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Thursday, January 16, 2003 - 10:10amSanction this postReply
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Hi there!

You raise some interesting points. :)

I had to read this several times to understand the question that it poses. The first thing that struck me is that I don't think Objectivism and Zen are comparable. Objectivism is a system of thought, all inclusive from the nature of the universe to how we deal with moral dilemmas and deal with aesthetics. Zen seems to be a method of thinking (introspectively) or of exercising the mind -- two very different things though perhaps as you say, not mutually exclusive though I'm not sure of that yet.

However, if Zen is accepted completely as a system of thought (as most people do including the author you site), I think Rand's assessment was correct in that context, you can not substitute a method of thinking FOR a system of thought (philosophy).

You wrote:
Koans are riddles that are designed to throw logical thought into total confusion, such as "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" or, "Show me your face before your father was born".

This I found interesting. By asking the question 'what is the sound of one hand clapping?' you are in essence asking that same old philosophical question, 'if a tree falls in the woods ... etc'. It isn't throwing logic into confusion, it is asking if you believe in reality existing as such. That is the purpose of such a question. How would it be possible to know your face before your father was born? In reality as we experience it, that is not possible. Therefore, your answer will be a clue into whether you accept reality as it is, or whether you believe in some other more mystical explanation of the universe.

Such a question can only be answered if you understand the metaphysics you believe in and only the tools of reason and logic can answer such a question. It takes an active process to discover these things.

You continued:

"These are directed to the right hemisphere of the brain where there is no possibility of solving them with logic or reason. Zen has no concept of a supernatural being. "

I would like to know how these questions can not be answered with logic and reason.

I am all for being aware and mindful and this is implicit (and probably explicit) in Objectivism from everything I've seen. How well it's done is another issue entirely. :)

Joy :)

Post 1

Thursday, January 16, 2003 - 11:17amSanction this postReply
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I have just started to read the article, but I can tell you that you're not the only one who thinks Objectivism and Zen - and Buddhism in general- are compatible.
In fact, my own idea on Rational Spirituality, which I have started to write about on my site, can be seen as inspired both by Objectivism and Buddhism.

In science and philosophy, the Eastern schools of thought are completelt unuseful. But in spirituality, we have a lot to learn.

Post 2

Thursday, January 16, 2003 - 11:58amSanction this postReply
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1. The sound of one hand clapping is *whoosh*

2. The tree falling: The phrase "If a tree fell..." assumes the existance of the tree. For a tree to exist, it's nature demands dirt, nutients, water, air and some other stuff I'm sure. Sound is a waveform created by an object that travels through a gas. So: Tree + Falling + Oxegen/Nitrogen = sound.

Logic and reason wins!
Hee hee.

Post 3

Thursday, January 16, 2003 - 3:08pmSanction this postReply
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Gee, that was lame.

Post 4

Thursday, January 16, 2003 - 3:26pmSanction this postReply
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Um, David Stewart says: "Man cannot reason and be conscious [be fully aware] at the same time."

Just what the hell does Mr Stewart think you're doing when you're aware? Does he perhaps think you can reason when you're unconscious??

You may well have some points in what you write, but nonsense such as this doesn't help your argument. Sorry.

Peter Cresswell

Post 5

Thursday, January 16, 2003 - 4:27pmSanction this postReply
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"Does he perhaps think you can reason when you're unconscious??"

Your question should be, "Does he perhaps think you can reason when you're aware??"

Well, the test should be if you can solve a mathematical equation while you're counting your breaths.

Sort of like patting your head and rubbing your tummy, don't you think?

Paul Hibbert

Post 6

Thursday, January 16, 2003 - 5:22pmSanction this postReply
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I've always been able to rub my tummy and drink a beer at the same time. In fact, I always find the two actions somewhat connected. :-)

In any case, I remind you that Rand said we should use words accurately - indeed, use them as if our lives depended on it, which of course they do. And of course she was right.

