Science and Spirituality Don’t Have to be Opposites
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, http://journalofcosmology.com/Consciousness140.html)
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.