September 19, 2022
SF Gate

How Spirituality Can Renew Science.


When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.

By Deepak Chopra, MD and Paul Mills, PhD

Every era has its explainers of human existence. Since these explainers tend to fight against their opponents, the truth wanders off from the fray. Is there a way around this pendulum swing from one rigid belief system to the next?

The antagonism between religion and science runs both ways, dating back 400 years ago when the religion had the upper hand. Against a belief system that was rarely defied, the Catholic Church condemned Galileo and Copernicus as heretics because their scientific discoveries challenged the prevailing world view. It was obvious to both sides that scientific ideas and discoveries were contradicting religious teachings.

As a result, an entire world of potential exploration was closed off, yet the church, as an odd consequence of its spiritual authority, disavowed interest in the physical world and unwittingly, divorced itself from potentially deepening its understanding of the mystery of human existence.

Today some would argue there is no longer any innate conflict between religion and science, but there remains a legacy that divided reality into two separate compartments. A scientist who suspects that spiritual knowledge is valid is overwhelmingly likely to avoid the issue as unscientific. For the most part, in fact, it is scientific orthodoxy to hold that there is something beyond the material world while rigidly denying that this something is related to spirituality in any way.

This active denial of anything beyond the physical is commonly called materialism. Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion and perhaps the world’s most famous militant atheist, wrote, “There is no spirit-driven life force, no soul nor consciousness…, and we are simply the sum total of our genes.” The same deeply embedded mindset has greatly limited the potential for meaningful discoveries across a broad range of science.

The dogma of materialism winds up denying an inescapable truth, that spiritual experiences have provided deep meaning and insight into the experience of being human. In his well-researched and fascinating book Esotericism and the Academy, Professor Wouter J. Hanegraaff tracks historically how all things esoteric and mystical were purged from our philosophical and scientific traditions. All such topics became the “Other,” to be scorned with contempt and avoided at all costs by academics. Historically, academics who have ventured into these forbidden zones, while no longer persecuted as heretics, are persecuted in new ways, being labeled “pseudoscientists” or “woo scientists,” and are objects of campaigns to discredit them and their scientific research.

Leon Kass, the former chairman of the President’s Council on Bioethics, writes about the culture of materialistic science and its “soulless scientismas being a great threat to human nature. Kass defines scientism as “a quasi-religious faith” that “eliminates all mystery,” “giving purely scientific explanations of human thought, love, creativity, moral judgment, and even why we believe in God. British biologist Rupert Sheldrake has gone so far as to speak of the “scientific priesthood,” who mirror in reverse what took place during the birth of Western science.

To be fair, it is understandable that scientists should believe in the worldview that supports their work and many feel duty-bound to protect society from pseudo-scientific quackery. Dr. Cassandra Vieten at the University of California San Diego thinks there’s a centuries-old post-traumatic stress that lingers from medieval persecution of heretics and the Inquisition. Once the eighteenth-century Enlightenment began, there was a collective unconscious agreement that we would never be that blinded again by beliefs in the unseen. There’s a deep irony that the worship of reason can manage to live side by side with close-mindedness.

A new awareness has begun to correct the situation. For several decades much has been written about the need to heal the rift between science and spirituality. Seeking a compromise is well-meaning, but the underlying issue is how to cure science of its fixed allegiance to materialism. At the forefront are scientists who have been willing to step forward and speak about their personal spiritual experiences. The Chinese wall between physics and metaphysics is at last showing a few cracks.

Some of these scientists were deeply sensitive to Nature in their childhood or had innate psychic abilities. For others, it was a traumatic event like a death in the family or a sudden breakthrough in mental awareness that was decisive. Because scientists are also everyday people, a certain number have used psychedelics or pursued meditation practices. The most exceptional, perhaps, are the few who accessed the mystical through a deep and abiding desire to know themselves and their place in the universe.

The role of direct personal experience is inestimable. This is true for everyone, scientists included. Materialism carries with it a demand that everything personal must be divorced from the rational pursuit of science. But just as the Church couldn’t wall off rationalism by forbidding it, the dogma of materialism cannot forbid the huge variety of spiritual experience that is innate in humans. Transcendence is a universal experience in every culture, as aspect of human nature that shouldn’t be denied by anyone intent on explaining nature as a whole.

It’s time for science to reclaim its heritage of unlimited curiosity that respects no arbitrary boundaries. What could be a more meaningful gift from a renewed science than to provide human beings with a greater understanding of our own nature? For millennia there have been sages, seers, spiritual guides, mystics and teachers trying to awaken us to the most precious knowledge, which is self-knowledge. A renewed science could expand the journey by refusing to accept hoary prejudices about where reality begins and ends.

There is growing scientific gloom that new discoveries of great moment have come to an end, which is the premise of John Horgan’s book, The End of Science. This gloom is justified when you view the chaotic situation that physics currently finds itself in. Two decades ago physics was poised for the ultimate triumph, achieving a Theory of Everything that seemed just out of reach. Now, after the discovery of dark energy and dark matter, there is total confusion about what the universe is actually made of and a disheartening realization that the visible physical universe amounts to only a small percentage of reality as a whole.

In a sense, materialism became a tool for bringing materialism to an end, the inevitable result of conceding that the hugest portion of the cosmos is hidden from normal physical investigation. We believe further profound scientific revelations will be made when human beings recognize that the spiritual, not dark matter and energy, is the final frontier for science.

In the new book, Science, Being, & Becoming: The Spiritual Lives of Scientists, interviews are shared from scientists doing this bridging work. The book’s material is derived from intimate interviews with over 30 scientists as they describe the circumstances under which they had their transpersonal, metaphysical, and mystical experiences and how those experiences changed their consciousness, transformed their belief systems about the nature of the world, and changed their scientific work.

DEEPAK CHOPRA™ MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation.  Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 90th book and national bestseller, Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential (Harmony Books), unlocks the secrets to moving beyond our present limitations to access a field of infinite possibilities. For the last thirty years, Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution and his latest book,  Abundance: The Inner Path to Wealth (Harmony Books) offers the keys to a life of success, fulfillment, wholeness and plenty. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.”

Paul J. Mills, PhD, Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health and Director of the Center of Excellence for Research and Training in Integrative Health at the University of California, San Diego. He is Principal Investigator of the Self-Directed Biological Transformation Initiative, a randomized trial that is examining the psychosocial and biological effects of whole-systems medicine approaches to wellbeing.

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