Trying to make sense of Chopra-Dawkins debate from Kṛṣṇa conscious POV we should definitely have another look at subject-object split, I think it’s a useful tool and it can pose insurmountable problems for atheistic scientists. Here’s the link to the video cued to the starting point.
Chopra brings up subject-object split as inherent to “scientific” observation of the world and, I think, he had the potential to kill Dawkins on the spot, metaphorically speaking. Unfortunately, he bungled this attempt by “chopring” it into his word salad, but it started with a promise.
The observing self cannot be glimpsed by science because it happens to be the observer. The observer cannot be observed, and that’s where spirituality comes in if we define spirituality as self-awareness. This last twist of thought was unnecessary, I think.
What does it mean “the observer cannot be observed”? If he means that us trying to understand ourselves is self-reflection then I guess it’s okay to call it spirituality, but scientists outsource this “self-reflection” to others, they never look at themselves, they ask others to appraise their state objectively and impartially. Chopra shouldn’t have jumped to the next step without answering this obvious objection. Dawkins didn’t have a chance to speak here but if pressed he would surely say something very similar.
Perhaps the answer lies in one of Chopra’s follow up slogans – “only consciousness can understand consciousness”. Scientists might object absolutism of this statement for a second but, if you think of it, we don’t see unconscious objects as capable of understanding anything so this proclamation is simply an inversion of what we all agree on. So, if only consciousness can understand consciousness then we cannot outsource self-reflection, which we think is subjective, to unconscious observers, which is what we expect from fellow scientists because we want to strip them of their subjectivity as precondition for observing us. In short, we want observing scientists to act as machines, we don’t even need people to be there, if we can program MRI to scan our brains on its own we can look at the results later on and consider the scans as objective evidence.
It could be said that entire science progress, their entire scientific method is based on stripping subjectivity from our observations, that is in trying to use unconscious instruments to understand consciousness, but only consciousness can understand consciousness, so this attempt will eventually fail.
There are probably loopholes somewhere in there, I’d have to outsource finding them to the atheistic community, they are very adept at that sort of thing. In general, though, I think it’s a fair argument – by being “objective” science tries to express consciousness through unconsciousness – sensors, data, etc. They might think there’s hope in this approach if consciousness itself is only a clever combination of unconscious parts, so trying to reduce consciousness back to data is simply reverse-engineering.
Still, they always rely on a conscious person to analyze and interpret this data, be it themselves looking at their MRI scans, or the peer review process. If one day we delegate this to AI we assume that AI would have all the signs of consciousness already, otherwise we still need living, conscious beings to do the actual understanding.
“Any understanding of consciousness through looking at the brain is at best inferential,” Chopra said instead, and as camera panned on Dawkins he completely lost him there, Dawkins carrying a look of incredulity on his face. “You looking at correlations of experiences consciousinconsciousness through objective means.” No idea what he meant, how to split that, and if it was an error he self-corrected.
It would have been better if Chopra explained “inferential” first. It could mean what I expressed in previous paragraphs – unconscious records themselves cannot understand consciousness, we need to interpret them in somebody else’s brain, which could be called “inference” here, but even then it would be subjective interpretation. Chopra didn’t explain it at all. Inference itself is a solid tool in logic but he made it sound as if it’s inadequate and Dawkins could have argued that it isn’t. In the absence of śāstra as a pramāṇa it’s really the best tool available, so without a proper explanation it’s just an empty, emotionally charged proclamation. The follow up sentence was incomprehensible, even though the general thrust of Chopra’s thought is rather clear.
Then Chopra went on to talk about science relying on “fragmented view of reality”, due to that subject-object split, and this needs some sitting down and digesting first. Science is against fragmented views, too, but it understands “fragmented” differently and hopes that more data would eliminate fragmentation. Chopra, however, isn’t talking about more data here, and when he compared fragmented science to fragmented religions he muddled the meaning even further. Not pausing here he jumped to science creating diabolical weapons and inflicting climate change.
No wonder Dawkins couldn’t resist the urge to call it all BS to Chopra’s face. There was a lot of truth in this judgment, but it refers only to the wording of Chopra’s presentation, not its substance. It was simply too much for Dawkins to process and try to find plausible meanings in Chopra’s gibberish. I have the luxury of time and rewinding and replaying the video until I finally get it, and still I can’t make out what Chopra said about “experiences consciousinconsciousness”. I don’t even want the challenge of deciphering it.
Lastly, we can’t leave the topic of subject-object split without mentioning our dṛg-dṛśya-vicāra, which was particularly illuminated by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī. We don’t talk about it too much but the idea that it’s the Lord who sees us and us being objects of His enjoyment is well-understood in our community.
This is how we can understand both Chopra’s and Dawkins positions within our framework. Dawkins’ is easier, because he is a gross materialist without any comprehension of transcendence. In the absence of any higher powers he really thinks he is the seer and the world around him is to be seen. In his experience there’s nothing superior to human consciousness so he is being true to his perception of reality. He also angrily rejects any notion of God so it’s possible it would take him multiple lifetimes to calm down and accept the possibility of not being the boss. He already cedes superiority to other humans, he knows a lot of theoretical stuff about God, it’s just one small step left and it will come in due time.
When one knows the Lord he knows that he is not the boss, he is not the seer, that it’s only an illusion, but until that moment comes illusion is the only reality. Dawkins is simply being honest, though ignorant.
Chopra’s position is complicated because we don’t know what he actually thinks, how much of his actual worldview he let on in this debate. It will become clearer as I get to his trump card he prepared to hit Dawkins with, so tomorrow.