Reply on Religion and Marxism: 2

Jim Farmelant farmelantj at
Sat Dec 30 18:38:17 MST 2000

On 29 Dec 2000 14:50:29 -0800 gyanananda at writes:
> Reply on Religion and Marxism: 2
> We now continue with discusion of religion and Marxism.
> Mr Jim Farmelant write:

> When yogi say that Self is immortal, he make
> this claim from yogic practice. He, through a
> lifetime of practice (meditation), has perceived
> the Self, so to him it is not assertion but
> scientific conviction. Like gravity is not belief
> but conviction for us since everyone feel force
> of gravity. Most physical phenomena is
> common experience of mass of humanity. So if you
> ask how water flow, we can go to laboratory and set
> up experiment to actually see how water flow.
> Here, subject (we) and object (water) are
> seperate.
> But when both subject and object is human being
> (since aim of study is internal mental states of
> human being), then this type of experiment is
> not possible. Other methods,like yoga, is
> necessary. So to publically verify claims of yogi,
> you have to try his method and experience
> for yourself. There is no simple shortcut. The
> long hard road of your own practice is the only
> way. And yoga say that every person is capable of
> this practice. In 19th century, when
> Vivekananda (trained in western science
> and philosophy) met the nearly iliterate
> Ramakrishna, he asked: “Have you seen God?”
> The reply, “I see God as I see you” completely
> baffled and shocked Vivekananda. For five years,
> he struggled and fought and called Ramakrishna
> a madman, hallicunator, fool etc – finally he
> was convinced through hard practice. So it is not
> a question of emotion or simple assertion, it
> is reality according to yogi.

But that still  leaves open the question of whether
we are to regard the yogi's experiences as being
veridical.  And that is going to require some argument
if we are to be persuaded that the yogi is making sense.
If the yogi is going to be required to make an argument
in defense of his claims, I suspect that it would
be something like this (here I am relying upon
Michael Martin's *Atheism: A Philosophical
Justification* for both the reconstruction of
the sort of argument that the mystic or yogi
might make and for the critique of that argument):

(1)  That all mystical experiences are basically the same.
(2).  That this similarity can be better explained in terms
        of an external cause hypothesis (H1) than in terms
        of a psycholigical hypothesis (H2).
(3)  That the most adequate version of (H1) is that God
       causes the mystical experience (H1*).
(4)  Therefore,  mystical experiences provide inductive
       support for (H1*).

It seems to me that all three premises of this argument
are open to serious questioning.  While there have
many scholars of mysticism (i.e. Walter Stace) who
have argued for premise (1) so that for him all
mystical experiences "involve the apprehension
of an ultimate nonsensous unity of all things,
a oneness or a One to which neither the senses
or the reason can penetrate,"  there are other
scholars who hold different views of the matter.
Thus , Steven Katz has argued that there are
no clear ways for distinguishing the contents
of mystical experiences from the interpretations
of them.  Therefore, for him the meanings
of these experiences will vary from context
to context.  He emphasizes the differences
in the claims that mystics from different
religious traditions make.

Thus he asserts:

"While objectivity or reality (Reality) in Plato
or Neoplatonism is found in "the world of
ideas," these characteristics are found
in God in Jewish mysticism and again
in the Tao, nirvana, and Nature in
Taoism, Buddhism, and Richard
Jefferies respectively.  It seems clear
that these respective mystics do not
experience the same Reality or
objectivity, and therefore, it is not
reasonable to posit that their
respective experiences of Reality
are similar."  (from Steven Katz,
"Language, Epistemology and
Mysticism," in *Mysticism
and Philosophical Analysis*.

However, in any case regardless
of whether Stace or Katz is correct,
the argument for the veracity
of mystical experiences still fails.
If Katz's position is correct, then
the argument fails because
premise (1) will be false but
even if we suppose that Katz's
position is incorrect then while
premise (1) would be true,
premise (2) would still be open
to question.  Even if we grant
that mystical experiences in
different religious traditions
to be fundamentally similar,
this similarity could still be
explained in terms of the
psychological hypothesis.
That in itself would by no means
rule out the external cause hypothesis
but that hypothesis can be
questioned on the grounds
that it is difficult to make sense
out of mystical exeriences.
For the external cause hypothesis
to be persuasive,it must not only
be the case that the experiences
of different people must usually
cohere with one another and that
there must be a plausible theory
for explaining those cases where
there are discrepenccies but also
the individual experiences must
themselves be coherent or failing
that there must be some plausible
way for account for these incoherencies.
Yet, Stace himself, points out that
mystics typically claim that their
experiences are ineffable and
yet they go on to give full descriptions
of them attributing to them such
characteristics as a sense of objectivity,
feelings of blessedness & peace,
and a sense of paradoxicality by
which is meant that mystics use a
seemingly paradoxical language to
describe them.  So on the face of it
Stace's characterization of the alleged
cognitive content of mystical experiences
is itself contradictory.  Furthermore,
given the contradictory language that
mystics use for describing their
experiences, then if we take their
descriptions literally, then we must
judge them to be nonsensical,
so that we cannot take mystics as
making any factual claims.  In
addition there are widely accepted
theories for accounting for these
incoherences and no objective
way for translating the nonsensical
statements that mystics make into
statements that are not.  Without
such a theory and method for
translation there are no compelling
grounds for preferring the
external cause hypothesis over
the psychological hypothesis.

I should point out that if we deny the
cognitive value of mystical experiences
as I do, there is no denying the importance
of mystical experiences as empirical
phenomena.  And that is certainly a
subject that is worthy of study.

Jim Farmelant

> Gyan
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