Science and spirituality

Science and spirituality. That’s a topic that comes up now and then in popular media.

Unfortunately, the debate or discussion is usually at a quite superficial level.

There are perhaps two main ways of looking at the relationship between science and spirituality.

One is that they are separate. This means that they can either co-exist (religious scientists often take this view), or that they are mutually exclusive (atheists sometimes take this view). This is often the level of the public discourse on this topic.

Another view is that science and spirituality point to and explore the same reality. Reality is seamless and one, and can be explored in a variety of ways, including through different forms of science, and through spirituality. Ken Wilber is perhaps one of the most sophisticated writers on this topic today. (Although I am sure that even his writings will seem hopelessly old fashioned in one or two or three generations.)

Needless to say, the last view resonates the most with me. I am fascinated with science, and have been since childhood. (Especially astronomy, ecology, zoology, biology.) And I am fascinated by spirituality too, or rather the spiritual exploration.

Both describe facets of the same reality, and how it looks when you use “external” or “internal” methods for exploration.

Both use many of the same methods:

Learning from what’s been done before. Maintaining a questioning approach. Testing it out for yourself. Placing direct experience and data over theory. Recognizing that the terrain is not the same as the map. (Or a meal is not the same as the menu.) Being mentored by people who have gone the path before you. And eventually reporting your findings to the benefit of the community, so others can test it out for themselves and perhaps go further. (Yes, I know that this is an idealized view, and that reality is often much more messy, and sometimes less pretty in a superficial sense.)

P.S. I am intentionally ignoring religion here. Spirituality – in the sense I am using it here – can certainly exist within religion. A sincere spiritual exploration of reality can and does happen among some who belong to a certain religion. Religion itself is more of a mix of ritual (which can be very helpful), theology (which can include valuable practical pointers), genuine reports that may either become an official “truth” or more hidden within the tradition, and institutions (necessary to maintain the religion). Although it’s often not said explicitly, the main aim of religion is often – and necessarily – to perpetuate itself.

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