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INTERFACE OF CULTURAL IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT

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Interface of Science Consciousness and Identity  

S. C. Malik

In the light of the preamble circulated by the organizers, several interrelated issues may be raised, especially in the context of certain unexamined philosophical assumptions and presuppositions, and their obsolescence in the context of humankind’s predicament — not merely of the non-Western world. These are as follows:

(i) Issues of survival, due to the threat of nuclear, ecological, population and other disasters that face humankind.

(ii) Reassessing notions of tradition, development, modernity and post-modernity; values inherent in these words having arisen due to an impact of science and technology.

(iii) The need to remove the substandard existence of fellow human beings, since values of egalitarianism, social justice and so on have widespread acceptance — hence cannot be ignored.

(iv) The specific problem of Indian cultural variation, its socio-cultural and psychic maintenance — problems applicable perhaps to most of the developing world.

In the light of the title of the paper, not all of the issues are dealt with, except to emphasise the fact that cultural transformations are possible within the context of contemporary knowledge wherein lie the philosophical assumptions which have governed the ideas of tradition, development and modernity. Just as until recently social scientific understanding of cultural phenomenon was based on developments in science, the new vision of scientific knowledge needs to be taken into account as it is converging towards certain perennial philosophical statements, often stated in traditional wisdom, especially in the context of the nature of Consciousness. It is within this framework that ideas are outlined below, so that the implications with regard to the interface of cultural identity and development are implicit.

The Background

Some time after World War II, there was a great deal of assurance for humankind for the practical dimensions of the notion of ‘progress’ on a global scale, equated with high technology. But the same mood has not only led to a crisis of confidence but also to unprecedented barbaric inhumanities everywhere. The reason being that the dictates of applied science and technology continue to be governed by an intellectual comprehension of the material world which is viewed as composed of separate objects or particles. Without going into details, it is clear that Western thought has consistently modelled those world-views which have generated ontological gaps that run across the whole domain of experience. For example, human and other organisms, in spite of the fact that they share the same cosmic niche, are considered to be literally worlds apart. This dualism is one of the fundamental, often tacit tenets of Western metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. Dualist conceptions of human beings themselves are rooted in this deep-seated anthropocentrism (Malik 1968; 1969; 1972; 1975; 1989a, b; 1990a, b; 1992; 1993a, b).

This dominant world-view has even assimilated evolutionary theory, by historicising the ontological gap. All religious or secular-teleological perspectives construe the variety of life forms as the result of a process leading to the advent of humankind. Homo sapiens is not seen as a stage in an indefinite flux of change, but as an end, the glorious result of a history of trial and error. Is there any difference between this view and that of creationism? The dichotomy between humans and non-humans was frequently extended to other races, often treated as slaves and even women were not exactly placed in the same category as evolved humans — this was especially the case with many nineteenth-century Darwinians. Social differences within Europe itself were classified in this line of thought (Bouissac 1991).

Of course, in contemporary terms these systems may seem aberrant. Nevertheless, many of the biases continue covertly. For example, what is considered universal today usually implies a dominant Western world-view — whatever way one may define it — and all other categories have to be subsumed within it in the name of universalism. In this one may include the idea of linear time, progress towards a certain state. But this makes these approaches flexible, as against those cultures which see evolutionary developments in terms of cyclical times wherein catastrophes are part of nature and reality and, further, encompassed within a larger context. And so on.

Thus, modern science and technology — Scientific Revolution — took place within a specific historical-philosophical climate of Western Europe during the sixteenth-seventeenth centuries. It is worth our while to recapitulate certain of these fundamental philosophical presuppositions that are termed as essentially Western, which dominate contemporary times in general. The background against which science arose, historically, is as follows, briefly:

The tensions between the church and science in Western culture around the seventeenth century formed the basic ontological and epistemological assumptions that underlie modern science. By the eighteenth century it had adopted an ontological assumption of separateness: observer from the observed, man from nature, mind from matter, science from religion, of fundamental particles from each other, of the different parts of an organism from each other, specialization of different scientific disciplines and, finally, the psychological fall out — the competition among scientists, of domination and subordination, etc. In short, humankind could pursue its objectives, irrespective of taking the earth and its creatures into account for its benefit. The reductionist explanations, which social science and humanities borrowed wholesale, are what led to the ethics of competition. It emphasizes the localization of causes, excluding action at a distance, especially since the sole epistemological assumption is one of empirical evidence, i.e., data arising from our physical senses. But the middle of this century these two metaphysical assumptions, of separateness and empiricism, became intrinsic to science.

