May 21, 2012

Science And Spirituality Don`t Have To Be Opposites.


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

Written by Menas KafatosFletcher Jones Professor of Computational Physics at Chapman University 

Susan Blackmore, Deepak Chopra, Leonard Mlodinow and myself participated in a panel during the “Towards the Science of Consciousness” conference in Tucson, Arizona on 10 April 2012. The idea behind the panel came from Chopra’s book with Mlodinow War of the World Views that inspired the title of the debate. The panel was to have a discussion about the two, broadly termed, views of spirituality and science. I would rather, personally, not have simplified what are complex arguments by using simple labels. Nevertheless, we were there to discuss in good spirit different points of view on the nature of reality, how humans fit in the general scheme of things and particularly what is consciousness.

In my case, as I wrote in the summary of my presentation, “What do Physics and Metaphysics have to say about Consciousness? Future Science and the Emergence of Holism” modern quantum physics has opened the door to the role of the observer in describing physical phenomena, in what John A. Wheeler called “the Participatory Universe”. However, what constitutes consciousness, its nature, how it works, even how to define it, have remained open and challenging issues in, among others, physics, and psychology. I would say that consciousness is the last frontier for science. Neuroscience has made great progress in specific functions in the physical brain and its structure but says precious little if anything about the deeper issues, such as the nature of the individual self, the interaction between observer and observed, and the body-mind problem.

The challenge is that underlying subjective experience cannot be studied in itself as an external object. This is the so called “hard problem”, understanding subjective experience, in terms of qualia, such as the quality of blue, the quality of taste, etc. As such, one may be tempted to place this experience in a totally subjective realm and beyond the reach of science. My own view is that we have to push as far as science can go, making progress little by little. The question arises, are there any common elements between science (particularly physics) and metaphysics which could provide a true dialogue between these great systems of human experience? I believe the answer is yes. My own role, if I may define it in such a way, is to facilitate that dialogue. It is in fact entirely possible, and it looks increasingly likely, that consciousness cannot be studied as an object, or as an epiphenomenon of physical processes, but as the underlying foundation of the universe. Deep, underlying consciousness, although cannot be objectified, it can be experienced. The link to current 21st century science, would be to study the properties assigned to conscious processes, the sum total of which constitutes experience. In my own view, when one proceeds along this path, one discovers that these properties are tied to foundational principles, ultimately expressed in mathematics, holding true across both science and metaphysics, and not just in the physical world, but in the mental and living worlds as well.

We may be on a path to true holism and a future science that while retaining the objectivity and utter, stunning successes of present-day science, will also reach across the perceived divide, and I emphasize it may just be perceived divide, between physics and metaphysics. This will not just be a useful philosophical exercise but may hold the key to the multitude of challenges we face in an increasingly divided and uncertain world, perhaps the key to the survival of modern human society. Yet, the great metaphysical monistic schools, particularly of the East, held that there are steps to the unfoldment of consciousness that when examined, are actually quite common across vastly different cultures, traditions and social structures. These views are discussed in great detail in an article written by Chopra, Tanzi and myself in the journal “Journal of Cosmology” (Vol. 14, 2011,

I was prepared for a lively and I would hope useful discussion and debate about the role of science and metaphysics (and in the end science and spirituality). I view these as complementary activities and ways of looking at the world and our role in it. I was a bit baffled by the arguments brought forward by Susan Blackmore, who turned her attention to more personal aspects of the life of Deepak Chopra, and specifically questioning his spirituality and even his personal wealth. This tone was prevalent in her remarks at the panel and in following articles in the Guardian and Psychology Today. I am sure this was in good intention as they both agree on several points, as she herself pointed out, and particularly on the non-dualist nature of reality (although what exactly that non-dualist nature is, we may all disagree, but we can still debate the issue). But in any case, to quote Blackmore “Meanwhile mystics and meditators throughout the ages have said all this is illusion – ultimately "I" am not separate from the world around me. Seeing the true nature, or becoming enlightened, means seeing through the illusion to oneness, or realizing non-duality”. So it seems she agrees with a certain spiritual orientation as she herself is quite sympathetic to Zen Buddhism. If that was the main issue, debating the views of Zen versus the views of Vedanta (that Chopra espouses) it would have been an interesting and quite profound debate. It actually would not be the first time that this has taken place. The great masters of Vedanta and Shaivism, such as Shankara and Utpaladeva, had debates and wrote extensively about the differences between the developing system of Buddhism and the more ancient and monistic schools that ultimately owe their origin to the Vedas and the associated philosophical systems. In a nutshell, while certain schools of Buddhism deny the ultimate reality of the individual self (as the monistic schools do), they also reject universal consciousness, anything beyond “the void”; while the great monistic schools not only accept, they emphasize universal consciousness is the ultimate reality.

I would suggest that we stick to a healthy dialogue and point to the golden standard of holding opposite views and being able to defend them while keeping personal relationships and friendships intact: The great debates on quantum theory between Einstein and Bohr. The two remained friends to the end, debating to the end what seemed to be irreconcilable differences of interpretation. As we know today, they both were right in some sense, the universe can accommodate both profound views they espoused. In today’s world of rapid spin of sound bites and polemic political gridlocks, we, in the intellectual world, should hold a much higher standard. Through dialogue we can find what are the differences and what are the common elements. We may be surprised to find that what unites us is much more than what divides us. Our world badly needs healthy dialogue, seeking the truth and finding what unites us all as humans.

Write Your Comment

  1. George Cheyne

    Perhaps the energy/matter whole should be expanded to Cons/E/M, Cons being Universal Consciousness. Then E=MCsquared divided by Cons. Remember that consciousness is awareness, or presence, when it attends to something. When there is no duality, there is presence; I am. So universal cons is presence attached to things- forms of matter. Also, our world, including our bodies, is at least a four-dimensional continuum, according to Relativistic Physics. We have three dimensional perceptions and conceptions. Our brains/minds cannot conceive of the world as it is in four dimensions. They see four-dimensional events, such as light, gravity, and particle physics phenomena as only their projections into our 3-D perceptions. Recall Plato`s cave people who only could see 2-D projections (shadows) of the 3-D world. If the physicists who study quantum events could perceive 4-dimensionally, it would be obvious why there is complementarity and time-reversal. Our bodies and brains, as well as the whole physical universe, is made from vibrating energy. Not 3-d vibrations, but of a higher order. Energy, as the scientists tell us, is indestructible; eternal. Only changes forms. So every thing is essentially eternal, timeless. And our moving time becomes timeless when seen in 4-D consciousness.

  2. Sandy Mays

    This is amazing for me to here that what I had always felt; as far as the world of Science and Spirituality, that there is no seperation of the two. I personally believe Science supports the existance of an all powerful Creator.

  3. sant

    it is energy that is conscious,not every energy canbe consciousness.egmechanical energy. it is becuase of thisattribute, it is the creative force behind every thing.

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