- Does Yoga Induce Metaphysical Hallucinations?Interdisciplinarity at the Edge: Comments on Evan Thompson’s Waking, Dreaming, Being
Waking, Dreaming, Being is an unusual book in many ways. I mention two. First, in some ways it is a memoir. Few philosophers started as a child doing the sort of philosophy that they did as a grown-up. Evan did. Evan grew up in the intellectually fertile world of the Lindisfarne Association, the collaborative of scientists, artists, ecologists, and contemplatives founded by his father, William Irwin Thompson, a polymath, whom I had the pleasure of meeting in 2004 at the Crestone Zen Monastery in Colorado.
Evan’s dad taught him Raja Yoga as a boy—when he was seven!—and read him Upanishadic children’s stories. Lindisfarne was the antithesis of a C. P. Snow–style Two Cultures environment where the sciences and humanities, is and ought, and traditional and edgy thought are separated in silos.
Besides his father, Evan has had important relations with other “strong poets.” Francisco Varela, the great autopoetic biologist and neuroscientist, was his decade-ish-older soul mate. Bob Thurman, the bombastic Buddhist, was his mentor at Amherst. The Fourteenth Dalai Lama has his ear and vice versa, and when the story of “contemplative neuroscience” is told, whether it succeeds or fails, the Dalai Lama, Varela, Richie Davidson, and Evan will be viewed as its four horsemen. Finally, when I first met Evan in 1990, he was on a post-doc working with Dan Dennett at Tufts. My amateurish reading of influence (partially based on whom he mentions least) is that Dennett’s views, Dennett’s whole way of thinking, are the least congenial to Evan’s thought as I have seen it develop over the years (especially in works like the Em bodied Mind, coauthored with Cisco Varela and Eleanor Rosch, and the monumental Mind and Life). Although Evan never says this, Dennett is, I suspect, too scientistic and too uncomfortable with the attitude of “not knowing,” which Evan is very comfortable with, to have a place in Evan’s pantheon. But I am speculating here.
But the first point is simply that this book is a philosophical memoir of a philosopher who, at a very young age, started thinking about the problems that absorb the mature man today. I cannot think of another philosopher like this. Maybe Athenian philosophy was like this. J. S. Mill learned Greek and Latin early, but not Indian philosophy! (Gosh, Evan even met his life partner Rebecca Todd when he was a boy!) Even Galen Strawson, Peter’s son, did not start studying philosophy until he was 21. I started younger than Galen when my father gave me Aquinas’s Summa Theologica to settle some theological doubts, but I was nowhere near as young as Evan. In any case, this book is, or can be read as, a memoir of a rare kind of life, a lifelong philosopher’s [End Page 952] life, where lifelong does not mean from one’s twenties to one’s death, of which there are many examples.
Many people who will not read this book would not admire the “raised by hippies” feel of it. New Age types might like it too much. Analytic philosophers might well say that the memorial qualities are interesting and make for honest admission of early socialization or brainwashing, which, depending on one’s perspective, Evan may or may not have adequately examined critically.
The second point is that the book is methodologically pluralistic, radically interdisciplinary. It is a methodological tour de force, but only if you approve of a genuinely interdisciplinary inquiry. I do. But many don’t and won’t. In defense of radical interdisciplinarity is the fact that the nature of the self, consciousness, persons, and good lives are human problems, not the problems of only one discipline, locked off in one discipline’s proprietary silo. Some reflective people might agree with this, but nonetheless say that fairly strict divisions of labor and piecemeal approaches are warranted, because although these topics are not ultimately in the domain of any one discipline, individuals or groups of individuals are not equipped to see all sides at...