Thursday, November 20, 2008

Very natural, even inevitable, for it to take on all the characteristics of a religion

Re: Comments on "Reflections on Sri Aurobindo's THE IDEAL OF HUMAN UNITY" (cont.)
Rod on Sun 29 Oct 2006 01:54 AM PST Profile Permanent Link Here's an argument that Fukuyama aparently gets right, in spite of his political conservatism:

“That the behavior of complex wholes cannot be understood as the aggregated behavior of their parts has been understood in the natural sciences for some time now, and has led to the development of the field of so-called nonlinear or “complex-adaptive” systems, which try to model the emergence of complexity. This approach is, in a way, the opposite of reductionism: it shows that while wholes can be traced back to their simpler antecedent parts, there is no simple predictive model that allows us to move from the parts to the emergent behaviors of the wholes. Being nonlinear, they may be extremely sensitive to small differences in starting conditions and thus may appear chaotic even when their behavior is completely deterministic. (p.163)

“The area in which the inability of a reductionist materialist science to explain observable phenomena is most glaringly evident is the question of human consciousness. (p.166)

Thus one does not have to agree with the pope that god directly inserted a human soul in the course of evolutionary history to acknowledge with him that there was a very important qualitative, if not ontological, leap that occurred at some point in the process. It is this leap from parts to whole that ultimately has to constitute the basis for human dignity; a concept one can believe in if one does not begin from the pope’s religious premises. (p.170)

“No one has ever seen consciousness emerge under experimental conditions, or even posited a theory as to how this might come about. It would be surprising if the process of “emergence” didn’t play an important part in explaining how humans came to be human, but whether that is all there is to the story is something we do not at present know.” (p. 171)

And yet, the next bifurcation, if it is not to be based on biotechnology, or on natural/environmental/human disaster will need to be willed, by a Will with consideraby more force than either scientific or ethical mind has been shown to be capable. This is a kind of reasoning, supported by revelation and text, ie. spiritual authority.

As such it requires faith and practice on the part of those who choose to be heroic. Whether such a teaching was meant to become the basis of a new religion, or not, or whether such religion is desirable or not, does not disqualify it as a religious teaching. Sri Aurobindo said his purpose in writing the Arya was to lay down the metaphysical and religious basis for a new movement in humanity to exceed itself. That basis (foundation) is a categorical belief in the immanence of the supermind in evolution and the innate ability of humans to know it because of the presence in them of the soul. The philosophical pertinence of this idea today when everyone is questioning the origin of consciousness happens to make this teaching current and relevant.

But, What's wrong with admitting both that this teaching requires existential experience to be meaningful and also that it is very natural, even inevitable, for it to take on all the characteristics of a religion, which in fact it has already done? Why should we take this inevitability as a harmful stigma? Do we think postmodernism should have the last word?

by Debashish on Sun 29 Oct 2006 08:29 PM PST Profile Permanent Link

It is true that Sri Aurobindo has used the term "religion" in certain texts to describe his endeavor as in the example from the Arya or in the very chapter heading "The Religion of Humanity" where he is appropriating/revising the "foundations" of the Enlightenment ideal of Humanism. At the same time, it is also true that he (and more so the Mother) have been explicit about the undesirability of turning their teaching "into a religion." This points ot an "aporia" in the cultural psychology of the term "religion", a Janus-faced knot, which some of the instruments in the archive of "postmodernism" or "postcolonialism" can help to articulate (as you have pointed out yourself in your following comment).

The fact that "both this teaching requires existential experience to be meaningful and also that it is very natural, even inevitable, for it to take on all the characteristics of a religion" is not a stigma on the teaching but on its illegitmate social and psychological uses which also critical enquiry can help to illumine.

You ask - "Do we think postmodernism should have the last word?" But "postmodernism", just like "religion", "foundationalism" or "science" for that matter, is not a person, a substantialized subject, nor is it fixed in time. Like the other terms it is a discursive field (occupied by author-functions) under ceaseless revision. Cross-cultural hermeneutics is one of the methods of this revisioning. In fact, "postcolonialism" has drawn itself in opposition to "postmodernism" in certain respects, which itself is a sign of a growth into a larger formation. Discussions like the present one, however insignificant its participation, add their drop to this discursive revisioning of "religion", "foundation" or "postmodern." DB

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