The Ground of
Science Mysticism and Experience
is MIND that moves between science, mysticism, and
Mystics and the Ground of Faith
R.M. Cocks discusses the
philosopher Ken Wilbur, and "The Death of Metaphysics"
LETTERS TO THE EDITORS:
Letter from Richard Cocks PhD about no longer being a Holist
"I understand that
Ecks is writing his autobiography."
"Really? What is he calling it?"......... "The Life of Jesus."
A jest of course. Attempted biographies of Jesus so often
give more insight into the mind of the author, than into
than forty years elapsed after the resurrection,
before the gospels were written. Given that there were no
stenographers around when Jesus spoke, it was inevitable
that followers of Jesus told the story of his life and teaching
in the light of his effect on their lives. They told this story
through the filter of their personal histories and beliefs, and
in the light of their various understandings of the reading
of Scripture that took place every Sabbath. In a sense they
were producing their own autobiographies. Jesus no doubt
had a profound effect on their lives, and no doubt many
memories were vivid, but it remains true that we see him through their
Even so, their testimony to the Christ encounter nevertheless has
helped change the world.
As the centuries passed, succeeding generations
of Christians attempted to interpret the Christ encounter in the light
of philosophies and world-views
prevailing at the time.
as now, they felt the need to make sense of things. But often rival
interpretations occasioned bitterness and division between
groups of Christians, as can still be the case today.
This bitterness and division should have taught
us to treat our explanations somewhat lightly, and to focus more
steadfastly on the Christ encounter, and on
our relations to others, and to life.
"No man is an island": every word we utter, every thought in
has come from our interchanges with others of the tribe and society
us. Yet we cannot content ourselves with the second hand, we must
When persecutor Paul had first hand experience of Christ
on the road
to Damascus, his reaction was drastic:
"When that happened, without consulting any
human being, without
going up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, I
went off at once to Arabia . . Three years later I did go up to
Jerusalem to get to know Cephas. I stayed with him for a fortnight
, without seeing any other of the apostles, except James the
brother. What I write is plain truth; before God I am not lying."
Gal. 1.17-20.NEB (We can note that Paul in all his letters, has
nothing to say about the life and teachings of Jesus, except his
account of the Last Supper and the story of the cross. That the
Good News spread so successfully in all those years before the
gospels were written, is a strong reminder of the primacy of the
Divine Encounter, and that records of past events, even those of
the life and teachings of Jesus, are secondary. They are secondary,
but to us essential, if we are to locate the Good News in history.)
He was later to devote much of his writing
considering his Christ
encounter, in the light of the writings of Judaism in which his
consciousness had been formed. But first things came first.
John’s Gospel and letters were perhaps written 40 years after
the last of Paul’s letters. But even though he presents
teaching that he ascribes to Jesus, parts of John mirror Paul’s
Listen to the testimony of others, but your own
experience of Christ is what counts. That is explicit in 1John1.1:
"It was there from the beginning; we have heard it; we have
seen it with our own
eyes; we looked upon it, and felt it with our
own hands; and it is of this we tell. Our theme is the word of
This life was made visible;
we have seen it and bear our
testimony; we here declare to you the eternal life which dwelt
in the Father and was made visible to you."
3 It is
MIND that moves between science,
mysticism, and experience.
In his article, Science,
and Reality, Leo Hobbis writes:
"I contend that neither science nor theology is taking sufficient
the role of mind, and that if they were to do so the discussion
to the more fertile ground to be found in the relation between science
the human spirit.
The need for this discussion was apparent to William James, the great
and philosopher, when just over a century ago he wrote to
The … fountain-head of all religions
lies in the mystical experiences of the
All theologies and all ecclesiasticisms are secondary growths
superimposed; and the experiences … belong to a region deeper,
& more vital and
practical, than that which the intellect inhabits.
For this they are also indestructible by intellectual arguments and
I attach the mystical or religious consciousness to the possession of
an extended subliminal self, with a thin partition through which
messages make irruption.
We are thus made convincingly aware of the presence of
a sphere of life
larger and more powerful than our usual consciousness, with which the
latter is nevertheless continuous.
They … help us to live,…[they give]… invincible
assurance in a world beyond the senses,
they melt our hearts and communicate significance and value to
everything and make us happy.