Most of what has been summarised above is well-known. It is also known that these points are radically different to other presuppositions available in non-Western traditions. Of course, many a Western poet and mystic have felt at odds with cultural implications of modern science and technology. Recent advances in science are beyond these early assumptions, especially in physics. But in general there has been no serious challenge to these assumptions from many quarters and have a hegemony which remains unchallenged by and large. It has widely spread like a surgical transplant, such as in India, subverting all that is there in the indigenous and inherent to Indian traditions in a deep sense.

Science and Consciousness

Of course, the notion of the earth as a complex system within which organisms interact with each other and with geophysical and chemical processes in a predictable manner is at the root of modern science. It permeates Western and Westernised cultures and prevails across the spectrum, beginning with elementary textbooks. But the interrelatedness is still in terms of a mechanical interpretation, a one to one cause-effect relationship. For instance, earthquakes have geophysical causes since we know that the earth is made up of inert matter explainable locally and regionally rather than in any global systemic terms. No notion of an independent variable — say a god in heaven — would suffice, for an explanation of the earthquake.

The belief of inert components of the earth has also led to the passive exploitation of the resources. The belief of the Navaho, who treat the earth as mother and have sacred places, would consider coal mining as digging into mother’s body — a heinous crime; or other groups of the non-Western world who apologize to the tree before cutting it. Both are equally compelling truths within the boundaries of their world-views. The holistic view perhaps helps in a sustainable development for a long time, while the exploitation of maximum resources for development and progress is a short time approach even in the historical-evolutionary terms.

Today, no longer can one describe earth and life in terms of mere laws of physics and chemistry; that life just happened by chance on earth. Shifting world-views within the Western tradition is reflected by not only the developments in physics, chemistry and biology but also of the Gaia hypothesis; this particular world-view that is both holistic and multi-centered developed within the scientific tradition of the West — in the framework of evolutionary biology (Lovelock: 1979, 1988). It is congruent with many Eastern world-views, and if such convergences are possible, it is also imperative, if humankind is to survive, provided that the idea of interrelatedness within the framework of Consciousness is taken seriously. The prevailing world-view in terms of the humanistic psychology of the modern man contrasts with the traditional world-views all over the world; i.e., nature is unfriendly and confrontational, therefore the need for control, hence, the feeling of alienation and separation. Hence, the necessity to provide orderliness, protection and predictability for its members through structure, property rights, laws, enforcement agencies and a central hierarchy of authority. And so on.

The transformational world-view, which the new science and ancient insights suggests, is that of a friendly universe, to be accepted, experienced and celebrated; space and time are relative — infinitely small or large units. Nature is an evolving eco-system of which you and me, the human species, are a part. Therefore by enhancing nature we enhance ourselves. Life is a matter of contributing through myself and others to the universe. The purpose of human society is to increase the service of its members to other human beings and to themselves. To do this, I must realise my fullest potential of body, mind, and spirit. To do this requires an environment that supports and encourages self-actualization and self-responsibility. I am unique, but I am also one with the human species.

In other words, the quest is for seeking a unified field in science and in other areas of a unity in nature and man. But it all begins with a personal yearning. Throughout human history in every endeavour human beings have searched for connections, for ways to make a harmonious whole out of parts.

Contemplating in this manner creates problems since the social system one lives in feels threatened by these manifest expressions and statements, for these go against the old generalizations of most nineteenth-century notions, ideas to which most of the social sciences and even proper science in many parts of the world, where it is equated to technology and scientism, continue to cling to. Not all of the current state of science, perhaps, accepts this notion of an ocean of Intelligence, of a universal energy or a unified field. If it is so, it has not penetrated to the larger society of scientists or society at large. It also speaks of an attributeless, nameless and formless energy. The body-brain instrument which in its subtler aspects is a light and sound vibration speaking in material terms, while the universe is a Play of Consciousness. . .

