Believe and Decide


Penfield 2 composite 01We previously discussed that the famous neurosurgeon and experimentalist Wilder Penfield was a dualist who concluded that the mind transcended the brain. I am now on page 77 of The Mystery of the Mind. It contains a passage that makes plain how he came to a dualist conclusion. It is so stark, so direct, so obvious…I had to stop reading and write this post…

Last time, I discussed the brain regions which Penfield determined were the channels by which consciousness began and ended in the brain tissue. But we did not discuss why he reached a dualistic conclusion.

It is quite plausible that the thalamocortical loops he identified (between the temporal pole and its associated thalamic connections; and between the prefrontal cortex and its associated thalamic connections) are necessary and sufficient to create consciousness.   Such a conclusion would then be termed material monism (which today is called physicalism).

Using Occam’s Razor (the idea that scientific theories should be as simple as consistent with the facts), and given only the data I discussed last time about the presence or absence of consciousness and the corresponding patterns of brain activation, a material monism would indeed be the most parsimonious explanation.

Therefore, there must have been additional data that was not consistent with material monism which pushed Penfield into the dualistic position that mind and brain are separate, but intimately interacting, entities. This is laid out clearly in chapter 20. There he says:

“When I have caused a conscious patient to move his hand by applying an electrode to the motor cortex of one hemisphere, I have often asked him about it. Invariably his response was: “I didn’t do that. You did.” When I caused him to vocalize, he said: “I didn’t make that sound. You pulled it out of me”. When I caused the record of the stream of consciousness to run again and so presented to him the record of his past experience, he marveled that he should be conscious of the past as well as of the present…He assumed at once that, somehow, the surgeon was responsible for the phenomenon…

The electrode can present to the patient various crude sensations. It can cause him to turn head and eyes, or to move the limbs, or to vocalize and swallow. It may recall vivid re-experience of the past, or present to him an illusion that present experience is familiar, or that the things he sees are growing larger and coming near. But he remains aloof. He passes judgment on it all…If the electrode moves his right hand, he does not say, “I wanted to move it.” He may, however, reach over with the left hand and oppose the action…

There is no place in the cerebral cortex where electrical stimulation will cause a patient to believe or to decide.”

Let me say that again:

There is no place in the cerebral cortex where electrical stimulation will cause a patient to believe or to decide.”

Just stop reading for a second and let that thought sink in.

[Elevator music plays]

Did you really absorb that? Okay, assuming you did, let’s move on.

A little further down Penfield says:

“There is no area of gray matter, as far as my experience goes, in which [electrical action] brings to pass what could be called “mind-action”…I am forced to conclude that there is no valid evidence that either epileptic discharge or electrical stimulation can activate the mind.

If one stops to consider it, this is an arresting fact…”

Arresting indeed! What understatement!

There is no place in the cerebral cortex where electrical stimulation will cause a patient to believe or to decide.”

Biological Robots
The implications of this can be taken in many directions. However, one really pops out in my mind and I want to end discussing it.

If we were just mere automatons, in any sense whatsoever, it seems to me that having another person inject electricity into your brain would be the ultimate act of control or power over you as a “biological robot”. However, Penfield just told us that this is not possible.

It is clear Penfield was not a tyrant who desired to control people. That is not what drove him, not by a long shot. He was a student of the famous neuroscientists Charles Sherrington, and he was driven by the same great urge that drives all great scientists: he just wanted to know the truth. (As well as applying his formidable intelligence and compassionate effort to helping those unfortunate souls who suffered from having a damaged brain).

In his quest for truth, he probed living human brains with electricity and discovered, in a word, the human soul. He called it “mind” but that’s just semantics. He discovered a part of human being that “believes and decides”, and he discovered that that this part of being human is not created by the action of the brain.

So the implication I am drawing from his conclusion is this: just what the hell is driving people who want to reduce us to mere automatons, to mere chance events connected into some kind of machine? What drives such people?

I already said the answer above: tyranny.

One must admit that it is the ultimate fantasy of a tyrant to force another person to believe what the tyrant wants, to force the other person to act as the tyrant dictates.  If the tyrant could, in their sick depraved fantasies, they would climb into the brain of the other person and FORCE their will on them.

