Science, Religion and Mysticism

SciReliMystScience without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.

In this essay it would be a good idea to approach both science and religion with a measure of humility. Religious fundamentalists often display arrogance when they encroach on the realm of science. When the English Bishop Usher “calculated” that the earth was created in the year 4004 A.D. by counting the Old Testament “begats,” he was engaging in the same unconscious behavior that modern creationists do when they say that the Grand Canyon is only a few thousand years old. There is also an arrogance in placing ourselves in the “throne of judgment” regarding the behavior of our fellow human beings. Mythology is full of the regrettable consequences that befall humans filled with such hubris.

It has often been said that the religion of America is “scientific materialism.” We worship science as the “god” that will save us from suffering resulting from our self-destructive behavior. And we worship all the “stuff” that we are feverishly accumulating, believing that it will bring us happiness and security. “So we have the neurosis of modern man. He has created a brave new world of science with a thousand machines to do his bidding. Yet he has no philosophical maturity to match it. His dependence on something beyond him thus becomes more acute because he gives it no conscious outlet; he instinctively worships the computer.”  Today, when religion falters, we make a cult of computers

Just as science has fallen into the trap of pursuing an objective reality which doesn’t exist, religion often has fallen into the trap of literally interpreting sacred scripture originally written as metaphor and myth. As we saw in the previous essay, science and religion have nothing to argue about if both can escape the illusion of P-B. Karen Armstrong realized this. “Science has been felt to be threatening only by those Western Christians who got into the habit of reading the scriptures literally and interpreting doctrines as though they were matters of objective fact.”

We must stop thinking of God as an anthropomorphic “Being.” “… creation was not originally conceived in such a literal manner. Interest in Yahweh as Creator did not enter Judaism until the exile to Babylon. It was a conception that was alien to the Greek world; creation ex nihilo was not an official doctrine of Christianity until the Council of Nicaea in 341 [A.D.]. Creation is a central teaching of the Koran, but, like all its utterances about God, this is said to be a ‘parable’ or a ‘sign’ of an ineffable truth. Jewish and Muslim rationalists found it a difficult and problematic doctrine, and many rejected it. Sufis and Kabbalists all preferred the Greek metaphor of emanation. In any case, cosmology was not a scientific description of the origins of the world but was originally a symbolic expression of a spiritual and psychological truth.”

Notice how both science and religion run afoul of reality when they seek objectivity; an objectivity which doesn’t exist. The path to Self-realization is a subjective path, a path of the heart, not the head. Just as we have seen the fallacy of the conflict between science and religion, we will likewise begin to see that all conflicts among human beings are based on “misunderstandings” that are rife in P-B.

Science and Mysticism Converge

Humanity has an evolving identity in P-B and both religion and science mirror this changing image. “Nineteenth-century naturalism attempted to give us man as a physiochemical object; and as naturalistic thought has become more flexible and subtle, in this century, we had successively man as a biological object, as a biologicosocial object, as an anthropological object, and now, with some of the younger generation of naturalists, man as a psychoanalyst object.”

Notice the prominence of the word “object” in the above descriptions. In the past, science, whatever its point of view, looked upon human beings as objects. An object cannot be a mystic; the chasm between earth and heaven created by such thinking is too vast. Until recently, science has effectively banned us from returning to the Garden of Eden.

Since the principle of Oneness sees no separation between human beings and the rest of Creation, human consciousness implies a conscious universe. “Human beings are seen as the living proof of cosmic intelligence; in us, the universe repeats itself over and over again its ability to produce forms through which it becomes aware of itself. In modern physics, the question of consciousness has arisen in connection with the observation of atomic phenomena. Quantum theory has made it clear that these phenomena can be understood only as links in a chain of processes, the end of which lies in the consciousness of the human observer. In the words of Eugene Wigner, ‘It was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum theory used by the scientists in their work without reference to consciousness.’” So we can see, science affirms that we are engaged in the creation of consciousness itself. Mystics, of course, have known this since before the advent of science.

Just as it was dangerous to be a scientist centuries ago when the church felt threatened by worldview shifts inherent in scientific discoveries, it was, and in some parts of the world, still is dangerous to be a scientist and a mystic. “It is fascinating to follow the mystical journeys of great physicists like Einstein, Schrodinger, and Pauli, because as they arrived, awestruck before the mystery of creation, they had to cover their tails, so to speak, to avoid any accusation that they were mystics and not scientists. In the case of Einstein and Pauli, the taint of being too receptive to religious concepts finally did cast a shadow over their later work.”

What a scientist who is also a mystic understands is that science cannot define reality in a profound way. Therefore, the experience of Simple Reality from the perspective of science cannot be expressed in the models of classical physics, relativity theory or quantum theory. To achieve a more profound expression of reality, we must transcend both conventional science and conventional language and rely on the language of art, poetry, symbols, parables and myth. Or as Einstein said, “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”

Science and Illusion

What about matter itself, that aspect of reality that seems most “real” to most of us. Alas, we must let go of our most cherished ideas that have seemed to give our world “out there” its stability. “Materialism is false, and consciousness can and does exist independently of the body … there are nonphysical ways in which the mind can acquire information. Hence, materialism is false.” Neal Grossman makes it short if not so sweet.

Deepak Chopra can do the same thing for those who didn’t like the way Grossman dispensed with our security blanket. “… the whole universe is a quantum mirage, winking in and out of existence millions of times per second.”

