Materialists, the Human Soul, and Introspection

One issue I’d like to bring up is the question of how to communicate the idea of non-material reality to those who claim that matter is a universal fact of being, a stance, which by nature, cannot allow for the existence of, and evidence for, spiritual realities, entities, and “realms”.

In claiming that only matter exists, materialists let themselves off the metaphysical hook, because they a priori  dismiss evidence for non-material realities. They talk the liberal, open-minded approach – you know: “I’m open to believing if you show me the evidence”. However, since evidence for the non-material is itself non-material, the atheists cannot and will not accept such evidence. Which, in a negative sense, makes them the “winners” because they live in an air-tight dialectical bubble, where nothing from “the outside” can reach them and shatter their worldview. So, how to reach them, since there is no argumentation they will accept?

Perhaps one angle of approach would be to attempt to address the fact of their own non-materiality, i.e., their own mental functions and their subjective selves.
At first, they will no doubt protest that the self is nothing but a product of neurological function. The reply to that, I think, would be to ask them to introvert, to “look inside” not only at the fact that they are conscious, but also to examine the contents of their consciousness. At that point, it should be easy to show how utterly different mental life is from the brain – and the first thing they will discover is that they won’t find anything like a brain or a body within the field of their awareness.

The brain is a three-pound skull organ, whose purpose and functions are well-known. And none of those functions demonstrably constitutes the creation of a mind or mental contents. At best, there is only a correlation between the two, but not an identity. On principle, “Like begets like” – so the brain might perhaps beget more brain – but never a non-material, subjective self. Moreover, the brain is not “about” anything, whereas the psyche is “about” everything under the sun, including the experience of its own – non-material – contents. Therefore, to claim that brain equals mind, self, subjectivity the qualia, personhood, etc., is to commit a category error of egregious proportions.

One suggestion for mental introversion would be to have the experimenter realize that he or she is the observer – that is, in and as a non-material self, he or she can realize that the body and the myriad objects witnessed within the stream of the introverted consciousness are simply things that exist outside the observer, and are therefore not the observer him–or-herself. This will bring the realization that the observer – the soul, the self – is not material and is not part of the passing objects that stream by in front of the observing self. Rather, the observer is the non-material consciousness that merely – simply – witnesses the passing sense impressions and mental phenomena, and therefore, because it is not identifiable with such material-world phenomena, is not a material category – not a body and not a brain.

So, if materialists could be weaned from their naive “Brain equals mind” / “We ARE the brain!” perspective, simply by having them empirically discover, via introspection, that the exact opposite is the case, their materialism might weaken – and weaken to the extent that they would begin to make intellectual room for God, the Spirit, and the human soul.

I think that this hands-on, empirical, experiential approach would have at least as much success as pointing materialists to books, websites and philosophical ruminations, on the principle that experience trumps mere intellection or “belief-in”. That is, giving a person real fishing equipment to catch real fish is more pragmatic than merely telling a person about fish and how to catch them. Introspection could function as the unbeliever’s rod and reel, with the Catch being as big as their net could handle.

These considerations also seem to at least in part successfully dovetail with certain categories in Jodo Shinshu – namely the experiential reality of the non-material Transcendent as postulated by Masters Shinran and Rennyo and interpreted so well for us by scholars such as John Paraskevopoulos, D.T. Suzuki, Harold Stewart, and others. “Our” Transcendent – “our” Amida Buddha and his gift of Shinjin – are our very own experienced, unmediated reality of “the Other Shore” – from which our “Raft” of salvation has sailed to us for our benefit.

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