But Penfield discovered – DISCOVERED – that this is not possible.  The tyrant can force the body to move, can force speech, can force fake memories even perhaps.  But in the end, the tyrant cannot force the other person to believe or decide what the tyrant wants.  In a word, Penfield proved that tyranny is impossible. The human soul will always triumph in the end and the tyrant will always fail.

I would suggest that people who want to reduce themselves and other people to mere “biological robots” are just a bunch of closet tyrants. Unlike Penfield, such people are not driven to understand the truth. No, they are driven by those swirling patterns of frustration and desire that I discussed in Experience. They are driven by forces they neither know exist nor would understand if revealed to them.

These unconscious forces, the hidden depths of the mind (“mind” mind you, not brain!), impart fear and anxiety, as they rightly should, to the very core of the petty tyrant’s existence. But instead of seeking to understand the source of the fear and anxiety (and thereby liberate themselves from it) the petty tyrant instead seeks to control and force their will on others as a blind response to forces they are simply too dumb to understand.

So, we close on two take home messages:

  1. There is some fundamental aspect of being human, an aspect that “believes and decides” and it cannot be controlled by controlling the action of the brain.
  1. People who want to reduce themselves and others to “biological robots” are not interested in knowing the truth of being human, they are but closet tyrants to a more or less open degree.

25 thoughts on “Believe and Decide

  1. PeterJ

    Closet tyrants yes. Or is it just pessimism? Sometimes I wonder if it is frowned on to be optimistic about life and death in the sciences, since optimism would imply religion.

  2. I don’t think it is “just” pessimism. As I said in Experience, wild, incomprehensible factors underlie everything. Their meaning (which ultimately is nonsensical) filters up into normal consciousness is very diverse ways. I think people who reject religion and spirit are, in various degrees and diverse forms, responding to the nonsensical energies at the root of everything, the ennie weenies, if you will.

    It generates vast insecurity and anxiety. Existentialism is perhaps the clearest Western expression of this. Tyranny is kind of the opposite of existentialism. It is the urge to cling on to anything, to FORCE any type of security in the face of the ever-changing nature of our relative experience. It tends to express itself by such people attempting to exert wholly unreasonable control over whatever facets of life they can control (however transient and feeble the control is): Trying to control other people, trying to control the climate of the Earth, trying to control whatever they can cling on to.

    Physicalism and materialism are expressions of this insecurity. They are not logical or calmly thought out positions. When you calmly contemplate the nature of things, you either come to God, existentialism, or yoga/Buddhism, depending on how wide your base of experience is.

    All views that see life as random or meaningless in physical terms are just knee jerk reactions of people whose cerebral genetic endowments or training is less than adequate for the task.

  3. Hi there. Your posts are intriguing. I’m not a scientist or metaphysician, though I appreciate scientific method. I’m not sure if I got the thesis of your post correct.

    You quote Penfield: “There is no place in the cerebral cortex where electrical stimulation will cause a patient to believe or to decide.”

    “No place” was found in the brain in Penfield’s study, or hundreds of brain biopsies in the mid-1900s? I don’t know what this means. But what if Penfield just didn’t find “it” there. [“It” being his or your hypothesis]. And, what if “it” is not well-defined or what if we are looking for what doesn’t exist as we thinks “it” does? I don’t know. Are you saying Penfield or you know what “it” is? And, with what percentage of certainty would you say you know “it”?


    • Hi Scott
      Very nice to hear from you. Thank you for commenting. Penfield was not studying biopsies, which is where you cut out the tissue and study it for disease. He was putting electrodes at different places on the cerebral cortex of patients undergoing brain surgery and stimulating the person’s brain with an electrode. In doing this, Penfield discovered an enormous amount about how the cerebral cortex carries out different behaviors in humans, from moving the muscles, to sensory tasks like seeing and hearing, to memory functions, and so on. What he discovered, the “it” that you are referring to, is that he could not electrically stimulate a living person’s cerebral cortex and CAUSE that person to believe something. Penfield is talking about our ability to discriminate or make decisions. He could not use electricity and make an artificial decision for a person. That is what he discovered. He could do all kinds of other things though. He could make a person move their hand or some other muscle, he could trigger a number of different types of hallucinations (visual, hearing, etc), he could trigger waking dreams even (!), but he could not cause a person to make an artificial decision, or come to an artificial belief. He therefore concluded that whatever it is in us that “believes and decides” was not part of the brain tissue. He refers to this function as “mind”, and speculated it was some form of energy that could affect the brain, but was not created by the brain itself.