The movement from a religious metaphor guiding the ancient past to a scientific metaphor of the modern times continues endlessly since the latter is increasingly being recognized as incomplete to tell us about the various contemporary issues, such as the crisis of environmental pollution, ecological imbalances, and so on. The modern movement marked a departure from the old dynamics of life when humankind lived closer to nature, sustained and motivated by an understanding of our higher nature — an understanding that came easily and naturally to them. The confidence of the modern era wishes to achieve better living conditions, through progress in terms of the conquest of nature — introducing both physical and psychological new parameters, separating man from nature, from the universe and hence not being responsible for an overall harmony by being subservient to the cosmos, but pretending itself to be the dominant force. Thus being good and bad became mere matters of technical feasibility, since moral, spiritual and other dimensions had little to do with the material solid practicality of material comforts. Now, all this is outdated, in view of some ideas ahead of the times, this reductionistic paradigm which alienated man from the cosmos. It is in this context that scientists are moving in both the inner and outer dimensions, science and religion, between matter and consciousness, even if physics and chemistry are inadequate to deal with such problems, since, so far, science has no moral dimensions to it, albeit scientific and ethical values are not inseparable.

The suggestion is that it is important to live in an open-ended system, as a human-being and not merely as a good scientist or scholar; for example, molecular biologists think that the whole of nature or life can be comprehended in terms of molecular biology — it is a mechanistic way of thinking that this is what science is about and that is all that matter (Mayr 1991). Thus, the open-mindedness of science is limited within established ideas or paradigms — just as many religions also say the same thing, or social scientists who think that the framework or content one is examining is the whole thing itself. Although the rational approach is very useful in many productive ways, it has ignored psychological and spiritual dimensions, especially in the area of consciousness — areas often relegated to a waste of time or stupidity. This narrow vision, extreme specialization — at the same time claiming open-endedness — is very neurotic and hence destructive, consequences that weigh heavily upon us in this century. For example, even the role of intuition is not recognized in the work of the scientist himself, or his own creative process of which little is known — not to speak of knowing oneself before knowing the universe (Gandhi 1990, Harris 1991).

The philosophy of science rests largely on empirical methodology and involves formulating one’s hypothesis, subjecting it to empirical experiment via carefully collected data that verify or falsify the hypothesis, in order to draw conclusions that will become a theory or perhaps a law, using equations and mathematics which is its handmaiden. Science is thus concerned with concrete details and abstract reasoning, between inductive and deductive ways; it has a very sophisticated structure. However, unless the thing at hand, under study, is both itself and something beyond itself, it loses meaning or becomes destructive in the long run as we see between science and technology — scientism and empiricism. Scientific details only acquire meaning when they glow with another metascientific reality. The collections of sense data about data is not a mere collection but depicts, not describes, like poetry and art does, a single reality of grandeur and beauty which may be experienced on multiple levels — only a handful of scientists like Einstein express it publicly. Feeling and experiencing this oneness is, if it must be defined, mysticism. Science, originating from philosophical searches, also arises from the idea of wonder and awe; there is both an ethical as well as aesthetic side to it. Perhaps now it explains the mystery of being, while mysticism experiences it; the former is limited while the latter is unbounded. Nevertheless, both seek unity, a unified field of existence which forms the link, the substratum. What is this, and how is it tied to the existence of the scientist-scholar and itself? It is possible that now one is speaking of a realm that is beyond language — schema-symbols, too feeble to translate that ineffable domain, and of Silence. Nevertheless, it is knowable, communicable even if whatever one says about it becomes an untruth. Like in physics, there can be only approximations of the statements one makes (Weber 1986).

Holistic Approach

Perhaps, one may call science and the inner exploration outer empiricism and inner empiricism, and the common ground is unity — linking the microcosm and the macrocosm, nature and man, the observer and the observed. Max Planck acknowledged it well, "Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. . . because in the last analysis we are ourselves part of nature, and, therefore, part of the mystery that we are trying to solve".

