What Truth are we talking about?

Jeff Carreira Philosophy 50 Comments

I believe or hope that thoughtful modern people (like us) are caught to some degree or other in a battle of mind that we will soon outgrow. The battleground is the war over truth. The particular form of the battle that I am referring to has many names such as: reason vs. faith, science vs. religion, objective vs. subjective, deduction vs. intuition. This battle erupted dramatically when the enlightenment thinkers of Europe championed the power of reason over what they saw as the superstitious dogma of the church. It erupted again when the Romantic thinkers insisted on a mysterious creative universe that could never be fully known or understood.

Oh by the way, I do have a second part to my investigation of Peirce to post, but before that I wanted to continue with the exciting stream of inquiry that has recently been fueled by our commentator named Chuck. Chuck is clearly a recovering mystic, and I am a recovering atheist/materialist – so it seems that we have met here in the middle.

Chuck has (rightly to some extent) pointed out some fuzziness on around the edges in some of the writing on this blog. I would claim that in the medium of the blogosphere this is probably inevitable, but still it is by magnifying fuzzy thinking that we all get clearer. I think that before we can get into the science vs. “whatever” debate, we have to first think about the nature of truth because at bottom how we think about truth is going to set the terms of this discussion.

There are three ways of arriving at truth that I believe are most pertinent to the discussions on this blog. The first we could call scientific truth, which would stand in opposition to the second which we could call revealed or perhaps intuitive truth. The third which we have devoted considerable space developing on these posts is Pragmatic truth. All of them will defy exact definition, but in the interest of moving forward together I would like to try to rally some agreement about the definitions of these three types of truth.

Scientific Truth is largely rooted in the ability to produce empirical, objective and measurable evidence. This means that for something to be scientifically true you should be able to show something to other people that they will independently find satisfying as proof or verification. Philosophically this type of truth is often associated with the school of Logical Positivism.

Revealed or intuitive truth is truth that is verified by ones internal experience. The truth of the bible is considered revealed truth and it is verified because it arose from the inner revelation of saints. In a non-Christian context what we more commonly call intuition could be considered a modern variety of revealed truth. When we intuit something is true what we are trusting is some inner experience or sense of truth. It just feels true.

The classical American philosophers, Peirce, Dewey and especially James pioneered a Pragmatic view of truth. In this sense truth is seen as a way of navigating human activity into the future. The way to see what a person believes to be true in this sense is to look at how they act. The ideas they act upon are the ones they believe to be true because they believe that acting on those ideas will lead to the best possible future outcome.

To move on then I would say that a person would be a Religious Fundamentalist if they believed that only Revealed truth was real. They would not believe, for instance, in the scientific evidence in favor of evolution because they would insist that the Bible reveals that God created the earth.

If there is such a thing as Scientific Fundamentalism (which has been referred to as Scientism in some places) it would be the condition in which someone would only give merit to scientific truth. In this case the person would deny that any form of intuitive or revealed truth was valid.

For now these two types of fundamentalisms are what has come up in this blog. When I was an engineer trained in physics and more or less atheistic in attitude, I assumed that everything that anyone told me about spiritual experiences was just some kind of fantasy and even if they did have some validity I didn’t believe that there was any way to determine that validity except through strict scientific inquiry. When I discovered that I had questions about life that I could not answer with science I started to seek in cognitive psychology, philosophy and eventually in spiritual practices. When I experienced spiritual revelations that I both could not deny and could not explain I was well on my way along the spiritual path. I have completely confidence that I have experienced something remarkable and I am still trying to refine how I can communicate it and also how I can better understand it myself.

The converted are always the strongest advocates of the cause they say, so I guess that Chuck and I are both strong advocates. Yet I do suspect – as I believe you do Chuck – that there is a way out of this either/or – science or spirituality – dualism. I think that there are new ways to look at science and at our universe and new ways to look at spirituality and spiritual experience that leave me with the hope and a deep intuition that a truly integral view of everything is possible and can become part of a new shared vernacular.