But Mr Stewart, as quoted, is using the concepts 'consciousness,' 'awareness' et al in a novel and indeed unique way in a way which simply invites misunderstanding. That is, if I were to be generous about my interpretation of what he said.

The arguments about Objectivism and Zen are, I suspect, meant more poetically than literally - but you run into a problem when you do attempt to be literal, or when you reader does that for you.

But being literal is only being accurate. Mr Stewart said what he said. And he's wrong.

PC

(PS: As it happens, I've been accused of "indulging in Taoism" in a piece about architecture which should be published here on SOLO very shortly. Once again, the 'indulgence' is merely poetic - in order to give a particular insight - but the danger is in taking such 'poetic insights' too literally, as one of my readers has already done. :-) )

Post 7

Thursday, January 16, 2003 - 6:18pmSanction this postReply
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Well, forget what Mr. Stewart said (he's not here to defend himself) and criticise me on what I said. I used the word "awareness" and I am not being poetical.

Clinical evidence indicates that each hemisphere processes information in a different fashion but sometimes in exceptional circumstances when the left hemisphere has been traumatized the right hemisphere can be trained to process writing, but this is not its normal function. So, it is reasonable or unreasonable to expect that logical thought can be processed by the right hemisphere, which is fully half of our cerebral capability? What do you think is going on with all this brain power of the right side if it's not processing rational thought?

Paul Hibbert

Post 8

Thursday, January 16, 2003 - 11:35pmSanction this postReply
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You seem to be creating some sort of dichotomy between reason and creativity, as if they're somehow opposed to each other. Objectivism strictly rejects any such dichotomy. Whatever hemisphere of the brain does what is irrelevant. Without doing both, we wouldn't be *rational* animals.

You then suggest some subjective "reality" where true "awareness" (whatever that is) is only attainable by destroying the things that make our lives possible (ie reason). Well, you can have your subjective reality and "awareness" and whatever other arbitrary notions you conjure up. I'll stick with (the one and only) objective reality, and what's necessary to continue my life herein.

Frankly, I don't know why this article was posted here; it's clearly a piece of subjectivist non-sense.

Post 9

Friday, January 17, 2003 - 2:34pmSanction this postReply
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"When the universe blinks out at the instant of death there is no Objective reality because there are no objects."

In fact, at the time of a person's death, there is still an Objective reality. Just because a person dies and no longer processes stimuli does not mean that reality ceases to exist. Reality is independent of perception or cognition. Those objects may no longer be perceived by the dead body, but they exist nonetheless.

"The subjective reality is of "nothingness", not even consciousness. That the universe may continue perking away for everyone else is meaningless to the subject whose consciousness has terminated."

If I'm reading this correctly, the statement that "subjective reality is 'nothingness'" implies that the dead person can realize and understand the "state of nothingness" after death. You attempt to impart a perceptual concept to something that can no longer perceive. That the universe continues "perking away" for the dead being is not "meaningless" to that subject, it is non-existent. They cannot perceive a subjective reality and the objective reality continues despite their demise.

"Rand has virtually nothing to say about death except that she is an atheist, but this surely should be one of the deepest concerns of philosophy."

Why should death be one of the "deepest concerns of philosophy"? Unless you adhere to the irrational concept of life-after-death, a philosophy should concentrate on those areas that affect the living such as: What is reality? How do I understand this reality? How should I live within this reality? For a philosophy to focus on death, when death is nothing more than the cessation of life, is absurd.

Post 10

Saturday, January 18, 2003 - 7:39amSanction this postReply
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"In fact, at the time of a person's death, there is still an Objective reality."

Yes, for everyone else. For the subject, the act of dying is a process, but not a continuing one. His universe collapses to a void. No time, no space, no consciousness, no senses and nothing to perceive. In a nutshell, it is “Nothingness”. If you are an atheist I think you must acknowledge this. How else does one describe the absence of anything and everything? This is a subjective experience because it is only experienced by the person dying and is thus a subjective reality. To argue otherwise is to deny that death exists/occurs/happens.