The view of this paper has been to emphasize the fact that there is an urgent need to change the basic paradigm globally, from a mechanistic one to holistic one in the physio-psychic realm. The split-dualism is built into the very texture of the scientific study of matter, of thought, is seen in all walks life; its limitations have to be seen because a unified mode is available, as has been shown by particle physics and extra-galactic cosmology through post-Einsteinian physics by Heisenberg and others, of the dissolution of solid matter into waves of probability. The shift indicates that Consciousness is not an epi-phenomenon of matter but the very matrix, the Context of all contexts within which everything functions, i.e., it is the way of perception itself (Smith 1975, Stiskin 1972).

Now, the organism, the body-brain mechanism, itself is being hard put to understand all these goings on; it is struggling to know this state of affairs of utter conflict and contradiction since in its very depth of being it knows it is made up of all the elements of the universe. It is in fact in all of its activities trying to relate and communicate by its surroundings — the environment. But this conditioning is so deep-rooted, as a separate self, or an identity, that obviously it causes agony and alienation as well, since it seems to give an empty feeling about one’s identity. This so-called separate self cannot really discover unconsciously any solid, stable ‘me’ or an answer to ‘who am I?’ In normal life, all one does is to play the various social roles that are based on a reaction-reaction system within the relatedness to the other, functionally given. Without the other, there is no separate identity even at the social level.

Nevertheless, since the conditioning is so strong, the brain struggles to search for its real identity, and not finding one in what it has learnt within that limited dimension, it is thoroughly exasperated; it goes beserk despite trying to maintain some semblance to sanity, it becomes frantic, and it is in despair totally alienated both within and without. One may ask, since the separate self has always been there, why is the turmoil so great today? Earlier, perhaps by and large individuals functioned within certain stable social setups that were not governed by rapid changes and one’s position in society was relatively secure in terms of who’s who and what was one’s position. This gave a certain kind of stability within the given world-views which were accepted as one’s context of existence in the universe. The same has no longer been true since the beginning of the modern era in the seventeenth century with the rapid growth of industrialization, urbanization and philosophy of crass consumerism that has become the global way of life, barring some minor exceptions. All socio-cultural boundaries have been eroded quickly and there is no certitude even in any world-view, unless it is a reversion to fundamentalism for a last ditch battle. The brain has no time to adjust to changes occurring externally in all walks of life, not excluding the environmental changes. A new order based on intrinsic equality is a long way off, just like is the case in terms of socio-political and economic equality. The different parts are not co-ordinated, especially psychologically, since thought itself is based as yet on hierarchy and domination and subordination principles.

Identity and Unity

The inner psyche is still looking for ‘who am I?’, who one is, and no amount of external solutions in the absence of the overarching umbrella of Consciousness will bring about any lasting peace or contentment. The organism somehow knows its true nature, or at least that what is given is not so. But in the present trance-like conditioning one continues to grope in the hope of ‘tomorrow and tomorrow’, little realizing that mirages continuously recede and will never materialize. The first signs of the awakening of Consciousness is to be aware of this false image, the false changes, this hope against hope, this untruth. This is the first step towards a new dimension which, without being stated, may bring about the 180 degrees transformation that is so imperative in bringing about the shift in Global Conscious-ness in all walks of life.

Thus nothing is clear even externally in this age of transition when even the views of the cosmos are far from clear and the old ones no longer provide any adequate answers. Perhaps, these are phase changes, like what Prigogine (1980, 1984) speaks of the time of dissipative structures. One can imagine the state of affairs in the brain, given the enormity of the problem briefly stated above. This is the uncertainty, and the cause of violence, upheavals, since every aspect of life is destabilized into several contending problems, their solutions, theories, etc. Despite the weight one gives to creating artificial identities, old or new formulations, these are still not one’s natural or spontaneous creations. These formulations are made more out of a sense of insecurity, clinging to a so-called reinterpreted past. These are reactive attempts which do not create security since it is a reaction to the others who also are against it — mutually dependent enemies.

Correlating consciousness with matter, as a subject of science, has been a long-standing puzzle. Recent developments since 1970 in cognitive science have somewhat attempted to unravel this puzzle. Especially the developments of quantum physics and chaos theory have shown us that in any strict sense, science cannot always predict and control. Some say that after a certain point in time, in evolution, consciousness comes into play which is qualitatively different from the reductionist causes of science. May be the hypothesis of an all-pervasive energetic field of quantum zero-point energy is the all-pervasive field, which Consciousness of the esoteric traditions too talk about.