About the Author

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira is a mystical philosopher and spiritual guide. He is the author of eleven books on meditation and philosophy. He teaches online programs and leads retreats throughout the world that teach people how to let go of their current perceptual habits so they are free to participate in the creation of a new paradigm. To put it simply, he supports people to live a spiritually inspired life, free from the constraints of fear, worry and self-doubt, and aligned with their own deepest sense of meaning and purpose.
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KnoWell
11 years ago

My world changed when my simplistic “Duality brain” emerged into a “Trinary Mindset”. A duality person is argumentative at best. A Trinary person seeks mediation. “the scientific evidence in favor of evolution” The eivdence is clear that some kind of change occured, but to call it scientific is a fundamental mistake. Sure the fossil records provide data, but the experiment is unknown, and the conclusion is easliy skewed.. The scientific method, Hypothesis, Experiment, Data, Conclusion, demands that Evolution like Big Bang will remain a theory until there is an experiment that can be performed where data can be collected that… Read more »

Brian
11 years ago

Scientific Truth = Pragmatic Truth, where “The way to see what a person believes to be true in this sense is to look at how they act” we learned from Carl’s behaviorism. Whereas Revealed Truth is not truth at all, as Chuck R says, “these internal intimations of ‘absolute’ reality or consciousness are an illusion, a misinterpretation” What we have here is, as Jack Nicholson said “I have never lied to you, I have always told you some version of the truth.” But really Jeff “You can’t handle the truth!” “And you know that the truth will rock you, the… Read more »

liesbeth
liesbeth
11 years ago

I just received a book about Whitehead, written by a R.K. priest, professor in Theology, T.H. Hosinski. I think it is an answer to questions in this blog. Hosinski describes his book: ‘I try to make clear how Whitehead uses empirical methods to develop his metaphysical theory, how he examines these theories to our experiences and how he shows where these theories lead to’. I just took a quick look and one of the things he says is that ‘scientists often receive their answers in an intuitive flash’. What the priest writes about is that God’s acting is visible in… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
11 years ago

Hello to all I would like to argue that there is no such thing as “Pragmatic Truth”, or “scientific Truth”. This all an illusion. I would like to argue that Truth is fundamentally Intuitive in its nature, even in Sciences. There is such a thing as a Scientific Method, to which I give the highest degree of value. But what is a scientific truth? If we follow Einstein, scientific enquiry is made, step by step by a successive correction of errors. We construct a model, a theory, we test it, and we see whether it is “correct”. Meaning that it… Read more »

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

I think Jeff and Catherine may be using a somewhat different definition of “intuition” than I use. I ran across a useful statement the other day (“The Great Philosophers”, Bryan Mcgee 1987, pg 132) about John Locke (philosopher, not character on “Lost”): “He says that one of two things must be true about us human beings, yet both are impossible for us to grasp: either we must be material objects which think and have emotions, or there must be something immaterial in us which thinks and has emotions and is uniquely related to the material object which is our body.… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
11 years ago

Dear Chuck, thanks you to put the juice on this blog. I read our answer with greta pleasure. There is something which strikes me in it. The mystical experiences , the ones you talk about, there are not associated with logical interpretation. Just “dreams”. They are just pre-rational. If you were a scientist, it is a bit as if you had just done a body of test experiments, and then were tolerating “any” fantasy theory about them. Just the one that fits your mood, or the one that you like most. So on the way you lost completely all scientific… Read more »

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

Catherine: In the spiritual experience, logic is not involved during the experience. As you are completely absorbed-merged-at one into the “Field of Spiritual Consciousness” (creating yet one more new phrase, let’s call it FSC), logic is impossible. If you yourself are having mystical experiences, I would assume you would know that. Afterwards, logic is overwhelmed by the certainty that the experience was absolutely, unquestionably real. Logic may still exist for all other areas of your life, but it can’t be applied to the mystical exp. as long as you believe it is real. Your wrote: “…it is not correct to… Read more »

