The Inner Path (Was: SOCIO: Friends)
Sat, 8 Mar 1997 08:44:21 -0500 (EST)

Gregory Houston writes a long piece on developing his "natural" mental
abilities in a scientific fashion, as an alternative to exploring the
"objective" world. This is interesting to me as someone who spent many of
his younger years studying Asian ideas, cultures and history. He writes:

> Whos to
> say that if we had not spent the last 500 years focusing on internal
> augmentation rather than or in combination with external augmentation
> that we would not have discovered by now how to do for ourselves what we
> now require external objects for?"


> Stripped of religious idealogy, I believe a subjective science could be
> created that would eventually surpass or at the least, seriously
> augment, objective science in its usefulness, but we are lazy.

As a matter of historical fact, I think the answer to the first question lies
in the predicate to the second statement, as illumnated by Joseph Needham's
magnum opus "Science and Civilization in China". Years ago, Needham asked
himself the question, "Why didn't China, with its highly developed
civilization, never have an industrial revolution?" He died still writing
one volume after another of answers to this question.

In his piece, Gregory basically descibes the goals, disciplines and
techniques of "yoga", classical Taoism and Hinayana Buddhism in its various
forms, including Zen. Anyone who makes even a superficial -- but open minded
-- study of these subjects can't help but be impressed by the deep insights
into the nature of consciousness and powerful tools for effective living
developed by their purest devotees.

The problem, and the reason why these philosophies and disciplines were
ultimately dead ends up until now, was the very lack of objectively correct
connection with the external world possessed in the great minds who developed
them. Crippled by only the most primitive understanding of "objective
reality", most of these yogis and masters were unable to avoid a slide from
insight into and development of their own "software" and "operating systems"
into completely misguided beliefs and assertions about "objective reality"
and metaphysics. The very best of them -- who surely rank with Einstein and
Newton as amongst the greatest minds produced by the "natural" human race --
realized their ignorance about objective reality and tried to avoid such
explorations and assertions. But, in doing so, they were cut off from some
of the most important truths and tools their other accomplishments could have
built on. If only Gautama had known a little basic physics or biology! If
only Lao T'zu had had a basic chemistry lab at his disposal. We'd probably
all be speaking Hindi or Mandarin now.

But they didn't and we don't and there's a reason. The reason is that their
civilizations did not have within them the seeds to generate the scientific
method, those seeds being a foundation of individual liberty and the
associated social structures of a free market that ruthlessly disciplines
refusal to understand and come to terms with "objective reality". It is with
deep sympathy that one perceives the mental and social contortions the great
Asian thinkers went through to deal with this cultural handicap. The Buddha
raised conceptual walls against metaphysical speculation that most of his
followers ignored. Lao T'zu founded a tradition of eccentric hermeticism to
avoid the stifling social bonds and restrictions of Confucianism. But in
doing these things, the great Asian thinkers crippled the power of their own

Only in the West, with its cultural roots in the Agora of Athens and the
Roman virtues of civitas, could the power of human technological engagement
with "objective reality" be unleashed. Only in the European bourgoise
societies of the Renaissance could that power be limitlessly amplified
through the feedback mechanism of the scientific method. Has the West, with
its ignorance of "the inner path", been somehow fundamentally poorer because
of its focus on the "outer" world? In a sense, yes. But, as the "goals,
disciplines and techniques" of extropianism highlight, it may also have been
the only way to give birth to possibilities that are literally infinitely

Is it time to look back to the "wisdom of the East" and look inward to
untapped riches within? As visionaries like Huxley and Leary foresaw, I
think the answer is a resounding yes. However, we must seek a new synthesis
that vigilantly guards against the unfortunate -- but as I point out above,
inevitable -- errors of the traditional wisdom of the East.

Greg Burch ----<>----<> -or-
=-= EXpedition97, an extropian backpacking trip, July 3-7, 1997: =-=
-------------< >-------------------
"How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world that has such people in't"
-- W. Shakespeare, _The Tempest_