Vanity thought #1513. Life moves on

The moderator of Chopra-Dawkins debate had to step in when Dawkins snapped about Chopra’s claimed monopoly on consciousness. Chopra felt like he won because Dawkins has abandoned rational arguments and lots his cool. I’m not sure everyone else agreed with his assessment, though.

As I mentioned yesterday, Chopra just used his trump card – the question about personal experiences of transcendence and whether Dawkins would dismiss them as simple neuro activity. Dawkins didn’t flinch – yes, they are wonderful experiences but it’s nothing but brains and one day we will explain how it happens.

Chopra then weaseled his way around the failure of his argument but Dawkins wasn’t moved. To Dawkins’ followers it was Chopra who was clearly losing, there’s no doubt about it. Over the past couple of days I gave plenty of examples of Chopra being very loose with words, which was construed by Dawkins as intellectual dishonesty. People who resort to this kind of tactics can’t win by definition.

In Chopra’s view Dawkins’ descent into personal offenses disqualifies him, too, and that’s how Chopra’s followers saw it and thought they were winning hands down. Chopra was opening their minds to new possibilities and Dawkins sounded like an old record, regurgitating arguments we remember from grade school, and throwing tantrums for no good reason.

When Chopra proposed transcendental experience as final resort and Dawkins dismissed it they thought Dawkins wasn’t intellectually honest, and rightly so, because plenty of very respectable scientists and individual were far more respectful of it and Dawkins was simply downgrading its value for selfish reasons, he sounded very dogmatic there.

If we were engaged in a similar debate we would make many of the same mistakes and run into very similar problems. Atheists are a generally abusive bunch, we would immediately dismiss them once they resort to insults, but they do not see it that way, they think insults are warranted, and the discussion must become heated to bring about any useful results anyway. Par for the course, they think, we should have a thicker skin if we want to debate in the scientific world.

Fair enough, this scientific world is quickly becoming the cesspit of humanity and we can only dream of good old times when people were too dignified to use personal insults. Actually, there was plenty of heat in good old times, too, in the history of science specifically. If we want to engage modern “scientists” that’s what we should expect. They won’t change our minds by being insulting, but we won’t change their minds either, so it’s the reality we need to learn to deal with if we want to succeed in our preaching.

Hmm, “preaching” probably doesn’t apply here. As soon as they sense any preachy attitude they’ll scream murder, they want only reason and logic and what’s we want to give them, too, hoping to defeat them on their ground. At best we can hope they’ll see logical errors in their thinking but, in my experience, it never works. Human nature is such that we can justify any logical lapses without ever admitting them. We just don’t see the error of our own ways, of our own logic. Hence there’s zero value in holding such debates, preaching means a change in one’s heart, not in one’s mind, we can’t reason people into Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

What usually happens is that we, as budding devotees, rely on the same faulty human nature to justify our own philosophy and childishly think that because we figured it all out we can easily convince everyone else, too. It has been tried millions of times and it doesn’t work. For one thing, we can’t see our own lapses of logic and we don’t know Kṛṣṇa consciousness deep enough, nor do we know how other people’s brains work well enough to exploit their weaknesses. And, as I said, we forget that Kṛṣṇa consciousness is a change of heart, it’s not a mental activity.

So, what’s the point of having these debates? Why can’t either side convince their opponents? This was the moderator’s next question, posed both to Chopra and to Dawkins. “If you claim to being able to direct this energy of consciousness to change things, how come you can’t Dawkins’ mind?”, he asked of Chopra.

Chopra’s answer was simple – people are conditioned by their upbringing, and by prevailing scientific paradigm, too, and so they don’t change their minds, they only confirm their biases. Followers of Dawkins would leave this debate even more convinced in their views and the same applies to those siding with Chopra. I don’t think this needs further explanation, this phenomenon can be observed in any debate on any topic, religious, scientific, political, whatever.

Then he asked Dawkins directly: “Do you believe in free will, sir?” Dawkins replied that free will is a very persuasive illusion and he is very pleased to have this illusion, too. Chopra pounced on this:”Well, then we might as well stop the debate right now. None of us has free will or a ability to make a choice right now.” I think it was a brilliant move which finally made use of subject-object split Chopra failed to capitalize on earlier.

Chopra developed it even further by saying that he believes all of us have intentions and that these intentions trigger neural networks, which adjust our behavior, then create habits, and cause what he called long-term potentiation (it’s actually a thing), and then this behavior influences the activity of the genes and they further reinforce it. He made a convincing argument for consciousness driving the evolution and not the other way around, as is argued by Darwinists like Dawkins.

The moderator then posed the same question to Dawkins – how do you explain millions of people who follow Chopra’s ideas? “I don’t know,” was the reply, given with visible frustration. I myself don’t know whether the following applause was in appreciation of his answer or in appreciation of Chopra’s accusation that science doesn’t know anything and only promises solutions being validated. Or maybe it was in appreciation of Dawkins’ sincerity.

Moderator then tried to test Chopra’s hypothesis that no one in the audience would change their minds by simply watching this debate. It wasn’t a scientific test, it’s how people judged dance-offs in disco times, and, as far as I can tell, his request was met with dead silence, though his “there are a few people” is a fair acknowledgement, too.

Keeping in mind what I said about preaching earlier, debates do change people, just not right away. New information and new arguments do register in their brains but they take time to internalize. People need confirmation, they need to have a few experiences that allow them to see the reality in a new way. The possibility of having an alternative explanation must become a reality, then it needs to be reinforced, and then you’ll have your new convert.

Right now I can’t remember a case of anyone who switched from religion to atheism or vice versa on the spot, it’s usually a decision that takes a lot of time, maybe even years. First they hear about an alternative, then they consider the possibility, then they wonder what it would feel like, then they might feel they need to experience it for themselves – it’s a slow process, epiphanies are rare, and even then they don’t happen out of the blue, I would argue.

Point to remember is that preaching, however imperfect, never goes in vain. We might not live long enough to see the results but it shouldn’t stop us, there’s a reason Kṛṣṇa tells us to perform our duties without attachment. Let life move on, with enough devotion we should also develop enough patience not to be swayed by temporary phenomena, and we should eventually learn to value our activities by the words of śāstra, not by our own observations.

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