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Thursday, November 30, 2006

too far into the academic middle?

Thanks to this amazing internet, I found a book based on a (U of Copenhagan) Ph.D thesis that couldn't be more perfect for what I've been trying to understand about TM:
"Belief Transformations:
Some Aspects of the Relation between Science and Religion in
Transcendental Meditation (TM) and
the International Society for Krishna Consciousness"
by Mikael Rothstein, 1996.

For some reason, the proverb about being careful of what you wish for because you just might get it has been coming to mind.

Now I can think about TM's view of science in terms of an extended view of Eliade's concept of "hierophany", that is, a concrete occurence of the sacred in the world.

What will be the effect of this whole slew of new connections, of history, this treasure trove of scholarship, on me, on my relationship with my mom, my view of science, religion, etc.? We shall see. I think it will be very good, but right now I just feel very tired.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

middle ground?

Quote from Heaven on Earth by Michael D'Antonio p. 286 (note that MIU is Maharishi International University, the previous name of MUM):

But the deception I uncovered at MIU was more disturbing, on a personal level, because the people I met there
were somewhat like me. They were educated, seemingly open-minded, and idealistic adults. They were well aware of the challenges that science and reason posed for religion, but they still ached for spiritual comfort. So they had sought a middle ground, a spiritual practice supported by empirical fact. Such a middle ground would appeal to me. I, too, have been disillusioned by the conflict of reason and religion, and I also feel the hunger for spiritual comfort and community. I would have welcomed the discovery of a middle way, a path to spirituality that was consistent with reason.

But TM, as it is practiced at MIU, isn't a middle ground. It is like the worst of religion: unreasonable, repressive, authoritarian. And knowing this, I had to acknowledge that these people, my peers, were vulnerable and fragile human beings. They were as vulnerable as any of the born-again Christians who were duped by TV evangelists in the 1980s. They were just as fragile as the frightened, impoverished believers who sent millions of dollars to the Depression-era radio priest Father Coughlin, who preyed on the fear and disillusionment of his time.
... Whatever the reason, like the others, Orsatti has followed his leader into a retreat from reality. With the Maharishi, they have turned Transcendental Meditation, the tap root of the New Age, into a grandiose, narcissistic dream, a form of intellectual bondage, which they call enlightenment.

This is so far some of the most neutral writing I've found on TM. I guess there was a book about the sociology of new religious movements, that I unfortunately lost.
My hope for TM is that it will become less isolated. To do this, it would have to be less guru-centric, because one person is just not enough. I wonder what will happen after the Maharishi is gone? Will he become like Joseph Smith for the Mormons? I imagine that he can't maintain his hold on the day to day life any more, but it will be interesting to watch.

Friday, November 24, 2006

digging a tunnel to Wonderland

Thanksgiving at the Maharishi University of Management.
I spend mornings at the 2nd Street Coffee House. I talk with this guy who's wife is taking one of the courses here. Meditation many hours a day. He is not so into it, but they are thinking of moving here. He says that its cheap enough here that he could retire. He thinks of it like a 3rd world country. He voices his complaints with "the movement".
"If you're not a part of it, there's really not much to do here," he says.
"So, if you move here, you'd be comfortable with that?" I ask him.
"Its no problem," he assures me. "I'm fine just spending the days watching football."
"We'll take several months a year and drive down to Mexico."

I give him my email and he emails me the next day saying he has more questions about TM. I call him and meet him at the coffee shop again and we continue discussing.

I ask my mom later if she knows any couples where one is into TM and the other isn't. "No, but I'm sure there must be," she says.

Trying to find opposing points of view on TM, one comes across sites such as this site which describes TM as falling down a rabbit hole, a metaphor they encourage. How does one find common ground with Wonderland? It requires double vision and patience. I'm interested in physics, as are they. But that is a dead end. They site the Vedas as the source of their knowledge. If I tunnel in from literary criticism and philosophy of religion, can I end up anywhere near them? Its certainly not designed to be easy. Maharishi (Mahesh Varma) closes off all easy exits. His goal is that all attempts to leave end either by returning, or ending up in a swamp of difficult scholarship.

