Coda: Science & Spirituality

Evidence-Based Spirituality — Part 10 of 10

I’m much more the humanities and culture guy than the science guy, but a long time ago I did win a prize for mathematics, and I still do a lot of reading in scientific fields like psychology and ecology. As a result I know there’s such a thing as genuine beauty in science, just as there is in spirituality, in art, in philosophy. When something is encapsulated in a scientific form, such that it makes sense and a deep pattern is brought into view, science yields up a visionary understanding to which people do give themselves on an existential level, sometimes a level of awe. That’s partly the inspiration for science fiction of course — the part that isn’t purely adolescent, I want to say, but then all love is built from sexual energy anyhow.

One thing I have not experienced much of, when it comes to evidential spirituality, is this ‘deep sense’ that science can give of how reality works, that provides a kind of meaning. That meaning has sometimes been the meaning in life itself for many — Tart thinks that materialism cannot yield meaning, but it’s not so simple. Yes, I believe spirituality is at the root of meaning, but the outskirts of meaning run through many human endeavours — art and philosophy of course, but science too.

Meanwhile in evidential spirituality I see a lot of — well, evidence, and it’s great, and more will be welcome. But what I’m really hoping for is that the beauty of science might one day get an angle here. Is that possible? Plenty would say it isn’t. Even more than with psychology we are dealing here with the unquantifiable, and as a result, we cannot get those interesting patterns of quantity from which science makes beauty.

But perhaps we can dream. I look at the cover of Basic Ecology by Buchsbaum/Buchsbaum…

Cover of Basic Ecology by Buchsbaum/Buchsbaum

It’s so simple, so beautiful. The grass is eaten by the insects, the insects by the frogs, the frogs by the snakes, the snakes by the bird. The bird has parasites feeding on it. Then the bird dies and the decomposers rot its body down to soil, from which new grass will spring. A cycle of life that you have seen around you all your life clicks into place. We have a simple, deeply real and evidential pattern to which life conforms. That is beautiful. In seeing that cycle complete itself we experience a fullness of meaning — even a fullness of meaning that can take us out of cycles altogether, or what is the same thing, into the heart of them, past the point at which time is passing, towards the eternal point at which spirituality aims. One finds Lao-Tzu recommending exactly that at many points:

Attain the highest openness;
Maintain the deepest harmony.
Become a part of All Things;
In this way, I perceive the cycles.

Indeed, things are numerous;
But each cycle merges with the source.
Merging with the source is called harmonizing;
This is known as the cycle of destiny.

Tao Te Ching ch. 16, tr. R. L. Wing (1986)

Can we get something like that going? With systems maybe? Spirituality is kind of hidden, (the literal meaning of the word ‘occult’), albeit in plain sight. Even really good methods just get you to the point of being in it, hoisting you out of your degeneration to see some of the wonders of the universe. But explanation? That’s a whole other thing.

An order which works and explains, that can be used in a truly scientific manner. It would be nice to think it was possible. Maybe it is. I mentioned the four elements (or five, depending) at the start of this series, because Glenn found them as psychologically valid as ever on some pretty heavy testing. Or consider Yin and Yang, the dark and the light. This concept runs through absolutely everything in Chinese culture, from medicine to engineering to chemistry to art to politics to… yes, ”enlightenment”. (And let’s not forget that, at least until the 18th century, the Chinese were ahead technologically — decimal point, gunpwder, movable type, suspension bridges, you name it. Plus their agriculture.) On every level the simple idea was applied. This is a deeply-explaining-pattern-idea in action.

When you look at symbols like:

T'ai Chi Symbol

… or for that matter:

Kalachakra Mandala

… you are seeing something that really is a little like the cover of the ecology book, only even bigger. Something that fits together in that way, to interlock and make sense, simple and beautiful sense, of what we we live in every day, on every level.

Is there anyone who wants to look at theorizing from there? Or is that even possible? Are we stuck too much in the measuring mindset after all? Does that kind of sense only get made when a culture keeps an idea going for a millennium or two? But then, when we test Bud-Offs, we are actually testing systems that have that kind of age, and perhaps that level of deep sense in them. We might be closer to this beauty than we think.

One thing’s for sure: when it comes to spiritual understanding, humanity is only at the very beginning of what there is to discover. I’m sure there’ll be plenty of surprises. I look forward to them, and I think evidential enrichment could give us a few of them as well as proving very valuable in other ways, whether it ultimately ends up making this kind of deep sense or not. Let’s keep going and see what happens next.

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