“The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.”
–Alfred North Whitehead

Philosophizing on YouTube with Pyrrho314





14 responses to “Philosophizing on YouTube with Pyrrho314”

  1. Tony Hegarty Avatar

    Thank you both for sharing that!
    There are some more personal things I want to say more appropriate to an email Matt maybe you could look out for one lol. I loved the idea that you needed to get to grips with the concept of “spirituality” (I remember you sniffed a bit at my background in old fashioned “conceptual analysis” once ) Pyrrho began equating spirituality with meaning and I initially like that. You broadened it to self-reflexion/consciousness (not exactly your words). Then there was the question of Pyrrhos’ about what is ‘spirit”? (does spirituality imply spirit…I don’t think it need do…what you think?) Your final (what to call it) …”caveat” (more a parting desire to limit P for very sincere reasons) about not tying spirituality to any particular scientific paradigm was superb…I replayed it twice (I did note P had a reply he didn’t get time to make). The whole content about what meaning is….and what counts as sound meaning…you both touched on Synchronicity….P talked about being”primed” for such events…was fascinating. I do think you can be “primed”, in fact it can be good to be so…but it doesn’t explain fully the nature of a really synchronous event. Jung’s famous patient with the beetle dream and it arriving at the window could fall to “priming” maybe…I wld buy that…but my finding Martin Moran’s book in a Boston cafe would not (don’t know if you remember that).
    Finally how do you guys make those reciprocal videos? I’d like to try that but feel, maybe wrongly, that conversations over here like that are hard to find.
    Relating to this conversation and to my interest in ecopsychology I have been asking the question about the “spiritual” (?) recommendation made by a very sound therapeutic project that we should “explore a wild place”…..my question is: what would it mean to “explore” a wild place? In your terms maybe to become more aware and fully conscious of it? Like P’s sensing deer in his woods! Antway you or he may have a few thoughts on that one; Jenny and I want to elaborate it a bit on my blog. Thanks again for the sharing…I don’t know your friend’s name…P.
    Blessings Tony.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Hi Tony,

      Thanks for listening. I suppose what I meant by referring to conscious experience as a source of spirituality was not well expressed, or not articulated specifically enough. I meant those sorts of sublime “transcendental” (in the Kantian not in the Yoganandian sense) experiences we sometimes have when we consider not just the beauty of the environment around us, but the strange fact of our own awareness of that beauty. So in other words, we are taking in what is all around us, as well as the fact that we as conscious minds are there to take it in. We perceive the objective, and perceive that we are conceiving of it from a subjective perspective. Something recursive like that… This sort of “doubling up” tends to evoke a feeling I’d want to call “spiritual.”

      1. Tony Hegarty Avatar

        Ok I am thinking about that Matt…..didn’t see this when i left the last comment.

  2. Tony Hegarty Avatar

    I rushed into that a bit (you both fired my enthusiasm) ! I wonder about equating “spirituality” with consciousness…you said Matt..its not what’s out there it’s that you are aware is out there…why call that “spirituality” isn’t that just “conscious awareness”. Are you reducing one to the other? I might say that conscious awareness is “contemplation” or “meditation”, in fact, lots of do-it-yourself psychology books do say this when they recommend meditation as a form of de-stressing technique with all aspects of “spirituality” gone! Unless relaxation is also “spiritual”. I once mentioned to a nun in an addiction centre that many of her patients seemed to fall asleep during the “meditation” sessions: “isn’t sleep kind of spiritual?” she said. So I am back with Pyrrho on this one: conscious awareness isn’t always meaningful….but a deeply meaningful feeling is usually “spiritual”…. “deeply meaningful” simply being a adjectival/adverbal phrase not a name for what it is. So to re phrase my question about wild places: Are wild places deeply meaningful experiences? And how are they?

