Dualism: Don’t Knock It So Fast! It Saved Our Civilization!

bloom-county-on-strong-aiThe other day I went to a Meetup.com group for writers in Philadelphia. While introducing myself I mentioned that I used to write science fiction novels (note that the best of these is now available from Amazon!) but now write about Zen. One of the other writers said, “You could write a science fiction novel about a Zen monk in outer space!” I was kind of like, wow, I never thought of that!

I’m still not sure if it’s a good idea or not. A long time ago I read James Blish’s book A Case of Conscience, about a Jesuit monk living on another planet and another novel called The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell, also about a Jesuit monk who travels to another world. They were both really good and had something important to say, which probably couldn’t have been conveyed in non-fiction as well as it could in fiction. I wondered if maybe I could do that sort of thing too.

So I started poking around the Intewebs to see if it had been done before. When I searched “Zen monk in space” one of the first things that came up was this very interesting article. It’s about astronauts who have experiences that sound a bit like so-called kensho or satori moments (aka “enlightenment experiences”) while looking back upon the Earth from far, far away.

It wasn’t that bit which really stood out for me, although it is interesting. What struck me most was an observation by Edgar Mitchell, an Apollo 14 astronaut who experienced one of those epiphanies. It wasn’t an observation about the epiphany itself, but about something else. Here’s what he said:

“Four hundred years ago. the philosopher Rene Descartes came to the conclusion that physicality and spirituality, or mind and body belonged to different realms of reality that didn’t interact. Now, that served the purpose to get the Inquisition off the backs of the intellectuals so they could disagree on material things with the church without the fear of being burned at the stake. So that ended that, but it did cause, for four hundred years, science to consider consciousness and mind a subject for philosophy and religion and not a subject for science.”

Amazing. I had never thought about that.

Ever since I first encountered the famous line in the Heart Sutra “form is emptiness, emptiness is form,” I had thought that Descartes and his followers – basically all of us in the West – had made a huge mistake. We’d separated body and mind! What fools we were!

I never made the connection as to how Descartes’ dualism functioned socially. As Mitchell said, it got the Inquisition off the backs of the intellectuals and scientists. It allowed a way for science to exist and progress without threatening the Church.

Of course not every church felt unthreatened, as the Bill Nye Vs. Ken Ham debate on evolution and the continuing problems with teaching evolution in American schools points out. But these are relatively minor problems by comparison. Nobody’s getting broken on the wheel for teaching evolution in these post-Cartesean times, even way down in Mississippi.

Following the wide acceptance of Descartes’ dualistic ideas, scientists were able to work without fear of being horribly killed. This may have been what allowed the Western societies who accepted dualism to progress scientifically far beyond societies who did not. The Muslims, and even the Hindus and Buddhists never had their own Descartes.

It’s true the Hindus and Buddhists feared science less than the Christians and Muslims. But perhaps the fact that Europeans were able to advance far beyond them in the areas of material scientific research owes something to the Western notions of dualism which were rejected by Buddhists and many Hindus. I am not proposing this is the sole factor. But I think it’s an important one.

I’m not a big reader of philosophy. So perhaps what I’m saying here is nothing new. But I can say for certain that it’s not an idea that’s widely discussed in the popular literature about religion that I do sometimes read. Maybe it should be, because it explains a lot!

And so I offer that up to you fine folks for consideration today.

Maybe I’ll write that science fiction book.

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71 Responses

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  1. boubi
    boubi April 1, 2014 at 5:40 pm |

    Just go try to have in 2014, not in 1300, let’s say a Hare Krishna dance in the street, a Gay Pride, Slut Day, short skirt, punk look, saying that …. (fill the blank) is the true god in Teheran, Ryad or other places.

    Please do it, make a live feed on some site … maybe ogrish com, they’ll love you

    Yeah, as you said i’m “just a xenophobic asshole who cannot study history without bias. ”

    Please by a ticket to Pakistan and make a field research

    … don’t forget the live feed 😉

  2. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz April 1, 2014 at 6:53 pm |

    History is not a progression towards something “greater”. This is a delusion people cling onto because the precariousness and flux of life frightens them. History is more like an EEG reading, it is always in a flux with its peaks and troughs. Mankind has not evolved psychologically because they still impose their arbitrary boundaries onto the world. In a sense, countries and even race don’t exist because of their transparency (e.g., epigenetics and neural plastcity are more important than genes – genes are more life “field of potentials” rather than a blueprint for the organism’s development).

    You are too deluded to understand this. As a consequence, you do not read my messages deeply. You are missing the forest for the trees. You simply WANT to feel comfortable knowing you live in the (supposedly) best part of the world, and you console yourself that it will remain such because it is “only getting better”.

    Afterall, Islam is barbaric and the Middle East is filled with uncivilized people brainwashed by this backwards religion! Christianity obviously has none of these flaws even though people burned black cats and drowned women while dancing around them, and then they artificially sought to distance the state from religion while paradoxically religious or entitled people ran it! Christianity and Islam are like twins that deny their commonalities with similar trends in their history.

    All civilizations have a dark underbelly even in their moments of peace. Watch the film Blue Velvet. And all civilizations inevitably collapse.

  3. boubi
    boubi April 2, 2014 at 5:39 am |

    That’s right, keep watching movies …

    1. Andy
      Andy April 2, 2014 at 7:09 am |


      I see you’ve attempted a rational dialogue with CosmicBrainz (aka Daniel – still posting as that one – and Catsareinifinite).

      Joined-up thinking isn’t his best suit, and he often projects his own ‘sins’ onto others. Since he’s been on here, for example, he’s persisted in using his own racial/sectarian stereotypes and slurs, while accusing others of the same.

      Keep an eye on his ‘Daniel’ – who just over a year ago posted that he was new to Zen and then a month later had years of sesshin experience! – and now is a full fledged expert.

  4. CosmicBrainz
    CosmicBrainz April 2, 2014 at 2:19 pm |


    Also, stop harassing me. Boubi is being xenophobic and Islamophobic. I’m not even Muslim, and I’m willing to admit there have been periods of great stability in Islamic societies and so forth. I just don’t like it when people reference the destruction of Persia’s Zoroastrian heritage as a way to point to Islam’s barbaric history, as if it overshadows Christianity’s oppression throughout the ages.

    Zoroastrians were just as bad as Christianity and Islam when it came to human rights violations.

    I also made it clear every culture that has grown has contributed significantly to mankind’s scientific knowledge. However, I do not think this warrants the acceptance of a “greater progression to more understanding”. Rather it is more of a rational mindset that every country has adopted but has always fallen back to a more primitive, dark age. What I mean, is it oscillates.

    How am I being racial? It’s boubi who’s being racial by trying to undermine the progress of Eastern societies in the light of the contributions from the Judeo-Christian worlds… I’m saying to let go of the Eurocentric mindset…

    If you can’t even respond to my points, then stop insulting me. Can you not even get what I’m getting at?

    Boubi compared me to Khomeini for crying out loud… How can someone not take offense to this?

Comments are closed.