New Scientist interviews Slavoj Žižek

Posted by on Aug 30, 2010 in Otherhood | No Comments

Philosopher Slavoj Žižek was interviewed in New Scientist. He calls for a deeper collaboration between philosophy and science:

Should philosophers be helping scientists?

Yes. For the last few decades, at least in the humanities, big ontological questions – What is reality? What is the nature of the universe? – were considered too naive. It was meaningless to ask for objective truth. This prohibition on asking the big questions partly accounts for the explosion of popular science books. You read Stephen Hawking’s books as a way to ask these fundamental, metaphysical questions. I think that era of relativism, where science was just another product of knowledge, is ending. We philosophers should join scientists asking those big metaphysical questions about quantum physics, about reality.

(And contemplatives should be right there with them.)

All these complex ideas… how do we come up with them?

I like Stephen Jay Gould here: intelligence, language and so on are exaptations, by-products of something which failed. Say I am using my cellphone – I become fully aware of it only when something goes wrong. We ask the big metaphysical questions even though we cannot solve them, and as a by-product we come up with wonderful, solid knowledge.

Could western monasticism be considered an exaptation — a by-product of something that failed (namely a religion in its exclusive, centrally organized and dogmatic form)?

One practice we see throughout monastic traditions is asking the big metaphysical questions over and over again… until “as a by-product we come up with wonderful, solid knowledge.” Christian prayers (Pascal’s “Oh God, if there is a God, fill my soul, if I have a soul”), mahamudra practices in Vajrayana (“what is the mind? What is the body?”), self inquiry in Advaita Vedanta (“Who am I?”)… Some traditions in fact take this idea one step further and ask questions that decidedly have no answers, and still we come up with wonderful knowledge, insight, gnosis or prajna.

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