Post 11

Saturday, January 18, 2003 - 8:39amSanction this postReply
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"In fact, at the time of a person's death, there is still an Objective reality."

Yes, for everyone else. For the subject, the act of dying is a process, but not a continuing one. His universe collapses to a void. No time, no space, no consciousness, no senses and nothing to perceive. In a nutshell, it is “Nothingness”. If you are an atheist I think you must acknowledge this. How else does one describe the absence of anything and everything? This is a subjective experience because it is only experienced by the person dying and is thus a subjective reality. To argue otherwise is to deny that death exists/occurs/happens.

Post 12

Saturday, January 18, 2003 - 10:04amSanction this postReply
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Paul,

Thank you for the very well-written article. Your point of the left brain vs. right brain phenomonon made a strong case for your position. However, under the same principle, couldn't it be argued that Christianity and Objectivism are "compatible"? Like koans and meditation, Faith renders the logical mind useless, thus encouraging right-brained processes. One thing prayer and meditation seem to have in common is the cessation of thinking. Why is this beneficial?

Eric

Post 13

Saturday, January 18, 2003 - 11:16amSanction this postReply
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Eric:

Objectivism denies Christianity or any other religion (definition: “the service and worship of God or the supernatural”) because there is no objective evidence of “His” existence. Zen, in that sense is not a religion, but a philosophy, as there is no concept of appeal to a supernatural being, i.e. prayer. The only “faith” operating within Zen is the belief that, if one is diligent enough, one will attain enlightenment. To my mind, prayer and meditation have nothing in common except physical quietude. Meditation is beneficial because, by means of silencing evaluative, judgmental, dualistic thoughts one can overcome conditioning and reveal your true nature.

As I accentuated before, I think that Zen should not be applied to the realms of politics, economics or any arm’s length contacts with society, as it is subjective.

Paul

Post 14

Saturday, January 18, 2003 - 12:20pmSanction this postReply
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Paul, I agree that Zen and Objectivism are not necessarily incompatible. For over 35 years, I have integrated the two rather well in my life. I realize, of course, that this is not everyone's cup of tea.

Buddhism (Zen and Theravada) has taught me to "center" myself, i.e., to focus my mind when emotional distractions would otherwise cause my awareness to drift or become unproductive. The Buddha's teachings can well be seen as therapeutic techniques to keep the mind cool.

Also, the Buddha - - like Galt - - had a face without pain or fear or guilt. ;-)

Post 15

Saturday, January 18, 2003 - 5:54pmSanction this postReply
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Joy:

“This I found interesting. By asking the question 'what is the sound of one hand clapping?' you are in essence asking that same old philosophical question, 'if a tree falls in the woods ... etc'.”

I disagree. This isn’t a candidate for a koan because the tree falling in the woods puzzle is merely a semantic problem based on two definitions of “sound”. If you adhere to the definition that it’s a physical phenomenon of alternating expansion and compression of the molecules of a medium you will say that there is a sound. If you believe the subjective definition that there can only be a sound if there is a sense organ present then you will say there isn’t. This is a language problem that can be solved in the left hemisphere where both language and reasoning reside. You could meditate forever on this and not get any understanding of your true nature.

Paul

Post 16

Saturday, January 18, 2003 - 6:05pmSanction this postReply
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Thanks for the intriguing discussion, everyone. I agree with Paul and Ross that Objectivism and (parts of) Buddhism are compatible.

Like Paul and Ross, I have personally benefited from Buddhist practices like meditation and mindfulness. In fact, these practices have dramatically increased my ability to be rational during stressful circumstances where I would have otherwise been quite ineffective at marshalling the resources of my mind.

