Dear Devotees and Friends,
In the 1970s Srila Prabhupada spoke forcefully against the philosophical materialism which for some time has functioned as the dominant philosophy behind the sciences, and most other academic fields (1). Prabhupada insisted that consciousness and life itself could not be reduced to the unconscious mechanics of material objects and processes. As a direct result of this teaching that “life comes from life” and not from dead matter, the Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies (BIHS) was formed to engage devoted scientists in the task of rationally demonstrating that materialism does not fully explain the phenomena and origins of life and consciousness.
Over forty years later, history has powerfully moved in Prabhupada’s direction. More and more scientists, philosophers, psychologists etc. reject the notion that philosophical materialism is the natural or necessary philosophy of rational and scientific thinking. Many brilliant scholars in a variety of fields now oppose the dogmatic insistence on philosophical materialism (2). Although it may be argued that the scientific method must, by its definition, apply itself solely to the physical, that does not justify the presumption that the only reality that exists is the physical; or that all aspects of our experience, objective and subjective, must be explained solely in terms of the physical.
While this development is very encouraging, it raises an important question. In a world in which hundreds of excellent scholars are powerfully arguing against materialism, what is the specific role of the Bhaktivedanta Institute? Prabhupada emphasized that the BIHS must make its points on the basis of reason and science. Among scholars, it is expected that one first studies what other scholars have already said and written before claiming an original contribution. That is why Prabhupada wanted educated devotee scientists and philosophers to work in the Bhaktivedanta Institute. Scholarship is a conversation, and in any conversation, people are not inclined to listen to a person who speaks without listening to what others are saying.
Thus, the BIHS must monitor and understand the significant contributions of other scholars so that we can better understand and articulate our unique contribution. To do this, the BIHS urgently needs to ‘map’ the quickly growing “postmaterialism” movement (3) in science and philosophy, and the attempts by materialists to refute it. To do this efficiently, we need qualified volunteers to help map the intellectual landscape in different areas, such as physics, biology, neurology, philosophy of mind, psychology, history, and others. With a reliable map, we can find our unique and necessary contribution to intellectual history, and speak in a voice that shows awareness of and respect for the contributions of our intellectual allies. This will also save enormous amounts of precious time, as we will not waste many years and lives trying to research and articulate points that have already been effectively made by other qualified scholars. As an outcome of the project, a series of volumes describing the state of the art of post-materialist research will be published.
Dear reader, if you have, or believe you may have, serious training in a relevant academic field and if you would like to volunteer your valuable time to help a project that Prabhupada always considered to be extremely important, then please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your CV attached saying why you want to participate in the project and the reasons why you think you will be helpful. Please also help us to circulate this letter as much as possible among ISKCON academics and likeminded scholars.
Brahma Tirtha das (Bob Cohen, MS), Executive Director
Hridayananda das Goswami (Howard Resnick, Ph.D.), Academic Project Coordinator
Rama Carita das (Ricardo Silvestre, Ph.D.), Co-coordinator of the “Mapping Postmaterialism” Project
The Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies
(1) Philosophical materialism is the thesis that matter is everything that exists. In its contemporary form, which is called physicalism, it claims that everything is physical, or as contemporary philosophers sometimes put it, that everything supervenes on the physical. See https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/physicalism/.
(2) See https://opensciences.org/about/manifesto-for-a-post-materialist-science, for instance. Examples of contemporary philosophical works that strongly criticize materialism are: R. Koons, G. Bealer (eds.) The Waning of Materialism. Oxford University Press, 2010; T. Nagel. Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False. Oxford University Press, 2012; J. Loose, A. Menuge, J. Moreland (eds.) The Blackwell Companion to Substance Dualism. Wiley Blackwell, 2018; M. Baker, S. Goetz (eds.) Soul Hypothesis: Investigations into the Existence of the Soul. Continuum, 2010; A. Lavazza, H. Robinson (eds.) Contemporary Dualism: A Defense. Routledge, 2013.
(3) Originally used by American social scientist Ronald Inglehart in his “The Silent Revolution: Changing Values and Political Styles Among Western Publics” (1977) to refer to the rise of non-material values such as self-expression, freedom of speech and environmentalism in advanced industrial societies, the term “postmaterialism” has recently been used by advocates of a scientific paradigm which rejects materialism and seriously considers the thesis that the mind is an aspect of reality as primordial as the physical world. From a philosophical point of view, it refers to approaches and views which through analysis and argumentation reject or challenge materialism and physicalism.