  3. Tony Hegarty Avatar

    Re Above: That wont do either….I found myself to day on the university campus (here in Galway) trying to organise a new library pass. I parked by the Uni Chaplancy …a nice little church, which when i was a practising Catholic I used to visit for Mass on late Sunday evenings with the students. I felt a little blue so I popped inside …kind of nostalgically, and sat for awhile, The place was totally empty with a few candles burning and this very still atmosphere. I meditated for a few minutes…..and then thought this has a spiritual dimension which is just so not simply “conscious awareness” and I remebered being with Matt in a church in Amsterdam and him saying something similar about that feeling then to me. It reminds me of a passage from T.S. Eliot, which I quote:

    “…You are not here to verify,
    Instruct yourself, or inform curiosity
    Or carry report. You are here to kneel
    Where prayer has been valid. And prayer is more
    Than an order of words, the conscious occupation
    Of the praying mind, or the sound of the voice praying.”
    (Little Gidding (1) from “Four Quartets” (1942).

    What is prayer then? I am very conscious of Matt saying that his talking on the video was a kind of prayer ( I know that feeling…I think its to do with sharing creative consciousness) Yet we have not yet quite got to a satisfactory definition of “spirituality” I feel. Love to hear your views on this.

  4. pyrrho314 Avatar

    Matt, I’d like to have another discussion, next week if you have time and are so inclined, with two themes of motivation by which it can be initiated. One, I would like to compose myself so we explore the questions you pose, and I take less time answering than I took spray painting a quick mural of issues that currently occupy my consideration. Two, I would like to talk about the appropriateness of “tying” spirituality to an understanding of the physical universe… to there being four elements, when that was the view, to a two sphere universe, when that was a view. I am rereading The Copernican Revolution by Thomas Kuhn at the moment, and with respect to sprititual meaning, and its possible relation to the feeling of meaning in general, it seems to me he describes well people’s need for a larger framework of meaning.

    He explains in more detail than I remember how the populace takes just certain conceptions as offered by “scientists”, and scientists believe in certain aspects than others. Geocentrism, for some reason, for example, was more inviolate than other parts of Aristotle’s conception. You can attribute respect to Aristotle only so far, and at least by implication, Kuhn seems to be attributing this to cultural and individual need for a sense of home and origin point. It is possible to put that on a moving earth, but difficult to move.

    I endorse using such systems, the fact that they are evolving, becoming well informed, and that we can induce that they “will be proved incorrect or at least incomplete” does not seem to mean that sort of foundation is not needed. It’s merely that as a skeptic, I believe in knowledge as a changing thing, lending itself to poetic description as “a living thing”. It seems to me that spirituality is also naturally a changing thing. I believe in joining my spirituality with my understanding of nature, it feels I ought to do that. That requires embracing a spirituality that evolves, much like any natural system of theories and notions.

    Since there is progress in the understanding of nature, there will be progress in it’s relationship and influence on spirituality, my feeling goes. As my model of “progress”, I use a map of trails, and the notion of “progress” to one’s goal.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar


      Sounds good. I have family visiting at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I can’t sneak away in the evening sometime to talk, so long as you are willing to stay up a bit later since you’re on east coast time I take it?

      Kuhn is a profound thinker. I love the way he embeds science within culture and our search for meaning as human beings. This is very important, as the embeddedness of science–that is, the rather fundamental but often forgotten fact that science is a cultural activity–makes it clear that it will always be an ongoing adventure that involves not only transformations in our knowledge of nature, but correlated transformations in our knowledge of ourselves. BTW, if you enjoy Kuhn, you’d enjoy the contemporary sociologist of science Bruno Latour’s work.

      In our conversation the other night, I didn’t mean to suggest that we shouldn’t consider the scientific knowledge of the day as relevant to our spiritual practices. I just feel like it serves us better (as people trying to defend the relevance of spiritual experience and discourse about such experience) not to use specific scientific paradigms (for ex., quantum theory as described by the double slit experiment) as “proof” of spirit. Rather, we need to make wider philosophical generalizations based on our present scientific knowledge, generalizations that are not likely to be reversed or contradicted by further developments in the special sciences. I think it is clear that relativity and quantum theories, as currently understood within the sciences, are incomplete theories. This must be the case because they stand in contradiction to one another on many levels (one is discontinuous, the other continuous; the effects of one are space and time free as a result of non-locality/entanglement, while the other is geometrically structured according to the limits of measurable space-time and the supposedly finite speed of light, etc.). I’ve made my own attempt at such philosophical generalization drawing principally on Alfred North Whitehead’s “philosophy of organism.” I build on these generalizations to spell out my own understanding of the “spiritual” dimension of the universe. Check it out: https://matthewsegall.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/physics-of-the-world-soul-whitehead-and-cosmology.pdf

      1. pyrrho314 Avatar

        cool, I’ll give that a read. I’m going camping and canoeing this weekend and I will have time for some reading. cheers.