I had mixed feelings reading Paul's essay, however. Although I understand what he's talking about and I recognize that he has some valid points, they are expressed in a fashion that is not likely to be embraced by, or even comprehensible to, Objectivists who have not taken the initiative to explore the topic on their own. This is unfortunate, because anyone committed to consciousness has much to learn from Eastern approaches to the development of consciousness.

One particularly difficult sticking point is that Paul (and Stewart) are not clear about what they mean by "consciousness" when they say that reason and consciousness cannot be exercised at the same time.

The missing piece of information here is that, in Buddhist practice, present-moment awareness is rightly viewed as the ultimate basis of consciousness. I mean, how much value would there be to logical thinking if you had no first-order perceptions to base it on?

And yet, practicing present-moment awareness is mutually exclusive with abstract thought, which always draws one's attention away from the present moment. As such, cultivating a deep capacity for present-moment awareness, through meditation, does require the temporary suspension of reason-oriented thinking. You have to turn off "thinking" in order to turn on "watching deeply."

This dichotomy between thinking and watching is not entirely foreign to Westerners; it can also be found in the writings of many Western psychologists (esp. humanists and existentialists), who have discovered in their work with patients that people often must turn off their "judging mind" in order to be fully and authentically present with their life experiences.

(Unlike Paul, I don't think it's necessary or helpful to dichotomize the brain along these lines. The conventional wisdom about the brain's hemispheres is overly simplistic and leads to numerous misunderstandings of what is actually taking place at the neurological level.)

After practicing Buddhist-style awareness, one can return to rational thought at any time. But one does so from a place of greater serenity, insight, and connection with the simple facts of reality. One's mind is released from the emotional/rational feedback-loops that characterize so much of our "thinking" and can lead to neurosis.

Almost everyone who experiments with present-moment awareness finds it to be a therapeutic state of mind, and I'm fully confident that psychologists will be exploring it in far more detail in the coming decades. (In fact, I have an outstanding article, here on my desk, about mindfulness and psychological health that is about to be published by Kirk Warren Brown and his colleagues in the Journal of Social and Personality Psychology.)

This subject warrants a much longer essay, and I plan to write one soon for publication in a Rand-oriented journal. My comments here are intended only to point one in the right direction, in case one is open to the general line of inquiry.

I am posting a copy of this essay on my weblog, at http://muditajournal.com, which is devoted, in a general way, to the interface of mindfulness and individualism. I welcome further comments or discussion of the topic there, since I am not (yet?) a regular visitor to this forum.

Joshua Zader
joshua at muditajournal.com

Post 17

Sunday, January 19, 2003 - 10:43amSanction this postReply
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Joshua: Thank you for your considered and considerate thoughts. I will try to absorb the information in your very interesting site: http://zader.com/mudita/

In the meantime perhaps I can better express my ideas about the differences and similarities of Objectivism and Zen and thus legitimize my opinion of “compartmentalizing”. Joshua is undoubtedly correct about the my oversimplifying the physiological/neurological aspects of the brain but I hope to convince you that it is not a major issue.

Objectivism and Zen share the concepts of non-coercion, uncompromising quest for truth, atheism, individualism, freedom, personal responsibility, but they have the irreconcilable differences of egoism vs. annihilation of the ego, and logic and reason vs. emotion and intuition.

There is a saying in Zen, “If you meet the Buddha on the path, slay him”, meaning that nothing should deter you in your search for enlightenment, even your revered teacher. The same thing cannot be said about Objectivism at the present time. Rand, in her genius, constructed a complete, coherent, structured philosophy based on logic and reason --this is incontrovertible. In the 40 or 50 years since it was expressed every aspect has been examined in detail and only a few issues are in a gray zone (one of them being capital punishment). Conventional Objectivists believe that their philosophy is complete, impregnable and is applicable to every aspect of human needs and activity.

Joshua’s comment:

“And yet, practicing present-moment awareness is mutually exclusive with abstract thought, which always draws one's attention away from the present moment. As such, cultivating a deep capacity for present-moment awareness, through meditation, does require the temporary suspension of reason-oriented thinking. You have to turn off "thinking" in order to turn on "watching deeply."

is in complete agreement with what I was trying to convey, and with what I think David Stewart was also trying to say.