      In short, his studies led him to a philosophical dualist position. By the end of his career, he did not accept that whatever we humans are, is solely due to the action of the brain. This is a big deal insofar as Penfield was one of the most prolific neuroscientists of the 20th century. To my knowledge, no single person has accumulated as much of this type of data as Penfield did.

      Unfortunately, while Penfield’s findings make up the core teachings of modern neuroscience, his ultimate conclusions have been ignored, or brushed aside. The dominant paradigm of modern neuroscience is “material monism” which assumes the brain is 100% responsible for 100% of human behavior. However, in my opinion, no data has emerged that compels one to accept material monism. It is just a matter of philosophical bias. I would be happy to go deeper into detail if you wish, but refrain from doing so because it would get quite technical.

      Hopefully this addresses your questions. If not, please feel free to ask for further clarification.

      Best wishes,


      • @Don: Thanks for your reply. If I read you correctly, Penfield got his test subjects to “involuntarily” move parts of their bodies or to have hallucinate, for example. Seems like brain involvement in these cases would be quite primitive, instinctual–without thinking processes. Whereas, beliefs and decisions are complex thinking processes with abstract concepts–Rational processes that don’t seem to me to be anything like getting a hand to twitch or a random imagination in the brain, yes?

        I don’t know. I’m not a scientist and am a lay person. So thanks for not getting technical. I’d say I have only 10% confidence in mind-body dualism. How confident are you that dualism is real?

      • Hi Scott
        Nice to hear back from you. Thanks for the follow up. Yes, it does get technical and complicated, but it is not incomprehensible. I’ll try to concisely explain. Thinking is an extension of moving our limbs. The reasoning goes: move a limb, move the tongue, move tongue & make sound, make sound in your mind without moving tongue. In this way, thought -internal speech- is an extension of movement. In fact, the complexity of our thoughts is quite a bit less than that entailed in moving our limbs. Think of the technical feats required to make robots that can move like living animals. Only in the past years has this been possible, and even then, no robot matches what any organism, say a mouse, does quite automatically. So, the bottom line is that there is not as much a gap as you might first imagine between seemingly “primitive” acts like moving muscles or having a visual hallucination, on one hand, and having a personality that makes decisions, on the other hand. It is perfectly reasonable, given all we know now about the brain, to see these as comparable levels of computational complexity of the brain tissue.

        Now, it is very well-known clinically that if you damage certain parts of the cerebral cortex (called prefrontal cortex), you can completely impair people’s ability to “believe and decide”. This is what Alzheimer’s Disease does, for example. However, in those cases, the brain tissue gets diseased and dies. Penfield stimulated people who had normal healthy brains in those parts of the cortex that “believes and decides”. In those cases, he could not impair their ability to do so, and, like I said, he could not artificially induce those kinds of things. You would think, and I think this is exactly Penfield’s logic, if the electrical flows in the brain tissue were CAUSING a person to believe or decide something, that by running electricity through the tissue, you could artificially induce it, just the same way you can with moving a muscle, or producing artificial sounds or hallucinations. I think the inability to actually cause people to have artificial decisions was what shocked Penfield. (haha, that’s kind of a pun!).

        As to mind-body dualism, I address it very explicitly in my book What Is Science? The summary is: there is no dualism. There are only patterns of movement, what yogis call “gunas”. Some of the movement is course and dense and we perceive it as “physical”. Other movements are light and fine, not so dense, and we call it “mental”. They are both forms of gunas, patterns of movement. In yoga, there is nothing particularly special about the mind. They see it as only a “lighter” form of matter. Remember, the goal of yoga is to still the mind and find the true essence that illuminates it. It is the same essence that courses through the body and we call “life”. Classic yoga calls this essence “pursha”, more recent views call it “atman”, which is the same as Brahman, or just plain pure consciousness.

