Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Symbolic meaning can override empirical facts

Voodoo Garden
Ever vigilant, our scarecrow guards our garden against whatever lurks in night shadows
Contrary to what the climate change naysayers wish us to believe, science is grounded in fact, not based on arbitrary opinion: science is an exacting, self-correcting experimental method for determining, based on the information given, what facts are true and what the relationship, if any, exists between facts.[1]

But, as Carl Jung and many others have asserted, there are other equally legitimate whys of knowing based on symbols, mythology, or even through our imagination and our own lived bodily experience.

One such voice is Rita M. Gross writing about Buddhism in in the Spring 2013 edition of Tricycle Magazine in an essay entitled: The Matter of Truth: The Heavy Cost of Literalism. A brief excerpt follows:

“[F]or many modern Buddhists, the symbolic meanings contained in traditional forms are approached with an outlook steeped in the worldview of the European Enlightenment, in which truth and value lie mainly with empirical facts. Truth, in this case, is found as a result of impersonal, objective observation, and it can be duplicated by anyone with proper training under the same circumstances. There is little room in this view of things for affirming meaning as it is communicated through symbolic forms or for the understanding that, for some purposes, the value of symbolic meaning can override empirical facts or even that sometimes factual information is irrelevant to symbolic meaning…

One finds in Buddhist tradition a distinction between "words" and "meaning," which are often very different from one another, and we would do well to consider the traditional advice-whether we are looking at statues or interpreting teachings-to pay attention to symbolic meaning and not be limited to literal meaning.

Traditional people recognize that what is known through imagination, whether or not it can observed empirically, is worthy of portrayal. We moderns, however, though we think ourselves incomparably more sophisticated than traditional people, have little understanding or appreciation of symbolic experience and having committed ourselves to an empirical worldview we live within its narrow confines."

[1] The only caveat is that our knowledge of the universe, in my opinion, is extremly rudimentary. New discoveries will continue to overthrow established truth, creating the continuing need for new paradigms about the nature of reality.
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