By May 9, 2013 Read More →

The Problem of Reductionist Thinking

Salam alaykum everyone,

This is my attempt to recap a particular but important point from our discussion in halaqa earlier regarding the Ascension. Below is what we covered today from the Thirty-First Word, page 597-8, and below it is my recap for those who wanted it:

And again it comes to mind that you would say: “Yes, so it could happaen, it is possible. But everything possible does not occur, does it? Is there anything else similar to this so that it can be accepted? How can the occurrence of something to which there are no similar cases be posited through only probability?”

To which we would reply: There are so many similar cases to it that they cannot be enumerated. For example, anyone who possesses sight can ascend with his eyes from the ground to the planet Neptune in a second. Anyone who has knowledge can mount the laws of astronomy with his intellect and travel beyond the stars in a minute. Anyone who has belief can, by mounting his thought on the action and pillars of the obligatory prayers, through a sort of Ascension, leave the universe behind and go as far as the Divine presence.

We need to be careful with how we understand “what is real” or “what is existence”. The notion whether something imagined is real or not came up several times. Reducing our understanding of a thing/event/emotion/whatever our senses experience as being real based ONLY on its physical atomic structure is a mistake. This type of understanding is reductionist thinking and it is an illusion, a very powerful illusion at that. It reduces the reality in creation to only its physical, material form and in doing so negates all other aspects of reality (e.g. the meaning of that thing). Yes, physical atomic structure exists, it is real and yes, this reality is important…we should thus not neglect or negate it. But…we must stay aware that the physical atomic structural layer, the material particles, this is only one of many aspects or layers within the reality of creation…it is not the only one. We grow up unknowingly indoctrinated with this illusion: it’s real only if/when we can see it, feel it, measure it, experience it through our physical senses. This is not the truth of reality. This is the misguidance of science and philosophy, and this is what we are taught growing up.

1. In the discussion, Br. Ali mounted his sight to look at his feet and we mounted our imagination to ‘see’ his feet. The feet we saw are different than the feet he saw.
2. A group of us imagine the planet Neptune, the image we each have is different from everyone else’s image.

Question 1: Does what Br Ali saw in his feet via his sight being different from we saw via our imagination of Br Ali’s feet mean his feet we saw are not real?
Question 2: Does the difference in each of our images mean it’s not really Neptune or not the real Neptune?

The answer to both questions is: Yes…but ONLY IF we reduce Br Ali’s feet or the planet Neptune to their physical atomic structures…but reducing their reality this way is the mistake. Because in reality, the answer to both questions is: No! All the feet and all the Neptunes each of us saw are equally real, despite any differences.

1. The relativity of a thing does not negate the reality of its existence.
2. What we experience is real, it exists.
3. Reality is not limited to the physical material aspect of creation.

Imagination is real. Emotions are real. Dreams are real. Beauty is real. They’re all equally REAL. How do we know? Because we experience them. They exist.

In the Neptune example: It doesn’t matter if the atomic structure of your, his, their or my imagined image of Neptune is different than the actual physical atomic structure of Neptune. Whatever image we have of Neptune is still equally as real as the physical planet of Neptune. If you imagine Neptune as a small yellow planet, or as Venus, or as a large green square and I imagine it as a purple planet with mountains…EACH is equally real….your image of Neptune is Neptune for you and my image is Neptune for me. Imagination is relative, but its existence is real. The image of Neptune we each have is the conscious image we are given according to our capacity and imagination (which are also given). So, which Neptune is real, yours or my image, or the physical Neptune? ALL of them are real, equally real!

The point is, Neptune’s reality involves much more than just its physical atomic structure, it involves meaning (which involves the angels), it involves our conscious capacity for that meaning and for our imagination of it to begin with, and it involves multiple layers of both our capacity and imagination. In other words, what makes Neptune real is not simply its physical, material atomic structure. To define or understand it as real solely by its material-ism is an illusion. Science and philosophy are not the authorities on reality…rather, our consciousness, our experience, and the meaning we perceive in anything in creation…THIS is what authorizes our reality, as far as we’re concerned.

Seeing beyond this illusion and lifting this veil or illusion of ‘only the material, physical is real’ to see the true nature of reality in creation is itself a form of ascension which brings us closer to understanding our Creator.

This discussion was challenging to us as it was an unfamiliar, foreign (i.e. never before experienced) concept to contemplate, realize, see, experience something as equally real beyond its physical atomic structure. This discussion/challenge also gives us an appreciation for the creation of veils and illusions. Peeling away this one veil, just one of many, seeing beyond it and grasping the truth of reality was a challenge. The creation of veils and illusions are a great mercy and blessing to us. Think of how we struggled with beginning to lift just this one veil…now imagine how profoundly overwhelmed we would be if all the veils covering the truth of reality were suddenly lifted. Such an ultimate, acute, abrupt enlightenment would destroy our minds and burn our humanity, we could not humanly handle it. It is HE, in His wisdom, who lifts the veils covering our eyes/hearts/minds, He knows for whom to lift them, when, how many and how much. It is HE who orchestrates and supervises all things. Alhamdulillah.

Please feel free to add to this, reword any of it better or differently, or let me know if I missed anything important. Thanks for everyone’s insights, questions, confusion and comments during discussion, through all of you Allah helped me to understand this concept more.

Dr. Julie

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