…Philosophy and theology give their conceptual interpretations
The farther margin of the subliminal field being unknown,
it can be treated as by
Transcendental Idealism, as an Absolute mind
with a part of which we coalesce,
or by Christian theology, as a distinct deity acting on us.
not our immediate self, does act on our
Frontispiece to Journal of Consciousness Studies, Vol 9, No. 9-10,
Special Issue ‘The Variety of Religious Experience:
Centenary Essays’, Ed Michel Ferrari.
subsequently proposed as science of
he called 'radical empiricism’. This would be based on human
experience as opposed to theological doctrine. Such an approach
is open to us through the study of mind."
about what actually happens in our minds when we think :
you are wondering about the relationship between science and
mysticism. Your mind moves you from the thought of science to
that of mysticism. You then think about having a cup of tea.
Fragments of church teaching come to mind, questions about
your own personal spiritual experiences and how they square
with your understanding of church teaching, wonderings about
what other people might think of your thoughts, and so on, and
for ever. Our minds all too easily can flit from point of
point of view.
are confused, it is good to remember that the mind
is in charge. It is free to attend to, or not to attend to, beliefs
and attitudes of others. It is free to experience the inner and
the outer for itself, and to reflect on these experiences.
appear to be flitting from one thing to the next.
But we know that we, or our minds,
can take charge, nobody
is compelling us to think anything. We
can treat science as a
tool we can use for thinking, which we can pick
up and put down.
We can see literature and the arts, as tools to be
picked for the
mind's purposes, and then put down. We can see
Bible, and the Church similarly as tools, to be picked
put down. We can see our life at work as a tool for the mind's
experience, (as well as the source of food and sustenance).
We pick that up, and put it down.
Our minds can change focus also at will: we can focus in the
mystical holistic mode, we can focus on the see and touch,
or in the imaginative world. The Mind can focus very differently
in trance, in dream, and when it has some kind of awareness,
which for want of a better word, we can term "paranormal"
Mystics and the Ground of Faith:
This is why,
even if empiricism
always and lamentably
comparing apples with oranges
considerable unanimity amongst mystics of the great world
experience of that Other, that all encompassing Self,
encounter, when we surrender the barriers of self. This journal
is produced in the belief that there is a Ground of Faith on
with their countless theologies, build. The
huge number of theologies
should be a warning to hold them lightly.
The same too can be said of science
6Our consultant Leo Hobbis, whose
doctorate is in physics,
notes that "science cannot be said to
be exact. Every
observation, let alone interpretation, is theory-laden.
Remember the Feynman quote, ' If you think that science
is correct, well, that is an error on your part'."
One other major word of
caution: If you were to describe
a symphony in the language of scientific physicists, you
wouldn't have the music, let alone the Spirit.
(See Letter to the Editor, from Prof. Richard
Science focuses on reality as if consciousness were outside it,
mysticism explores the conscious experience.
In his article Leo
Our culture is
relationship. From the moment
of our conception, relationship is a primary
our lives and extends progressively beyond our immediate
family to embrace the whole world and all species of life.
And the most profound
expression of relationship is love (agape).
Such relationship engages our whole being, reaching out from
deep within. All the life and teaching of Jesus was about the
nature and importance of relationship.
And I would add in this context, that Paul's Damascus experience of
Christ, must have resulted in his life being caught up into the
life of the
risen and universal Christ, much deeper relationships of love of
fellows being the result. This mystical "caught upness" does come
love deeply, when we have peak experiences and perceive
life as the wondrous
thing that it truly is, it comes in meditation, it is
experienced in meaningful
coincidence, in the deeper of our dreams,
in the satisfaction of serving
others, in the delight of acquiring new skills,
it comes in prayer, and in
song. The list can go on and on. We are saved
by faith and love. It
is not usually our beliefs that save us, and as
St James wrote: "the devils
also believe and tremble" (2.19)
7 Prof R.M.
Cocks discusses the philosopher Ken Wilbur,
and "The Death of Metaphysics"
It is a view I have held for many years now; that religion should
not be about
‘faith’, but genuine spiritual experience and that this is
on about. He knew first hand that ‘I and the Father are
as an abstract
philosophical doctrine that just sounds nice.
(Quoting from Wilbur)
'Now in addition to
direct sensory experiences and direct mental
experiences (both of which, even if they are partially mediated, finally
and always present themselves immediately), there are also direct
spiritual experiences. A subtle-level illumination, for examples, is
presented to my awareness in the same direct, immediate, given fashion
the experience of a rock or the experience of a mental image: they
show up and I prehend them (quite apart from whatever mediating chains
deliver them to display. . .)
tending toward ‘sensory empiricism,’ many mystics speak of
meaning direct mystical experience, using ‘experience’ in
and truer sense of ‘immediate awareness’ and not just
sensory awareness (which is why so many mystics insist on calling
their endeavors experiential, experimental, and scientific in
And here, too, mental experience can get into trouble, because it can
a mental symbol, such as the mental experience of the word
stand for the spiritual experience of direct illumination (for example),
and so here again it is caught in “mere abstractions”: it
experiences to try to cover experiences that aren’t in themselves
These “representations” then become “mere
metaphysics,” and since the
time of Kant, we all know that is a very bad idea: it won’t
is to say, it hasn’t any experiential grounding: this type of
metaphysics” is simply empty categories devoid of true knowledge,
which is to say, devoid of true experience.