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

Jeff wrote: “You gave up on 35 years of mystical work because you found that on[e] other person had misinterpreted his mystical experiences and believed something that was false.” Correction: I *questioned* my interpretation of the experience. I did *not* suddenly conclude that because he was wrong, I was wrong, therefore everyone is wrong. Previously, the complete certainty that is part and parcel of the experience had short-circuited in-depth questioning. There was no “interpretation”. The experience *was* the experience. In order to “interpret” an experience, you have to have a subject-object relationship with the experience, you have to be able… Read more »

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

Jeff concluded in his 2nd-to-last reply: “Now what I’m interested in is what your mystical experiences and interpretations were.” See my immediately previous comment on my use of the word “interpretation.” The following is pasted in from something else I wrote elsewhere. It is a generic description of my experiences, which apply in greater or less detail to every other description I have ever read. As written, it’s a bit over a page long. START I suspect that there may be many people who have had a mystical experience yet don’t realize what it was. In case you’re not sure… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
11 years ago

Chuck, it is where we disagree ; I feel that logics is absolutely necessary to interpret our experiences, mystical or not. You might feel it is real, and it is perfectly OK. But why should this feeling of `it is real” prevent you to think logically afterwards ? If you look at yourself in a mirror and don’t think. you will feel that the image is real. It is what happens for cats and dogs, actually ,they are not able to understand that it is an image. You are acting with spiritual vision like a cat or dog with a… Read more »

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

Catherine: I can’t say that I know what you mean when you say “My point is that you are over interpreting your experiences even now, when they are not mystical”. Perhaps you can explain?. Perhaps cite an example of over-interpretation, either mine or someone else’s? You wrote: “You tell us now that you are “completely certain” that mystical experiences are nor reliable. Before you were “certain” that they wee the absolute Truth.” If I wrote that I was “completely certain” now that mystical experiences are not reliable, I don’t recall that and didn’t see it in my last couple of… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
11 years ago

Dear Chuck, first I want to say that I felt bad after writing the last blog I felt I was very arrogant and it was probably part of my French arrogance. So I want to apologize to you: just believe it was not disrespectful at all. I had only a small point, so let me try to clarify it another way. The only thing I mean is that I completely agree with you when you say that “ to be certain that something is true because one had the experience of it is not enough, independently how strong the experience… Read more »

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

Catherine: Your use of quotes confuses me. In your post immediately above, you wrote:” I completely agree with you when you say that “ to be certain that something is true because one had the experience of it is not enough, independently how strong the experience is”.” I cannot find that I wrote this. You also wrote: “Now you say, “this Truth based on a certainty acquired solely through vision, is unreliable”.” I can’t find that I wrote that either. If the phrase said “…through INNER vision…” I might agree with it. Obviously outer vision is faulty (my vision is… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
11 years ago

Hi Chuck here is the quote: “One of the discoveries I made along the way was that the sense of absolute certainty which is an integral part of the mystical experience *is NOT reliable.*” so let’s be fair, the meaning of what I was quoting from memory is almost the same. Since you also believe our outer experience is not reliable as well, then the meaning of my quote is correct, no ? Again you don’t answer the point I am making. It is a simple point: your inner [ or outer] experience is not reliable, just because you refuse… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
11 years ago

another quote “In order to “interpret” an experience, you have to have a subject-object relationship with the experience, you have to be able to “stand back” from it. In the mystical experience, all subject-object relationships vanish when complete identity with the “field of spiritual consciousness” occurs; “standing back” is not possible. To stand back is to prevent the experience from ever occurring.” Why do you want to “interpret” during the experience? Of course you have to interpret “afterwards”, that’s obvious. One indeed cannot interpret an experience, while we are experiencing it. For the mundane experiences its works the same as… Read more »

Frank Luke
11 years ago

Hi Chuck, re: “Afterwards, logic is overwhelmed by the certainty that the experience was absolutely, unquestionably real.” I believe and have experienced that my spiritual experiences and understanding of them have been altered on subsequent pondering. Your using (afterwards) is useful in that if the certainty of your experience stands the passing of time and thought, that is its validation if you are open and completely honest in attempting to attain truth. There may be those who will not be willing or able to question what was so compelling but when really examined with the openness to admit possible fallibility,… Read more »