        So, there appears to be a dualism: there is consciousness, and there are patterns of movement within consciousness (gunas). But really, since they are patterns of consciousness, they aren’t different from consciousness. So the dualism is only in appearances, not in fact. And the fact is a unity. Being, consciousness, whatever you want to call it.

        Anyway, hope that wasn’t too long-winded. Again, Scott, thank you for taking your time and engaging me in such interesting conversation.

        Very best wishes,


      • @Don: Let me rephrase my question, how confident are you that dualism is true? (Rate on scale of 100% being absolute certainty to 0% absolute uncertainty dualism is real).

        I’m trying to understand how confident you in the belief in dualism. My confidence level has actually gone down since our last discussion from 10 to 5%. In other words, after looking at the evidence and arguments from both sides I find nothing to warrant belief in dualism. But, I’m willing to change my mind should I discover valid evidence or argument.

        To be fair, since our last discussion I investigated further, including these three videos on Dualism:

        Argument for Mind-Body Dualism by Wireless Philosophy, Khan Academy:

        Cartesian Dualism, Philosophy Tube:

        Argument against Dualism, Qualia Soup:

        Thanks for engaging with me. It’s helping me to better understand beliefs in “dualism”.

      • Hi Scott

        I am 100% certain that dualism is false. I say this in spite of being sympathetic to Penfield. I believe Penfield was trying to be a careful intellectual in the Western scientific tradition, and stated his findings and beliefs in the words and terms he felt was most suitable. I however, am not Penfield. I take my experiences with altered states seriously, and to me, they are my living proof that the non-dual Eastern ideas I advocate here are true, or certainly “more true” than the various speculations in Western philosophy. I could say more to justify my stance, but will be happy to await your reply. Yes, Sir, thank you too, Scott. Best wishes, Don

      • @Don: I’m interested in understanding what you believe. A brief definition or explanation without abstract metaphysics would be preferred.

        I did internet research on “non-dual” (since you mentioned that is your living proof). What I found wasn’t good proof to me. But maybe they weren’t what you believe. I don’t want to assume or put words in your mouth. I watched several videos of people talking on non-dualism who seemed to be buddhists or hindus, and who believe in a higher power (god-like power) as the basis for their non-dual beliefs. But I don’t want to put words in your mouth. If we could avoid abstract metaphysics that would help me.

        What kind of god or “It” is it that you believe personally? if you are comfortable sharing.

      • Hi Scott

        I like to tell myself I don’t “believe” anything and I prefer to rank ideas on the basis of their operational utility. In this regard, the ideas I have encountered so far that have the greatest operational relevance, in my opinion, are those taught in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. I cannot easily summarize them, and my entire blog is dedicated to explicating various facets of those teachings. Best regards, Don

      • @Don: I understand beliefs may not be easy to express and summarize. Thanks for trying with me. That’s why I’ve been trying to ask only one question at a time to understand what you believe. You seem very intelligent and open about your beliefs that you share on your blog.

        Yes, I get “operational utility”. Brilliant. Does that mean beliefs that are practical, that produce demonstrable results or impact the observable world and people in it?

        What do you find “operationally useful” about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras?

        Thanks for honestly engaging with me

      • Hi Scott

        Thank you for your understanding and patience with my reticence to try to answer your questions directly. Yes, by operational utility, I mean exactly what you said. The main thing I find operationally useful about the Yoga Sutras is the working definition of “mind” it provides. When understood, it is extremely practical and has minimal theoretical abstraction. It is practical because it allows one to understand the function of their own mind and thereby perform yoga on it. If you have time, I just watched a YouTube video by Edwin F. Bryant, an expert of the Yoga Sutras, that explains Patanjali’s theory of mind extremely lucidly. If you do watch the video I would be curious to hear your impressions. Thank you too, Scott. Any time two people engage to sincerely describe the truth the best they understand it, it cannot help but be productive. Thank you for that. Very best wishes, Don.