      2. pyrrho314 Avatar

        re the PDF you linked: it’s times like these I’m glad I invested in a laser printer. I’m also glad they’ve gotten so relatively inexpensive. 🙂

      3. Matthew David Segall Avatar

        Glad you have the time to read it! I very much look forward to your comments and critiques. It should serve as a nice introduction to Whitehead.

  5. Tony Hegarty Avatar

    It seems like you two should get together again and talk this through..and Kuhn will certainly help…I kind of feel I’m an irrelevance here in this discussion…feel like I am talking to myself. I should know better!

  6. Chen Avatar

    A bit lost on the context of the discussion – references to Gary and others are unfamiliar to me. Apologies! Did like the sort of spur of the moment, back and forth though, in the act as opposed to hidden and obfuscated by a formal presentation – it lacks pretense. A couple of comments:

    (1) I agree with this ” I just feel like it serves us better (as people trying to defend the relevance of spiritual experience and discourse about such experience) not to use specific scientific paradigms (for ex., quantum theory as described by the double slit experiment) as “proof” of spirit. ” Not only for more general philosophical reasons as you go on to say but to preserve and “show” that other avenues to knowledge, other significant relationships with the world are possible than the mere desiccated terms of a ‘scientific’ ontology. Its important to communicate or live the idea that our relation to nature as such need not be laboratory like – we need not, as a matter of course, before we say anything consult the latest book of scientific findings. If Philosophy can preserve or hint towards, or encourage us to develop these different paths then great – the hegemony of technocratic thinking is becoming too much. Something needs to resist this totalizing of knowledge, this equation of knowledge with technology.

    (2) With that said, I’m a bit wary of terms like Spirit and Spiritual as they connote a religiosity that is reflexively dismissed..even by me. But there are no neutral terms here and I often wonder if trying to use different concepts is just running away from the full implications. Not sure but I’d like to discuss these things without having to talk about the supernatural or Christianity in particular. I suppose a question is, is there a way to affirm the spiritual without thereby advocating for a Religion? Paradoxically, I’m asking is there a way to think of the Spiritual naturalistically? But of course, not a Naturalism that is merely Materialism but a Naturalism open to including what we term the “Spiritual” as distinctive and real in the actual world. By this I mean, quite literally, the question can be posed is what we call “spiritual” real and non-material, but not ‘supernatural’? Is this offending to “Spirit” ? I often wonder how blasphemous this might be to devout believers. As much as it maybe, I find it difficult to engage the particulars of any Religion but I also find reductionist ideas repellent. Thus,I try to navigate a middle path. This middle path involves the intense reflection on our lived experience, finding the right tools to ‘talk’ about it without choking it off at the root for its inability to be codified into simple abstractions.

    1. Matthew David Segall Avatar

      Hi Chen,

      Thanks for your thoughts. I’d say both Nature (the God of Scientism) and Supernature (the God of Christianity) are religious or theological concepts. We need a non-Natural, non-Supernatural cosmology, in my opinion. This is why I’m so into Whitehead’s scheme.

      I certainly think there are plenty of avenues for discussing the “spiritual but not religious.” I’m weary of any form of fundamentalism, but at the same time in my experience spirituality outside the context of some enduring wisdom tradition tends to float off into narcissistic or consumerist back patting. I’m curious to know what you make of my attempt to break open Christian and Buddhist spirituality in this essay: https://footnotes2plato.com/2011/04/30/religious-dialogue-as-soul-making-a-prayer-to-buddha-and-christ/

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