However, since Kant doesn’t acknowledge spiritual experience, he
thinks metaphysics per se is dead, which is the point at which
Schopenhauer, among others, leveled a devastating criticism of Kant (and
the point where Katz’s neo-Kantian argument also collapses). Kant
demonstrated that mental symbols without experiential grounding are
but the real conclusion of his argument is that all future
must be experiential—that is to say: experimental, grounded in
awareness and experience, coupled with validity claims that can be
redeemed in the experiment of contemplation, and grounded in the three
strands of all true knowledge accumulation: injunction/paradigm,
apprehension, and confirmation/rejection.
Virtually every thinker from Kant onward (and following his pioneering
lead) has announced “the death of metaphysics” and the
philosophy”—from Nietzsche to Heidegger, from Ayer to
from Derrida to Foucault, from Adorno to Lyotard. And in the sense of
“death of empty categories,” I agree entirely. But he real
any future metaphysics is, not that the endeavor is altogether dead, but
that the real metaphysics can now, finally, get under way: actual
contemplative development (grounded in genuine spiritual experience) is
the future of metaphysics.
Thus, Kant’s attempt to “abolish knowledge
in order to make room for faith” (in God), should be completed a
Nagarjuna: abolishmg mere symbols and concepts (abstract or
representational metaphysics) in order to make room, not for faith in
but for direct experience of God.
The point, then, is that we want to take the best of empiricism in
general: genuine knowledge must be anchored in validity claims of
and experiential grounding; and we then add what should have been
all along: there is sensory experience, mental experience, and
experience (holarchically interwoven, so that, for example, mental
experience provided by culture mediates and colors, but does not create
toto, sensory experience and, should it occur, spiritual experience). We
then add one final point: don’t confuse these types of
don’t use the categories of one to cover the others (category
Thus, the “death of metaphysics” correctly means the death
experiences (symbols) to stand for spiritual experiences, and the real
birth of genuine metaphysics means: discover those spiritual experiences
directly (and communally shared m a sangha of intersubjective discourse
checks and balances, and thus thoroughly grounded in validity claims).
(706-707, SES, Ken Wilber)]
What would you say to the criticism that while synchronicity may involve
an interior illumination, it does not seem to involve any particular
permanent interior transformation. The meditators say that in
stages of meditative practice psychic experiences are common, but one
should put them to one side and continue evolving, transforming
consciousness from psychic, (gross, bodily, somatic) to subtle, (dream
sleep) to causal, (dreamless sleep) to nondual. One’s lifeworld
transformed likewise. Anyone at any level of consciousness can have peak
experiences, but the trick is to inhabit the level one has experienced,
and not merely be a tourist. Each developmental stage must be
and then transcended, just as you must have images and symbols, before
one can use concepts, and one must be able to perform concrete
before formal operational thinking can occur. No skipping
however, complete mastery is not necessary
at each level. You don’t have
to be Shakespeare to be literate and verbal.
One other point that Wilber makes that I like is that anyone at any
of development can have peak spiritual experiences, since these
experiences are always potentials of the human psyche. However,
experiences get interpreted at whatever level of development one is at.
if one is at the mythic level of development one will imagine that the
experience means that God is on your side and he approves, and you
should continue to stick it to the infidel.
You can also have uneven development; e.g., high cognitive, low moral,
medium emotional, pitiful spiritual, etc.. And any combination thereof.
The Nazis had fairly high cognitive rational, pitiful moral development.
But you can’t have high moral development without reasonably high
cognitive development because it is only through rational thought that
can see things from someone else’s perspective and see things
point of view, frequently at one’s own expense.
TO THE EDITORS:
Opinion, personal stories, quotes.
Letter from Richard Cocks PhD about no longer being a Holist.
Thanks to [the philosopher Ken]
Wilber, I am now officially not a holist. Wilber convincingly
argues a point that I had already considered, and that is that
holism, politically, is consistent with totalitarian states. As I
say I had been aware of this and it seemed likely to me that
that was why Heidegger could become a fascist.
For the first time in a lecture the other day I used the term 'holist'
in a negative sense. The preferred notion is 'whole/part.' Wilber
correctly says that emphasizing one at the expense of the other is
disastrous. As I say, I had been aware of this, but wasn't quite
sure what to do about it.