      • @Don: Thanks for sharing. Yes, I watched and skimmed through the one and half hour video talk you provided in the link above- Adwaita Das – Patanjali’s Raja Yoga Sutras 1-15 – Sivananda Yoga Farm Thanksgiving 2012. Thanks for making me study hard!

        Das’s talk reminds me a little of the inspirational and satsang talks I participated in at Paramahansa Yogananda’s ashrams. Calm, relaxing, devotional. Yogananda though seems more Bhakti and less empirical, and he didn’t quote Patanjali as often as Das does in this video.

        More thoughts on video:
        Adwaita Das makes many empirical claims about the truth of the universe and consciousness, statements of how the universe actually works. I hope you don’t mind if I try to demonstrate what I mean by focusing on a central belief or claim Das makes throughout his video talk/satsang:

        Using Patanjali Yoga the practitioner can stop the mind-stuffs, then “the consciousness and your pure mind expands into the universe. This consciousness lives forever…” etc. His claims here are fantastic, extraordinary. Fantastic if I knew or could find any evidence they were true. I hesitate to belief. I want to make sure I invest my time and effort into following what is true. Does this make sense?

        Questions for you:
        Is there a reliable method we can use to know whether Das’s claims are true? Which method(s)?

        What level of confidence do you have in Adwaita Das’s claims?
        (Using a Confidence Scale from 0% no confidence to 100% complete confidence this claim is true). I’m sincerely interested in understanding where you fall on the scale to try to understand the truth better or to learn something from you. I’m a 5% confidence level right now, but am willing to move up higher in confidence with these claims if I were able to come to a reliable method of knowing, understanding their truth.

        Thanks for engaging with me

      • PeterJ

        Pardon me for cutting in but I was passing thro. .

        As you say, ‘using Patanjali’s yoga the practitioner can…’ The ‘reliable method of knowing’ would be yoga. Das’ claims are fantastic in a way but not extraordinary. rather, they are perennial and quite common.

        Got to get that 5% up to 10% 🙂

      • Hi Scott
        First, thanks for taking time to watch Bryant’s video. Second, I support Peter’s comment that these are indeed the common teachings of yoga. My goodness, if you want “fantastic” just read through my blog entries! Yoga is certainly “other worldly”!

        The teachings of yoga form a graded sequence, just like any formal learning. It shares the same formal structure as say, music, where there is theory and practice, or the science I do in the lab, where, again, there is theory and practice. These all start out simple and get more and more complex as you proceed. Bryant discusses the theory of raja yoga in such a way to make clear how the theory links to practice, which is a very nice aspect of his talk. So, I see the claims of yoga as forming a spectrum from beginner to advanced, both in theory and practice. Therefore, it is impossible to simultaneously verify all of it. One can only start at the beginning and see how far the theory and practice takes you.

        Another nice thing about his talk is he explains exactly why anyone would even want to practice yoga. I agree 100% with Bryant’s interpretation. Patanjali is extremely clear. And Bryant’s emphasis of Buddha is also accurate. I wrote my book Experience to explain exactly these same ideas. The idea that desire is futile is the beginning of yoga. If one does not understand this, not just intellectually, but as a fact of life, then there will be no interest in taking yoga seriously.

        When we look out at the world, there is nothing we can cling onto in any and all possible things we can perceive, think, or feel. This is how I understand the ancient dictum “all is suffering”. Again, Bryant explained this nicely: when we have “wisdom samskaras” in our minds, we will begin to see the world through that filter. The first lesson of viveka, discrimination, is: desire is futile. Developing vairagya, or “vai rajas” as he explains in such a nice fashion, is central to yoga. Overcoming rajas: freeing oneself from the glamors and delusions of desire. One comes to yoga from necessity; one is driven to yoga by this fundamental realization. There is no other reason one would do yoga.

        One nice way I have heard it expressed by my friends at Pentamental is: “The only way out is in“. Which means, the only way to escape the futility of the world process, is to go inside one’s consciousness.