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

Catherine: Thanks for supplying the correct quote (of me). I agree with your point 2 messages above: “Since you also believe our outer experience is not reliable as well…” Neither inner nor outer experience can be relied upon, but for very different reasons. 1. Inner – Intrinsic to the mystical experience is the absolute certainty that the experience is valid, i.e. that you have “merged with” or “realized” your unity with cosmos-god-cosmic consciousness-etc. This certainty is unreliable for pretty much (not exactly) the same reasons that during a dream (or hypnagogic experience) you don’t question the reality of the dream.… Read more »

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

Catherine: You wrote: “Why do you want to “interpret” during the experience? Of course you have to interpret “afterwards”, that’s obvious. One indeed cannot interpret an experience, while we are experiencing it.” I didn’t write that I *wanted* to interpret during the mystical experience. I wrote that interpretation just wasn’t possible. If you are familiar with the writings of mystics, “interpretation” – which is always after-the-fact – *always* says that the experience is exactly what it seems to be: an encounter with the Divine, the Ultimate Ground of Being, etc. *Having* the experience is the point; interpreting it as other… Read more »

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

Frank: You wrote: “Your using (afterwards) is useful in that if the certainty of your experience stands the passing of time and thought, that is its validation if you are open and completely honest in attempting to attain truth. There may be those who will not be willing or able to question what was so compelling but when really examined with the openness to admit possible fallibility, they may realize its partial or untruth. Or be more assured.” I think I agree with what you just wrote, if I understood it correctly. The difficulty is that the “absolute certainty” which… Read more »

Frank Luke
11 years ago

Hi Chuck, re: “Have any of you written a description of your experience(s) here? I haven’t read everything all of you have written, but if you have, I’ve missed it.” I’m responding to the invitation, Chuck. In my 40s, I became fascinated with the idea of becoming enlightened. I’d read about it and naively set out, simply as an intellectual exercise to become so, thinking “Oh, that sounds cool, I want to experience that!” There was a lot of ego involved I now see, thinking it was something granted to few and that I’d get to be at the head… Read more »

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

Frank: Your details differ from mine, but the paths are parallel. My first “awakening” (using your word, there are dozens of other words that would work as well) was in my late teens, now about 45 years ago. I studied many different forms of meditation at different times, including Zen at a monastery, Yoga, Vipassana (here’s a nice website for that: http://www.vipassanadhura.com/howto.htm ), Self-Realization Fellowship, and others. When I became a Christian about 16 years ago (as the result of yet another mystical experience, this time involving Jesus), I took up the practice of Centering Prayer (taught by Fr. Thomas… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
11 years ago

Hi Chuck, “I didn’t write that I *wanted* to interpret during the mystical experience. I wrote that interpretation just wasn’t possible. If you are familiar with the writings of mystics, “interpretation” – which is always after-the-fact – *always* says that the experience is exactly what it seems to be: an encounter with the Divine, the Ultimate Ground of Being, etc. *Having* the experience is the point; interpreting it as other than what I just wrote doesn’t occur in the literature. I don’t think I agree that “One indeed cannot interpret an experience, while we are experiencing it.” I often find… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
11 years ago

“ then went through my de-conversion, and came to the conclusion that mystical awakenings are a phenomena arising entirely within the brain, and the “experience” of cosmic oneness is an illusion, a misinterpretation of an unusual brain-state. Not an hallucination, per se, but a misinterpretation of a real phenomena.” Hi Chuck, what has triggered your de-conversion / you must have perceived something more to get “out of the illusion” ? I agree with your analogy of the snake. It was the meaning of my post above. When you perceive a rope/ or a snake, and you cannot know what it… Read more »

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

Catherine: Your post 2 posts above, you wrote: “Then I don’t really get what you wanted to say with all those posts [ it is really confusing…]. I agree that sometimes the best interpretation is not to interpret, just because one has to little elements for it.” The mystical experience is unlike any ordinary experience. You can’t generalize anything I say about the mystical experience to ordinary everyday experience. Interpretation during mystical experience is impossible, as it would – at the very least – prevent the mystical experience from occurring. Interpretation during ordinary everyday experience is quite possible, and people… Read more »