I talk to a son of a friend of my mom's who is a "Parusha", basically a TM monk. He is articulate and tries to tell me what's so great about TM. I finally feel like I've gotten somewhere. I know the tricks. There are certain words that one cannot be seduced by. "Subtle" and "enliven" are two such words. When one hears these words, one knows that the person talking is not thinking, and by asking them to use a more neutral language, they are required to find their own approach. Its a fun conversation. He ends by telling me of his own doubts about the "scientific" end of the enterprise. I tell him I respect the lifestyle and even partially respect the attempt to use scientific language to describe one's subjective experience.

But today I'm feeling beaten again. Its too big. There is no common ground.
It would be intersting to read up on the freedom of religion legal and moral arguments.
"I wish I could believe it," I tell my mom. "It just doesn't work for me."
"Its a free country," she says.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

great expectations (new version)

watching this movie. wow is it absurd. but enjoying it anyway.

when i was in high school i was pip in an equally absurd 3 minute video.
i frothed at the mouth with toothpaste. "orlock!!!"

watching a movie like this makes me feel like I don't understand anything.

Friday, November 17, 2006

if gravity took a break

I would slowly rise off of my couch and drift into my loft.
Then, if the substance of glass took a break, I would rise through the sky-lights and slowly
make my way to the trees. Yes, slowly. There is no hurry.
If I had some pruners in my back pocket, I would then cut off a small piece of a branch and bring it back as a souvenir.

Friday, November 10, 2006

confusing the model with the whole

I seem to keep having to fight a similar demon. Becoming too theoretical. Thinking that some piece of the world, some pciture of the world encompasses everything. I felt this way about images when I was writing image compression software. Somehow having a mathematical model of something makes me devalue that thing. Every possible visual experience I could have became a set of bits in a digital image. Somehow Susan Sontag's "On Photography" helped me out of that one.

Lately its been information and the internet. The fact that all information can be transmitted through the internet makes me devalue reality in a new way.

But doesn't physics in general do this? Provide a model for reality that all existence, experience is supposed to fit into?

I wrote something about this before in the context of virtual reality.

Could this be a psychological problem hiding out as a philosophical problem?
Let me try to address it anyway. Start with the image and the visual world. What is the model of the image? It is a set of pixels. What is depressing about this? First there is finiteness. There are only a finite number of images that one can distinguish from another. But it is a very large number. There that wasn't so hard.
Now... the internet can transmit information. Does this devalue the real world? A similar finiteness issue seems to arise. But the number of possible information streams is very large. There, that wasn't so hard! Now I can sleep much easier!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

social construction/conciliation/clarification

On an impulse purchase at Border's this weekend, I bought Ian Hacking's "The Social Construction of What?" and spent much of the weekend reading this book. The last thing I'd read by Hacking was an article about how certain types of illness such as multiple personality disorder have been socially constructed in the sense that the existense of a new "disease" where no such diagnosis existed before has a real affect on those who now suffer from this disease. He is pointing out how even though something real about the disease predated the new diagnosis, the diganosis itself in certain ways serves to create the disease.

In this book, Hacking seeks clarity on the entire subject of social construction. I was particularly interested in the physics chapters, though I am looking forward to reading the chapters on mental illness as well. A book that brings mental illness and physics together into the same investigation!

The following passage was particularly interesting to me:

...Thus my strategy here is the exact opposite of Sergio Sismondo. He is a peace-maker. One "reason for the lack of realist/constructivist debate lies in the fact that each side usually views the other position as obviously untenable" (Sismondo 1996, 10). By lopping off extremism on the edges of both doctrines, he hopes to find common ground. In constrast, my sticking points emphasize philosophical barriers, real issues on which clear and honorable thinkers may eternally disagree. (p 68)

I have often thought of myself as a peace-maker, but find this role exhausting in the face of so many extreme differences out there. Here, Hacking offers me a new suggestion for an approach to strong diasagreement. In a way, one can be more modest in one's goals. Instead of seeking reconciliation and hoping that eventually everyone will come to a common understanding, one can at least seek a mutual respect for each other's opinions relating them to age old controversies.

My first impulse on hearing this is a gut sadness that people with opposing views will forever remain embattled. But then I remember that there is more to a person than their views on a few philosophical positions. This perspective allows people to more clearly say "fine, we disagree on x, y, and z" and once that is articulated, maybe the areas of agreement and mutual humanity can be more clearly articulated and appreciated as well.