(6-minute Read) – Science and spirituality are often seen as opposites. But are they? Dogmatic extremists shout that the two are incompatible. Usually they make their noise with no understanding of science or spirituality. Indeed, religion is far removed from science. But not spirituality, properly understood.
There are two extremes. One is the Non-Scientific Theist (NST) and the other the Non-Theistic Scientist (NTS).
The NSTs are sure of a god that looks and feels and acts exactly like they believe. Their understanding of reality rests on a whole doctrinal construction, usually dating back to the Dark Ages. There’s just blind faith here – no need for scientific method to prove anything, nor even any reasoning on the probability of truth or falsity of claims.
The NTSs, on the other hand, make science their god. Science is omniscient. It is the boundless truth of all that is. The scientific method is the only route to truth, or relatively less chance of falsity. It is the way, the truth and the light. There’s just empirical fact here – no need for wondering about the gaps and the unknowns, nor for allowing the imagination to conjure up worlds and beauty that may exist outside of the science god’s limits… for that is just not possible.
Enlightened or ignorant?
Both cling to their views with absolute certainty. They must be more enlightened than the rest of us, the vast majority who just don’t know. Or are they ignorant? Is certainty in a world of such majestic complexity and yet simple balance, not ignorance?
The vast majority of us are not so sure what god is. And an even bigger majority are prepared to admit we don’t know much about the glory nor the limitations of science. Both are pretty broad fields after all.
So if the extremists are enlightened, we must be missing something. But equally, if they’re ignorant, maybe we’re onto something with our uncertainty.
I think it’s us uncertain majority that are on the right track. We are not attached to an opinion. We’re not constrained in our thoughts… not closed. On the contrary, we’re open to a range of possibilities. That is enlightenment.
You open ones, consider this: humans have a mysterious consciousness that takes us beyond our physical bodies.
If you don’t agree consider the voyeur peeping through a keyhole at two lovers in a room. He is so absorbed in the events in the room that he leaves his body. Anatomically he is outside, but every iota of his awareness is on the other side of the door. He is unaware of the uncomfortable position in which he stands. Then someone may tap him on the shoulder and immediately he beams back into his body on the outside of the door (like Doctor Spock and company on the Starship Enterprise). He is body-conscious again.
The same applies to the artist who is absorbed in her singing, dancing or acting, or the strokes of her brush. It applies to the scientist engrossed in his microscopic or telescopic view, or his quest for correlations between equations and empirically-measured reality. And it applies to the mystic who loses time meditating. It may apply equally to the street sweeper who is totally engaged in his work. He too loses time. He is unaware of the blister on his hand or his hunger pangs… at least for a short, blissful time.
Whether we talk about this expansion of consciousness beyond our bodies in scientific or spiritual terms or not, it is real.
What are we conscious of?
When we are so totally absorbed in something or someone outside of ourselves, what are we actually conscious of? Surely the answer is we are conscious of the other. Is this an experience of connectedness, or oneness?
Our bodies are separate from other bodies and objects. All our bodily senses tell us this fact. When we are body-conscious we are aware of where our body ends and where the rest of the world begins. We have transducers that tell the brain about these physical boundaries… five senses that make it very clear.
But when we beam out through the proverbial keyhole, like the voyeur, we leave our bodies. So we no longer feel the constraints of separate entities, disconnected from other objects. Instead we are totally absorbed in the other.
I believe this experience is one of connectedness or oneness – the experience named and described by mystics the world over. And it is a universal human experience.
Names, names, names
We humans have an intellect that wants to name and characterise everything.
We have developed languages because of a symbolic brain algorithm. So, we seek to name everything. Once we’ve named a thing we reduce it to that linguistic symbol. Forever after, we identify an object or experience with its name. It becomes a unit in a sub-set of a set, limited to the closed constraints of that name in its set of discrete, disconnected parts.
Even the experience of connectedness or oneness had to be given a name. It had to be described and categorised so we could translate it in our language to others and pass it down to our children. And therein the experience is corrupted – no, butchered.
Different cultures built whole systems to account for and describe the universally common experience of our mysterious consciousness. And that’s where dogmatic extremism started. The religious extremists started earlier in our evolution. Then, in the last few hundred years, the scientific extremists rose too. Later rise, but no more enlightened.
NTS and NST names
In a nutshell, the NTS developed brilliant theories of series firing of neurons, or quantum coherence within neurons, to describe our experience of broader consciousness in terms of the brain’s physical functioning. And the NST uncritically accepted some explanation of consciousness that, in most cases, they happened to have had passed down to them by their particular culture.
Arguably the latter is less advanced in his personal quest. But the former is no less dogmatic. Both attached to a set of symbols and threw out the experiential truth. Both identify with their particular host of names and frown up any other.
Integration is possible
I believe there is a total integration between science and spirituality… or at least there can be for those who find the motivating source of both in the fundamental experience of connectedness or oneness.
All we must do to realise this integration is let go of the language, the theories and the doctrines. Let go of the attachment to what we are deluded into thinking approximates reality. Nothing we say can come close to approximating reality. This truth one can experience in an instant of connection to a new-born baby, for example, or in the moments when lovers melt into one another.
These are mystical moments
Mysticism is the name of the subset that unites science and spirituality. A mystical scientist experiences oneness with the object of his inquiry. The mystical spiritual person seeks oneness and no other description of belief is of any importance. Both look at the world around them, and journey toward self-knowledge, with the same inquiring mind sets, in awe of everything, in love with the universe.
Mystics from all fields act similarly too. They manifest kindness, fairness and generosity. They sense a reciprocal benevolence around them and so are free of paranoia and neuroses. This makes them typically the healthiest of people in mind and body. In this regard, they are most clearly distinguished from their extremist colleagues and brethren.