I listened to the TED talk by Jim Holt that you mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita class last week. I found it to be extremely helpful after hearing your definition of mental speculation. There are a few things I made note of that I would like to ask you.
- Are the ideas that Jim Holt discussed considered mental speculation because he is not presenting information that came from a bonafide guru?
Mental speculation means the attempt to reach principles of truth through the effort of one’s own intelligence using little other types of verification.
The Vedic logic is called Nyaya and defines the rules of how to reach correct conclusions.
Evidence is called Pramana. There are several types of Pramanas, but the main ones are three: Pratyaksa, Anumana and Sabda. The first is sensory observation, the second is inference and the third is the accepted authority.
What the speaker did for a good 17 minutes was a mental rumination that was also quite painful both for him and for those who listened, because it was evident that, in large part, he was replacing the facts with an avalanche of words and verbal tones in order to hide a simple and obvious fact: he did not know! He had no idea why the universe exists and no Pramana at his disposal was able to help him: he certainly could not have observed the reasons for its existence (no Pratyaksa), he was unable to understand it (no Anumana), and the confusion of his words was the proof of it, and no authority that has ever been questioned has been able to explain it to him (no Sabda). And so he was giving a lecture on something he didn’t know.
Anyone who is a non-devotee professional speaker knows that when he doesn’t know something he can’t say “I don’t know” (if you don’t know, why did you come here to speak?), but he needs to confuse people with a lot of words that mean nothing so that they think “he is so smart that I can’t understand what he says”. The truth is that they are not understanding, because there is nothing to understand. If you take the transcript of that lecture, you see the lack of meanings.
A devotee-teacher should be different. He must put the ego aside and when he doesn’t know something has to say, “I don’t know”, which is the hardest thing for a teacher. But it is beautiful: I don’t know.
- Where does this tendency for mental speculation come from?
When one is too lazy to study and practice and when his ego is strong enough to want a little space to decide things on his own, then he invents things without making sure that what he is thinking is right.
Senses are limited, so Pratyaksa is not conclusive. Intelligence is also limited, so Anumana is not the best method. Sabda is the best, accepting an authority that has never been proved wrong.
It is a normal principle, which is not only valid in the field of spiritual philosophy. It is a principle that applies in common life. After all, what would you prefer: to get to E = mc2 on your own or to accept Einstein’s authority?
- Can you give an example of what mental speculation can look like for a neophyte devotee in Krishna Consciousness?
I think the answer to your second question applies to the third as well.
- What should we do if we fall victim to mental speculation?
We strive to find the right desire to check with authentic authorities.
 Literally sabdha means speech sound
This is a section of the book “On a Silver Platter”.
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