PROLOGUE: A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON KNOWLEDGE
The inspiration for this website arose from reading a breakthrough book by Matthew McKay, Ph.D., founder and CEO of New Harbinger Publications, a well known publisher of self-help books, including seven of my own books.
McKay’s book, entitled Seeking Jordan: How I learned the Truth about Death and the Invisible Universe, describes how his son Jordan, after deliberately being shot and killed in 2009, continued to communicate in multiple ways with both his father, Matt, and other relatives and close associates from the so-called “other side.”
A key point is that Dr. McKay is a social scientist, steeped in empirical methodology. He publishes only evidence-based self-help books. To publish a book such as Seeking Jordan was a radical but important step, telling a deeply important story and potentially exposing McKay to critical scrutiny from the scientific community.
In short, Seeking Jordan was published at a time when mainstream science continues to strictly abstain from inquiry into topics such as the survival of death and the afterlife. This is true for a majority of scientists, especially for famously outspoken ones such as Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking. A mainstream scientific view (or paradigm) which ignores inquiries about the afterlife has continued after thirty years of books exploring this topic. Such books range from the classic Life After Life written in the 1970s by Raymond Moody to personal accounts by authors such as Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander and Journey of Souls by Michael Newton.
Scientific vs. Speculative Knowledge
Science and scientific knowledge are ruled by empirical knowledge of the senses. All other inquires not based on observation of the senses are deemed unscientific or “speculative.” What ensures the validity of scientific knowledge is: 1) the high level of inter-observer consensus among independent scientific observers with respect to the same phenomenon (this being easily achieved for sensory observation), and 2) the falsifiability of any scientific claim based on further evidence.
Speculative knowledge is understood as not having the same veracity as scientific knowledge, as it is based on supposition or on human faculties other than the senses, such as intuition, revelation, or even paranormal capacities (clairvoyance, telepathy, precognition, etc.).
A major purpose of this website is to outline a revised approach to knowledge that does not so sharply bifurcate empirical versus intuitive or speculative knowledge.
What is the point of suggesting such an approach? Why propose a broader paradigm of what constitutes “valid knowledge” when thousands of mainstream scientists throughout the world have consistently rejected it? What justifies such an approach in opposition to the collective consensus of the global scientific community?
The simple reason is that scientific inquiry, in its present form, cannot address questions that are of fundamental importance to all human beings–questions such as the survival of each of us after of death, the nature and scope of a possible afterlife, or the possibility of communicating with deceased loved ones (assuming they continue on after death). Questions about such topics are deemed “unscientific” or beyond the realm of science, though they are of ancient and perennial importance to most human beings. The logical consequence of a strict adherence to empirical scientific method is that such questions cannot be answered or in principle are unanswerable. What happens to us after death forever remains a mystery, with only “mere speculative” approaches able to offer any kind of answer.
The question of why large numbers of innocent people in the world are subjected to suffering and death, either through wars, faulty governments, or natural disasters is also a question that remains beyond the purview of mainstream science (death by natural disasters in particular are viewed by science as simply random, even if unfortunate, events.)
A Revised Paradigm for Knowledge
Nearly a decade ago, this author published a book entitled Global Shift. The book suggested that a revised paradigm of knowledge (a new epistemology, if you will), embracing sensory, intuitive, and even visionary methods of inquiry into a common, unified approach to understanding “truth,” was a potential for the future. This much broader paradigm of how we can gain valid knowledge could be accompanied by a new era in human cultural evolution: a post-modern, more enlightened perspective where humanity might rise to a new level of consciousness. Such a consciousness might empower humanity to resolve some of its fundamental problems such as climate change, income disparities, racial and ethnic discrimination, and nuclear proliferation.
A decade later (a the time of this writing in 2017), it has become apparent that neither a broader paradigm of knowledge nor a more enlightened conception of the world is anywhere close at hand. The sharp demarcation between empirical knowledge and more intuitive, visionary modes of knowing (deemed subjective) has not diminished. Almost twenty years into a new century, it is still true as ever that empirically-based, scientific knowledge holds unique credibility for a large number of people. Humanity has not entered into a new phase of evolution where fundamental global problems are being solved. On the contrary, these problems have largely worsened and present increasing dire prospects for humanity’s future.
A more sober, realistic view would surmise that the radical changes in world view proposed in the book Global Shift may take at least a hundred years to unfold, and possibly even much longer.
Yet Matt McKay’s book, Seeking Jordan, announces the broader new paradigm in explicit terms. So do a host of other books over the past forty years exploring topics such as the afterlife, past-life regression and reincarnation, and even the future possible destinies of planet earth.
As Da Vinci and Michelangelo anticipated the European Renaissance by about a hundred years, so there are many present-day intimations of a bold new paradigm for humanity where scientific and spiritual perspectives are more fully integrated in a broader vision. Yet this vision may take a century or longer to gain widespread credibility.
Divisions of Knowledge
At present, human knowledge is sharply bifurcated in two ways:
- empirically-based, scientific knowledge vs. intuitive (including visionary) knowledge (discussed above).
