Spirituality and science: how are they related?

The desire to acquire scientific knowledge is also an implied search for omniscience and omnipotence. Is “scientism” merely a misplaced form of faith?

I recently wrote about the relationship of science and society, using “conspiracy theories” as an example of how the former possibly has little to say about the latter. I was then asked on my private The Internet is Just a Prototype mailing list how to resolve the question of the separation of science from society. I offer the following (edited) response for your consideration.

For me, an “aha!” moment was visiting the Bodleian Library in Oxford a year or so ago. I never went inside once in my undergraduate years, nor in two subsequent years in Oxford in my first job, nor for the following 20-something of occasional visits as my brother went, and then at alumni events. Indeed, there is an impressive list of the city’s world-class museums and institutions that I have personally shunned over time.

So I was standing there in the magnificent C15th Divinity School, and the various “traditional” subjects — law, history, etc. — were arraigned around it. Then Boof! — the obvious hit me. At the university’s founding, “Divinity” was the core subject, and everything else was a derivative of it. Room #1 of the University of Oxford is for teaching Divinity. The nature of existence, and our own relationship to creation, were the figural questions, and the sciences and humanities merely supporting stories in that central philosophical matter.

Then we had the “Kabbalistic-Masonic Revolution” of the sciences in the C16-17th, which tossed the theological overboard along with its clerical power structure. Instead we engaged in the categorisation and quantification of the building materials of the cosmos, since the architect was no longer of official interest. As a young man, I too would have instantly dismissed the studies of the religious as meaningless mumbles. As I’ve got older (wiser remains aspirational), that doesn’t seem quite so easy to defend.

It seems to me that modern science is partially a defence against the scientist’s fear of death, tied to his or her Jungian shadow. The desire for transcendence is expressed through the accumulation of gnosis that outlives the scientist; science has an implied Gnostic theology. In its most extreme form, as transhumanism, it is a search for immortality that outlives the body. This is all predicated on an axiom that divinity is a dressing-up party theme, not a fundamental state of being.

This dualistic model may not end well, because of its unconscious Luciferian axiom of separateness. The scientists are all divided apart from each other, as are all the atoms we are made of; and everything is distinct from the source of the cosmos. That in turn can lead to misery and immorality: the “human evasion” of the fear of death drives the scientist into “malignant egophrenia” — due to the mind virus of wetiko. My own experience of the scientific world is that some of the most lauded members are monstrous narcissists, unaware of their absence of human connection and compassion.

In contrast, the human experience can be conceived of as being essentially divine, i.e. of infinite value, and unrelated to bodily being or material wealth. Our consciousness is merely a perspective of experience that “buds off” temporarily from the eternal. As a consequence, scientism (the human social movement) then becomes a ridiculous folly, if only in its relationship to the divine.

For if the multiverse is itself conscious and spiritual in nature, then any physical phenomena that we perceive as individuals are as solid as the space between atoms — that is to say, not at all. Death is nothing to be feared, since our essence is nothing to do with the practical joke the cosmos plays on us called “ego”, let alone our bodily vehicle.

Hence the answer to the question — how to resolve the science/society split — is to become aware of the history of science, and its implied framing. It is impossible to sever science from metaphysical questions that — by construction — cannot be tested by the scientific method. The result ought to be an awareness about the limits of our understanding, and an insistence of being equally connected to the spiritual aspects of human existence as to the intellectual.

For me, that divine technological experience was playing baroque music on misty nights around 1990 on my Toshiba walkman. My best friend and intellectual sparring partner went to Exeter College, whereas I was at Pembroke College. I would often march blissfully entertained through medieval Oxford streets alone in the dead of a winter’s night. Technology can fully complement the spirit when deployed thoughtfully, bringing us into a sense of unity consciousness, rather than painful ego alienation.

More pragmatically, it also means us as spiritual individuals telling stories of when we’ve been wrong, changed our minds, had our perspectives widened, grieved for abandoned and cherished beliefs, regretted our arrogance and over-assertiveness, or merely been brought down to earth with a bump by life’s normal setbacks. Humility in the face of overwhelming uncertainty about the nature of everything is a prerequisite for anything approaching scientific sanity. To admit the pain of ego is to begin to tame it.

I think Richard Feynman “got it” with his bongo drums — they were serious, in comparison to the frivolous inquiry of physics. But he failed to comprehend his culpability for the horrors of the nuclear age, naively and over-trustingly separating science from society. For the spiritual scientist is a knowing social fool, as well as a wise technological sage.

On Gordon Cook’s arch-econ mailing list there was some follow-up discussion, where proper philosophers referred me to bodies of existing insight. For your reference, we have:

We’ve had enormous scientific progress, but humans appear to be less that happy as a result. Maybe we have a problem with society that needs addressing? And perhaps its root issue is spiritual in nature, and thus beyond the realm of science to fix?


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