comes back to you threefold, but it’s metaphorical. Some believe karma can follow you between live, others don’t, but no Wiccan with a good, responsible reputation believes anybody else can get between you and your karma. Nobody can do it for you, what goes around comes around. It’s as much a practical observation of life as anything.

As my (Christian) mom used to put it, “Time wounds all heels.”

I don’t so much worship nature as respect it, in the sense of: “Don’t argue with the laws of physics, don’t argue with the weather, and don’t try to line dry a wet blanket before April.”

Yes, we’re very much like Buddhism. The big difference is that their goal is to get off the wheel, and we’re enjoying the ride.

Julie Cochrane / August 20th, 2007, 6:12 pm / #16

Oh, as far as a total metaphysical solution, the way a friend and I laughed over that idea was, “Before enlightenment: laundry. After enlightenment: laundry.” :-)

Call it women’s version of “Chop wood. Carry water.”

Julie

Challenge Religion - Today’s Top Blog Posts on Atheism - Powered by SocialRank / October 1st, 2007, 3:06 am / #17

[...] BlackSun : Look Ma, No Ego! [...]

Michel / February 14th, 2008, 10:33 am / #18

I am confused here , you are using Ken Wilbur in opposition to E.Tolle . I thought they were both kind of New Agies.I red Wilbur a brief history of everything and it is pretty out there he even state that ” very feww peoples agrees with Darwin theory anymore!!!

He is using the apparition of ” the wing ” in bird as an example.

Chris / February 19th, 2008, 7:53 am / #19

Truth is not an abstraction. There is a way of knowing what is so, and that way is science. Opinions don’t matter at all. My motto: “The quest for empirical knowledge and reason gives purpose to life. Supernaturalism, mysticism, and religion take it away. The best anyone can do is to attempt to eliminate all beliefs and subjective biases.”

While I am a firm proponent of reason, we must remember that the empirical “truth” we may stand by is always colored by our personal interpretation. Our interpretation of evidence, i..e, our “opinions” are all we have in the end. It’s just that some or educated , some are not. Subjective bias is a human condition.

Chris / February 19th, 2008, 8:14 am / #20

And I did want to add that if one holds an irrational belief in spirituality, that is not necessarily detrimental to society and perhaps beneficial. Most Christian or spiritual friends I know (I am far from either) do not take their Bibles literally and view Satan and most other subjects as metaphor of the human condition. My friends on the “Eastern” end of the spiritual spectrum do the same. Not all (especially) western Buddhists believe in reincarnation, but hold to the teachings as metaphors of how to relate to one another. Any teaching, spiritual or secular can be used to harm or to heal. It isn’t peculiar to spiritual belief. Evloution and Darwinism was used as justification (albeit in a very perverted sense) for atrocities in the 20th century.

I cannot help but feel the arguments put forward seem to glorify selfishnesses as a basic, therefore desirable, fact of life on a basic level. But to call evil those who have concern for the wellbeing of others? This seems a backward step in our humanity. It both cheapens the great complexity of our human experience and seems to me to be asocial and as full of hate. There is no “imperical” evidence but plenty of opinion in such statements. Any belief, informed or ignorant can be used to harm or to help. So what if we are children of a “selfish gene”? Does that mean human organisms must hold this as a great thing? Or just a fact we deal with and overcome, and not something on which build a selfish social philosophy. I’ll take a commune over a selfish have/have not society any day.

btw, I am an atheist, so I have no real stake in theology apart from its social effect.

BlackSun / February 19th, 2008, 9:26 am / #21

Chris,

Subjective bias is a human condition.

Yes, it is. But we can get together with other observers and reduce or eliminate subjectivity. Accepting what IS would seem to me to be a basic tenet of “enlightenment.” Why do some people glorify subjectivity? To me that seems to be the height of “ego” and not in the good sense of the word.

if one holds an irrational belief in spirituality, that is not necessarily detrimental to society and perhaps beneficial.