Maybe I could say that I was a holonist? Holons being always
whole/parts simultaneously.When I think of myself as a holist, I think
of the universe as an interconnecting whole with myself being a part of
it. But this is no good
because such a notion doesn't take account of depth. Holons are
nested in other holons in a holarchy i.e., subatomic particles are
holons, nested in atoms. From subatomic particle's perspective,
the atom is the 'outside.'
The atom is an emergent phenomenon. These give rise to molecules,
then cells, then organisms, then biosphere, noosphere, theosphere.
Developmental evolution goes in the direction of greater depth, less
Where something is on the holarchy is not arbitrary. There is a
simple test, and it is what would happen if something disappeared? If
there were no molecules, everything above molecules would disappear,
but atoms would remain untouched. Atoms have a greater span and
are more fundamental than molecules, but they have less significance
because they have less depth.
Individuals and populations have the same depth. If you took
either side away, both would disappear. Individuals and
populations occupy the same level. I think when I am imagining holism I
am really thinking of the same levels or lower. But we are not
included in the material universe, the material universe is included in
us. We include subatomic particles, atoms, molecules, cells, organism,
biosphere, noosphere, theosphere, but atoms and dead matter don't
include us. I tend to think of the universe as stars and planets, but
stars and planets are much more fundamental than us, and therefore much
less significant. We depend on them, therefore they are at a
lower level of emergent complexity than we are. The biosphere is
a lower level than noosphere. We are not included in the
biosphere, the biosphere is included in us, as one of our levels.
Without the biosphere, the noosphere would disappear, therefore the
a higher level. (The level of mind, or nous). As I say, to test
level something is, just imagine if it disappeared. Higher levels
depend on lower levels.
It sounds counterintuitive, but it identifies what is wrong with at
least my version of holism. That by seeing oneself as part of the
physical universe, one is going precisely in the wrong direction.
One is engaging in reductionism,
going the wrong way down the evolutionary ladder.
Holism has a flattening effect and also is potentially fascistic.
Wilber also suggests not merging matter with the
mental. He points out that the reason people have wanted to do this is
because of an apparent conflict between matter and body. (Not matter
and mind). The conflict is that physics seemed
to indicate entropy and a downward spiral, the universe is winding
down. And biology, seemed to indicate evolutionary development, a
winding up in the direction of ever increasing emergent complexity.
The answer in the past has been to assimilate body to matter
reductionistically, or matter to mind, in the fashion of the idealists,
and whoever. But recently, systems theory, chaos theory, dynamic
theory, and so on have been pointing to chaotic systems that actually
become ordered, like a mass of water forming a perfect spiral going
a pipe (or I would think, planets and stars emerging out of cosmic
This provides the link between matter and body where the arrows are
in the same direction (they are both winding up).
So you don't need to think of the universe as a mental phenomenon to
overcome reductionism. In fact, matter and mind are both the
product of spirit, and matter and mind both lead up to spirit as
conscious of itself (in a Hegelian fashion).
Whole/part thinking is really the position I have been searching
for. It is important to have one's integrity, autonomy, agency,
(part), so that one is not a mindless conformist with no life and moral
position of one's own. But we also
need connection, relations to others, for meaning. In the past
women have tended to emphasize connection at the expense of having
a life of their own, and men have emphasized autonomy at the expense of
relationships. Men and women, while retaining our distinctive styles
and tendencies could do with adjusting these tendencies so that women
have more autonomy and men relate better, and this is what has been
going on with feminism and the new 'sensitive' male.
Politically, if you emphasize the whole too much, then you say the
individual only has value as he/she contributes to the whole, and no
intrinsic value, which is obviously unsatisfactory. In holarchic
thinking, holons have both value in themselves and
as they contribute to a larger whole. This would make democracy look
like a necessary compromise between parts and wholes.
One thing that I find a bit disconcerting is that holons go up and down
infinitely. (There is no ultimate whole ever - yesterday becomes part
of tomorrow's whole, for instance). Somehow at both ends of the scheme
is supposed to be Spirit (at the highest level, where spirit becomes
self-aware, and at the lowest, where spirit
slumbers in nature and is the ground of all being, but isn't a
I haven't figured out where God fits in here, although he could play
Aristotle's role of being the ultimate chaotic
attractor, pulling us in the direction of higher development
through gentle persuasion toward love.
Wilber does seem to go along with Aristotle that every potential
is attempting to reach its own perfection as an acorn is heading in the
direction of an oak, with a mature, flourishing oak tree representing
its spiritual perfection. With humans,
there seems no upper limit until we are reunited with the ground
of all being, which is also the ultimate destination of all being.