Intellectual Carelessness in Blogging is Discouraging.

Via on Apr 25, 2011

by Matthew Remski and Scott Petrie

This article is a response to Ramesh Bjonnes’ “Yoga, Truth, and Dogma: 5 Ways of Knowing What’s Real”, published on this site on 4/21. Bjonnes’ piece is itself a critical response to our recent post: “Please Steal this Post”, but it also implicates the majority of our yoga 2.0 lab work so far.

Bjonnes’ main purpose is to question the validity of our approach to issues of truth and authority. This is a key theme within the yoga 2.0 method, which we explore most fully in our piece on yoga and the religious attitude. He is concerned that the deconstructive and evidence-based bias we employ ignores the sincerity of spiritual testimony. He writes: “I … live another yoga, a yoga of open arms of bhakti and inner leaps of faith, a yoga where questions are burdens that weigh me down, that tangle the flow of the journey in brambles of confusion.” His implication seems to be that inquiry, analysis, skepticism, and cynicism can have a chilling effect upon the thrill of personal evolution. This is a very fair concern, which he seems quite capable of addressing eloquently. It speaks to the important process of disillusionment that seems to be inherent to most cognitive growth.

Unfortunately, Bjonnes’ article skims over his strongest suit, and generally avoids substantive inquiry into our method, while making little attempt to engage with the issues we are reflecting upon within contemporary yoga practice.

By failing to directly quote a single phrase of our published work (over 105 pages on EJ alone), Bjonnes simplifies and decontextualizes our ideas. His inaccurate interpretation of our findings then positions him as a false authority within a comment-thread that strays ever farther from the ideas he fails to engage.

Intentionally or not, this article accomplishes what modern news/opinion media often does systemically: distort the view, obscure the real issues, and encourage irrelevancies.

We will as best as possible address his central criticisms of the yoga 2.0 methodology. This is more important to us than addressing his rhetorical style, which some commenters found upsetting.


Yoga 2.0 claims that cynicism is the new yoga.

Bjonnes assigns this view to us in his first paragraph. Neither Scott nor I nor anyone we’re aware of who are working collectively on the 2.0 paradigm have ever said anything like this. Cynicism is not the extent of yoga, and it certainly isn’t new. However, we have suggested that sincere cynicism has always been as much of a yogic activity as faith or devotion or clean diet, and that Buddhist and Christian thought actually begins with the same creative freedom first made famous in the western canon by the heirs of Socrates, known as the “Cynics”. The Wikipedia article on Greek Cynicism is helpful here, for those who are unfamiliar with the original designation. The cynics are the literal ‘dogs’ (kynos, Gr.) of ancient philosophy: shameless, convention-free, happiest when they gnaw and growl over the raw meat of consciousness.

Today, the real cynic searches out and celebrates the shared and verifiable truths that are a part of everyone’s common experience of life, in order to free us from the inflexible power structures and social control of tradition, superstition and dogma. Yoga 2.0 aspires to this task.


Yoga 2.0 is bothered that Patanjali makes unverifiable truth claims.

Unverifiable truth claims are a very serious issue, especially in an age in which crucial facts such as global warming are being attacked. In the sphere of modern yoga, unverifiability is the groundwork for much of the devotional glow with which the Yoga Sutras are fetishized as coherent philosophy. This is also serious, as it can be disempowering to evolving thought.

But it is misleading to suggest that this is our focus. Rather, in our article on satya, we actually say something quite a bit deeper: that the numerous contradictory truth-claims of the sutras (2:22 vs. 3:3 was our prime example, although there are others) render the entire text unverifiable by any philosophical method. Having recognized this, we can then begin to look at this very interesting book much more clearly: a diplomatic collection of views from a particular slice of Indian contemplative practice.  We’ll go on to develop this idea in future posts, inspired by the work of Edwin Bryant, among others, who have worked so hard as scholars and practitioners to show that yoga philosophy is always imperfect, always in perpetual development.

Why does yoga philosophy change? Because language – whether philosophical, scientific, spiritual, or aesthetic – is always playing catch-up with experience.


Deluded by material reductionism, yoga 2.0 discounts subjective experience.

Bjonnes makes the point that those of us who have a yogic interest in the scientific method and its progresses seem to be more willing to unquestioningly accept its testimony, while downplaying the testimony of the many personal experiences of mystics that seem to describe a commonly accessible truth.

The reality is that the yoga 2.0 project has never in any writing discounted subjective anecdotal descriptions of any experience. We simply point out that these are an immeasurable type of evidence, impossible to fully share, which function quite differently from the conventions that allow for general agreement on basic physics, for instance. We also point out that when powerful claims lie behind this subjectivist veil, charlatans or worse can manipulate their targeted audience.