Irrational and unreasonable beliefs are always an affront to human dignity. You are arguing from consequence, which is hard to quantify. It is your opinion that these beliefs help society, but how would you go about proving that?

But to call evil those who have concern for the wellbeing of others?

Never did I make this statement. I called the new-age ideas of Tolle and Chopra “pure evil.” What I meant was what I would term their “appeal to other ways of knowing.” Which undermines science and empiricism. And their vague and unaccountable notions of spirituality. They replace it with platitudes which get in the way of true (depth psychological) introspection.

I’ll take a commune over a selfish have/have not society any day.

Denying what exists in human nature is a great way to manipulate others. I’m not saying there’s not room for improvement. You can have your commune. But just be sure you don’t try to make everyone else join.

Michel / March 4th, 2008, 9:58 am / #22

Et voila …more than 500,000 peoples loged in to watch Tolle on Oprah’s online “school” ….amazing how difficult it is for many to appreciate reality and being concious about what is really going on planet earth, good and bad. That ’s what conciousness is all about .But it seem it is more appealling to fly on the carpet of “higher conciousness ” than to understand what is really going on and trying to make better buy fighting and working hard…I’m not sure women ( in occident ) would be where they are if they had listen Mr Tolle!!! Keeping our heads in the cloudslooking for easy solutions while he is piling money.

BlackSun / March 4th, 2008, 10:19 am / #23

Michel,

Exactly. It has always been easier to follow the crowds. When you see that kind of popularity, it’s a virtual guarantee that whatever Tolle is saying, he’s not asking people to do the really hard work it would take to authentically change themselves or society.

We face unprecedented global difficulties, and that’s not a popular message. Unless you are talking about the flip side of the coin, which is misanthropic nihilism. Then you get the “end is near” crowd, talking about 2012 and the Mayan calendar, and how humanity will “deserve” its own destruction for being “less moral than animals.”

But the real work is in the center, with realism, where there’s the possibility of transformation and movement toward a greater level of awareness/action. One person at a time, uniquely, individually, and without fanfare.

Gracie / June 5th, 2008, 7:57 am / #24

A couple of years ago I read ‘The Power of Now’, then later also read ‘A New Earth’ when it was published. In fact I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

I swallowed these books wholesale at the time. The act of reading them was pleasantly numbing, like a kind of ‘worthy’ escapism. By this I mean I was able to escape my own personal concerns/problems for a little while but still feel good that I was working on ‘improving’ myself by reading instead of zoning in front of the tv.

It never even occurred to me to attempt to challenge or deconstruct the ideas within Eckhardt Tolle’s books. I only know that they pacified me for a while, thinking that my own experiences weren’t as bad as I was making them out to be.

I was fully convinced of the concept that the ego was something to be beaten into submission and sloughed off so that I could emerge victorious as a beautiful butterfly from my own self-imposed limits.

After ten years of struggle as a ’spiritual devotee’ I have not been able to reform/purify myself into the perfect ‘ego’-less person. Moreover, I have not seen one single person in my spiritual organization who has achieved it either. They are all as equally mired as myself with their personal struggles against their ‘lower’ nature. Supposedly the only person who ever ‘attained’ perfection was our ‘Guru’ and all the imperfect things he did were rationalized as things that God made him do to test our perceptions of divinity. Yeah. I fell for that old chestnut.

Not surprisingly, we were encouraged not to think, not to read, etc. But I allowed myself the luxury of reading some ’spiritual’ literature such as Eckhardt Tolle because I felt that it ‘helped’ me understand the ’spiritual path’ more clearly.

In fact, Tolle’s books enabled me to endure a miserable life of servitude and low-grade depression trapped in a cult for more years than I would have otherwise been able to handle.

Thanks Tolle! I really appreciate your contribution to my delusions. It’s been a blast but I’m de-boarding the spiritual gravy train at the next stop. My ego is as precious to me as my little kitty. I whisper to her in the night, tell how much I love her and thank her for protecting me as best as I could while I was in my cult and finally providing me with the sense to get the hell out!

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