By S. D. Saxena
In their common quest for truth, science and spirituality, though at opposite ends of the spectrum, are drawing closer, as both delve deeper into human consciousness.
Science without religion is lame, Religion without science is blind – Albert Einstein
Where is science headed in the 21st century? Do scientists believe that spirituality is the opposite of science? Do spiritual gurus think that science creates monsters and instruments of mass destruction? Has the chasm between spirituality and science widened? Is the concept of consciousness a purely spiritual concept, or is it also embedded in the basics of scientific enquiry? Can ordinary matter possess consciousness and can a computer meditate and become a yogi?
Happily, these questions are being grappled by both parties and in the process the two disciplines are coming closer, particularly in the areas of neuroscience and quantum physics.
Spirituality is an individual’s exploration of the self. Though it is not precisely defined and understood, it is a leap into the unknown, which manifests in different forms for different individuals. Spirituality, therefore, cannot be concretised in terms of scientific principles. On the other hand, everything within the realm of science is verifiable. Therefore, science and spirituality are actually at two opposite ends of the human quest for knowledge.
New discoveries and inventions are based on past findings and if they question existing wisdom they are ridiculed and opposed, sometimes with serious consequences, as borne out by the reception given to the theories of Galilee and Charles Darwin. The saying, that an idea born ahead of its times is bound to fail, however great it is, has its origin in scientific research, making it a conservative discipline.
Heisenberg, the great Nobel Prize-winning physicist, initiated the study of life sciences when other scientists were grappling with empirical details. His book, attesting that DNA was the basic material for living beings, brought new insights into the understanding of life sciences. However, he was much ahead of his time and it took a while to establish his theories.
Science believes that life forms, and everything attached to them, evolved out of matter. It is quite amazing to picture how living creatures born out of the primordial oceanic soup, crawled out of the sea to evolve into higher forms of life, having a nervous system and the ability to think.
The most difficult part to understand is how the human being evolved into a higher state of consciousness. Science is still grappling with the question of how matter, which formed life, evolved to such an extent that it started exploring and developing theories of itself. In short, how can matter start understanding itself, with the support of anything which is outside of the system?
Crucible of truth
There are many such theories which are based on experimental findings and proof which are well established and beyond doubt. Science is also based on reproducibility of the results and is completely truthful. Any theory of science cannot last, if it is not consistent and true. One of the best examples is the case of the cold fusion theory propagated by Fleischmann and Pon, chemists from the University of Utah, who tried to establish that one can produce fusion reactions (source of solar energy) in a test tube utilising the principles of electrolysis. They called it a landmark discovery, which they claimed would change the process of energy production in this world, and became famous overnight.
Their theories were, however, disproved within a week by the scientific community, which rejected the results as fake.
Even Einstein’s theory of relativity (which has stood the test of time for more than a century) was accepted by the scientific community only after Arthur Eddington established beyond doubt, the principle of bending of the light rays by dense stars during a total eclipse. The theory has been continuously tested by scientists for over a century now, using more and more advanced techniques. The latest has been the observations conducted on the binary neutron stars, located millions of light years away, by two astronomers, Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor, who also won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1993.
Spirituality is quite different from science as it is an exploration of the self at the deepest level. The more we explore our inner self and experience the bliss and wonders of meditation, the more evolved we become. However, it is difficult to establish the level of attainment of a swami in absolute terms for it is subjective.
The science of miracles
Miracles do happen, but it has not yet been established by empirical findings. Sai Baba of Shirdi and Satya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi are credited with several miracles, having healed the sick, but have no scientific basis to them yet. Though their work has often been dismissed as magical tricks, it is unscientific to reject them completely, just because the phenomenon is beyond the purview of the present limitations of science. In most of the scientific theories, the basic principle says that if one cannot disprove a phenomenon conclusively, it may or may not be true.
There is one area of convergence between spirituality and science. Both seek truth and are trying to find the underlying principles of nature, though the tools employed by both are different.
It is not just a matter of coincidence that some of the great scientists were highly spiritual in their outlook, especially Einstein who, though an atheist, believed in a cosmic religion. He believed in the underlying principle of simplicity and the immense beauty of nature. His theories replicate those beliefs. He was proven wrong by the then atomic scientist Niels Bohr, who established that nature contains an element of uncertainty and unpredictability. Einstein could not come to grips with such a theory and kept on trying to disprove what was being established by the new emerging branch of physics called Quantum Mechanics. He threw up his hand in despair and uttered, “God does not play dice with the world.”
Scientists are most miserable when they are confronted with the phenomenon of human consciousness, namely ‘matter trying to understand the nature of matter’. One of the greatest mathematical geniuses of the present age, Kurt Gödel, has established that everything in mathematics cannot be derived by pure computation and mathematical postulates. He postulated that everything cannot be arrived at by simple methods of computation and that there is something deeper. This is described by some scientists as the ‘mind’s I’ and is provoking them to explore the nature of consciousness. Since no computer can perform with such simplicity and ease as human consciousness does, the limitations of science become apparent. Therefore, scientists have now started looking at some of these principles which come under the domain of consciousness and spirituality.
Another important area of psychology which has been converging onto consciousness and spirituality is emotional intelligence. It has been established that people having a higher emotional quotient (EQ), are more intelligent and possess a higher level of compassion. It was also established by the Mind Life Institute in California, that yogis who are meditating for a longer time and are well advanced in their spiritual practices, have different patterns of brain waves as reflected in the electrical analysis of their EEG (Electro Encephalon Graph, similar to the EKG used for cardiac analysis).
It is said that no scientific theory can predict the future. Andrei Sakharov has said: “It is impossible to predict the future”. In contrast to this, we have seen that the sages and swamis have been able to predict the future of individuals with a certain degree of accuracy. Recently, the scientific community started showing great interest in the field of ‘quantum entanglement’, a field of quantum physics which borders on the spiritual, since it has many philosophical implications to ponder upon.
Today, science is looking for solutions in spirituality, though making it more scientific in its approach whilst embracing it. The two cannot in any case be divorced, as both are exploratory, diving deeper into the realm of human existence.
SD Saxena, taught physics at Rajasthan University and worked in the telecom sector in India and abroad. He is author of the book, Connecting India.
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