Spirituality Is the New Science

The scientific world went into spasms last week when a Nobel laureate announced that he had, in effect, teleported DNA. That was the sound bite, but of course the story was more complicated. A French team headed by Luc Montagnier, previously known for his work on HIV and AIDS, took two test tubes, one of which contained bacterial DNA, the other pure water. After the test tubes were surrounded by an electrical current, analysis showed that an imprint of the DNA was detectable in the water. The outrageousness of this claim echoes a finding from over a decade ago that water has memory.

What delights me about this controversy, which will be won by the skeptics, naturally, is that conventional science is fraying around the edges, and the fraying is being done by scientists themselves. A decade ago, for example, you couldn’t find more than a small handful of physicists and biologists who were willing to consider that the study of consciousness was reputable. This year there will be conventions on the subject with hundreds of participants. This isn’t because there’s been an outbreak of rebelliousness in labs across the globe. Rather, there was nowhere else for the trail to go. You can’t discuss memory, either in the human brain or in water, without explaining consciousness.

Popular books like The Tao of Physics and God and the New Physics played an enormous role in the general culture. But their impact on professional physicists has been slight and gradual. That’s because physics is based on materialism. Anything that isn’t a thing, any phenomenon that cannot be measured, doesn’t belong in physics. But the solid, material world vanished a hundred years ago, and almost all the quantum pioneers, such as Einstein, Niels Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, and Erwin Schrödinger, either became outright mystics or remained baffled by the radical discovery that the universe emerged from a void. This inconceivable place, which is outside space and time, isn’t empty. It functions as the womb of creation. Indeed, every particle in the universe — including those that make up our body — flicker in and out of the vacuum state thousands of times per second.

Is this also the place where mind comes from? The world’s spiritual traditions have always held that creation is imbued with consciousness. The purest statement of this comes from the sages of ancient India, who proclaimed Aham Brahmasmi, I am the universe. I look upon them as the Einsteins of consciousness, because they explored the farthest reaches of consciousness in order to find its essence, the irreducible quality that allows mind to exist. The connection between science and spirituality took a long time to move in from the fringes, but even so renowned a scientist as Sir Roger Penrose has offered a theory that would trace human thought back to quantum events happening at the finest level of the neuron.

What this tells me is that some thick walls are tumbling down. In particular there has been a wall that shut science away from consciousness. For many reasons it was the last wall to be breached: science abhors subjectivity and enshrines objectivity, it depends on data rather than experience, and experiments require theoretical models, whereas there is no model of mind that anyone can agree upon. These were valid reasons for hundreds of years. Yet two simple facts were being overlooked. Fact #1: Everything in existence is experienced through our consciousness, including subatomic particles and distant galaxies. The universe exists in our consciousness. There is no proof of an objective universe, which is taken on faith, as pure assumption. Fact #2: If there is a universe outside our consciousness, we can have no knowledge of it.

You can perform thousands up thousands of experiments while still ignoring these two facts. But eventually there’s a limit, and when you reach it, you have to ask some key questions: Is the universe conscious? Is everything happening in the mind of God? Does the mind exist outside the brain? Once preposterous, these questions seem to hold the key to the future, in both physics and biology. There is much more to say on the subject, but for the moment, we can at least afford a smile at the notion that DNA can teleport itself and that water can remember things. Out of delight and imagination most of the world’s great ideas were born.

Published by San Francisco Chronicle