- scientific knowledge vs. ethical knowledge describing conditions for “the good life” and how we should behave.
Given enough time, imagine a world in which both of these gaps might be largely bridged. Imagine that we perceive a Cosmos understood that is much more vast and multidimensional than the present physical universe studied by the physical, biological and social sciences.
“Scientific truth,” based on strict standards of empirical inquiry, would be understood as a subset of the full scope of “truth,” which would include human inquiry based on intuitive and visionary methods, even if the resulting knowledge rested on lower levels of inter-observer consensus than purely sensory knowledge.
The fundamental shift would be that topics such as (1) survival of death, (2) what aspect of consciousness actually does survive death (the soul?), (3) the nature of the afterlife, and (4) the nature of and inhabitants of dimensions beyond the physical space-time universe of present day physics, would become domains of credible and acceptable inquiry. Respectable, credible inquiry of these topics would exist even though very high levels of consensus and falsifiability of knowledge would be more difficult to come by. In short, the scope of valid inquiry would be broadened, and the criteria of validity would be, of necessity, “relaxed.” This loosening of the basis of valid knowledge (beyond highly consensual sensory experience) might seem an anathema to present day science—a reckless plunge into obscurity. Yet it holds the potential for arriving at credible answers—answers that could be respected by a majority of people across different cultures— to the most ancient and fundamental questions asked by a majority of human beings.
A basic premise of this site is that intuitive and visionary knowledge already embrace a certain level of inter-observer consensus across all of the main cultures (and religions) of humanity. All cultures have accounts of the afterlife and its nature. All of them describe the condition of the soul in the afterlife. Finally, all of them maintain notions about non-physical beings beyond this world, whether they are called angels (Christianity), devas (Hinduism), spirits (Native American theology) or Dhyani Buddhas (Buddhism).
Why would all of humanity throughout history have intimations of these realms and beings if the entire body of information was completely delusional? A skeptic might answer that all of humanity believed that the earth was flat until a few hundred years ago. But a closer examination reveals that a number of Greek philosophers realized the earth was round and even orbited the sun several hundred years before the time of Christ. Their evidence was in fact of an empirical, sensory nature (first established rigorously by the Greek astronomer Eratosthenes, though it had been proposed earlier by the Greek philosopher Pythagoras). In the case of conceptions of the afterlife and its inhabitants, nearly all cultures have maintained conceptions of these realms and beings for millennia. There is in fact an overall level of inter-observer, cross-cultural consensus about these realms and beings despite cultural differences in terminology ( for example “bardos” in Buddhism, “lokas” in Hinduism, “Summerland” in many Native American traditions, “Olan Ha-Ba” in Hebrew, and “heaven and hell” in traditional Christianity).
Descriptions of this common core knowledge of an afterlife realm have been explored in a number of books, two examples of which include Forgotten Truth by Huston Smith and No Boundaries, by Ken Wilber.
This common core of knowledge about trans-physical and transpersonal realms may need to wait a hundred years or longer before it is given recognition by the scientific community (assuming scientists of the future will accept a broadening of the basis of valid inquiry beyond strictly empirical knowledge). However the premise of this website is that this core of knowledge exists now and is universally understood across cultures.
Empirical vs. Ethical Knowledge
What about the other fundamental bifurcation in knowledge mentioned above: sensory-based empirical knowledge of the physical universe vs. ethical knowledge of the “good life” and what constitutes exemplary behavior.
It is more difficult to imagine bridging the gap between these two types of inquiry since knowledge of the physical world seems so radically distinct from ethically based questions about the good life. The only way the latter would ever move from purely subjective to “objective” is if it’s possible to state universal, cross-culture principles of ethics that transcend culture and different societies. Here, there are really only two alternatives: 1) a universal moral imperative explicitly stated in the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” or 2) complete moral relativism, an absence of any universal moral imperatives, with moral beliefs and practices completely dependent on cultural dictates. Regarding this site, this book sides with Immanuel Kant and the universalists, who would hold, at a bare minimum, that the Golden Rule provides a universal, culture-free moral principle. A single exception to the rule of moral relativism is enough to dispute the notion that there is no universal basis of ethics outside of what each particular cultural group decides it to be.
In the essay on this website, “Natural Ethics,” a case will be made that the ultimate basis for ethical conduct is in a natural order inherent in the workings of the Cosmos, not an endless variety of different constructions by different human cultures. (sometimes referred to as “cultural relativism”). Granted, there are many differences in moral doctrine and code across various cultures. The premise of this site, however, is that there is a common core of ethical truth—what Kant referred to as “universal moral imperatives”—that are invariant across all of the world’s societies and cultures. Though the notion of a universal ethics has fallen out of favor in modern times, the essay on natural ethics will attempt to argue that it can be derived from a full and comprehensive understanding of the structure of the Cosmos.
Theoretical versus Practical Knowledge
So is there any distinction in types of knowledge that remains in spite of the above considerations? The answer is yes. The original distinction between theoretical and practical knowledge, originally proposed by Aristotle,
is still relevant and useful. Theoretical knowledge includes all knowledge of the Cosmos, including a basis in the structure of the Cosmos for the universal ethical imperative embodied by the Golden Rule ( referred to above).
