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The Philosopher in His Study – Rembrandt

“… science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspirations toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed as an image: Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” (Albert Einstein, 1941)[i]

THE PROBLEM with discourse about SPIRITUALITY:

  • “Spirituality” has a multiplicity of authoritative definitions. (exemplified in Wikipedia)
  • Spirituality is discourse about the ineffable.  We are, at an important level, impaired by the notorious inadequacy of words at least in so far as they represent our interior experience, thoughts, ideas.    Ludwig Wittegnstein  stated Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” (in his closing paragraph of Tractatus Logico-Philophicus) , but while words are flawed, they are not useless: they can approximate the underlying feelings  and, of course, there are other ways to communicate!   We may never realize an ultimate, immutable TRUTH (if indeed such things exist) but we can be guided by what we think they might be and move towards them by successive approximations as we learn more and reflect upon our learning as new knowledge mingles with old, with who we are and have become by disposition and experience. 

Still we can use language to take us at least partway to mutual understanding and socially enabled insight:  A working definition to invite or enable the ethological perspective allows for its natural history: the biologically-informed causes and consequences of spirituality.


SPIRITUALITY is a state of consciousness that reflects engagement the deep and often urgent NEED to understand, a “need to know.” [see “we are infovores”] The state of consciousness can be characterized in biological as well as phenomenological terms.  The need reflects a biologically relevant need: it is to understand cause and effect relationships, a need expressed in all organisms (and living cells?) that change their behavior as a result of experience (learn, accommodate to their environments). Much of this need is accommodated by automatisms and acquired habit, but at the furthest end of the spectrum of expressions of this need is the awareness of phenomena that cannot be accommodated by our senses or cognition, they exceed our competence to understand and thereby create a sense of inferiority.    The need to know is progressively energized by affect that is recruited by real or perceived urgency.  This involves it intimately with the neuroendocrine stress system, the source of emotions.

Cause and effect relationships are the building blocks of the narratives –stories– that affect if not direct our behavior.  As such, an adaptive tool, to be most useful, the story should be built of valid (veridical) phenomena.  And should be reliable (consistently manifest).  These are qualities which can be tested or taken on faith.  Our confidence in the narrative is important to its utility and can vary with the qualities of validity and reliability.  Narratives in which we are VERY confident are regarded as TRUTH.”

Conscious awareness of an inadequate cognitive competence invites the engagement of  NON-CONSCIOUS COGNITION, the “FORCE,” the transpersonal consciousness, the transcendental  …    on the other hand, “the best things can’t be told…”




Mystery invokes the need-to-know.  In all organisms, real or perceived needs evoke coping mechanisms.  These mechanisms are highly adaptive and range in function from maintenance of an organism’s physiological stability through providing competitive advantages that serve its inclusive fitness.  Among these mechanisms, our individual and collective efforts to understand the causes and consequences of phenomena in the world are arguably among our most potent adaptive advantages. 

Listen to Iris DeMent’s version of “Let the Mystery Be”

     We can also argue that the attempt to understand may be more important than understanding itself:  a key lesson of evolutionary biology is that the ability to survive and prosper is a matter of being better than a competitor, not perfect !  Adaptive behavior in higher organisms involves fluent interactions between areas of the nervous system specialized for acting on the basis of established, ongoing, and prospective scenarios.  This behavior engages relatively fixed intrinsic or congenital mechanisms (such as reflexes), relatively flexible acquired mechanisms (such as habits and learning), and their imaginative reconfiguration in the light of new or anticipated circumstances (creativity, invention).

The orchestration of the relative influences of these massively interconnected parts of the nervous system that deploy these behavioral control mechanisms is an ongoing activity.  In one variant of the orchestration, we experience INTUITION, involving more-or-less conscious access to nonconscious resources.

While CONSCIOUSNESS of one’s SELF is only one of a multitude of states of consciousness and focuses on only one dimension of being, a sense of one’s self may manifest the fullest expression of the intuitive project.

Consciousness and Creativity from the perspective of DEEP ETHOLOGY



 There exists in the mind “a multiplicity of functional systems that are hierarchically organized but can become dissociated from one another” (Ernest Hilgard 1977:17) (ER Hilgard Divided Consciousness: Multiple Control in Human Action and Thought. Wile, NY – cited by  1997:75)


“Most of us consider consciousness threatening because our usual methods of understanding run out of steam,” according to Colin McGinn (in his essay review of John R. Searle — “Can we ever understand consciousness?” 1999. NYRB June 10:44-48) BUT we need to start someplace!!  What is Consciousness? [more]


THE BRAIN “multitasks” –lots of things go on simultaneously –and often compete with each other for control of behavior.  Surely you have had almost debilitating episodes of being unable to “make up your mind?”  There always seems to be multiple explanations for phenomena — which shall you select?  why that one?  What about intuition?    


Actually, what is intuition?? [more].


  THE MIND’s MULTIPLE STREAMS OF CONSCIOUSNESS at least affect each other and are often in competition.  Mental contents then become consciousness  “by winning the competitions against other mental contents for domination in the control of behavior . . .” and in the competition for domination, access to language centers is a distinct advantage (Daniel C. Dennett. 1996. Kinds of Minds. Basic Books. p.155).  The end result is the familiar insight that we create ourselves –a kind of biological medium is the message. (Summarized from the 1986 Tucson conference, “Towards a Science of Consciousness”).


The stream of consciousness is really a cascade of multiple interacting streams:


But what does “stream of consciousness” mean in literature?  [more]


















affect and cognitive

Dionysian and Apollonian

Yang and Yin notes:///852573D70000062B/E08245418645CF0D85256D36006A320D/494F0FDE957CD13B85256D36006AAE77notes:///852573D70000062B/E08245418645CF0D85256D36006A320D/20CBAF67437D0D0485256D37002BECF8



The Essential Tension



“truth” vs “reality”



Archived Presentation:

[i]. Albert Einstein  in Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium (1941) ch. 13) also quoted by Sam Hurts in AA God Hypothesis,@ Oak Ridge Forum on Science and Religion [] Jan 4, 2005)