        To answer your question as directly as I can, with respect to those aspects of yoga I understand and have learned how to do, they simply work. Just like turning on an electric light. It just works. So, I am 100% confident in those things. There is an entire spectrum of practice and understanding stretched before me that I have not learned how to do, nor do I understand perfectly. What that becomes then is my path of future work and effort. Because what I have accomplished to this point works reliably, I will continue to move forward under the assumption that my efforts will pay off.

        The methods of Patanjali are reliable. You have to start at the beginning. It is just like learning how to play an instrument, say piano. You do not go purchase a piano and, with no training at all, expect to play Chopin sonotas. You must take lessons, practice, practice, practice, learn the theory, slowly learn how to apply the theory as your skill gets better and better. There is no other way. It is just like learning any skill. You must learn, practice, learn, practice.

        As to your final question: what is my confidence in Bryant’s claims? Since he is articulating Patanjali’s teachings in a very accurate way, I am 100% confident. In fact, watching his talk strongly reinforced my confidence in Patanjali’s teachings.

        The thing I cannot easily explain, but is present through the hundreds of pages of my writings on my blog is that I have not lightly come to these conclusions about the validity of yoga. A major factor is that the alternatives do not work. Science, religion as we know it in the West, philosophy: none of these ultimately can touch the core problems of life and experience. Bryant even addresses this, which I thought was quite brilliant. My acceptance of yoga has come about at the same time as I have rejected these alternatives.

        My concluding thought is that if you do not understand that desire is futile, then do not worry yourself with yoga.

        And thank you, Scott.

      • PeterJ

        Great post Don. “The only way out is in”!

        I think many people have great difficulty with the idea that the teachings of Das and his like can actually be tested, and that they are not even theories but vocalisations of knowledge and experience. So this question of how Das’s teaching can be verified is an important one to answer, even if it looks a bit odd when what he is teaching is exactly and precisely the method for verifying them.

        It’s getting past the idea that meditation is merely ‘navel-gazing’ that seems sometimes difficult. It never used to make much sense to me that one could learn about the world by going in rather than out. Now nothing else makes sense but I remember my scepticism.

        Oddly it was straightforward metaphysical analysis, not meditation, that changed my mind initially, so there is a second answer to scepticmediation’s question, which is that logic will confirm the good sense, plausibility and explanatory utility of Das’s teachings, even prior to any practice.

      • Hi Peter

        Yeah, that Pentamental slogan is great, isn’t it? I agree it is kind of a chicken-egg situation. If you don’t know the ideas, you can’t begin to “verify” them. But then again, it goes like that for anything, all science included. One must always learn the “rules of the game” before playing. The difference is, the rules are quite explicit with yoga, and mostly implicit and unconscious with science. I’ll leave it to others to judge which is a better approach. I also agree with you that logic can certainly a priori verify the plausibility of Patanjali’s teachings. Finally, I also agree: now that I get it, nothing else makes sense. Damn, it’s like a mutual admiration club around here! We need some atheists and/or obnoxious Dawkins-James Randi-like skeptics to crash this party and liven things up! 🙂

        Great hearing from you, Peter, as always!

        Best wishes, My Friend,


  4. Gentlemen. Thank you for engaging with me. Peter, it seems you agree with the assertions of Don.

    Don: I’m impressed that you say you have 100% confidence in Patanjali’s Yoga and in Bryant’s (Das’s) claims. 100% might as well be absolute certainty in what you believe is true. I’m really interested in how you have come to such certainty and if there’s anything I could do or say that could lower your confidence.

    I don’t understand how you could be so confident in something that you can’t logically explain or provide evidence for. I don’t doubt personal experiences, but I question the way you may interpret them as if they are maps to reality in the practical world. Yours are claims that can not be demonstrated to be true nor false. Typically, these kinds of unfalsifiable and unverifiable claims are termed “faith”–belief without justified evidence.

    So, at the moment…to prove your claims are true I’d need to have faith, to practice more yoga (Siddhananda’s Yoga?), then by the grace of a god or a higher power I may know your (Patanjali’s, Bryant’s) claims to be true? Again, if they are talking about personal feelings and inner experiences that are only subjective real for the experiencer, fine. But there’s no empirical claims we can verify for their truthfulness in the practical, objective world. To imply that only insiders can know these “truths” you claim is not an answer you really expect anybody to take seriously–except “those who already believe and agree with you”, the kinds who’d buy your books.

