I saw Contact again last night, and again it struck me how sophisticated Carl Sagan‘s relationship to the universe is, and yet how conventionally the some of the big questions are played out in the movie.
Belonging to the Universe
The atmoshpere of the movie, as in Sagan’s other work, is a deep sense of belonging to the universe. We are a small part of an immensely large and beautiful whole. There really is no separation in structure nor in process.
The universe a a fluid and seamless whole. Everything is dependent on everything else for its existence.
Awareness, thoughts, insights, feelings, sensations, music, visual art, dance, rituals, cities, pollution, mountains, oceans, clouds, planets, solar systems, galaxies, nebulae – all the inner and outer aspects of the universe, are manifestations of the same processes.
And from this realization, this experience, comes a deepening sense of beauty, awe, humility, gratitude, compassion and wonder…
This, is where science and spirituality are aligned. This, is where they both are pathways into a more transdual experience of existence.
Science & Religion
Unfortunately, in the movie the explisit dialogue operates on a much more conventional level.
It focuses on religion, which is organized and often centered on belief, rather than spirituality, which is a path of discovery and seeking of the nature of existence. Where religion asks us for blind faith, spirituality asks us to see for ourselves.
Religion and science are in many ways opposites, although each takes on the characteristics of the other at times.
Science & Spirituality
Spirituality and science, in their most sincere forms, are much closer aligned. Both are paths to discover more of the nature of existence.
Both are based on experience and empirical discovery. Both are an open-ended exploration process. Both rely on a deeply sincere and honest approach. Both see maps as different from the terrain, of temporary and limited value, and always subject to revision based on new discoveries. Both aim to discover more about the terrain, from direct experience.
In their sincere forms, religion, spirituality and science all share the aim of discovering the nature of existence.
The difference is in their strategies. Religion tends to rely on faith and belief, and sometimes results in the afterlife. Spirituality and science rely on discovery, testing out for oneself, direct experience and what is here/now.
Of course, religion and spirituality both have their function and value. Religion tends to be for the masses, and – again in its sincere form – has a very healthy influence on society. Spirituality is more for smaller groups of dedicated seekers, those who want to see for themselves and not rely only on second hand information.
And, of course, all three can be corrupted if they are not pursued with sincerity. They can all become rigid, emphasize the maps more than the terrian, and loose focus on their aim of sincerely learning more about existence – the terrain itself.