29
August
2012

Six Blind Men and an Elephant

This entry is Part 1 of the Mind series. It describes how there remains somewhat of an ideological divide when it comes to our understanding of the universe, known as the Cartesian Split.

There are two ways of understanding something: by its parts, or as a whole.

The empirical mindset believes that the universe is fundamentally composed of matter, and that like a machine, it can be understood by examining its individual pieces. Western science suggests that consciousness is a purely physical phenomenon that arises within the brain.

The Eastern mindset believes that the universe is fundamentally alive, and that consciousness cannot be explained through physical phenomena alone. This mindset suggests that all life is connected by a form of energy, and that consciousness is by no means contained within the brain. Unlike empiricism, the Eastern mindset makes no attempt to reduce the mind to any specific structure, but rather assumes that the fabric of reality itself is conscious.

If you already caught yourself choosing sides, keep reading. Divisions exist not only between, but also within these two groups — and neither can offer a complete explanation. Perhaps by combining aspects of each, we can begin to stitch together a “theory of everything”.

“All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.” — Albert Einstein

Different Interpretations of the Same Truth

There is an ancient Indian proverb that describes six blind men gathered around an elephant. Based on their limited senses, they each form a completely different understanding of the animal. The blind man standing at the elephant’s leg describes a stone pillar; the man at its tail describes a rope; the man at its tusk describes a pipe; the man at its trunk describes a snake; and so on. Clearly the men are not gathered around something that is a pillar, a rope, a pipe, and a snake at the same time, so they argue and dispute each other’s claims, without ever actually discovering the true nature of the elephant.

Yeah, they weren’t scientists. Their observations were all correct — but their premature conclusions weren’t. By failing to consider the limitations of their individual perspectives, they wrote off the possibility of discovering a mutual truth. The moral here is that contradictory observations can sometimes describe a single outcome.

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” — Albert Einstein

Today, it seems like every scientific theory, religion, or ideology offers an entirely different explanation of the universe. Rarely are these independent views seen as being complimentary to one another, but we need to get over the mindset that only one of two conflicting observations can be valid, and instead embrace the notion that the most accurate truths come from a wide range of perspectives. I firmly believe that science, given enough flexibility, can describe the universe in its entirety.

“Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality.” — Carl Sagan

About this Series

In the following discussion, I’ll share my ideas on a few topics I’ve been following, and perhaps inspire others to build upon them. I often use footnotes to expand on ideas and cite references, which you can mouse-over to expand: [1]

This series is best read in order. Let’s begin with The Physics of Consciousness »

Table of Contents

  1. Six Blind Men and an Elephant – “All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree.”
  2. The Physics of Consciousness – Consciousness explained in terms of electromagnetism and information.
  3. The Holographic Universe – The behavior of photons may indicate that we live in a holographic universe.
  4. Simulation Theory – How to emulate consciousness on a computer by allowing it to evolve from scratch.
  5. Artificial Intelligence – How to create self-aware, free-willing artificial intelligence.
  6. Awareness and Free Will – How free will can arise from binary decision-making (i.e. pure logic).
  7. Universal Duality – The interaction between structure and randomness is fundamental to the universe.
Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. It’s a citation!


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