Consciousness and Science
Our problem is not that science has taught us our world has no meaning. Our problem is that we have decided that what cannot be answered by science cannot be answered at all. [John Ortberg, Know Doubt: The Importance of Embracing Uncertainty in Your Faith, p. 63].
Is it still possible for the scientist and the mystic to share common ground? While the lab and the church are now cast as rivals, science and faith have traditionally been not only amicable associates but intimate companions, wedded to a common consciousness: wisdom.
We shouldn’t expect Wall Street, Madison Avenue and Hollywood to embrace asceticism, self-denial and celibacy, but sincere scholars and sages tend to accept truth wherever it is found and in whatever form it is expressed.
For us the highest purpose of this world is not merely living in it, knowing it and making use of it, but realizing our own selves in it through expansion of sympathy and emancipation of consciousness, not alienating and dominating it but comprehending and uniting it with us in blissful union. [Rabindranath Tagore, p. 387].
Theology has historically been a method of understanding the Creator by utilizing the most advanced knowledge about the creation. Great thinkers such as Pythagoras, Euclid, and Plato were profoundly concerned about the nature of the spirit.
Religious scholars were among the most educated and respected members of ancient societies. Kings and military leaders, as well as common people, often looked to them for guidance and wisdom in matters of national defense, economics and health — and, of course, consciousness.
Their metaphysics translated astronomy, mathematics and physiology in practical applications. Agriculture, technology, nutrition and medicine shared a common denominator with religion.
Similarly, European scientists of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment were serious religious scholars (Copernicus, Kepler, Descartes, Pascal, Priestley, Newton, and Mendel, to name a few). They studied creation to understand the Creator and their societies enjoyed, as byproducts, revolutionary advancements.
We are living at [a] time when most people feel, confusedly but keenly, that what was called enlightenment in the 18th century, including the sciences, provides an insufficient spiritual diet . . . There is an urgent need to refer back to those great epochs which favored the kind of spiritual life of which all that is most precious in science and art is no more than a somewhat imperfect reflection. [Simone Weil, The Mystical and Prophetic Thought of Simone Weil and Gustavo Gutiérrez, p. 18].
The clerics who explored the physical sciences sought new paradigms and challenged dogmatic conventions. Their great empirical discoveries in the physical world shook the religious establishment out of superstitions, slothfulness and ignorance.
Visionary scientists of today resemble those bold clerics. Intrepid scientists are now delving into our spiritual nature, seeking understanding of phenomena that transcend conventional observations. They respect the spiritual experiences rejected by much of modern science, and are exploring the mind-body interaction from a sacred perspective.
As a result, the relationship between consciousness and matter has attracted much attention from academic and professional groups, particularly in medicine and psychology. Acupuncture, meditation, and other complementary therapies are now common topics in scientific literature.
An eventual alliance between science and spirituality may provide the tools many are seeking. The synthesis of spiritual and scientific thought into a powerful yet compassionate force has enormous potential – if God so wills.
And God endows those who avail themselves of [His] guidance with an ever-deeper consciousness of the right way; and good deeds, the fruit whereof endures forever, are, in thy Sustainer’s sight, of far greater merit [than any worldly goods], and yield far better returns. [Quran 19:76].
Spiritual motivation can be the source of unique energy. It offers an ideal perspective from which to launch theoretical thoughts. Moreover, it provides an infinite paradigm encompassing the entire human experience and beyond.
Every endeavor can be elevated by awareness of its spiritual elements. Whether it is sitting down to eat, standing before an enemy in mortal combat, or running tests for causes of cancer, we perform better when we remember and acknowledge the reality of our Creator.
Often, much can be gained when conventional formulas and traditions are discarded. This is particularly true in the area of spiritual consciousness, where the hand of God is sought to lead a person from darkness to the light.
Our acceptance of a Divine Reality is reflected within our earthly works, illuminating dark areas of our understanding and providing light by which we walk more confidently.
Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them. [Psalm 111:2 (NIV) ].
Consciousness and Pure Science
At one time, scientists sought answers by following procedures which were unorthodox and not very “scientific.” Their goal was a solution, a discovery. Even their personal safety was threatened by the testing or application of their experimental knowledge.
But what the more sophisticated scientist is now in the process of learning is that though he must disagree with most of the answers to the religious questions which have been given by organized religion, it is increasingly clear that the religious questions themselves—and religious quests, the religious yearnings, the religious needs themselves—are perfectly respectable scientifically, that they are rooted deep in human nature, that they can be studied, described, examined in a scientific way, and that the churches were trying to answer perfectly sound human questions. Though the answers were not acceptable, the questions themselves were and are perfectly acceptable, and perfectly legitimate. [Abraham H. Maslow, Religions, Values, and Peak-Experiences, Ch. II].
Can the scientific laboratory benefit from the purification of spiritual consciousness? Often our pride, lust and greed stand in the way of progress, casting shadows over our efforts and preventing illumination of our work.
… true believers never do—and must not do—anything in order to receive praise from others or for worldly concerns. They always strive for conveying the heavenly values distilled from their spiritual roots to others … For this sake, they sometimes face difficulties, experience pain, and bend in two with suffering. But they know that their troubles and suffering for the sake of a sublime ideal will gain them so many blessings that such progress could not be attained even through a process of spiritual journeying. [Fethullah Gülen].
Our sanctity has power to humble our pride, cool our passions and temper our avarice. The impurities contaminating our emotions and intellect can be removed by sublime thoughts emanating from spiritual consciousness.
Human knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth [Albert Einstein].
Where Is Science Going?
We have yet to measure the full gamut of the consciousness generated by human emotions. Our nervous system alone is so complex that biochemical processes and their interaction with other systems are only at the theoretical edge of scientific understanding.
Anybody who has been seriously engaged is scientific work of any kind realizes that over the entrance to the gates of the temple of science are written the words: “Ye must have faith.” [Max Planck, Where is Science Going?].
Science cannot deny or ignore the profound emotions generated by spiritual consciousness and the devoted allegiance of faithful adherents. Faith continues to provide the guiding principles followed by most of humanity.
The question remaining is not a simple one: “Without spiritual consciousness, can scientists attain and maintain the same depth of comprehension and level of achievement that they had while embracing God?”
. . . I would simply ask, you of orthodox belief, you who pursue disinterested truth, you who . . . are molding the very face of the future with your scientific knowledge, you who . . . bow to physics as if it were a religion itself, to you I ask: what does it mean that the founders of your modern science, the theorists and researchers who pioneered the very concepts you now worship implicitly, the very scientists presented in this volume, [Werner Heisenberg, Erwin Schrödinger, Albert Einstein, Louis de Broglie, James H. Jeans, Max Planck, Wolfgang E. Pauli, Sir Arthur S. Eddington] what does it mean that they were, every one of them, mystics? [Ken Wilber, Quantum Questions: Mystical Writings of the World’s Great Physicists, p. xii].