Sunday, August 07, 2016

What measure of right and wrong are we to use?

Ahmed, the owner of a watch store, was troubled about something. The watches he sold were of the highest quality and they always kept correct time. He noticed one day that one of his better watches was showing the wrong time. He set it right. But when he checked the next day it was again wrong. Ordinarily he would have assumed that the watch had a defect. However, the watch had been given to him by his teacher, a Sufi master, who had told him that the watch was very reliable.

What did this mean? Ahmed wondered. Could that one watch be correct and all the others wrong? After puzzling over the matter for a few days, he went to see his teacher. The teacher smiled, as teachers often do. "Hah!" he said, "so you have come to ask me if my watch is correct and all the others wrong. What measure of right and wrong are we to use?"

"Well," said Ahmed, who happened to be an educated man, "I would use some independent means. Something objective that is true absolutely, and not merely relatively."

The teacher smiled even more. "And what might that be?" he asked.

"I am not quite sure," answered Ahmed. "I guess I'd have to ask the physicists to help."

"Good enough," said the teacher, "and what would you do if all the physicists but one agreed on a particular answer and one disagreed?"
That fable comes from Sufism and Beyond by the Indian writer, poet and engineer Ali Ansari, a book which cogently fuses Ibn 'Arabi's concept of waḥdat al-wujūd - oneness of being - with the Buddhist teaching of anattā - no self. Its interpretation of Sufi teachings in the light of late-20th century science focuses on the danger of applying scientific reductionism to incorporeal states, a theme which has informed many Overgrown Path posts. The Sufi fable's illustrative use of asynchronicity brings to mind the celebrated phenomenon of the synchronizing metronomes seen in the video below. I used to be convinced that the progressive synchronicity, which is explained by a law of mechanics, was another expression of Bell's Theorem which states that one subatomic 'object' can affect another such object irrespective of temporal and spatial distance. But now I veer towards the view that the force synchronising the pendulums is the same one that in social media moulds disparate views into a stifling consensus. Or in other words, the real message of this Sufi fable is the vital importance of not forcing a lone dissenting voice to conform with the majority view.

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Pliable said...

This book on the common ground between Islam and Buddhism is relevant to this thread -

billoo said...

There's a lovely line in p. Fitzgerald's offshore: " and the clocks struck widely different hours."

I found that wonderfully liberating.

Lovely post, pli.