Such is the experience and the worldview of the mystics; and we are all mystics, some awake but most still slumbering in Eden where we first “fell” into unconsciousness. Modern physics has thus revealed that every subatomic particle not only performs an energy dance, but also is an energy dance; a pulsating process of creation and destruction blinking on and off. Chopra puts it this way: “In the place of the old dualism that insists upon keeping our inner and outer life apart, we can restore the light to its wholeness. One can think of a photon [light or electro-magnetic energy] as the archetype of all energy that is blossoming out from nothing and nowhere to something and somewhere: the bridge for mystical awakening is light as it moves from virtual to material existence … A subatomic particle isn’t a thing hanging out in space like a baseball drifting over home plate, but a disturbance in the field. The disturbance takes place as a quantum event, sometimes pictured as a wave. There is a spiritual parallel to this in the Vedas, where the sages declare that the undisturbed state of consciousness is bliss, the disturbed state is the world.”

As the gap between science and mysticism disappears we see the emergence of a single reality that defines P-A. Even the language of practitioners in both arenas begins to sound alike. “Both the physicist and the mystic want to communicate their knowledge, and when they do so with words, their statements are paradoxical and full of logical contradictions.”

And the similarity in language merely reflects the last thing we would expect; a similarity in method. “In actuality, science progresses by scientific intuition [mystical insights], with the logic and the proof, coming afterwards. We customarily call these intuitive leaps creativity, which supersede logic and energize progress. Thus, discovery is the real mainspring of the evolution of society.”  If humanity is to save itself from self-destruction, it will be through the mystical insights just described by David Hawkins.

In the fifth century B.C., Buddha observed that all form was ephemeral. He realized that although “things” appear to have substance, in that they are hard, solid, heavy, etc., these traits were an illusion. Everything, including the sun, the planets, the stars and even the intangible human relationships, memory, and knowledge itself—all in due course wear away or fade into oblivion. In the Greek myth Saturn, the father of the gods ate all of his children. We and all of creation are food for the gods.

If there is one Mind and we all use that Mind in the creation of consciousness, then we are all mystics. We vary in our awareness of that all-important reality, but our very survival on this planet depends on awakening to our connection to what some have called the Implicate Order. All wisdom possible is “out there” and we have only to connect with it. Only our inner mystic can do this. “All major developments of this century have been of mystical origin … If one considers the mystical experience of the great pioneering scientists, then in each case one can deduce that they experienced mystical revelation. One might quote:

  • Planck and quantum theory
  • Einstein and relativity theory
  • De Broglie and matter-wave equivalence
  • Schrodinger and wave mechanics
  • Heisenberg and the uncertainty principle
  • Pauli and the exclusion principle

Not one of these was reasonable or common-sense, but all were true and they worked. They were the result of ‘inspiration.’”

The conscious mystic has a direct experience of Simple Reality and in that sense, modern scientists must become conscious mystics. This, of course, calls for a new scientific method. Einstein came to realize this and was shaken by this realization. “All my attempts to adapt the theoretical foundation of physics to this (new type of) knowledge failed completely. It was as if the ground had been pulled out from under one, with no firm foundation to be seen anywhere, upon which one could have built.” The world is not composed of “things” or “form” but of constantly-changing “events” or “processes.” Or, in other words, process is the deepest nature of reality, not substance or matter and that reality involves an interaction or a dance between matter and science.

We must all be willing to embrace aspects of reality that might at first glance seem preposterous.  Famous biologist Luther Burbank talked to plants. Does that seem to most of us an unbelievable claim? Some would say that’s O.K. as long as he didn’t believe the plants answered. Well, it seems science is telling us that plants do communicate and not to just mystics. James Tomlinson, formerly based at the Department of Agriculture’s Center for Medical Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology, claims that plants send out chemical signals that alert other plants they are being attacked by insects. “… scientists have identified chemical warning signals sent out by germs and by trees, sage plants and tomatoes attached by insects.”

Now the challenge to modern science is to leave behind the old P-B narrative to discover and apply the principles that are the foundation of the new and “preposterous” P-A. “Here we find a striking parallel to the paradoxical situations which confronted physicists at the beginning of atomic physics. As in Zen, the truth was hidden in paradoxes that could not be solved by logical reasoning, but had to be understood in the terms of a new awareness; the awareness of the atomic reality.”

The new paradigm will feel very uncomfortable initially for most of us. Many of us are coming to know, however, that we cannot go on as we have been without increasing human suffering. We cannot “think” our way out of our current dilemma. Fritjof Capra affirms our problem with an implicit warning: “Whenever the essential nature of things is analyzed by the intellect, it must seem absurd or paradoxical. This has always been recognized by the mystics, but has become a problem in science only very recently.”

“Physicists have come to see that all their theories of natural phenomena, including the “laws” they describe, are creations of the human mind; properties of our conceptual map of reality, rather than of reality itself.” The ultimate meaning of the convergence of science and mysticism is that everything we experience is One and that there is no separation within Simple Reality. All is One.


References and notes are available for this essay.
Find a much more in-depth discussion in the Simple Reality Trilogy
by Roy Charles Henry:
Where Am I?  Story – The First Great Question
Who Am I?  Identity – The Second Great Question
Why Am I Here?  Behavior – The Third Great Question

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