Die-hard Objectivists must challenge this if they believe that logic and reason are the exclusive tools that are to be applied to every aspect of human endeavor, yet it is an observable fact both from a personal observation point of view and an experimental point of view that “watching deeply” is a human endeavor and it isn’t based on logic or reason. I think that Joshua will agree that, broadly speaking, “thinking” takes place in the left hemisphere of the brain and “watching deeply” in the right hemisphere. One cannot be “thinking” and “watching deeply” simultaneously and the coordination is mediated by the connection between the two hemispheres -- the corpus callosum.

Reading between the lines I think Joshua is trying to integrate Objectivism and Eastern thought (exemplified by Zen) into one, comprehensive philosophy but, in my opinion, it can’t be done. You can’t have ego and non-ego at the same time -- A cannot be A and non-A simultaneously. It violates the law of identity, but when viewed as ego-related thought residing in one hemisphere and non-ego related thought in the other – and never simultaneously, the conflict disappears.

When applying an integration of the two philosophies to everyday life one is confronted with irreconcilable differences – the consideration of compassion is one such problem. When compassion (an emotion, and hence right brain resident, and an inherent part of Zen) is applied to politics it must lead to coercion because the force of law must be brought to bear to compel the population to conform to whatever subjective requirements are deemed necessary. Being subjective, those laws don’t reflect the will or morality of everyone. This is against the non-coercion principle of both Objectivism and Zen. On the other hand, if compassion is applied at the personal level then there is no logical violation of rights, or coercion. It is this argument that I am advancing for the compartmentalization of Objectivism and Zen, corresponding to left and right brain activity.

With other examples one can broaden my argument to form a general principle that Objectivist (logical/reason) ideas be applied only to society at large and that Zen (emotional/intuitive) ideas be applied only to personal associations. In this way logical conflicts and inconsistencies can be avoided and universal harmony could be attained.

At this point if there were sound bytes available I’d insert birds twittering. :-)

Paul Hibbert

Post 18

Sunday, January 19, 2003 - 12:54pmSanction this postReply
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Paul,

Thanks for your follow-up note and clarification. Regarding this:

"Reading between the lines I think Joshua is trying to integrate Objectivism and Eastern thought (exemplified by Zen) into one, comprehensive philosophy but, in my opinion, it can’t be done. You can’t have ego and non-ego at the same time -- A cannot be A and non-A simultaneously. It violates the law of identity, but when viewed as ego-related thought residing in one hemisphere and non-ego related thought in the other – and never simultaneously, the conflict disappears."

I agree with you that Objectivism can't be integrated with Eastern thought, so please note that I am not attempting to do so.

My personal perspective is that Objectivists and other Westerners can benefit from Eastern practices, while the explanations or philosophy behind those practices may be (almost) entirely unuseful. I certainly value many Buddhist ideas, but as a system of philosophy I believe it is inherently flawed.

The question of ego and non-ego is an interesting one, which I won't try to address here. I am planning to start a Buddhism discussion group shorty over at wetheliving.com, and this is a topic I'd like very much to address on that list. If anyone would like to be notified when the list is launched, send me a note at joshua at muditajournal.com.

I continue to think that there are problems with "compartmentalizing" each side of your brain with a different philosophy. But I'm pressed for time and will have to leave that to others for right now.

Thanks again for the stimulating conversation.