However, all recent attempts basically retain the old tested approach of science, which wants to understand it as down-upwards causation. First one must understand this, and then reverse this approach and direct it towards an all inclusive holistic one, an up-downwards causation. Implying thereby that the basic stuff of the universe to study is the physical energy, matter, even if it is in terms of the fundamental particles and their associated interrelationships. It has been a mistake of modern science to assume that ultimately reductionistic scientific causes are explanations of everything. It is not an adequate world-view, since it has resulted in gaining control through manipulation of the physical environment — and thereby the psychological-cultural implications albeit within that context everything seems to work well. It is leading to conflicts, confrontational dualities between science and religion, free will versus determinism, you versus me, and so on.

Of course, these foundational assumptions have been modified with the advent of quantum physics, particularly by the indeterminacy principle and the inherent statistical nature of measurement of the very small. Agreement is spreading among the few that science must develop the ability to look at things, particularly living things, more holistically. There is evidence that everything physical and mental that is experienced is part of an intercommunicating unity, a oneness, and there is no justification of the assumption of separateness. However, within specific contexts, isolating parts from the whole, the ordinary concepts of scientific causation do also apply.

In other words, if we include both ways, inner and outer, into account then we know that one reality is to be known in two ways that are not separate but interlinked. The epistemological issue involves: is our encountering of reality limited to being aware of, and giving meaning, to the messages from our physical senses (objective), or does it not also include a subjective aspect in an intuitive, aesthetic, spiritual, noetic and mystical sense? In any case, in normal science ethics and aesthetics (elegance) enters in various ways. In a restructuring of our view of science, of matter, inner explorers may be included. In doing so, science would be more inclusive and this is not to invalidate any of the physical and biological sciences. One may thus be both distancing oneself and be also participatory in being one with the subject.

Conclusion

The point of the above discussion is to point out new directions of holistic science, of oneness — Consciousness — as the new foundations and metaphysics, when whole new vistas are open before us. Many anomalies, paranormal phenomena, will begin to fit in this framework, that does not insist on fitting everything into a reductionistic science and we humans are here solely through random causes, in a meaningless universe; nor that our consciousness is merely the chemical and physical processes of the brain.

Few scientists are willing to question the philosophical issues underlying their work that they are part of the underlying definition of science — say the objectivist, positivistic, determinist, and reductionist assumptions of logical empiricism. Not that these have not served science and technological development well, however less so in biology even though the new gospel is molecular biology; but when the social scientist has aped these approaches it is a disaster.

Most scientists would assert that science has moved away from all this for over half a century ago. But it is not clear towards what; and consciousness has not yet come into the picture even though major paradoxes are today facing science, namely:

(i) The fundamental nature of things does not appear to be convergent — more and more of fundamental particles are appearing — reductionism is in fact pointing to a wholeness, and in their separation these are connected.

(ii) The fundamental organizing force in living systems from the largest to the smallest is unexplained by physical principles (homeostasis; intricate flower patterns, butterfly wings, etc.; healing, regeneration, ontogenesis, etc.).

(iii) The problem of action at a distance, or non-local causality, is appearing in the far reaches of quantum physics e.g., meaningful coincidences or connections, or Jungian Synchronicity — called paranormal, telepathic, clairvoyant communication; a host of others.

(iv) The knowledge of the universe is incomplete since there is no place for the consciousness of the observer, as if he is not in it (the notion of free will, volition and other characteristics of consciousness). Going from physio-chemical to the cons-ciousness does not work; it is the movement from higher, subtle, to the lower or gross which will take many of these aspects into account.

(v) For the notion of the self the concept is not clear and not taken into account even though it is involved in the act of observation.

(vi) What are altered states of consciousness, which mystics and others know of but indicated in ordinary mundane lives also and sought after by one and all in aesthetic experience and so on? If atom and other splitting cause the release of unforeseen energy, the splitting of the ego releases another dimension of consciousness little known in everyday living in a sleep-dreamlike state.