    It’s honest to admit you don’t know or say you need faith to know if it’s true. I don’t know but I’m willing to consider if there’s any truth here, but not willing to take it on faith.

    My questions to you:
    * What would it take you to question your 100% confidence? And, lower it from such high certainty?
    * If I were to show you scientific evidence or sound logic that disproves your claims, would you be willing to revise your belief? To lower your confidence level?

    Suggestion: Would you be willing to get back to me in a week or so and let me know if your confidence level has changed? Or, if you can provide any logic or evidence that you think would be more convincing? Something substantial that might bump up my confidence level in your assertions. My confidence level went from a 5 to 2% after our exchanges.

    • Hi Scott

      See, when we discuss like this, it is called “discursive reasoning’. “Discursive” can loosely be translated to mean that all issues have at least two sides. To your black, is my white; to your good is my bad, or whatever opposites you care to posit or discuss.

      I start with these points because you introduce words like “logically explain” or “provide evidence for” as if, in a manner that you do NOT specify explicitly, this neutralizes the position I take. But because this is discursive discussion, I can flip it back to you and ask you to explain to me, exactly and precisely, what it means to “logically explain” something or to “provide evidence” to prove something with 100% certainty.

      I do not say this with any malice or hostility. I am simply curious to understand why you would even think such things are possible? All of human history proves that there is no certainty at any level. For thousands of years, millions of people were 100% certain the world was flat and they had much “evidence” to prove their case. For thousands of years, everyone knew with 100% certainty that there were six planets, the Moon, and the Sun, and that the Stars themselves were the fixed, unmoving background of the Heavens. It was a quite a shock when other planets were later discovered. It was also quite a shock for some to realize the stars move! For centuries, everyone worshiped Isaac Newton for discovering his UNIVERSAL law of gravitation. That is, until Einstein discovered a better one and MORE universal law of gravitation in the early 1900s. I could go on with such examples, but do not want to spoil your surprise and enjoyment at discovering the many other examples of how people were so completely certain of this or that, only later to find it was all wrong. After you see about 100 such examples, it takes little insight to apply the lesson to all the things people believe are true right now, including your unsubstantiated assertion that anything can be proven or logically explained.

      It confuses me how you assert it is even possible to have proof and explanations of the type you do. Again, I remind you that I qualified all this by talking about what I consider to be “operationally useful”. This means, exactly as you indicated, that it works FOR ME (and others too, I am not alone in this claim). But then you regress and try to reframe the discussion in terms that are not helpful. When I talk about 100% confidence, I am 100% confident that it is the MOST operationally useful theory I have learned about the mind.

      Proof and explanations with 100% certainty are only possible in mathematics, and mathematics is an invention of the human mind. And even then, there are well-informed people who argue that proof and certainty are not even possible in mathematics in any absolute sense. I refer you to Wittgenstein or Hermann Weyl or Leibniz if you wish to read on this topic.

      I might suggest that you consider the possibility that our minds rest on no bedrock whatsoever. Anything you take to be a solid premise may perhaps APPEAR to be so for the moment, but eventually will turn to quicksand, and you will be forced to scurry to the next temporary mental island where you may temporarily orient yourself, until again, change occurs and forces you into a new and different position.

      This will continue to occur until you have the insight that all one ever does in their mind is constantly shift amongst ever-shifting views. After you have the insight that this is occurring, it will continue, but you will have found your first glimmer of constancy in the old cliche: the more that things change, the more they stay the same. Which, eventually you will come to realize, is a contradiction. Yet it contains an essential truth that is ALWAYS true. It is a special type of contradiction called a “paradox”. You will learn some more paradoxes. Then you may get the insight that these paradoxes seem to be the way that things REALLY work. At which point you will no longer think in terms of absolutes, of “right” and “wrong” or to seek 100% certainty, or 2% certainty, or square root of 2% certainty, or even square root minus one % of certainty. You will no longer seek for “proof” or “evidence” because you will realize they are meaningless, and you will look for the paradox at the heart of the matter as the way to discern the truth of the situation at hand.

