Yesterday at Rice we had what I think was the best conference I ever attended. It was called The Gnostic Spirit.
Professor Lautaro Roig Lanzillota from University of Gronignen gave a keynote speech on Gnostic anthropology, situating different systems of thought within the network of ancient philosophy. It was a fantastic paper.
I offered a paper on ancient Gnostic psychotherapy and neurology. This is a major part of the book I am writing now called The Ancient New Age.
Jeff Kripal took a biographical stance and looked at some odd stories that have yet to be explained by our current ways of thinking.
The rest of the conference was devoted to graduate student papers, which were of the highest quality. They were all cutting edge and pushing the boundaries of what we currently know. I feel so honored to have these kinds of brilliant students in our intellectual community at Rice
The discussion pushed on how we have constructed reality today. Because we understand matter to be the real world, we have a concept of our self that is confined to our material body. There is matter and nothing else. All truth is reduced to atoms.
The papers and discussion really got me wondering about where we are in our understanding of reality, and if our modern reduction to matter and the rejection of the supernatural can ever allow us to develop a scheme that can make sense of other realities we experience. I am not even sure how to talk about these other realities, because so quickly things turn to the ontological. So I want to hold off on thinking ontologically and just make a couple of suggestions.
First, I think we all experience a noetic reality. I don't think the noetic reality is material. My thoughts and feelings, my perceptions and psychological self are real, but they are not material. This doesn't mean that they are not supported by my body, produced by my body, influencing my body. They are. But this doesn't reduce my noetic reality to the material. It simply says that there is an interface between my body and the noetic. They co-exist and operate in tandem. This operation involves my brain and whole body. But it also involves my environment, both physical and noetic.
Second, I think humans experience a transcendent reality. Here I am talking about something like the numinous, something that makes us overwhelmed with its vastness and its immanence. It is a reality difficult to describe, almost refusing to be put into words. For me, it is a presence. This reality is also something that is produced and/or experienced by our brains and bodies, but it influences our brains and bodies too. It is as real as our experience of the color red or being in love.
What I am saying is that as modern people we need to sort this out for ourselves. Since Descartes and then the advent of modern science, we really have become lost in terms of having a way to really express any of this. As modern people we need to be able to talk about types of reality that are not material themselves although they interact with our material bodies, being produced and/or being experienced by our bodies, and influencing our bodies too.
Any suggestions here?