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

Catherine: You wrote: “Hi Chuck, what has triggered your de-conversion / you must have perceived something more to get “out of the illusion” ?” I went over this a few weeks ago. It was the process that started with my cousin telling me about the investigation he did on the man who thought he was being repeatedly abducted by UFO aliens but it turned out to be hypnagogic sleep experiences. The whole process took me perhaps 2 years of thinking about it, then beginning my study of Western philosophy to see if it could shed any light on the subject.… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
11 years ago

Chuck, I don’t really get the argument about the UFO. What is the key that triggered you to change your mind ? You said you examine logically the whole structure and you came to the conclusion that the experience itself was not real. But you don’t give us any logical argument for your change of mind. You just tell us that you spent two years of studying philosophy, and that you have “questioned my entire world-view right down to my basic premises”. But this is not obvious from the way you speak. I don’t see any logical argument there. Just… Read more »

Frank Luke
11 years ago

Hi, Chuck: another comment about Awakening events I’m glad you brought this up. Where as much of the commenting is philosophical, to talk about Awakening in a personal way puts a human face on what may otherwise sound very academic and dry. These Peak Experiences are exciting to share and should be, encouraging those who have yet to experience them that there are these eventful moments. Joke for Mom’s day: If evolution is really occurring, how come mother’s only have two hands? Happy Mom’s Day all Moms! Give a hug to her or a call and at least some thoughts,… Read more »

Frank Luke
11 years ago

Hi, Jeff, re: “I have acted strongly and decisively as if my spiritual experiences are real.” I’m with you totally here with that attitude. If I’m crazy and misguided, so be it. I choose to live thusly and hope I harm no one, myself included. If deluded, it’s a noble delusion, IMO. Isn’t that really key, that the general mindset of those who have Awakened should be the test of true spirituality, where there’s an adherence to Perennial Wisdom and the Golden Rule? Even for those whom society may judge whacko, if they hurt no one including themselves, they should… Read more »

Frank Luke
11 years ago

Afterthought re: your Awakening event How did the event change you, if you can share any thoughts? For me, I consider the event life-changing. I was left with a feeling of excitement, wonder and elation that I’d been so blessed, touched by ???, words fall short. Some things I’ll mention: A recharged energy level A sense of the holistic interconnection of All Myself, my Self, connected to All, emotionally knowing not only rhetorically An Understanding, how the Beatles say–“I knew what I could not say”. Phrases from teaching, poetry, books I’d read, songs all acquired “Aha!” flashes of getting them.… Read more »

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

Frank:

I’m uncertain to whom your last question was directed re: awakening event.

If it’s me, then I agree completely with everything you just wrote until the final paragraph, beginning “To this day…” For me, that state ended about 5 years ago. For the 35-40 years preceding that, we would have been in complete agreement.

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

Catherine: I’ve run out of ways to say the same thing. If you want me to be the one who has given up, rejected the Truth, is unable to question anything deeply and become lost, then so be it. Jeff: I agree completely with your most recent comments above. “…in the end we all have to take a bet on reality, we don’t get a guarantee we just decided to act on some things as if they were true.” None of our positions concerning spirituality, empiricism, matter, mind or however anyone wants to divide up or reference these matters can… Read more »

Catherine
Catherine
11 years ago

Hi Chuck, “ I’ve run out of ways to say the same thing. If you want me to be the one who has given up, rejected the Truth, is unable to question anything deeply and become lost, then so be it.” then it is probably me who is stupid, I still don’t see the deep argument why to go back to materialism after 35 years of spiritual pursuit. You just give your opinion, your “bet” without any justification. Just said over and over again that it was your witnessing of a friend who had the “Aliens” experience that triggered everything.… Read more »

Frank Luke
11 years ago

Hi Chuck, re: “If it’s me, then I agree completely with everything you just wrote until the final paragraph, beginning “To this day…” For me, that state ended about 5 years ago. For the 35-40 years preceding that, we would have been in complete agreement.”

That’s interesting and leads me to ask you to elaborate on what happened 5 years ago that alters what–your belief in becoming “awakened”? Pls elaborate, if you would.