Our main concern is that when yogis fail to recognize the difference between shareable evidence and mystical experience, we end up using them as though they were equal in form and technique. Our philosophy gets messy, and this hurts everyone, because a messy philosophy meshes with messy power structures, messy economy, messy relationships, and ineffectual politics, both personally and socially.

Quoting Bjonnes directly will help to clarify this issue:

“Matthew Remski made a big deal about scientist Jill Bolte Taylor, whose left brain stopped functioning and left her right brain spiraling her neurons into blissed-out Samadhi-land. Matthew really believes she was telling the truth, and he also said it must be true because it all came from her brain, not just her mind. Because brain is physical, so it must be true, must be science. But wait a minute! All we have to go by is her telling us what she experienced with her mind. No scientific instrument can actually verify what her brain was experiencing any more than a scientific instrument can verify what a yogi experiences during Samadhi. In other words, by the same logic, we should not just give Bolte Taylor the benefit of the doubt, but also the yogis who claim they experienced Samadhi. People like me.”

Firstly, we are misquoted here, but without the benefit of a direct quote. We did not say that the brain was the site of verifiable occurrences, as opposed to the mind. Both “brain” and “mind” are interpretative categories mediated by language: we understand this.

Secondly: “No scientific instrument can actually verify what her brain was experiencing”. This is misleading, almost to the point of untruth. The fMRI tracks neurological function in the same way that radar tracks weather, or the speedometer tracks driving speed. The instrumentation shows neurological excitement or damage quite clearly, and although brain-mapping is a baffling task, confounded by the wonderful plasticity of our neurology, there is growing consensus on where general functions tend to sit. So when the scan shows that Bolte-Taylor’s left hemisphere speech centres are catastrophically hemorrhaged or scarred, and this coincides with her not being able to speak, we have a meaningful correlation. The scan cannot show how she later describes not being able to speak, or what it meant to her at the time – in this Bjonnes has a point. But his statement obscures the power of one of the most thrilling discoveries of our time: we can now look at matter and consciousness, and begin to see where they meet, and are perhaps interdependent. It is a shame to downplay this wonderful finding.

Thirdly, Bjonnes assumes here that we think her description is similar in nature to other mystical descriptions. We don’t agree, because we have more than Bolte-Taylor’s verbal testimony. We also have her neural imaging, which specifically shows the correlation between her left-brain lesions and the losses of various consciousness-functions. We also have the ongoing imagery of her healing process, catalogued alongside her narrative of what she felt. In this case, her personal testimony is supported by a kind of tangible and shareable evidence that is rarely available to the mystic. What is most interesting about her case is that her words are supported by pictures and data that non-spiritualists can read and evaluate.  This makes her a crossover heroine – much more widely compelling than the mystic who uses a spiritual language shared by a limited or denominational audience. Anybody who brings languages together is a gift to a world in which paradigms struggle to understand each other.

Bolte-Taylor’s description doesn’t discount the mystical experience, or reduce it in any way, unless one feels that a closer interrelation between matter and consciousness is reductionary. (Some do, of course.) Her story offers a level of evidence that is new to the discourse on wonderment. Our embrace of this language does nothing to detract from the personal experience of Bjonnes or anyone else. In fact, it can happily be read as a bridge between and beyond faith communities.


We hope this clarifies some issues surrounding our ideas, begins to reclaim the true value of cynicism, and encourages honest and fair exchange over the long journey ahead of us. Intellectual carelessness in criticism can only chill the emergence of fragile new thinking. Generating new perspectives is a risk that can feel even more dangerous when accompanied by the fear of being misquoted, misrepresented, or not even quoted at all.

matthew with a cynical friend. photo by oceana.

Matthew Remski is an authoryoga and ayurvedic therapist and educator, and co-founder of Yoga Community Toronto. With Scott Petrie (who provided essential wing-man services for this piece) he is co-creator of yoga 2.0, a project in writing (one book done, eight more in the sushumna-chute) and the embodiment of all things post-dogmatic.

yoga 2.0: shamanic echoesis now available for kindle and other e-readers.

About yoga 2.0 lab

Matthew Remski is an Ayurvedic practitioner and Yoga Teacher Trainer in Toronto. His latest book, Threads of Yoga, is gathering international acclaim. He's teaching this online course starting 1/7/14. It's currently full, but there is a reduced-tuition option for auditing. The 12 weekly lessons will be available online for six months following the course. Participants receive a 130-page manual of notes.