Yet, it is still meaningful to distinguish between theoretical and practical knowledge: “knowledge about what is (or what is true)” vs. “knowledge of how to do things,” i.e., sets of rules for accomplishing practical goals, from the assembly of a floor lamp to overcoming the fear of flying to achieving a consensus on a political issue in the United States Congress.
In the case of practical knowledge, though, an implicit standard still exists. Some ways of doing things are better than others. The optimal implementation of practical know-how (knowledge) is referred to simply as “best practices.” This is a term that has gained currency in present day society and is frequently used to describe what is considered to be the optimal way of accomplishing a practical goal.
New Ways of Knowing Lead to a Larger Cosmos
Shifts (broadening) in our ways of knowing lead to shifts in the Cosmos we perceive. In a revised epistemology that incorporates intuitive and visionary ways of knowing (beyond just sensory), we perceive a much larger Cosmos beyond the purview of science. It is this website’s purpose to suggest provisional outlines of a universe (Cosmos) significantly broader than the physical universe studied by empirical science. This is a Cosmos that is inherently conscious—or includes consciousness as a fundamental attribute.
Visioning a conscious Cosmos is hardly new. It has its roots in a long-standing tradition in philosophy referred to as panpsychism. This view can be traced back to pre-Socratic philosophers such as Pythagoras and Anaxagoras, the 3rd century philosopher Plotinus, in some respects to the 17th century philosophers Leibniz and Spinoza, and down to the 20th century “process philosophy” of Alfred North Whitehead. Panpsychism in philosophy embraces the idea of a conscious, intelligent material universe. One type of panpsychism, pantheism conceives the physical universe alone as conscious. A broader form, referred to as panentheism, conceives a conscious physical universe plus trans-physical realms with only temporal (nonspatial) coordinates beyond the physical universe.
For panentheism, intelligence is both inherent to the physical universe as well as transcending it. Panentheism is the view of the Cosmos embraced by this website. It is also distinct from the long-standing philosophical tradition of idealism (from Plato to Berkeley to Hegel). Idealism deems the universe to be fundamentally a Mind, and that anything, understood as material, is either (1) an illusion (a view in some forms of Hinduism regarding the physical universe as illusory) or “maya,” or (2) totally emergent and derived from Mind (or pure consciousness).
Both forms of idealism are difficult to grasp by the modern mind—the idea that the entire physical universe studied in intricate detail by science is a complete fantasy construct of the mind is unpalatable. The other alternative, that the entire physical universe emerges out of some ultimate Mind (or pure consciousness) begs a basic question. How could this be? No idealist philosopher has fully succeeded in “pulling a virtual rabbit out of the hat.” That is, idealist philosophy has had to contrive some far-fetched ideas in order to explain how materiality (atoms, molecules, crystals, animals, planets, galaxies) emerge de novo out of pure Mind. A review of all these ideas is beyond the scope of this introduction. One of the more popular ones, called psychophysical parallelism, proposes that separate mental and physical universes perfectly coexist together in perfect harmony. But the nature of the connection between the purely mental to the fully material remains obscure. In fact idealism runs up against what is perhaps the most-argued and persistent problem in all of philosophy: the perennial “mind-body problem.” The best example of this problem is the relationship of consciousness (with its inherent semantic –linguistic organization) to the physical brain (whose mode of organization is observed to consist of multitudes of neurons firing in distinct physiological sequences). Many attempts to explain how this connection occurs (beyond the ridiculously simplistic materialist view that consciousness simply is the physical brain) have been tried. Many books on the topic have been written. But the detailed nature of the connection has never been fully and satisfactorily explained. That is why many philosophers refer to the nature of the mind-brain connection as the “hard problem” in all of philosophy.
To sum up, the view of the Cosmos adopted by this website, while by no means new, has it roots in panentheism. Yet it goes even beyond panentheism to describe a model of reality that gives credence to both empirical and intuitive modes of inquiry, and includes a natural ethics born out of the inherent structure of the Cosmos (a universal basis of ethics that is not merely a human construction).
This vision can be summarized in the following seven points. It’s estimated that it will take reasoning humanity (especially the scientific community) as long as a century—or even longer—to fully embrace them.
- Understanding the universe to be conscious (defined in terms of self-organization and intentionality) at all levels, from subatomic particles to galaxies.
- Recognition of the universe as multidimensional, containing subtle dimensions that form a matrix for the visible, material universe that we can see.
- Acceptance of intuitive and visionary forms of knowledge as comparable in value to empirical, sensory-based forms of knowing.
- A greater integration of science and religion (spirituality) as complementary ways of comprehending a single Cosmos.
- Recognizing the unity of consciousness: the reality that all minds are joined as one seamless unity.
- Embracing a global consciousness, where cultural and national boundaries are transcended and human beings identify themselves as part of planetary civilization.
- A natural ethics where “ought” reduces to “is” (ethical behavior follows from acting out of authenticity to one’s innermost nature); where love and compassion are seen as innate human potentials.