Given the above puzzles, researchers are moving into new areas to understand matter and consciousness, unthinkable a couple of decades ago. It requires a restructuring of the approach towards a oneness picture, a wholeness science as some would like to call it. This is to say one experiences the world from inside as consciousness, which is also the whole, since the outside experienced by the senses is its external manifestation. Speaking evolutionarily, evolution is the manifestation of consciousness, not just a single track of separate evolution from times immemorial. Consciousness — thus becomes an agency — in the relevant data which we desire to create for our images and pictures of reality.

This approach thus implies a sensitization of the observer, whereby he/she is altered and — willing to be transformed in an ongoing dialogue — with whatsoever — which is the essence of creation and not any rigid stand of authority, expertise that leads to entropy. This transformation happens, if it is true for the anthropologist, psychotherapist, and so would be for the scientist who wishes to study meditation and altered states of consciousness. May be the movement is up and down, like an hour glass or a spiral. This process of conscious awareness involves unconscious processes, volition and the concept of the self and so on. In scale, depending on the level, where one is placed, that matter becomes consciousness and consciousness matter. It all is real or unreal — whatever suits one’s terminology.

Naturally, in the new approach (e.g., not that bodies have consciousness, but consciousness has bodies) the questions asked will radically change: how does separateness arise, if all is one? does the brain act as a filtering and reductive mechanism? No longer will one think, how to integrate the universe but how it feels separate; how to explain the interconnections — but not through linear processes of the big-bang; of seeking a unified theory involving many different fields (gravitational, electromagnetic, morphogenetic, string theory, etc.), the various energies. Once, following Einstein who took light velocity to be basic, consciousness becomes the base line and different explanations will follow — a quantum jump! It will serve us well in individual and societal development as well. Openness to alternative theories in this scheme, explanations and healthy scepticism remains a part and parcel of it. In short, the new approach of the research scientific endeavours include both the direct experience of the inner senses and the outer physical ones as a unity of consciousness; and is not based on any principle of exclusion to any human experience.

References

Bouissac, Paul, 1990. "Semiotics and the Gaia Hypothesis: Towards the Restructuring of Western Thought", In Philosophy and the Future of Humanity, Vol. 1, 2. pp. 168-84.

Gandhi, Kishore (ed.), 1990. The Odyssey of Science, Culture and Consciousness, New Delhi.

Harris, Errol E., 1991. Cosmos and Anthropos — A Philosophical Interpretation of the Anthropic Principle; London.

Lovelock, James, 1979. A New Look at Life on Earth, Oxford.

Lovelock, James, 1988. The Ages of Gaia, London.

Malik, S.C., 1968. Indian Civilization; the Formative Period — A Study of Archaeology as Anthropology, Shimla. (reprinted, 1987).

———, 1969. "Culture Areas, Ecology and Regionalism", In Language Culture and Society, Shimla.

———, 1972. "Human Evolution: Some Reflections on its Philosophy", In Eastern Anthropologist, Lucknow.

———, 1975. Understanding Indian Civilization — A Framework of Enquiry, Shimla.

———, 1989a. Modern Civilization — A Crisis of Fragmentation, New Delhi.

———, 1989b. "Intellectuals, Traditions and Ethnographic Studies — Some Basic Questions", In Man in India, Ranchi.

———, 1990a. "Holism and Lifestyle Studies — the Civilization Context", In Eastern Anthropologist, Lucknow.

———, 1990b. "Alternative Futures: Towards an Integral Universe", In NMML Occasional Papers, New Delhi. Mimeographed.

———, 1992. "Matter and Consciousness", In The Nature of Matter Seminar, Pune. Mimeographed.

———, 1993a. "Holistic Science and Consciousness", In Nature and Man — An Integral Vision Seminar, New Delhi. Mimeographed.

———, 1993b. "A Question of Consciousness", In Future of the Mind — Mind of the Future Seminar, New Delhi. Mimeographed.

Mayr, Ernest, 1991. Towards a New Philosophy of Biology: Observations of an Evolutionist, Harvard.

Prigogine, I., 1980. From Being to Becoming, San Fransisco.

———, 1984. Order Out of Chaos, New York.

Smith, Lester, 1975. Intelligence Came First, Illinois.

Stitskin, Mahur, 1972. The Looking Glass God, Canada.

Weber, Renee, 1986. Dialogue with Sages and Scientists, New York.

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