51 Responses to “Intellectual Carelessness in Blogging is Discouraging.”

  1. fivefootwo says:

    "Language is always playing catch-up with experience". I'll remember that often. Eloquence is a good thing.

  2. Hi, Matthew. I knew you would have an interesting and challenging response. You do not disappoint.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Bob W.
    Yoga Editor

  3. Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  4. yoga-adan says:

    "Why does yoga philosophy change? Because language – whether philosophical, scientific, spiritual, or aesthetic – is always playing catch-up with experience." –

    the language in this comment-reply is doing a good job of "catch-up" 😉

    top of the line reply, much appreciated, thanks!

  5. AMO says:

    Matthew, I try to fall in love at least once a day, keeps those brain chemicals pumping and it feels nice, today it was with you.

    I find all of Ramesh's posts dogmatic and as a practicing cynic I rarely relate to anything he writes. I found this piece frustrating because he began by spelling your name wrong and proceeded to deny all rules of logic, spelling and language such that I was unable to read all the way through with any sense of understanding his basic points. I reject the idea of "guru" as necessary to a yoga journey, I reject the need for dogma in yoga as I can't see how it serves the practitioner in learning or practice, I reject that yoga is a "religion" for all who practice it, any more than bread and wine are the body and blood of Jesus for most of the world. I wonder what it is about the believers – wait, no I don't – that makes them fear the questions. As I wrote it I realized they fear the questions because they know their beliefs simply can't stand up to the light. Thanks for asking questions, and for giving yogis who reason a place to ponder the yoga journey without, as my good friend Harvey would say, "the woo woo".

    @Carol. Don't get too chilled. EJ doesn't claim any attachment to the ideas of the writers. All ideas are treated equally here, which is a good thing in a way. EJ doesn't edit for spelling, let alone content. Last month they allowed a publication about Bikram yoga by a writer who didn't even know Bikram is the yogi's 1st name not his surname. It's a forum for yoga and yoga lifestyle related content of all sorts. You can explore here, and, you have to be willing to be engaged by people who strongly disagree with any position you take, should you take a position that is. Some of the regular readers and writers on EJ can be as fundamentalist as religious extremists of any variety and, as with any extremist, at some point you have to just walk away because you can't reason with an extremist. Ramesh, like many extremists, is offended by the very questions themselves, but that doesn't mean you and can't learn things from EJ. I learned about yoga 2.0 from that post, which has a certain romantic irony that makes me smile…

  6. integralhack says:


    Thanks for this, I'm slowly slogging through the Yoga 2.0 corpus and I love a lot of what you're saying, including the focus on global climate change and truth claims.

    I have to admit, however, I found the "About Us" section of your web site a bit disappointing where you state:

    "The 1.0 OS of yoga has rolled out 6 versions: 1.1: the shamanic. 1.2: the vedic. 1.3: the ascetic. 1.4: the scholastic. 1.5 the tantric. 1.6 the modern. Our globally connected and hyper-relational age, faced with an urgent ecological crisis, has forced a complete version upgrade: yoga 2.0 — the empathetic."

    Empathy and compassion are always a great focus, but I think the attempt at software versioning these so-called "1.x" bodies of thought is misplaced (and hopefully tongue in cheek). I used to be dismissive of shamanic practices myself, but upon closer study I found that they have some practices that are quite sophisticated (as opposed to "primitive") and tantra, I am still discovering, is an extremely rich technology of yogic and meditative practices with movements that are very much alive today (as yogis as diverse as Ramesh Bjonnes and John Friend remind us).

    Rather than proclaim "upgrade," over preceding philosophies (after all, the versioning thing is soo 1990s), I think Yoga 2.0 could build off of the more relevant and recent software metaphor: Agility–responding quickly and pragmatically to the needs of the Client (aka the World).

    That said, I look forward to seeing what you do with Yoga 2.0 and whoever might launch Yoga 3.0 or Yoga XP!

    – Matt

  7. luke says:

    Speaking of intellectual carelessness, 2.22 isn’t talking about samadhi (the basis for its (inaccurate) comparison with 3.3), as pointed out in a comment on the 2.0 satya article, but about one who has delinked the seer from the seen (2.17). If anything, this is kaivalya (2.25), as the comment mentions. Patanjali presents a “git ‘er done” yoga, not a “let’s generate doubts until there are none” yoga, the type I see the cynic pursuing, and one I see tripping on itself as tries to share while failing to de-fancify its language.
    I read as Ramesh’s main complaint that there are many different types of truth, and ways of approaching truth, and the 2.0ers gladly ignore these distinctions, as they are ignored in this defense-by-offense-by-clarification. (What is the point of such an endeavor? I understand this is a discussion, but how practical, in terms of peace and silence, is huffing and fussing?)
    No amount of philosophy will equate to experience.
    Also, the truth claimers of physical science are not yet ready to evaluate those of the internal sciences, and won’t be for some time; there is a Broca’s area, but not a liver area- there is an actual liver! (which itself has ever-newly discovered functions). Placebos are known to get more effective as the size of the study population increases. When I read neurobiology, it’s the study of only a handful, if not just one person. Verification in yoga comes from those who have “been there”, or from texts, and in form apply at the individual level, not the collective, which is why satya is emphasized; “sign posts along the path” is not a new expression.
    Perhaps I’ve missed it: what again is the *point* of yoga 2.0? A collective evaluation? via Wittgenstein? What advantage does it have over the thousands-year-old versions (freedom)? or Aurobindo’s (evolution)?

  8. Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  9. Ramesh says:

    Dear Matthew and Scott (I hope I spelled your names right, otherwise AMO might truly think I am an uneducated, dogmatic, religious, guru-loving extremist)
    I basically agree with the premise of your title, and I have explained to you personally and publicly on my blog that it would have been better to quote your prolific writings when I made my comments. So, I stand corrected.

    That said, to quote someone does not ensure accuracy or intellectual carefulness. One may also, consciously or unconsciously, quote out of context, which I think you have done above in relation to my comments on Jill Bolte Taylor. It was the paragraph before the one you quoted above that to me set the tone for my inquiry: that subjective experience cannot be fully or completely measured by objective, scientific testing. That was really my point.
    Most readers seem to understand that that was indeed my point. Moreover, most readers seemed to enjoy the tongue-in-cheek nature of my post. But, as my math teacher, used to say, there is always some seriousness in every joke. (In Norwegian; Det er alltid noe alvorlig i enhver vits).
    BUT, it obviously also rubbed some readers the wrong way. At least four out of 800 plus. including you, Carol, and especially that self-proclaimed cynic AMO, whom I also love, even though he thinks I am extreme to the extreme.Thus your response above, which I am grateful for. As I wrote privately, my family is visiting from Norway, and between that and my work, I will not likely have time to contribute in much detail to this important discussion in the next few days. But i truly value your work, even though I do not always agree with the brilliancy of the multiple messages. In that regard, Luke said it best, and in order not to be intellectually careless, I will simply paraphrase: No amount of yoga philosophy can replace yogic experience.

  10. Ramesh Bjonnes Ramesh says:

    Luke, you are right tthat nrivikalpa samadhi is not mentioned in the Yoga Sutras, since it is a yogic term of Vedanta.
    Samprajnata samadhi from Classical Yoga =savikalpa samadhi of Vedanta
    Asmaprajnata Samadhi from CY= nivikalpa samadhi of Vedanta and Kaevalya of Tantra

    However, as you may know, the tantric schools of the middle ages often used the vedantic names savikalpa and nirvikalpa respectively, but it is mainly in tantra that the terms jivanmukta or sahaj samadhi are used to exemplify those who are permanently in the enlightened state after most samskaras are released and a samkalpa (determination) is taken to remain in the body to serve the world. These are rare states indeed, and I would speculate that there are, at any given time, only a handful of yogis/mystics who ever attain such states of being.

  11. matthew says:

    Hi — sorry if I imposed with a cultural slur, there… and thank you for taking the time to respond. I agree: assembling the two data streams through a protocol that honours both would be a great goal.

  12. […] Intellectual Carelessness in Blogging is Discouraging. […]

  13. Bry says:

    I must agree with Ramesh some. You are a great writer and theorist Matthew and I find great value in how you are trying to open up some real discussion in what yoga faces today as there is not enough of it in the more popularized forms of it as Elephant Journal represents. However there is something missing from all the theory and flowering language.
    For example, your reconstructions of Patanjali seems little more than mental masturbation. To even start approaching a real discussion of that text you would have to be fairly adept in Sanskrit which, forgive me if I am unaware, you sorely lack as your website gives no credentials whatsoever. The vedic traditions seem little more than fodder for your over intellectualized sense of spirituality which likes to put an an aura that it is not full of itself. I know. I am guilty of it myself which is perhaps why it is so bothersome.
    The Jnana Yogis ( of which I might generally place your work) really lead one to some depth of experience through the work of their logic ( i.e. Krishnamurti, Swami Dayananda,etc..). However when I read your work I get a lot of redefinitions and word play with what yoga 2.0 is, but it stops at an intellectual level and is caught in mere semantics and descriptions of your reality. They may be deep and intriguing thoughts but thoughts themselves are a mere scratch on the surface of experience and give very little depth of experience to someone seeking their soul.

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