Science and Nonduality
These two great fields of humanity have led separate lives but today, there are signs of a dawning convergence.
Authentic spirituality explores the domain of the nondual, while authentic science explores the domain of the nondual dualistically. One approach is from a integral, nondual perspective while the other is from a dualistic, analytical one.
Science is based on materialist theories but as science has progressed through the centuries, it has created more and more exotic theories. Today, this trend continues and at the very fringes of science, the theories are bordering on nondualism. Will Science break through to accept the Nondual ground from which it arose? The documentary series Through the Wormhole explores the fringes of scientific research in a number of areas where old conceptual paradigms are being questioned and where new ones seem to be suggesting nonmaterial aspect to science. The various episodes can be explored on the sidebar or you can click on the link below:
Many scientists and aetheist are uncomfortable with spirituality. To them, observation is the ultimate arbiter of reality and anything that cannot be observed, tested or measured is suspect, especially unprovable beliefs in invisible agents. Consciousness occupies a strange position in the world of science. It is something every single human being knows (even scientists) yet, is the most elusive thing to characterize. Because of this difficulty, for many years, consciousness was ignored by mainstream science. In the last few decades, however, as neuroscientific tools have vastly improved, exciting new neural correlates stimulated a new era of research.
Mainstream neuroscience looks upon consciousness as an predominantly an epiphenomena arising out of MATERIALIST laws of complex networks of neurons. There seems to be an intractable problem with this view, however; one which philosopher David Chalmer has dubbed the “Hard Problem of Consciousness“. This problem, in it’s most basic form says that “Theory is not equal to Experience”. No matter how good a theory is, it is still a conceptual construction….which experience certainly is not. A well known Buddhist analogy may illustrate this in a more poetic way: the finger points to the moon but don’t mistaken the finger for the moon. A theory that attempts to explain the subjective experience of consciousness can thus be interpreted as overstepping it’s conceptual bounds….like a citizen of flatland trying to escape into the 3rd dimension. Indeed, this may be an example of what author and scientist Douglas Hofstaeder called a strange loop. Here, consciousness is implicitly operating in the background. It is invoked to explain consciousness (itself) and hence finds itself back at the beginning. As long as consciousness is aware of this strange loop and it knows that explanation and being are two different things everything is fine. While the state of being may include explanation, the converse is not true.
If mainstream scientists go beyond their own naive stereotypical concepts that all spirituality is based on a dogma that assumes belief in an anthropomorphic being, they will soon realize that authentic spirituality naturally continues at the point where mainstream science ends. When mainstream science eventually arrives at the “startling conclusion” that materialist theories are inherently incomplete, they will be more open to seeing that it is their own ordinary everyday, subjective experience of reality which is the ultimate foundation of reality. They will then be ready for a paradigm shift which embraces authentic spiritual practice as the most advanced form of science…one in which analysis must yield to wholist, nondual awareness.
Currently, the paradigm shift is just too great. What good is a scientist if he or she is not involved in endless dualistic thinking which splits the world up into infinite, abstract parts and investigates each one in isolation? They wouldn’t know what to do sitting and doing “no-thing”! The world of meditation appears as diametrically opposite to the world of a normal working scientist. It is a fearful one to enter because to reach the point of wholistic wisdom, ultimately, all concepts and thoughts must be relinquished at a certain high level of practice…this implies the necessity of a kind of death of the intellect and is part and parcel of all authentic spiritual traditions. That is not to say that we cannot return to dualism later, but that on the spiritual path, thoughts and concepts serve a function early on like a finger pointing to the moon. They point you onto the right path but as soon as you are securely and confidently on that path, you no longer need them for the rest of your journey of discovering your true nature. Scientists are experts of the intellect. It is no small wonder there is such a repulsion to the authentic spiritual path.
Nevertheless, throughout the centuries, there have always been great scientists who have been serious spiritual practitioners….people like Sir Isaac Newton, who considered alchemy and study of the bible to be far more important than science. Historians such as Betty Jo Tetter Dobbs and Richard Westfall spent their lives studying Newton’s life, which revealed that his studies of space, time and matter were part of an overall research program that would reveal the Sensorium of God. There are already small eddy currents of scientists gradually moving the mainstream current of scientific views towards a union of science and spirit. New theories such as those proposed by B. Alan Wallace’s and the Santa Barbara Institute are beginning to blur the boundaries and point towards consciousness as the foundation of science, not materialism.
Other groundbreaking work in this direction is His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama’s establishment of the Mind Life Institute which investigates science and Buddhism. The resistance to these efforts is natural and has been strong at times, as for example, when some neuroscientists boycotted a Neuroscience conference to which HH was invited as a guest speaker. There is some speculation of political bias, however, as many of the boycotting scientists were from mainland China, whose government vehemently oppose His Holiness on any and every issue.
Authentic spiritual practice is nothing more than applying the same kind of observation used in science on one’s internal states of awareness. The only difference is that it is applied without all the analytic trappings of science. In this regard then, advanced meditators have gone far further in explorations of pure awareness than any modern scientist ever has. This kind of exploration can be seen as a complete internalization of Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem, the Japanese Koan Mu or the unasking solution to Chalmer’s Hard problem. The question may have arisen from the intellect and it’s materialist theories but it’s answer is in direct experience.