      You will come to realize that for every black you can imagine, you can equally imagine white, for every good, bad, for every truth, false. And they all mix together in a way that, if you truly understand it, should make no sense to you at all.

      You will come to accept that the very nature of our existence cannot be understood by our mind. Then you will question: well, what is the function, the purpose of this mind, if it cannot bring certainty, it cannot bring understanding?

      Then you will be well on the road to yoga, and begin to really understand why Patanjali said the things he did.

      If you are not capable of being flexible and attempt to learn these deeper philosophical truths, and continue to compress the terms of our discourse into way too simple-minded dichotomies, I am afraid I will be of little to use to you as a conversing partner, and that would be unfortunate because being able to discuss at these deeper and more subtle levels is actually very much fun.

      Thank you, Scott. My very best wishes to you,


      • Gentlemen: Thanks for the interesting discussion. I thought we were engaged in a discussion to demonstrate whether the assertions you and Bryant made were true, could be verified by reason or evidence: the only tools we have to communicate and observe the natural, real cosmos. Your statements like “the only way out is in” or “voidness” sound profound but have little value to a rational, critical thinker.

        So much human speculation masquerades as knowledge. Again, I’m willing to revise my thinking if I were to find I was in error–which I often am. Gullibility is our human condition.

        I don’t care to defend any positions or ideologies. I’m interested in truth, which is contingent because current knowledge is limited, probably will always be.

        I If I can think of anything constructive to add to this conversation I’ll revisit. I don’t know. And, I’ll leave it at that for now. If there’s one thing I hope you’ll consider from this discussion is that you don’t know either.

        Thanks for trying to meet me half-way.

      • Hi Scott

        When I said “if you truly understand it, should make no sense to you at all.” I don’t know if you realized this was meant to apply to me as much as to you or anyone else. Good luck with your search for truth, and stop by any time to share what you’ve found And thank you too for trying to meet half way too!

        Very best wishes,



  5. PeterJ

    I would like to add to his. I find sceptic’s questions to be extremely interesting, thoughtful and very fair.

    First, about certainty. Aristotle and others conclude that certain knowledge requires an identity of knower and known. ‘True knowledge is identical with its object’ (Aristotle).

    This is the certainty of the yoga practitioner, he knows what he is. He therefore knows what everything is. ‘The voidness of one thing is the voidness of all’ (Upanishads), meaning that a knowledge of the nature of one phenomenon is a knowledge of the nature of them all. This is self-knowledge (and Self-knowledge) but Patanjali makes it clear that self-knowledge is knowledge of reality.

    Relative knowledge can be doubted. Knowledge by identity cannot be doubted. When you are in pain you cannot doubt it.

    As for logic, sceptic, you suggest that Patanjali’s view cannot be defended in logic. This is not the case, It can be and has been proved in logic. It is, in fact, the only world-view that survives logical analysis. I cannot prove this here, but consider this…

    Western (non-mystical/dualistic) metaphysics is an utter failure. No solution has ever been found and the world appears to make no sense whatsoever. How can two millennia go by while philosophers make exactly nil progress?

    The explanation would be that these philosophers dismiss the only solution that works. Inevitably, progress comes to a standstill. In the second century Nagarjuna logically proved the solution for metaphysics in his ‘Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way’, but this is mysticism, of course, and even a logical argument is not enough to raise much interest in ‘woo’ within the academic community.

    This is not about logic and knowledge but dogma, superstition and intellectual fashions.

    Faith was mentioned as being important. Some faith would be required as a motive for taking up the practice, as has been said. This would be where metaphysics can be useful, since Patanjali’s view beats all comers when it gets down to a close analysis of the logic of philosophical problems. In short, it would be possible to work out that Patanjali is correct. I’m constantly amazed that more people don’t do it, but then a lot of the anti-woo brigade will never think about these issues.

    This is off the cuff, but I hope it indicates that scepticmeditations’s question can be answered without any appeal to ‘my’ incommunicable experience or by appealing to faith and belief.

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