|Relationships and Ideas
Creation or Evolution
Gradualism or Catastrophism
Science or Mysticism
Go to:Supplementary "Lectures"
See also:Why "University"?
When we trace the course of any quarrel to its roots, they are always to be found in a conflict of ideas. Human intelligence and capacity to reason about ideas can be either a blessing or a curse depending on how we use them.
Even so, we find it easier to form "true" or "objective" ideas about our relationships with "inanimate" objects which seem to be incapable of having intentions towards us than about animals which we can perceive as being "friendly" or "threatening" — subjective attitudes which "colour" our ideas and influence the reconstruction of our observations. We tend to form ideas about things, and then perceive what we expect to perceive on the basis of our pre-conceived ideas. When our minds are "made up", we become reluctant to change them, even in the face of evidence that suggests we may be wrong about something.
This tendency to subjective distortion of perception reaches its peak in our relationships with other human beings or with groups ranging from neighbours to governments. Our ideas about other people are filtered through prejudices such as like and dislike, love and hate, hope and fear, admiration and contempt, friend and foe. As our own patterns of behaviour are subject to variation from one moment to the next, so we must assume that other people are subject to similar inconsistencies. Furthermore, our "raw data" about other persons often relies in part upon a more or less imperfect exchange of ideas with each other, either directly or through third parties. So we tend to form "beliefs" or "opinions" about each other based as much on our own prejudices as on observation or any "true" assessment of the character of the other person, and usually ignoring the fact that a person's character may change over time.
As the ultimate purpose of this CD is to encourage you to change your own character for the better, this purpose will be frustrated unless readers recognise that the same possibility is open to everybody.
We live in a world of relativity. Our consciousness depends on discerning differences. Hence we have an innate mental tendency towards duality and polarisation. And yet we cannot help feeling that despite the myriad contrasts which give rise to the infinite variety we enjoy in this wonderful world, there must be an underlying unity which holds the Universe together and somehow reconciles all apparent conflicts. So in the Ardue University, we shall be studying ourselves and our relationships with the Universe in the hope of identifying an essential unity about which we can agree and which will make us disinclined to quarrel with each other.
If I am painting the floor of a room, I must plan to work in such a way as to finish at a door through which I can escape to the greater world outside: otherwise I shall paint myself into a corner. Our tendency to favour one line of thought or argument all too often blinds us to the validity of alternatives. Let us briefly consider three examples.
In his later book, "Descent of Man", Darwin went on to propose that man was not an original creation, but was evolved by "natural selection" from an "older" species such as the apes. Ever since Darwin, geologists and archaeologists have been engaged in fruitlessly searching the fossil records for "missing links".
In neither book did Darwin have anything to say about how any species actually originated. His fine theory, which offerered an explanation for some phenomena, did not dispense with the need to propose some hypothesis to account for the actual existence of any species at all: yet his intellectual followers somehow seem to assume that it did.
And so we have an ongoing pointless argument between "Evolutionists" and "Creationists" who do not seem to realise that both creation and evolution are required to account for the full facts, and have painted themselves into opposite corners from which they cannot escape because their minds are closed.
This viewpoint was challenged by geologist Sir Charles Lyell (1797-1875), who pointed out that the Earth's surface is undergoing constant change, and concluded that the current condition of the Earth resulted from the gradual but continuous operation of natural forces over the millions of years which he recognised had elapsed since the creation of the world.
Even so, no one doubts the occurrence of relatively minor catastrophes such as earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, and there is plenty of scientific evidence of more significant catastrophic occurrences such as reversals of the magnetic polarity of the Earth and of collisions with comets or asteroids — such as was observed in 1994, when the Comet Shoemaker-Levy-9 collided with Jupiter.
Thus we see that acceptance of a gradualist theory does not negate the possibility of its being punctuated by catastrophe.
The main difference between them is that the scientist studies the properties of the exterior material world, and his results can be tested by other scientists as a check on his objectivity; whereas the mystic searches within his own mind (including the subconscious mind) for direct revelation of truth, and the publication of his results can therefore never be other than "anecdotal".
However, there is nothing to prevent the mystic from adopting the "scientific method" by putting his insights into practice in his own life and thus checking their validity by personal experience. When "mystical" conclusions are presented as hypotheses which the scientific community can test by experiment just like any other hypothesis, the benefits of mysticism become available to the population at large. There is some reason to suppose that many of the most significant scientific discoveries and inventions have resulted from the mystical "touch", and that many, if not all, of the most famous scientists and inventors have also been mystics.
It should be noted that mysticism is not confined to people who are thought to be "religious". It just happens that those who practise mysticism tend to discover, in or through their minds, a unitary principle which operates throughout the Universe, in the spaces between physical bodies as well as inside them, and which corresponds to what is commonly called "God".
Paradoxically, this unfortunate development is most likely to occur in "advanced" societies, in which larger numbers of individuals have the leisure to mull over ideas and to make converts. Thus rival, even mutually hostile, groups spring up over matters ranging in significance from football supporters' clubs to political parties and religious sects.
Such introspection can be a painful process: but if regularly practised, it will promote the development of virtues such as modesty, tolerance, and strength of character, all of which are conducive to mutual respect and powerful antidotes to bullying.