Frank Luke
11 years ago

Hi Jeff, re: “it is quite possible that all of our efforts at philosophy are a retrospective attempt to justify the choices we have made as to how to live.” In other words, evolution is a way of tweaking what’s happened and philosophy attempts to sort out what’s happened to give some sense to it. Hopefully the rationales will make enough sense to become accepted common wisdom until something arises to upset that apple cart. Then thinkers come up with other explanations and the dynamic continues. Times and circumstances condition what we come to accept as truths until those truths… Read more »

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

Frank:

Re: Jeff’s “…retrospective attempts to justify choices…”

There are a number of cognitive scientists who hold that consciousness itself is retrospective, i.e. we consciously “make” our decision a bit later (fraction of a second) than the non-conscious part of our brain/mind makes it. I think this view was arrived at through the use of MRI studies.

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

Frank: You asked: “…what happened 5 years ago that alters what–your belief in becoming “awakened”? Pls elaborate, if you would.” I’ve actually written this a couple of times already in various comments spread over half-a-dozen or more of Jeff’s blogs, (which is why I got a bit snippy towards Catherine) but one last time, here goes. I will be very brief, so there will be doubtless large logical gaps through which someone will doubtless feel compelled to drive a philosophical truck. 1. Many mystical experiences over 35-40 years, plus study with teachers, study of mystical, occult & religious texts. Still… Read more »

Frank Luke
11 years ago

Hi Chuck: TY for your reponse which shows great deliberation about the matter of spirituality and materiality. You seem to be comfortable with your present assessment of what your reality is and I respect that. I also would submit that it’s not over till the final period is placed and hope you’re open to re-evaluation and questioning of the matter. As far as those metaphysical and hyper-real experiences go, I submit that whether “real” or not, their reality is proven by the duration they’re held (entertained) by the witness. Time, feedback, and further thought and feedback will also play parts… Read more »

Chuck R
Chuck R
11 years ago

Jeff: You wrote: “It is true that the sense of certainty around spiritual experiences may be chemically induced, but that doesn’t make the experiences unreal necessarily.” I think you and I both agree that none of our fundamental premises can be absolutely proven or falsified, via deductive logic. That’s (as far as I know) inherent in the nature of fundamental premises. So I choose to work on the basis of probabilities. The only evidence I found for mystical realities was my own internal experience with its accompanying conviction of validity, which was repeatedly echoed by the reported mystical experiences from… Read more »

Frank Luke
11 years ago

Hey Chuck!

TY for your response and I’m gratified that our difference takes on the issue is as gentle as it is. In matters of truth, belief and generally insisting on being right goddammit!) many can get so twisted out of shape so I’m glad you are comfortable with your position as I am with mine. As I maintained, it’s well to keep your and my options open and be willing to change if or when the circumstances show it necessary.

Aloha,

Frank Luke
10 years ago

I wonder if I may offer that truth is like a big poll that’s conducted on humanity, in varying scopes, seriousnesses and sizes. Truth comes to be a consensus on what’s accepted as “factual” and regarded by most, esp. those informed and qualified to substantiate with their studies and informed opinions. But in the end truth is opinion based on the findings of these “experts” and “authorities”. But then what do we make of a large number who disbelieve evolution or that Obama’s not an American? And other patently absurd but popular beliefs? For these people, they lay claim to… Read more »

Frank Luke
10 years ago

Afterthought: I maintain that we humans are very intent on finding Truth, that is beliefs that are graved in stone forever. Discounting mere opinions, I include all beliefs, theories and whatever has been put forth as truths, religious and scientific truths included. The truths accepted as credible are accepted by those educated and qualified to judge and those beliefs may enjoy a long acceptance until otherwise discounted by more evidence that supplants the old truth for a newer more credible one. That raging disputes are brought on in discounting old ways of seeing and believing is part of the dynamic.… Read more »

Martin J Sallberg
8 years ago

The big problem with the “scientific community” is that its academic machiavellism is incompatible with the scientific method. Please check out Pure science Wiki. That is an Internet platform for the real scientific method.