Are there any points of contact between science and spirituality?
[Paper presented by Dr. J.S.R.L.Narayana Moorty at the Krishnamurti Centennial Conference held at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio, U.S.A., May 18-21, 1995]
The following paper discusses some issues commonly raised in regard to the relationship between science and spirituality. In particular, I wish to examine the issue of the apparent similarities (or symmetry) between statements made by scientists and those made by mystics concerning the unity of existence (or of the universe). I shall argue that the positions of the scientists and those of the mystics are not comparable, and I wish to propose that the very premise that the mystic or the scientist has any sort of experience or knowledge of a state of unity, especially when seen in the light of the teachings of U.G. Krishnamurti, a contemporary teacher, is questionable.
I shall include in my discussion references to a few well-known contemporary scientists, e.g., David Bohm, Rupert Sheldrake and Stephen Hawking. In addition, I shall use some statements of U.G. Krishnamurti as a reference point, and I will raise some questions concerning his statements as well. I shall also discuss the issue of the survival of the soul after the death of the physical body and compare the views of Rupert Sheldrake and U.G.Krishnamurti. To complete my account of U.G., I shall report some of his views which are more or less relevant to science and its methods and conclusions, as well as make some remarks as to how U.G. functions in day-to-day life without the burden of thought. I shall conclude my paper with some of my own remarks on U.G. and his teachings.
U.G. Krishnamurti (referred to in the rest of this paper as “U.G.”, as that is how he is addressed by those who know him personally) is not only quite radical in his teaching, but he also makes constant remarks about the radical transformation he had undergone in 1967, when he was 49 years old (he is now 76), and about the altered way he currently functions in day-to-day life. Whatever changes he went through at the time of his transformation made him free from the `stranglehold’ of thought, and in some sense he is `selfless,’ or `mindless’. His remarks about the way his body functions, the manner in which his perceptions, visual or otherwise, occur, and his remarks about other matters, are quite pertinent to the topic of this paper. Alsohis remarks about the possibility (or rather the impossibility) of understanding the universe or of having any experience of unity generally attributed to the mystics question many of our own assumptions in this area and give usroom to question.
Religion, of which spirituality is considered an essential trait, has in the past come into conflict with some of the theories and conclusions of science. Three major areas of conflict are: the time ofcreation, the manner of creation, and the constitution of the human being, particularly with regard to the question of whether there is anything in the human being, such as the soul, which survives the death of his physical body. The most conspicuous instance of this conflict is that between creationism and evolution. Most people, at least those who are not totally committed to the teachings of the Bible (or Koran), consider the conflict settled in favor of science. As to the first of these concerns, i.e., the age of creation, again, unless one is a total and literal believer in the Bible, one would have to agree with the current teachings of science that the beginnings of the universe lie in a much more remote past than 3000 BC.
Some religions, in particular Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism (and perhaps also Confucianism), have, at least sometimes, claimed to have no particular conflict with science, particularly in the areas of the origins of creation and the manner in which it occurred. Hinduism is quite compatible with the idea of evolution, although it would allow that creation takes place out of some primeval matter at the beginning of each cycle of creation-sustenance- dissolution. These religions are also quite comfortable with science in the matter of the age of the universe. Hinduism, for instance, would rather vaguely agree that the age of the universe is, say, some billions of years. And Hinduism has its own version of evolution, which agrees with the scientific theory that evolution is from the simple to the complex and from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous.
However these issues are settled between religion and science, there is another area of contact between the two which seems more attractive and amenable to mutual interest and investigation — and that is the interface area between science and spirituality. The points of contact here seem to be much closer and more intimate. Rene Weber, in her Dialogues with Sages and Scientists, maintains that both the scientist and the mystic seek unity in the universe or reality. “A parallel principle derives both science and mysticism — the assumption that unity lies at the heart of our world and that it can be discovered and experienced by man.” (Weber, p.13). While the scientist, according to her, approaches the question of unity through his scientific method and reasoning, the mystic approaches it through self-knowledge. While the methodology of science is quantitative and mathematical, the methodology of mysticism is meditational. (Weber, p.8). Weber admits, however, that there are other differences between science and mysticism:scientific method is cognitive and analytical; it studies the universe piecemeal. It claims its results to be objective and value free. (Weber, p.8). The mystic’s unity is experiential — it isunion with the infinite (for instance, the “Thou art that” of the Upanishads). (Weber, p.9). While the scientist seeks to unify, he leaves himself out of this “equation” (Weber, p.10), in spite of the fact that in quantum mechanics the observer and the observed are “admitted to constitute a unit.” According to Weber, the scientific community has not yet caught up with the full meaning of this declaration. (Weber, p.10).
Particularly in physics, the search for the `singularity’ before time, as in the physical theories of Stephen Hawking, is an expression of this search for unity, just as the `super- implicate’ order in David Bohm is another such expression. Professor Bohm claims that the quantum mechanical field theory implies some such notion as his super-implicate order. (In Weber, pp.34, 37). In his view, the relationship between what he calls the super-implicate order(1) and what he calls the implicate order is similar to the relationship between consciousness and matter. They are two aspects of one “process”. (In Weber p.38). Bohm disputes other physicists who claim that his theories do not have much scientific value because they do not yield any empirically predictable results. Yet he claims that his theory is not mere speculation but “is implied by present quantum mechanics if you look at it imaginatively.” (In Weber, p.37). But when he is asked the question of whether there is any super-super-implicate order, he answers that “we can’t grasp that in thought …. We’re not saying that any of this is another word for God. I would put it another way: people hadinsight in the past about a form of intelligence that had organized the universe and they personalized it and called it God. A similar insight can prevail today without personalizing it and without calling it a personal God.” (In Weber, p.39).
Bohm observes that Sheldrake, a biologist, admits that the evidence for the latter’s morphogenetic fields(2) is very limited and “requires a lot of experimentation.” (In Weber, p.96). His own and Sheldrake’s theories are
about as testable as any other theories. There is no way to disprove a hypothesis of this level of generality, although it’s possible to conceive of evidence accumulating which would make it look unlikely. As far as the implicate order is concerned, since that’s even more general, it would be much harder to discussevidence. The only ‘evidence’ I can present is that it’s a way of looking at the subject which brings it all together. And I think it has a promise of being truthful….. (In Weber, p.96).
Bohm disputes the scientific idea that the ability of a theory to predict and control nature proves its truth. “It merely proves that we can turn this crank and get the right answers in a certain area. If you restrict yourself to these areas, your theory naturally appears unassailable.” (In Weber, p.105).
In general, both Bohm and Sheldrake seem to embrace the idea that the universe ultimately developed out of some sort of consciousness or intelligence. They both deny that either matter or mechanism explain nature and the universe. They both believe thatmeaning (mathematics for David Bohm) and order are part of nature and that we can study that order through mathematics or scientific theory. And yet, Bohm clearly gives the idea that thought is incapable of grasping the ultimate origins of the universe, because previous scientists (like Poincar or Einstein) didn’t know what the source of their mathematics was, and therefore they called it mysterious. (In Weber p.147). It is Bohm’s view that, inasmuch as he is studying the mathematical order of the universe, and inasmuch as mathematics is meaning and meaning is a property of consciousness, the scientist is ultimately, like the mystic, studying consciousness. “In some ways the pure mathematician is going into one of the aspects of consciousness.” (In Weber, p.149). He says that although the scientist is “inspired by the experience of matter, nevertheless once it has entered consciousness he is trying to find something that goes on in consciousness which has an order of its own.” (In Weber, p.149).