This is probably a stupid question, but please try to answer.

  • Both have an IQ around 190

  • The expert scientist is a practicing physicist and a biologist who has been in the field for more than 40 years, he's also a respected mathematician.

  • The expert meditator is also philosopher of the highest order, he's also a top notch phenomenologist, and has absolute mastery over mental experiences.

What do you think?

Thank you.

  • How would you expect one to answer this question without first knowing the true nature of reality? – Cort Ammon Nov 16 '15 at 22:27
  • Maybe someone knows? – alien_man Nov 16 '15 at 22:28
  • An important question which influences the validity of the answers: Is knowledge of one's self considered knowledge of the true nature of reality? Answers to trippy questions like "how do I know what knowledge is" become pretty important if one considers such answers to be knowledge of reality. – Cort Ammon Nov 17 '15 at 0:00
  • Well, why do we look for knowledge in the first place? In my opinion, it is because we suffer. So there is actually a basis to test whether an answer is valid. I mean, what else is there? By the way Cort Ammon, thanks for your replies, they helped a lot. – alien_man Nov 17 '15 at 0:13
  • 2
    The problem is that "the true nature of reality" is a cliched platitude that has been hollowed out of any meaning by now. So to ask a serious question along these lines it is better to explain what is meant in a substantive way. Otherwise this thread will reduce to people fighting with each other over personal preferences. – Conifold Nov 17 '15 at 0:15

Bertrand Russell addresses this question in his essay Logic and Mysticism. He compares what he considers two different approaches to acquiring knowledge about the world: the scientific approach and the mystical approach (which includes meditation, but which he calls insight and intuition). Being Bertrand Russell, he comes out strongly in favor of the scientific approach, and dismisses the mystical approach as ultimately useless in acquiring true knowledge about the world.

Below is a possible response to Bertrand Russell's essay (I wrote it, so please take it with a grain of salt - it is not in anyway rigorous): https://skanderhannachi.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/science-and-the-natural-mystic-of-mr-miyagi/

| improve this answer | |
  • Russell was an interesting individual. I wonder if he ever truly recovered from Godel showing that the one bit of consistent knowledge he sought to know was actually unknowable. – Cort Ammon Nov 16 '15 at 23:49
  • 1
    @CortAmmon he never did, so he became a peace activist and won the Nobel prize in literature instead. – Alexander S King Nov 16 '15 at 23:51
  • @AlexanderSKing Touche (It is an interesting transition of activities, isn't it) – Cort Ammon Nov 16 '15 at 23:58


The scientist will say he knows nothing about true nature of reality. This is not his job. This is not science is about.

The expert of meditation, will find joy in meditation and don't care about nature of reality. If you ask him to reply as a philosopher, he will explains to you for hours (days?) the meaning of the question. It will be very interesting, but there will be nothing looking like an answer.

So, perfect equality : zero - zero !

| improve this answer | |

"A stupid question" deserves "a funny answer" - the physicist will argue that he knows more about the true nature of reality, and the philosopher will argue that your question is all wrong.

There is no shortage of scientists who dismiss philosophy, typically out of vanity and ignorance - Neil deGrasse Tyson and Lawrence Krauss are two names which come to mind; as for a rare philosopher who definitely matches your description, try reading Wittgenstein's Philosophical Investigations - as he likes to put it there "The question contains a mistake."

EDIT - you wrote "The expert meditator is also philosopher of the highest order, he's also a top notch phenomenologist, and has absolute mastery over mental experiences", and I offered Wittgenstein, and now that I stumbled on a particular passage I could not resist pasting it here as an example:

(607) How does one guess the time? I don’t mean by clues, such as the position of the sun, the brightness of the room, and the like. — One asks oneself, say, “What time can it be?”, pauses a moment, perhaps imagines a clock face, and then says a time. — Or one considers various possibilities, thinks first of one time, then of another, and in the end stops at a particular one. That’s the sort of thing one does. — But isn’t the hunch accompanied by a feeling of conviction; and doesn’t that mean that it now accords with an inner clock? — No, I don’t read the time off from any clock; there is a feeling of conviction inasmuch as I say a time to myself without a feeling of doubt, with calm assurance. — But doesn’t something click as I say the time, stopping at a number? And I’d never have spoken of ‘a feeling of conviction’ here, but would have said: I considered a while and then plumped for its being quarter past five. — But what did I go by? I might perhaps have said “just by feeling”, which only means that I relied on a hunch. — But surely you must at least have put yourself in a particular state of mind in order to guess the time; and you don’t take just any old idea of what time it is as giving the correct time! — To repeat: I asked myself “I wonder what time it is” That is, I did not, for example, read this sentence in a story, or quote it as someone else’s utterance; nor was I practicing the pronunciation of these words; and so on. These were not the circumstances of my saying the words. — But then, what were the circumstances? — I was thinking about my breakfast, and wondering whether it would be late today. These were the kind of circumstances. — But do you really not see that you were in a state of mind which, though intangible, is characteristic of guessing the time, as if you were surrounded by an atmosphere characteristic of doing so. — Yes; what was characteristic was that I said to myself “I wonder what time it is” — And if this sentence has a particular atmosphere, how am I to separate it from the sentence itself ? It would never have occurred to me to think that the sentence had such an aura, if I had not thought of how one might say it differently — as a quotation, as a joke, as practice in elocution, and so on. And then all at once I wanted to say — then all at once it seemed to me — that I must after all have meant the words somehow specially; differently, that is, from in those other cases. The picture of the special atmosphere forced itself upon me; I virtually see the atmosphere before me — so long, that is, as I do not look at what, according to my memory, really happened.

