PUTTING PHILOSOPHY TO WORK, TOWARD AN ECOLOGICAL ENVIRONMENT,
Edited by John B. Cobb Jr and W M Andrew Schwartz
RETHINKING CONSCIOUSNESS, EXTRAORDINARY CHALLENGES FOR CONTEMPORARY SCIENCE,
Edited by John H Buchanan and Christopher M. Aanstoos
Review by Gunnel Minett
Modern science promotes itself as being based on facts rather than assumptions. This view, however, tends to avoid the fact that what we call modern science is very much based on the assumptions of René Descartes, for example, that body and mind are separate. Descartes lived nearly 400 years ago when religion still had a firm grip on society. For him ‘the quest for certainty’ was more important than ‘the quest for wisdom’. Descartes assumed that if you searched deep enough you would somehow come to some form of ‘ultimate truth’. This assumption lead to a new school of philosophy where the goal is to arrive at the ‘airtight argument’. Once there, it would mean that you had established a logical argument with ultimate certainty.
Linked with this was also to be able to prove research beyond doubt in a way that was quantifiable and detached from the researcher’s own mind. Consequently mathematics played a central role in his thinking and research was continually biased towards the quantifiable. In addition Descartes famously came to see the body as ‘just matter’, completely detached from the soul.
A positive ‘side effect’ of Descartes thinking was that it enabled a material, mechanistic and deterministic version of science to develop free from the influence of the church, with its religious restraints. This is the argument that, to this day, is the prevailing view and seen as a good starting point for modern science. Few reflect as much on its negative effect.
On the negative side this meant that modern science also became biased towards quantifiable data. This in turn has lead to a persistent dismissal of the need for a wholistic approach to science. In particular when it comes to philosophy and in particular consciousness and the role of human beings in the natural world.
This is the major theme in these books. In the foreword to Rethinking Consciousness Stanley Kripper talks about the Western commitment to a materialistic, mechanistic metaphysics. Even if, as the book discusses, there is a growing body of research by leading parapsychologists and philosophers, conducted in a ‘rigorously scientific way’, which can challenge such modern scientific outlook, the classical scientific view persists. This, the authors conclude is not just bad for the credibility of modern science, it also has wider implications for the future of the planet we live on.
The conclusion these books propose is instead an “ecological civilisation,” one that reflects the impending climate changes of the twenty-first century. In her essay, Reimagine and Reinventing the Wisdom Traditions, in Putting Philosophy To Work, Mary Elizabeth Moore writes: “The heart of these traditions, …., is a spiritual knowing that evokes insight, raises questions, and points beyond egocentrism, ethnocentrism, and anthropocentrism to a larger global and spiritual reality.” (P 99) And as Catherine Keller points out in her essay, What Can Trigger Transformation in the same book, without a rethink of our whole worldview, we will not manage to deal with the climate crisis ahead. This means to move from a scientific worldview to one based on a collective approach with shared responsibility. We can no longer compartmentalise between sectors in science and society and disregard each others views. We need to pool all our resources. This means linking the exceptional human experiences, found in ‘alternative research with ‘conventional science’ to get a better understanding of the interconnectedness between human consciousness and that of the whole of creation. It also means moving away from Decartes’ search for an absolut truth to a more practical quest for a deeper and more wholistic worldview. With their various approaches, the authors show that Descartes’s out-dated and narrow-minded legacy is no longer working for us. Instead they propose the mathematician turned philosopher Alfred North Whitehead’s creative and enchanted vision of the cosmos. Even if this to many still seem parapsychological in the context of a mechanistic universe, it may be what is needed to save us from our own destruction.
PUTTING PHILOSOPHY TO WORK, TOWARD AN ECOLOGICAL ENVIRONMENT, Process Century Press, 2018, ISBN 978-1940447339
RETHINKING CONSCIOUSNESS, EXTRAORDINARY CHALLENGES FOR CONTEMPORARY SCIENCE, Process Century Press, 2020, ISBN 978-1940447438