Re: Pascal's Wager

Anders Sandberg (
09 Dec 1998 23:52:41 +0100

"Zenarchy" <> writes:

> Anders wrote,
> >The problem with the contemplatice approaches is that they are, well,
> >contemplative. This is why they need science, to rein in speculations
> >and mystical insights so they relate to the real world (whatever that
> >place is) and not just remains flights of fancy.
> If "the contemplative approach" does not directly engage "the real world
> (whatever that place is)"
> then "the contemplative approach" does not meet zen's standard of
> reality readiness.

Yes. But Zen may not be representative of the approach, it strikes me as being unusually free from metaphysical assumptions and ornate religion (which it historically was specifically formed to avoid).

> I recommend a convergence involving the empiricism of science with the
> appreciation of dhyana (a sanskrit word which sadly has no equivalent
> among the Romance languages).
> I don't know if I can explain the importance of dhyana in this way:
> As scientists study the form and function of, say flowers, they need not
> forget the flowers' fragrance?
> Empiricism pervades the flowers' fragrance as much as it explores the
> form and function of flowers.

Exactly. Few scientists are as dispassionate and "objective" as they are made out to be in the popular media - there is passion and beauty in studying and understanding reality (I just spent a pleasant evening with a colleauge who was explaining the amazing fact that the monster sporadic group turns out to be the symmetry group of a 26-dimensional vertex algebra - a beautiful sign that the world is indeed well ordered). And understanding what makes the sunset red, the skye blue and chocolade enjoyable doesn't decrease their pleasure, quite the opposite.

But how can this be integrated with science? Can we use science to find new aspects of dhyana (math certainly seem to enable it)?

> Circular and trite though it seems, science needs to objectively study
> subjectivity (the central theme of dhyana) because as we've already
> shown, scientists experience subjective qualities (regardless of how we
> try to ignore it).

The problem with subjective qualities is of course that they are subjective and qualities. But that merely makes it harder to study them, we have managed to study many other things that were previously thought impossible to deal with or even understand - the composition of distant stars, the origin of the universe, the processes of life.

> So, while the contemplative scientist (in this example) studies the
> parts of flowers -- the petals, pistils, stigmas, styles, ovaries,
> stamens, anthers, filaments, ovules, sepals, receptacles and all -- she
> can also remember the contemplative scientist who studies the parts of
> flowers. When the interval between studying and remembering shrinks to
> zero, the scientist experiences a glimpse of dhyana. The importance of
> that experience relates to comprehending the significance of life (the
> mother of all Big Pictures).

Something I find lacking in many current scientific papers is just this aspect. Sure, the goal of a scientific paper is to present facts, hypotheses or tests of them. But this doesn't have to contradict the appreciation of dhyana - the paper should be objective, but hopefully also express what the investigator feels is the big picture and beauty of the subject. This is an art of writing that has unfortunately declined (partially due to a warranted reaction to earlier results biased by personal preference).

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y