Joshua Zader
http://muditajournal.com

Post 19

Tuesday, January 21, 2003 - 7:12pmSanction this postReply
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Hi Paul,

You wrote:

"I disagree. This isn’t a candidate for a koan because the tree falling in the woods puzzle is merely a semantic problem based on two definitions of “sound”. If you adhere to the definition that it’s a physical phenomenon of alternating expansion and compression of the molecules of a medium you will say that there is a sound. If you believe the subjective definition that there can only be a sound if there is a sense organ present then you will say there isn’t. This is a language problem that can be solved in the left hemisphere where both language and reasoning reside. You could meditate forever on this and not get any understanding of your true nature. "

Ah, but I disagree more. :)

The question of a tree falling in the woods is not semantic in nature, it is metaphysical and epistemological. If I accept that the world exists as it is, as I experience it, that it is knowable by me then the only answer I can select is that sound is a physical phenomenon of alternating expansion and compression of the molecules etc. The sound of the tree falling is not subject to my awareness of it, it happens anyway because of the physical laws of nature.

If I believed otherwise, if I had a subjective definition of sound, I would be stating that in fact the world is not as it is, that it is subject to me being present to perceive it. Now, I know the world keeps on going each night when I go to sleep. Though I am unconscious during sleep, there are trees making sounds, for a variety of reasons. The world as I know it does not end or stop when I am not there to make sure it keeps going. LOL!

It is a major question about the nature of the metaphysics and epistemology you have accepted!

As to my own nature, that isn't something I can delve into without reason as a guide to ordering the events I've experienced and my general knowledge base. I can't turn my mind off and 'find' my true me. What would be my guide? Some spontaneous conflagration of something that will burst forth and say 'This is YOU Joy, revel in your nature.'.

I do believe in introspection, evaluating my emotions, my thought processes, my experiences but I need some basis for even beginning to know how to order them, sort them, categorize them, to make any sense. I need some framework into which I can put all that I experience and learn and with that framework I can then give some level of importance to all aspects of my life, decide what is important and what isn't. That is a part of the job of philosophy, it is a tool so that a person is able to 'rank' everything they perceive and apply reason to it all.

I believe that what you call meditation may be something that I call introspection, and I don't believe that it requires a suspension of reason to accomplish real work. Yes, it's necessary to be free of doing some particular brainwork to introspect, introspection is something I do when I have the luxury of a bath uninterrupted by my kids, or when I'm doing domestic chores that are mostly automatic. It is during times like these that I sift through what I've experienced, the questions or emotions events raise in me and try to put some order to them.

For example, sometimes I can read something here on SOLOHQ and I have an immediate emotional reaction, either agreement or disagreement, but some strong feeling that I can't immediately identify a rational reason for. I will not reply to that message in that emotional state until I have worked through the 'why' of reacting that way to it. I call that introspection and sometimes, it does turn up some contradiction in my own premise, while other times I simply work out the chain of reasoning that makes me agree or disagree. However, I know that for myself, a strong emotional reaction is something to be examined and so I do. It is reason and logic that will help me validate whether my response makes any logical sense.

Back to learning of my own nature, only reason can do that for me. I know what I value and why. I know how much work I'm willing to put into some aspect of myself. For example, I've learned I'm simply not a morning person. Nope, no way, not me. I've stopped trying to fight it, not because I had some inner inspiration that told me it was okay not to be a morning person or that it was simply my nature. I came to that conclusion based on the fact that sleeping in is the only chunk of time I get to be totally alone, quiet, aware but still reasoning and introspecting. I felt guilty for a while that I didn't get up and make coffee (based on various cultural and personal issues that didn't make sense :), but ultimately I reasoned that those particular feelings about making coffee were not important enough to me to give up the time I get to myself in the morning. And I have a wonderful husband who is a morning person and doesn't mind making the coffee. *grin*

Had it been otherwise, I would have to re-evaluate the situation and see how important getting up to make coffee was to me and my family. It turned out not to be important and so everyone is happy.

Every aspect of my life is governed by such thought processes. Every choice I make is based on some hierarchy of what is important to me and what is not. I weigh everything in regards to time, effort, and ultimate productivity. All my choices have a reason and the time I get to make those choices and weigh them is the time I spend introspection, with reason in full force not in abeyance.

Joy :)

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