And as for the feeling of certainty: I sometimes say to myself, “I am sure it’s . . . o’clock”, and in a more or less confident tone of voice, and so on. If you ask me the reason for this certainty, I have none.

If I say: I read it off from an inner clock — that is a picture, and all that corresponds to it is that I estimated the time. And the purpose of the picture is to assimilate this case to the other one. I am reluctant to acknowledge two different cases here.

(608) The idea of the intangibility of that mental state in estimating the time is of the greatest importance. Why is it intangible? Isn’t it because we refuse to count what is tangible about our state as part of the specific state which we are postulating?

| improve this answer | |
  • This looks like a stupid question, but I don't think it is. What comes down to is: Is meditation a valid epistemological method compared to science? Bertrand Russell deemed it worthy enough of his attention. – Alexander S King Nov 16 '15 at 22:39
  • I don't think the question is stupid, and I don't think it comes down to what you say it does. – nir Nov 16 '15 at 22:47
  • Am I wrong, or are there other factors I am missing? – Alexander S King Nov 16 '15 at 22:49
  • Also I constantly hear about N deG being one of the infamous dismissers of philosophy, but I didn't get that vibe at all when watching "Cosmos". That show definitely had a New Age-Science is the New Mysticism-""6.44 It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists."". feel to it. – Alexander S King Nov 17 '15 at 0:42

Their knowledge is not comparable unless you choose to define a metric of knowledge which assigns it a comparable value.

The value of any one "piece" of knowledge is hard to quantify, and the valuation of an aggregation of many pieces of knowledge is even harder to quantify.

Unless one can definitely prove that one individual's knowledge is a subset of the other, the knowledge must be non-comparable unless you can assign values to those pieces of knowledge and define an aggregation function to aggregate value.

I would like to offer a counter question, concerning just one subset of the true nature of reality. What knowledge yields more understanding of the true nature of reality? The understanding of how to wield the thermodynamic fires inside the bellies of war machines and inside the barrels of our soldier's guns, or the understanding of the fires of jealousy, greed, and hate which burn in the hearts of powerful men?

| improve this answer | |

Idealized Answer: The meditator.

The question is not answerable, of course, because the descriptions are not mutually exclusive, nor could anyone's knowledge be entirely limited to either description.

Having said that, one could logically learn "all about" physics, biology, and mathematics, while still having very little knowledge of philosophy, not to mention the insights into phenomenology, desire, and consciousness presumably grasped through meditation.

But the reverse is not the case.

Ideally construed, to be a "top notch philosopher" might well entail a knowledge of physics, mathematics, and biology. And meditation might further extend the philosophical knowledge to an even more inclusive grasp of consciousness. The second description is simply not as constrained as those of the natural sciences, yet might ideally include them, provided no knowledge is lost in the extraneous wool-gathering.

Moreover, there is the problem of "reality." What definition of reality could apply to both descriptions? The scientist probably would not accept the philosopher-meditator's knowledge as true justified belief. Again, the reverse is not necessarily so. The philosopher-meditator might well accept and fully understand the scientific knowledge as true justified belief, while also regarding it as partial within a broader, more reflective context.

So the philosopher-meditator, whose "proper sphere of knowledge" is not technically self-limiting, could hypothetically lay claim to the greater "reality," if we regard reality as concentric, reflective, synthetic, and cumulative.

| improve this answer | |

Short Answer: The Scientist.

Longer Answer:

There's a bottleneck here. Our experience is limited by our cognitive machinery, and these limits apply to everything, whether it's from science or meditation. So there's no way to say who would know the true nature of reality.

However, a weaker version of this question -- who would know more about the nature of reality (or is more likely to get it right) -- goes to the scientist. Why? Because scientists work by observing, building models to explain observations and then testing the predictive ability of those models. If we can make predictions with regards to some phenomena X, then it stands to reason we know something of the true nature of X. Contrast this with the meditator, who simply engages in a mental practice. This practice is (at best) an observation of one's inner state and hence can only provide information about that (despite what some meditation advocates would have us believe).

In fact, meditators who claim meditation provides some insight into reality are making the same mistake as the rationalists of old did. They're assuming that they can learn about reality through a purely mental operation (be it thinking, letting go, concentration) alone. There's no reason to believe they'll fare any better than the rationalists did.

| improve this answer | |
  • By "There's no reason to believe they'll fare any better than the rationalists did," do you mean "There's no scientific reason to believe..."? – Cort Ammon Nov 16 '15 at 23:02
  • @CortAmmon No, I don't mean that. I mean there's no logical reason to believe they'll fare better. – R. Barzell Nov 16 '15 at 23:16
  • None at all? Wow. Okay. – Cort Ammon Nov 16 '15 at 23:24
  • Can you cite your source for "... the meditator, who simply engages in a mental practice." I haven't personally met any meditator who suggest that one should meditate 24/7 without experiencing the world in any way shape or form. – Cort Ammon Nov 16 '15 at 23:35

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.