INTRODUCTION TO ORIENTALISM

In 1991 the author published INTRODUCTION TO ORIENTALISM, by the Editor EST of Porto Alegre, a book which initially had been conceived to be a booklet of the collection “O Que é” (What Is?) of the Editora Brasiliense and that turned into a greater work, for more restricted readers and ended up being published as a book with 233 pages by the publishing house Editora EST, outside the collection. In 2000 the author resumed the original project, took out almost all the second part of the book “Introduction to Orientalism” and republished it under the name “Initiation to Orientalism”, with the Editora Record´s seal “Nova Era” (new age), as part of the collection on “Initiation”. The work under the seal Nova Era was proofread and received a note on the Dalai Lama and the Chinese presence in Tibet, which the first edition didn´t have. It exposes not only what is Orientalism, but also comprises and synthesizes the whole Eastern thought, including India, China, Japan and Tibet. Different Yoga sources appear, like Buddhism in its many versions, Bushido and the Tibetan thought. It includes also some considerations on the main Eastern ideas in the West, among which: karma, reincarnation, psychic corporality, mental power and cosmic consciousness. On the other hand, the new edition lost the study of the influence of Orientalism on the Western Culture, including such areas as philosophy, science, psychoanalysis, arts (plastic arts, dance, music, theatre and literature), including the theme of counterculture and the existing preconception about the East in the West.

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Extract from the book “INTRODUCTION TO ORIENTALISM”

Orientalism and Science

We understand science as being the abstract and mathematical knowledge that constructs theoretic models of reality. With these models it operates technology, the applied learning on a concrete basis. All models have limitations in their applicability and the approach of physical reality carries the assumption, according to Bohr, that we live in an abstract world. To a certain point, what is “real” is what we see, for all models are mental constructions, creations of our consciousness. The experimental aspect of science was privileged by the development of the scientific method and technical progress, but research was different from what it is today. Newtonian classical physics is an example of how man can research without interfering, for it is equivalent to a description of the universe observed through the lenses of the one who contemplates. You may see a stone rolling, an apple falling, a ray of sun assuming the shape of a rainbow due to the rain drops, etc. Nowadays, it´s not the same, relativistic and quantum physics describe the world beyond our sensorial perception, which overwhelmes our common sense and our immediate experience. In order to arrive at this knowledge, research machines are necessary, in general they are particle accelerators, experiments constructed and planned in detail. How can we know if the conclusions are expressions of natural laws if researching means to construct an artificial model? How can we know if the model corresponds to reality? How could we know if our conclusions aren´t just mere mental constructions devoid of their own substance? These questions have been studied mainly by physicists who try to weave a parallel relationship between philosophy and physics. The best example known is that of Fritjof Capra in his book “The Tao of Physics”, in which he demonstrates that while classic physics is associated to an outlook on life derived from the Greek philosophy, the quantum physics is associated with a conception of the universe inherent to the Eastern thought. Capra considers particularly the monist dualism of the I-Ching, Taoism, Hinduism, classic Buddhism and Zen. Fred Alan Wolf, in a similar way overstates some scientific facts on a thought level, delineating speculatively what is called “visionary physics” and arrives at an adjoining area anywhere between astrophysics and parapsychology. The physical facts and scientific theories subject to a parallel with Eastern philosophy are numerous, like the law of Dirac, where “each particle corresponds to an anti-particle of the same mass and contrary charge”, which reminds us immediately of the Ying and Yang dualism of the Chinese thought. There are many examples, but we just want to register the existence of this tendency here more than analize it. Truly, behind the parallel between classic physics and the Greek thought on one side and quantum physics and the Eastern thought on the other, there exists an opposition between realism and idealism. When we say science constructs theoretical models of reality, we use quotation marks because without them we would be imprisoned to a realistic conception, which conceives existence as an objective reality independent of man. For realism, a theory on reality is valid and correct when it can be validated and measured by human experience, thence the existence of the isolated object, which is not altered in its proprieties by theory or experimentation. In other words, the universe exists independently from man, but can have its laws and truths revealed by human reason. Nature can be described mathematically because it is definite, coherent and exact; any limitations, mistakes, estimates or deviations are part of the failures of the theory of reason and not of nature itself. Newtonian classic physics on the whole is realistic, even Einstein defended a theistical realism of the illuministic tradition, while he conceived a world reigned by exact laws because it was created by a God who doesn´t admit chance. In opposition to that view we have quantum physics, the formalism of Von Neumann and Wittgenstein´s philosophy. We may say, in a simplified way, that quantum mechanics, by using the vibrational conception of the electron and of light and by introducing Heisenberg´s principle of uncertainty, developed a statistic and inaccurate description of reality, bringing forth a controversy on the objective reality in itself. An object is every thing outside the subject and independent from it. So, how could we speak about objectivity if we no longer admit a real apriori, independent from the subject? Hence the possibility of accepting in practical terms Niels Bohr´s theory of complementarity, scoffing at the evident paradoxes of classical physics, with its foundations shaken by experiments which cannot be explained by the realistic view inherent to it. According to Bohr, two theories are complementary when they develop two different and mutually excluding descriptions related to the same universe of discourse, but both are necessary so that all experimentated factors may be applied. At the present moment, it is clear to physics that the world is what we think it is, or in other words, that the notion of reality and object cannot exist separately from the mind which conceives and thinks. How could we know if reality is what we think it is without us? How could we ponder on the act of thinking, without including the subject who thinks and the thought itself? Hence reality is only real when experimented and thought, it doesn´t exist in itself. Or, we could mention Buddha in his Lankavatara-Sutra: “…that which is comprehended is nothing else but the objective world perceived and discriminated by the intellect, which is the mind itself”. By looking at the objects, the mind regards itself. This outlook is idealistic, but Buddha solves the opposition between realism and idealism with the following image: “…the world´s reality is similar to a circle formed by a spinning burning coal”. We can say that the circle is unreal whereas it is an illusion and yet it is reality in so far as it is the consensus´ experience that everyone sees. So, here we have an experimental objectivity accepted by everyone, which doesn´t invalidate the truth about the circle being a mental construction without any reality in itself. In other words, objectivity isn´t a criteria for truth because it never is absolute and always depends on its relation to human intelligence and its view. However, this doesn´t by any means discredit classical physics, it only relativizes the question. The fact that space is curved and that Euclides´geometry is a mere mental construction not corresponding to “physical reality” doesn´t prevent engineers from constructing buildings that are “real” or “exist” in the “physical” sense. What physics is beginning to understand and Western philosophy to think in a more detained way was already present in the Eastern thought at least two thousand years ago. When we realize that what the scientific tradition calls “objectivity” emerges from the separation between subject and object, that perception is a mental imaginative construction, that is when we extend a bridge over the existing abyss between subject and object and we stop perceiving everything in a discriminating way. This view suggests an approach to reality without dichotomy, according to which we regard each object as if it were the whole universe and each instant as a whole life. There is no separation between the creature and the beings, we are each thing and everything is within us.

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